Data from GWI shows that the average internet user spends more than 40 per cent of their waking day online. Statista reports indicate that almost 84 per cent of the world’s population today owns a smartphone. Alongside the likes of US, Canada, Indonesia, South Korea and Brazil, India, too, has become a mobile-first market, with most of us spending close to five hours each day glued to our phones.
Whether you are technophile or a luddite, there is no debating that technology has drastically reoriented modern life. As a dedicated member of the technophile group, Subhash R. Ghosh has not only embraced technology but also played his part in engineering it for greater innovation and entrepreneurship. The Founder and CEO of two global businesses, Technoplat and Lemon Advisors UK, Subhash was recognised as an “Exceptional Talent in Digital Innovation” by the British government in 2018 and conferred with an honorary Tier 1 visa for the UK (a special visa issued to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the technology sector in the UK, as identified by Tech Nation, a UK government agency), which eventually leads to UK citizenship.
My Kolkata caught up with Subhash to trace his tech philosophy, his entrepreneurial journey, his formative years in Kolkata and more.
Edited excerpts from the conversation follow.
Subhash with his wife Susmita and their daughters Shalini and SuhaniCourtesy Subhash R. Ghosh
Family shopping in Hatibagan market to free 'muri' and 'telebhaja' on birthdays
My Kolkata: Were you born and brought up in Kolkata? How long did you spend in the city before leaving for the UK?
Subhash R. Ghosh: I was born in Durgapur, but I spent a part of my childhood in North Kolkata, living on Hari Ghosh Street. My father was in banking, which was a transferable job, and that meant I kept moving across cities and had to change schools seven times. I eventually came back to Kolkata for my graduation, which I completed from Scottish Church College. After that, I left the city for Pune in 1996, when I was 23.
What are some of your best memories of growing up in Kolkata?
The ’80s Kolkata was very different from what we have today. We lived in a big joint family with no less than 30 members! I distinctly remember going from Hatibagan to Shyambazar with my auntie (pishi) and buying a plethora of things from Variety Stores. Every Sunday, I’d accompany my father to the Hatibagan market for family shopping. I used to love the lassi at Kapila Ashram (on Bidhan Sarani Road) and even today when I’m in the city, I make it a point to go there and have at least one glass. Since I was born on January 23 — one of the reasons my name is Subhash — I used to get special treatment from this store called Lakshmi Narayan Shau (also on Bidhan Sarani Road). Every year on my birthday, I’d go there all decked up and come back with a packet of free muri and telebhaja!
A bite of kulfi at Ralli’s and visits to 6 Ballygunge Place and Tribe
Kulfi at Ralli’s is still among Subhash’s favourite things to eat in KolkataTT archives
How often do you come back to Kolkata? What are your favourite places to go/restaurants to check out when you are back?
I try to come back once every quarter, usually when I have work somewhere in India or Asia. When I’m back, I love going to Ralli’s for the kulfi there. In spite of being a diabetic, I can never resist a bite. I generally take someone along with me, so that they can finish it off! 6 Ballygunge Place is another favourite place. Another place I’ve discovered recently is this cafe in Golpark called Tribe. I really like that, especially for its setting and ambience.
Kolkata can provide a sense of solitude from the rat race
London is a cleaner version of Kolkata, feels SubhashUnsplash
Having lived in the UK for so long, what do you miss about Kolkata the most? Does living in London make you miss Kolkata less?
I’ve been living in London since 2012. Both cities are quite different, and I don’t think comparisons are justified. But if I have to, then I suppose that London is, in some ways, a much cleaner version of Kolkata and a far more disciplined one at that. A lot of the roads and the buildings and the structures share similarities. The other day I saw a house on Southall bearing the same number as my house on Hari Ghosh Street in Kolkata and sent my family a picture of the house! But having travelled around the world, I must say that Kolkata still has a lot of heart. There’s a certain respite that one can have in the relative aloofness of Kolkata. Even to this day, Kolkata can provide a sense of solitude from the rat race.
Nandan, the British Council Library and USIS were places that truly made me
During his college days, Subhash spent a lot of his time watching films at NandanTT Archives
How do you look back on your time at Scottish Church College where you completed your BA in Political Science? Did the degree in any way equip you for the road ahead?
While I was enrolled to study political science at Scottish Church College, I spent most of my time at Nandan, the British Council Library and the American Library at USIS. Those were the places that truly made me, satiating my appetite for curiosity and knowledge. As an active quizzer, I’d consume as much information as I could. Honestly speaking, during my college days between 1992 and 1995, my friends and I didn’t really attend as many classes or lectures as we should have. My professors at Scottish were kind enough to give me as well as my batchmates the freedom to explore. We enjoyed our college life, soaked in as much as we could and built relationships for a lifetime. I also took an active interest in other Indian languages (he knows seven at present), to the extent that when Roja released in 1992, I was one of the first ones in Eastern India to have watched its Tamil version. My college years in Kolkata helped shape my knowledge, intellectual depth and general worldview.
Unless you understand traditional business, you won’t understand digital
Building relationships is key to any form of business, explains SubhashCourtesy Subhash R. Ghosh
Borrowing two terms from your LinkedIn profile, what do you feel are the must-haves for a “digital media specialist” and a successful “dealmaker” today?
Building relationships is key for both. Especially in dealmaking, which isn’t brokerage. It’s about building trust and understanding the nuances and complexities of different people and different cultures. In terms of other must-haves, you’ve first got to understand traditional business. Unless you do that, you won’t understand digital either, since the fundamentals remain the same. Once you’ve done that, you need to dig deep into how different media work differently in the digital domain and how each of them can be optimised. Thirdly, you need to appreciate the importance of geography and how that changes positioning. With no disrespect, if we use the Ramayana as a product, then Ram would be the hero in India but in Sri Lanka, it’d be Ravan who’d be seen as the hero. It’s all about perspective based on positioning and perception.
