Taking the Plunge: From Techie to Entrepreneur

June 17, 2021

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To start a conversation, just ask. In this TechTalk podcast episode, EisnerAmper’s West Coast Technology and Life Sciences Practice Leader Amar Bhatkhande asks CEO and Co-Founder of MediaAgility Rajesh Abhyankar about how he started and grew his global digital consulting business to upwards of 400 employees—and what excites him about the future. Also, hear firsthand about a meaningful conversation that continues to influence Abhyankar today.


Transcript

Amar Bhatkhande: Hello and welcome to Tech Talk. I'm your host today, Amar Bhatkhandé, Technology and Life Sciences West Coast Practice Leader at EisnerAmper. And with me today is a very special guest, Rajesh Abhyankar, CEO and Co-Founder of MediaAgility.

Conversations can help you navigate your entrepreneurial journey. Today you will get to hear firsthand from Rajesh about his journey from his days being a techie, to launching of MediaAgility, to growing it into a successful business enterprise. What you hear today may give you a different perspective and influence your next business decision. It's great to see you, Rajesh. Thank you for joining me today. Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.
Rajesh Abhyankar: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, really excited to have this Tech Talk with you. My name is Rajesh Abhyankar. I am based in the Princeton, New Jersey area. I'm the CEO and Co-Founder of MediaAgility, it's a digital consulting services company based in the US, and we have offices around the world.

What was exciting about this opportunity, Amar, was that in preparation for this chat I was reflecting back on the last eight or nine years of my journey. And in the early days I had just turned 40, that's a pretty in the late one would say for an entrepreneurial venture to get into, there's a lot of risk involved. I had young kids going to school, like everyone else has mortgage and other responsibilities. And in those days that I really took the plunge and started the company and happy to chat a little more about that experiences during that time.

Fast forward to now, we are about 400 people now in the US, India, Mexico, and also our presence in Europe has now started with UK. And we have a strong Google Cloud partnership, there's a vibrant client community, mostly large enterprises, and also some mid-market companies in both these countries, and a very diverse team. Being global from the beginning allowed us to embrace diversity at the root of the company. So that's who we are now, I'll be happy to go deeper into any aspects of how we got started and where we are today.
AB: Perfect. So why don't you just tell us a little bit more about your business, how did you launch it? How did you grow it? And I know you're 400 people, or 500 people strong, how do you get here?
RA: Sure. I did not have any experience, or the training, or an MBA under my belt to know how to start a company, let alone how to run it efficiently. So the first three to four years is pretty much MBA on the job, I like to call it. It was one thing in my previous job, I was running a practice, so that's one thing to run a technology driven practice and manage a book of business and a bunch of clients, but then when you start from scratch, it's a clean slate, it's what's the vision and the mission of the company going to be, what are the policies that we want to start with, what are all the departments? People opportunities, and technology delivery, project management, sales, and marketing, and there was nothing there. So it was a bit overwhelming to begin with. So we didn't quite start from zero, we had a couple of clients that came over that wanted to work with the team that had started MediaAgility.

And one thing that became very clear in the beginning that there has to be a very strong reason why you start a company. I didn't look at it as a business, I looked at it as an opportunity to create something that I always... A dream company that I always wanted to work for myself. So I actually started with a list of things that I did not want the company to be. And actually, it's through that list of negation I said then, if I don't want the company to be these 10 things, then it leaves the room open for all other possibilities.

And some of those things were... We don't want to be just another IT consulting company, we don't want to just follow the same industrial age thought processes on HR, and yearly performance appraisals, and the hierarchy of people, and the politics, and the bureaucracy and everything that comes with it. So there were many other things that were on that list, but that's how we started. I would say pretty much until 2015... So this was back in 2012 when I started in '15, '16, I would say is when we figured out what we want it to be. In those early days, we tried many different business models, B to C, a lot of mobile apps because that was app economy and the app factory was a pretty attractive business model at that time. There was social media, there's the traditional IT services, and then the cloud, and AI and ML.

