Launching a startup is similar to making a plane take off and overcoming turbu-lence, says this Startup Mentor
Anuj Batra is an innovative thinker and a versatile business leader with a track record of leading and managing startups, turnarounds and rapidly growing companies and establishing brands in diverse business verticals.
Having spent the initial years of his career straddling different business genres, he made it his life purpose to share his experience with young entrepreneurs.
Taking his passion for sustainable technologies seriously, he is also the co-founder for an electric vehicles startup and his latest pursuit is as co-founder of Andromeida Maritime Solutions that is developing customised patented Robotic products to make water usable. In a wide-ranging interview, he discusses, among other things, his passion for mentoring startups, his eclectic cross-sectoral experience, and the traits of a good entrepreneur. Here are the edited excerpts:
You have enjoyed a long and illustrious corporate journey. Please let us know about your formative years.
I was born and brought up in Jalandhar, and joined Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg in Jalandhar along with my siblings after class 5. I have beautiful memories of the school. The school helped me a lot in shaping up my personality and instilling entrepreneurship spirit.
As far as my entry into the professional world is concerned, I started out as a management trainee with Glaxo, selling Glucon-D and Complan. During that time, I got oppoerunity to travel the length and breadth of the country. From being a management trainee in Glaxo, I moved to Bajaj and then to Singer. I returned to Delhi and joined Singer India as regional manager, north. In this role, I launched their home appliances and later had the good fortune of launching Reebok in India through Phoenix Industries and over the years, different genres and product categories helped me move further in my career.
You’ve notched up cross-sectoral experience ranging from FMCG to consumer durables, technology to fashion. Was there any genre that you liked the most?
It so happened that I dealt with a diversity of genres and product categories. Starting with FMCG to consumer goods, consumer durables, then moving out to fashion, footwear and garments. I also brought international brands into India in footwear and accessories. Subsequently, I moved to pharma retail as a CEO of 98.4 and while at Tata International brought some global luxury brands into India. Those were the initial 15 odd years of professional life.
How and when did discovering the entrepreneurial bug inside you happen?
Many opportunities came in flowing my way when became the CEO for Birla Global and in that I was looking after the healthcare and wellness verticals in which I started around 10 startups in that space. I then forayed into education where again I ended up launching 6-7 start-ups followed up with retail chains in luxury and lifestyle, art and craft. So, these different genres helped shape my career and gave me an eclectic experience to challenge myself and hone up my capabilities in building some great teams.
My enthusiasm for startups used to excite me right from the beginning. Launching or mentoring a startup is similar to raising a child. You have to handhold, make them learn, help grow, create the culture, build teams and develop various skill sets. While generating an idea for your startup, first and foremost it’s important, you have to identify your target consumer and try to anticipate their behavior.
How do you explain your passion for startups and mentoring new ventures?
I had the fortune to be a jury for the World Startup Expo in 2016 and I was given the opportunity to choose 25 best startups out of India along with a couple of other judges. Sitting at the jury table I realised how beautifully the younger generation was able to visualise the future of the world and were creating differentiated products, but what they lacked was the experience of building organisations that will be able to really succeed.
Being able to do something for the youth became a lifelong quest for me so they can build some compelling startups for India and for the world.
With shows like ‘Shark Tank India’ training the spotlight on the power of business ideas, having been on the jury of many a start-up contest, what do you look for in a good entrepreneur?
To begin with, each and every student these days possesses a deep quest for doing something good in life. Secondly, as we have seen on Shark Tank, entrepreneurship is the new buzzword. The parents are willing and allow their kids to pursue startups as a career option. A serious student who wants to pursue entrepreneurship will come up with a great idea just by being a little more inquisitive in his or her day-to-day life. Over a period of time, leadership qualities can be developed and nurtured. But one important thing is that whatever idea you have, you must back it up with a great amount of research. Is the market really good and big or is it just something as a fashion that you are trying to do at that point of time? The best quality that an entrepreneur needs to have is to be able to build and nurture a great team. Always be hands on with iterating your product to suit the market opportunities that exist and ready to face the impending challenges.
Please let us know about your electric vehicles start-up and a robotics underwater venture.
We are responsible for future generations and to leave this planet in a much better condition than what we acquired. Earth, fire, water are a few elements that excited me and I thought why not work in these areas, where I can help develop and nurture some sustainable companies. That is why I am working as a co-founder in Andromeida, where we are working with AI and robots to purify water. Water is a scarce resource and there are tell-tale signs potable water may run out by 2030. So, we are developing our technology through AI and robotics to generate data and be able to purify water. My foray into EV was primarily for the reason that the air around us is badly polluted and we must come out with greener technologies which can be less polluting and more climate-friendly. There are some endeavours happening in that and there are around 23 start-ups that I am mentoring in the sustainable and climate tech space. I have interacted and guided more than 163 startups till date.
At what stage is the underwater robotics startup at? And how does the technology work?
When we were looking at the underwater robot segment, Andromeida came through as one of the participants in one of the forums that I was a jury in. I was considering working in the water space and an opportunity came by where they asked me to mentor them. I met these young students who had just graduated from RV College Bangalore and IISC and in another 15 days we will manufacture our fourth robot. There are many robots at various stages of development but the first commercial robot we are going to launch will be in the hospitality and swimming pools space. What the robot does is that it goes into the swimming pool and reads the chemistry of the water on the go: in terms of how much bacteria, how many viruses, what kinds of chemicals, the entire formula of water. It sends this data to the app of the pool manager or hotel, or condominium villa owner. After sending this data, it has another patented technology through which it can dispense various chemicals to bring the water back to its purest form. There are more parents in the pipeline. It identifies algae and sediments on the pool structure and sucks them out into the robot and automatically comes up on the surface in about two hours. We have tested the product in some of the dirtiest lakes in Bengaluru and other water bodies. Going forward we will develop new robots further and look at acoustic modems for underwater communication in the High Seas for data, disinfection, purification, exploration and other activities underwater in rivers and seas.