Meghdut Roy Chowdhury is a well known entrepreneur, public speaker, startup mentor and changemaker in the world of education. His recent mission, let's make Calcutta Relevant again is doing the buzz around social media. The Telegraph Online Edugraph recently got into a candid chat with the Executive Director and Chief Innovation Officer of the Techno India Group to bring expert insights of Entrepreneurship and his upcoming initiatives. Read on to know more..
1. How do you manage to stay on top of industry trends?
I read a lot, I think that's the only bit I can suggest to all of my young friends. I believe it does not matter whether they are in class 8 or a young graduate level student or even older and want to stay ahead, they can do so by reading a lot. Reading relevant stuff equips you with the correct knowledge. Speaking about myself, I think the way I read now has changed, as now I invest time in reading more of journals, online articles, business magazines and so on. Watching YouTube videos is also a great way to upgrade oneself. Today there is a lot more scope for young people when weighed against the time that we had in our days. Only thing I would like to point out, which young people need to be aware of is that with such a massive amount of information there is also too much propaganda out there, which they need to be careful. Belonging to the education industry, I would like to see more consciousness amongst people. Them not believing everything that they read and they must take it with a pinch of salt. Use it as a source of knowledge but at the same time, question things that are happening.
2. You mentioned that you read a lot, what are some of your favourite journals or books?
Lots of them! So, I read the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Economic Times. I also read Forbes magazine to understand what's happening in the global business scenario. I read techcrunch and science magazines to understand what is happening in the world of PhDs. On top of that, I believe the way I browse my social media also makes a difference as today even my Instagram feed shows me a lot of educational content via which also I get to know about things. It's all about how one curates their life, and for me I have curated it in such a way that I do not have to specifically allocate time to read. Another thing which I do is that I learn from people as well. I really love meeting interesting people, communicating with them and getting to know their ideologies. I believe the fastest way to learn something in the current time is to meet an industry expert who has been in the field for say 10-15 years to understand the situation better.
3. As an entrepreneur, how do you deal with self-doubt and doubt from others?
I am inherently an optimistic person. This is my superpower that I can always be positive, 360 days a year. The remaining 5 days I look at my family, who are my source of inspiration. Besides, I am also a very communicative person, if I feel like my mental health is suffering, I take a break, I switch off my phone or even go on a vacation. Otherwise the life that we lead nowadays is so busy, that 7 days a week we do not get time to take breaks. As an entrepreneur, I feel there is not a lot of difference between my personal and professional life. When you are handling a business there is no down time and so, sometimes you have to take those little breaks to declutter. On the other hand when talking about investments, I have a completely different mantra - that is I invest in people. I do not invest in big companies that much, but rather in seed startups. In most of these cases, they do not even have a very well set out product, but then I am investing in the team and there have been times where I have also onboarded these people into my team as well, because the entrepreneurial spirit is very important.
4. Recently you have been seen investing in numerous startup businesses in Bengal, do you think this investment can bring the city at par with other cities like Bangalore, Mumbai or Delhi that offer more promising opportunities?
Just my investments are not enough. The good that is happening here is the ecosystem that we are able to create. Since I came back to India in 2017, I have been focusing on building a startup ecosystem. I believe a nurturing ecosystem goes a much longer way than just individual sideload investments. It's about creating an ecosystem where people can look for co-founders, business partners or markets. So I run this programme called ‘Innovators over Coffee’ that happens on the last Friday of every month. This program serves as a safe place for startup founders and investors to come and talk to each other and also learn from senior entrepreneurs.
Offbeat CCU has also served as a hub for entrepreneurial energy, be it in the space of building a young tech startup, or cultural startup or even comedy. Once or twice a year, we also do bigger events, for example: the Techno India Startup Carnival, which witnessed 550 people attending it live and over a hundred thousand people attending it virtually last year. I do not agree at all with the idea that Kolkata is not a good place for startups. Yes, it may be on that level where the city needs massive funding. There are other cities which are much ahead of us but we are not very far away. I see the future is very bright and I am very optimistic about it. We are also organising a big festival on 29 October 2022 called the CCU Festival. It's a multi-stakeholder festival with numerous people coming together at Talkuthi Convention Centre.
5. This year Techno India is also inaugurating a sustainable Durga Idol. Can you share a few details about that?
This was actually our co-chairman’s idea, my mother Prof. Manoshi Roy Chowdhury, as she has always been a big proponent of sustainability, along with being a believer that the students should come forward and take the initiative. This is a completely student run venture and they have made a Durga Idol out of recycled materials. I believe with this venture we can also send a great message for other young people, that we only have one world and young people should be setting an example through their own lives and must also look forward to celebrating art through waste.