So there were a lot of possibilities, but it became very clear that the cloud adoption is going to be the key to unlocking the digital transformation and the next architecture that was emerging. Google Cloud was getting started with their partner ecosystem, and we were pretty early on in that ecosystem, and we got a lot of attention. We became a premier partner pretty soon. And we had to specialize in something we didn't want to come across as a Swiss army knife of anything and everything for everyone. And there were different dimensions in which we could have specialized, but in this case, we decided to double down on our Google Cloud specialization and that has helped us really well.
AB:Great. So I also read somewhere in your profile that MediaAgility is a people first company. Can you tell me a little bit more about it, what do you mean by that? And it also says it's a proponent of beginner's mind. Can you just elaborate on that?
RA: Sure. I mean, that's the question I can record a whole episode on. Let's talk about the beginner's mind first. And those who are probably in their 40s and 50s or beyond might be able to relate to this more, that as you gain more and more expertise, and the more experience, you tend to stick to, in certain schools of taught that, "Oh, this is how it has always been done." Or, "This is how it should be done." And I have 20 plus years of experience, and this is what I think it should be done in a certain way.

With that approach, I think you lose out on the freshness of possibilities and ideas. So our view of beginner's mind and the reason we adopted that as one of our core principles was that we want to be open to all ideas, whether they come from someone who's just joined us in their first job, or someone who's been for decades in the company, and we just want to make people aware that they may be unconsciously hanging on to certain ideas, and it's okay to change your mind. It doesn't have to always be that way because that it's always done that way.

That's really what it is, it's allowing the room for people to change their minds, to be open for new and fresh ideas. And also on a lighter note, it stops people for saying, "Oh, in our days we did it that way." And if you're doing that, then you're already stuck in the past. So this kind of reminds us that we always need to be in the moment, be open to ideas, embrace the fresh ideas and thoughts and give that a shot rather than clinging on the old ideas. So that's what the beginner's mind means for us.

And about people first. We are a consulting company so it's not a product, it's not a platform, we do have some IP, but essentially it's a consulting services business that we are in, which is people to people, whether we are partnering with companies like Google Cloud, that's a people-based partnership, when we're partnering with our clients, that's again, people to people. And so it's essential to put people first into our strategic framework.

So it's the people first, it's focused on exceptional services, and thinking global. So those are the three areas that we focus on, but the people first really means if you have... There's a concept of a flywheel. So that's where it starts. The people are at the beginning of the flywheel and our flywheel spins only when we have talented people building amazing solutions and that attracts more clients and so on. So it's really that. People first is that at the heart of our business model.
AB:Can't agree more with you. I think we are in the same consulting business, and for us, people come first. So absolutely agree with you. No conversation would ever be complete if I don't ask you this question related to COVID-19 and everything that's been happening to us in past one year. Can you tell me one thing that you will take away from this past year and what really excites you about the future?
RA:Yeah, that's a good question. In the middle of all the challenges that we've all gone through, there's definitely something that has emerged, and that is a wake up call, or a reminder for all of us that we all talk about, time is money, and health is wealth. But this is the first time that we have actually seen it, experienced it all around us. It has also reminded us of the whole frigidity of how fragile life can be and why it makes sense to always be grounded and focused on what you're working on. And life is really too short, and that's the one thing that I hear again and again, when I talked to a lot of our people.