We give more importance to how we can scale up a company
Technoplat incubates startups for three years, as compared to most other incubators that do so for three to six monthsTechnoplat/Twitter
At Technoplat, where you are both Founder and CEO, you incubate and grow tech-based startups around the world. What are the criteria you look at when you select the startups?
The moment you’re an accelerator or an incubator you have a thousand companies standing in line waiting to join you. Everytime you incubate someone, you also expose yourself to risk. It’s a big risk, albeit a calculated one, more so for us since we incubate for three years, while most others do it for six months. But we don’t select startups ourselves, at least not from scratch. We partner with other global incubators and accelerators, where typically every incubator runs cohorts for six months. To give you an example, generally out of a cohort of 10 startups, probably one or two would get the real deal during a period of six months. But that doesn’t mean the remaining eight startups are bad companies. What we do is that we look at these remaining companies, not just because they’re good, but also because they’ve already been screened, verified and validated and that reduces the risk for us, if not eliminating it altogether. Then we pick the ones for incubation from among these eight based on our industry expertise and mentor suggestions. When we’re narrowing down, in addition to understanding the needs of the startups, we have to be conscious of the journey that we’re going to help them embark on. Before seeing what a startup can do for us (in terms of revenue), we see what we can do for them for their respective growth.
A new dimension in the innovation space; health tech has become big
Health tech has made great strides during the pandemic, says SubhashTT Archives
How has the pandemic impacted tech-based startups? What are the latest trends that have emerged?
Covid-19 has definitely opened up a new dimension in the innovation space. Health tech has become big, with more and more companies, including blockchain companies, investing in this sector. We’re currently incubating a startup from IIT Mumbai which has come up with a contactless stethoscope so as to rule out chances of infection. Their innovation allows patients to be in a confined zone while doctors can examine them from a safe distance in a glass room. Another vertical that is growing big time, horizontally as well as vertically, is e-commerce. All these go to prove the old adage once more: necessity is the mother of invention.
Technology is getting market-ready much faster
According to Subhash, people’s ability to use technology has gone up in leaps and bounds in the last few yearsTT Archives
You are also the Founder and CEO at Lemon Advisers UK, which provides advisory services related to business growth, business development and international scaling in the tech sector. In the decade that Lemon Advisers has been active for, what have you seen as the most notable changes in tech-related businesses?
Previously, innovation would take its own sweet time and breakthroughs in research would take a long while before entering the market. That’s no longer the case, as technology is getting market-ready much faster. A reason behind this is that collective knowledge or the ability to use tech has gone up a lot. In the mid-1990s, selling mobile phones to people in India, especially to those above 50, was a massive challenge. Today, India has the second largest base of mobile subscribers in the world, across all age groups. Tech is becoming more consumer friendly, and life is becoming much easier as a result. Empowerment by tech can be seen across areas like education, banking and payments, health and other sectors. Not to mention content consumption across media, which is one of the largest verticals, has grown manifold and is still growing.
Always build bridges… unless you really need to, don’t terminate relationships
What would be your advice to all the young Subhashes reading this who aspire to build and grow companies?
Always build bridges. Unless you really need to, don’t terminate relationships. When you’re making a deal, don’t make a bad impression. Don’t leave on a sour note even if the deal doesn’t work out. Keep learning, admit to your mistakes, say sorry and really mean it. Remember that everything teaches you something, nothing is garbage. Not even your Facebook newsfeed, for that matter!
My favourite Apple gadget of all-time would be the MacBook Air
Subhash is an Apple loyalist and owns practically every type of gadget the company has come up with in recent yearsTT Archives
Your Twitter bio describes you as a “gadget freak”. Your first job was with a mobile phone operator in Kolkata, right? How do you look back on those days?
What I learnt from my first job is that there’s no space for emotions during work hours. You have to be professional through and through. I distinctly remember a customer humiliating me during my first job, for no fault of mine. The reason was my refusal to subscribe to his unprofessional attitude. I was almost in tears, but my first boss asked me to take it in my stride. He said, “Between 9:30am and 6:30am, keep your emotions aside.” It’s something I follow to this day.
What are some of the gadgets you love the most? Can you pick one as your all-time favourite?
I’m a hardcore Apple fan. I own practically everything that Apple sells. My favourite Apple gadget of all-time would be the MacBook Air. I upgrade it every three years. It pinches a hole in my pocket, but it’s worth it. I still have an iPod, which I purchased in 2007, and it still works!
When it comes to books, John Grisham is among Subhash’s most favourite author
You also love your books and films. What has been on your reading and watching lists recently? Any particular work that has left a strong impression of late?
I watched Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Jana Gana Mana (on Netflix) recently. Anyone claiming to be a real Indian must watch the film. In terms of books, I’m currently reading Matinee Men by my friend Roshmila Bhattacharya along with John Grisham’s Sparring Partners. I also happened to pick up a compilation of Anandabazar Patrika articles the other day, which I’m looking forward to reading.
I’ve always tried to reinvent myself every three to four years
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Five years is too far ahead. I’d rather look at the next two years for now, during which I’d like to get a driving licence in the UK and also publish my memoir. I’ve always tried to reinvent myself every three to four years. So, hopefully, that’ll keep on happening and keep me on my toes. Different versions of Subhash will keep appearing, both professionally and personally, albeit with the same spouse (laughs)!