6. Any reason behind you using the airport code of Kolkata ‘CCU’ on your ventures.
Yes, because it is directly about Calcutta, New Kolkata. I have started using it in all my ventures from offbeat CCU to Topcat CCU. I intend to use a hint for new Calcutta. Calcutta 2.0 is CCU so it's about the growth, birth and re-invention of new Calcutta.
7. How can a young student understand whether his/her goal is in line with the corporate world’s setting or just too ambitious?
No, one can ever be too ambitious. I feel it's good that people are ambitious, it is something that is lacking in this part of the country. It is also the fault of our older generation which keeps on passing the message that having a safety net is more important than taking a risk. But, then life rewards risk takers. Sometimes an ecosystem which is there to nurture you really helps but one can never be too ambitious. Let's never teach our young generation to not be ambitious and focus on building a structure which can support their ambition. Furthermore, it's not always about being fit for the corporate but on the contrary being fit for the market. Sometimes, people have an idea or a problem which no corporation is solving and that's where the difference arises when it comes to doing something and building a startup ecosystem. It's about recognising what’s happening in the world, seeing a pattern because pattern recognition is crucial and thereafter solving a problem that you see around you. Calcutta has a lot of problems and in addition it also has a lot of people, which means a young student can definitely make the most out of it. We should learn to celebrate the good things as having a complaining nature has never got anyone anywhere. If you are positive about it then you will definitely find a way.
8. What according to you is more important: innovation or integrity?
Both are important, I think integrity is the most important, because at the end of the day it has to be customer centric. Your integrity depends on the hat you are wearing, where sometimes you have to show your integrity towards your shareholders, other times towards your customers. It is not that black and white. There is a fine balance between both and you can never have one without the other. Innovation in general is a little overrated. What can be termed as innovation in Silicon valley, in France or even in a western country might be way ahead of what we think of innovation here in Bengal. All cities are different, all states have their own ‘Gatbandhan’. I believe young people should understand and do innovation for what is necessarily required here and not engage in unnecessary innovation. For instance, solving a pothole problem in the locality around you is much more important than other things which are much more ahead of its time.
9. What tips and tricks can a young student follow to win over their first customers and first investors?
Talking to your customers. I find a lot of business owners do not talk to their customers. For instance, throwing light on myself, whenever I am judging a competition I am much more focused on how a problem is solved rather than focusing on the technology that is being used. Nani ghar is one such business which started small and scaled up by understanding their customer’s psyche. It does not have to be necessarily hi-tech as technology only helps you scale. I have the most amount of faith and respect for startups which take their time and do their research before jumping into the market. It's never a race against time, it's a race against yourself.
10. Lastly what advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur to foster their creative thinking?
I would say, do not believe in everything you read on the internet, do not listen to everything that people say around you. Understand that you know best, that you are creating your own version of yourself, because everyone creates their own version of themselves. We sometimes give too much importance to what people say around us, but most of the time they do not have the same context as you do. Also, I would say be ‘Shameless’. This is something I am saying to more and more young people as shame makes you not knock on enough doors asking for help. Shame bogs you down after rejection.
Ask for help, ask for funds and whatever it is that you need to build your business, because nobody else is going to come and do it. Being shameless would even make it much easier for you to work against rejection because there will be rejection, 90% of the times you will be rejected but to have enough strength and courage to reach the remaining 10%, you need to be shameless. I am so much inspired by Sunil Shetty, as when he joined LinkedIn, he reinvented himself as an entrepreneur and did not carry that baggage and fame of an entrepreneur. One has to show their worth in the work that they are doing and understand that every human being needs to reinvent themselves over time.
Being an entrepreneur means being optimistic at heart. Instead of spending time thinking about what they can't do, entrepreneurs as change makers often ask themselves, "Why can't I?" The odds will most of the times pile up against you when you start, so you really need someone who is more optimistic than ever and as our expert says if you are a self believer you are bound to make a difference.
About the CCU Fest: The festival aims to throw light on new Calcutta. As a city we already talk about old greats, the legends, these are the people we have looked up to in our past, but what about the new idols? Why are we not talking enough about or celebrating the new icons of the city? The ideology behind this move is to learn from the past and propel towards the future.