Kalyan Kar is a man of power. He has handled 16 startups so far and now runs six startups under the inCube umbrella. The last start-up he sold was valued at $44 million and which eventually got re-sold again for $140 million. Today he runs startups that are aiming to revolutionise the common man.
He believes that India, especially rural India, today needs technology to solve its problems in the area of Health, Education, Agriculture & Livelihood – he calls it “HEAL India”, and his startups are working in these areas, making a difference in the lives of the common man and creating a social impact.
He firmly believes that 500mn people at the base of the pyramid in India can change the game if technology empowers them.
But what people don’t really know is this is a man who once had to give up his car, leave his house and go through numerous struggles to reach where he is now. There were many moments where he’d sit and cry to himself, and there were many moments where he’d question God’s plan for him.
He always kept one thing very close to him. His integrity. This is his story.
Kalyan’s Early Life and Education
Kalyan was always a studious kid, reasonably good with academics. However, he always felt that he wasn’t as sharp as his friends, but were very sincere and hardworking. Which meant he would take a while to understand complexities as well as the basic dynamics of the world.
But this didn’t stop him from reaching his goal. He was a hard-working man and would work with an extreme dedication which would get him through many obstacles in his life.
Kalyan passed out from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) in the year 1990 as well as from the Institute of Cost & Works Accountants of India (ICWAI) in the same year, with All India Merit Rank in both the examinations.
He then took a job and was working with one of the largest electricity supplier company in the country called CESC (Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation). That was the time when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India and automation was booming in the country, and Kalyan had the conviction that one-day technology will take India to the next level and make India a global super-power.
Having worked with CESC for five years, Kalyan decided in the year 1995, to become an entrepreneur and started various types of businesses.
He got into the IT sector and began training the people there
Kalyan started getting his hands into a few startups, most of which didn’t seem to work out. But he soon realised that the IT sector in India was going to flourish immensely in the near future. So he decided he’d start a venture where he’d start educating and training people in the IT industry.
He would train individuals in Java and certify them with Sun Microsystem. During that same time, Sauvik Banerjjee (a global technology evangelist who now is pioneering the startup ecosystem in Mumbai) was one of Kalyan’s student.
But then 9/11 happened, and its aftermath was chaotic. Jobs crashed, economies crumbled and IT businesses fell down. Kalyan had his investments and an infrastructure set for his company, but it just wasn’t enough to keep him afloat.
He tried whatever he could do to bring himself back up
Kalyan wanted to see if he could somehow make the use of the internet to get business from foreign countries. So in the year 2000, he set up an IT BPO company which was the first ever BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) company in the eastern India. It was so unique that back then, people had no clue what a BPO was.
However, Kalyan was getting into deep financial stress. He had to abandon his car which he had bought on a lease, he was not able to pay the EMIs any longer, and he was unable to repay debt from his previous business which had collapsed.
It was at this time when an opportunity came knocking by. A US-based company was looking for partners in India, and Kalyan was able to get them interested into forming a partnership with his business.
This partnership would have been a very critical for him because his business was beginning to collapse (again) and he didn’t know how he could impress this company.
But he had no choice; he had to make this work.
Months had passed after he had pitched his plans to the US-based company before he finally got to know that finally, the company short-listed him, beating eight other companies across India who were also eyeing for this business opportunity. He was asked to travel to the US to sign the contract and close the deal.
Borrowing money from a friend, he travelled to the US to sign the deal, but when he met the company, he wanted to ask them one question.
“You guys must have evaluated a lot of partners, and I am sure you would have people who are much bigger and better than me. So why even choose me?”
The company said among all the partners they had scored, they kept 20% of the score to evaluate the head, who would be the guy running the show. On that part, Kalyan’s score was the highest. His score was so high that it which made his entire company’s score higher than the others.
But that wasn’t good enough; there was still something else that was bothering Kalyan. To the company’s surprise, he asked for more time before closing the deal.
Did they know who he really was?
Kalyan had failed multiple times, and he was also in deep financial stress. He didn’t sleep that night because he was worried if they probably didn’t realise they were putting so much money into a failed entrepreneur.
This deal would greatly help Kalyan’s company grow, and the partnership was as good as confirmed. But he still couldn’t sign the deal if he knew he would be sacrificing his integrity/honesty for it.
Which was why the next day, Kalyan decided to disclose about his failed status to the co-founders of the company, just to be clear to his conscience, eventhough doing so would have greatly risked this deal, which was his last resort to stay afloat.
This was because he told himself that he cannot start a business relationship with a partner on a platform which was not built with transparency, even if that layer of transparency risked collapsing the deal.
Kalyan met with John West, the Chairman and angel investor of the company and he asked him this:
“John, do you know that you are about to put all your money on a failed entrepreneur and that I am financially at a very distressed position? What if I’m unable to prove my worth? I want to go back home knowing that I have been very honest with my prospective partners and there was nothing that I hid from them.”
“You know what? We did a thorough background check of you and your company and all that you told me is something that I already know. There is nothing new to me but the fact that you confronted. Risking this whole opportunity of the business, only proves to me that you are an extremely honest person I can trust.”
John also went on to say what has remained in Kalyan’s heart for the rest of his lives – “By failing earlier, you have learnt what NOT to do and hence now you are a far more capable entrepreneur and our investments will be safe in your hands. It is very important that we learn to celebrate failure, which paves the way to future success. What you need are the basic values of integrity and positive attitude along with your Competence and Compassion, and you shall build an organisation of trust and respect”.
And that was the biggest learning for Kalyan that day.
The deal was closed, Kalyan scaled his company to over 600 people and eventually a few years later the Company was acquired for $44 million.
The “Swades effect” forced him to dedicate his life to India
Swades was a movie that inspired Kalyan a lot. Standing in his office in Bangalore, looking at the beautiful scenery outside, he asked himself “Is this India or is India beyond this?”
Being in the IT industry, Kalyan asked, “What have I done to uplift the marginalised people of this country. What about the common man?”
That kept bothering him for a long time. When the company got acquired, he told his investors that he would like to pursue his dream of HEAL India, using technology for Social Impact on Health, Education, Agriculture & Livelihood.
Before leaving, Kalyan assured the new Investors, “Don’t worry, give me a year’s time I will handhold the company, and it will be perfectly okay. But I need to go and pursue my dream.”
They asked what his dream was about, to which he replied: “My dream is to use technology for the common man in India”.
Where is Kalyan today?
Today Kalyan is the co-founder and managing director of InQube Innoventures, a company, under which he runs startups that try to use technology to bring change in the various sectors in India, primarily focusing on Health, Education, Agriculture & Livelihood.
He considers himself blessed as his dream is being supported by a fantastic group of like-minded professionals all aligned towards the common belief of HEAL India and becoming a part of the nation building exercise.
A man like Kalyan who has been through many bad phases knows the value of being successful
Recalling his days of struggle he says, “Today I thank God for those painful days because then when I used to cry sitting on the mattress at night, asking him “Why you are doing this to me? I have never been wrong to anybody, I have never cheated anyone, so why the pain?”
I got his reply, not immediately, but years later. All this while he was training me and teaching me the hardships of life. So that I could succeed later on.
My biggest life learnings were those few years which were in the darkest phase of my life, and I feel blessed.”
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