What we did in the people ops is we had this daily check-in process. So every single person of our global team was checked in upon by somebody else regularly, and all the way up there was a chain of check-ins and people felt extremely connected. And more often than not, what we would hear is it's really this disconnection and the team that they are in, that's more important to them than anything else that they do at work. So if there's one thing I would say, it's really reminding ourselves of counting every single day and making sure that your work has affected someone, that you are doing meaningful work. And if it's not, then it's time to look for something else that you really enjoy doing. So that whole lifting the human spirit through meaningful work is what has emerged out of this learning.
AB: And that's a great point you make, Rajesh, I think that's critical for every one of us to understand as we move forward. So I'll shift gears a little bit and ask you, I mean, EisnerAmper is an accounting and a business advisory firm. Now, what kind of support team or business advisors did you put in place and how important was that to you along your entrepreneurial journey?
RA:Yeah, that's a good question. No company's an island and obviously we can't do everything by ourselves. So while we were focused on the core value delivery to our clients, we had built a pretty complex international operations ourselves. 10 plus states in the US, and each state has their department of state, and revenue and labor. And then there are five countries that we operated in. So that global operations alone cannot be handled by ourselves. So we rely extensively on a lot of... Not just advisory in terms of compliance and conducting operations in different countries, but specific areas of expertise like accounting and audit, immigration and labor laws in different countries. And more importantly in sales and marketing, branding, so many different advisory companies I can list.

But the one that has made the most impact in more recent years has been a branding agency that we hired in Mumbai, in India, that every brand needs a refresh every seven to 10 years and we had reached a point now after about nine years of being MediaAgility. The word media started with our focus in the media entertainment industry, but then since then we have expanded. So the branding agencies that we worked with, they really helped interview a lot of our people, our clients, our partners, and then came up with a better understanding of who we are and how to position ourselves. So yeah, but the short answer is there are countless number of business advisory firms that we rely on, we have relied on since the beginning, and more so now as we expand globally.
AB:Perfect. That's also very true about for anyone. For us every seven years we do try to rebrand. So I think it makes a lot of sense. Let me ask you this, what's one conversation you have had that continues to influence you even today? Now, I know you've had several conversations throughout your 25 years of your experience, starting with a techie, but there has to be, or would be one such conversation, would you like to share that?
RA: Yeah. As you said, there are many during various of my international plane trips, always strike a conversation with somebody sitting next to me, try to find interesting people that I come across and just reach out to them. So one lesson that I've learned is it doesn't harm to ask if someone's willing to talk. In the very early days, I would say in 2013 or '14, in the very early days there's a book that came out called The Elephant Catchers. It was about sales and how it's different selling to small deals and small businesses, and it's quite a different sales apparatus that's acquired if you are aiming for bigger deals and bigger contracts.

And so the author of the book was Subroto Bagchi, is the founder of Mindtree in Bangalore, if you heard the name. In his book, published author, founder, and chairman of the company. But I didn't shy away, I found his email address and wrote to him saying, "Will you be willing to meet me because I'm starting a new company and I clearly influenced by the books that you've written." And to my surprise, he replied back and said, "Sure." And he gave me an appointment in Bangalore, my next trip to India I went down there. And had a good half an hour chat with him, and we talked about different things.

But there's one thing that still resonates with me, or I still remember, to answer your question, which is, what he said is although it's a technology services business, the company that you are in, my role, it's going to be less about technology and it's going to be all about people. And more of my time is going to be spent hiring great talent, giving them the confidence that they can build a strong career here, retaining that talent, investing time in their personal journey, their personal career growth. And that has still influenced us today.

So every single person in the company today has their own career plan. So they have a one-year and a three-year view. We sit down with them every six months to make sure that we are making progress in that direction. We've come up with our own like value profile as we call it, the system. Yeah, so that's one conversation that has been extremely influential in the very first year or so that I had, and the other lesson learned was no matter how famous a person is, they are just people like us, and they're willing to talk if you just ask. At the most they'll say no, but there's nothing shying away from asking for that one opportunity to connect.
AB:Perfect. I think at the end of the day, Rajesh, it's all about people. So Rajesh, thank you for your time to have a conversation with me today, and thanks to our listeners for tuning into Tech Talks. Subscribe to EisnerAmper podcast wherever you listen to podcasts for more Tech Talk episodes. Join us for our next podcast episode, or visit eisneramper.com for more tech news you can use. Thank you.

About Amar Bhatkhande

Amar Bhatkhandé is an Audit Partner and a leader in the Life Sciences and Technology Services Group for the firm's West Coast practice, with over 25 years of experience in public accounting and 2 years in private.


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