28. Vinay Chandra: The relentless optimism of the entrepreneur

Vinay Chandra, CEO of High Peak Software based in India and Atlanta, USA talks to Sue Stockdale about the highs and lows of being a serial entrepreneur.  Vinay is a versatile and multifaceted entrepreneur who has devoted his creative energy and restless passion into starting and running businesses around the globe. Over the last 25 years, he has successfully and unsuccessfully founded and operated multiple businesses on three continents. He is an Alabaman by birth, Bangalorean by upbringing and Bostonian by education.

After graduating with degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics from Boston University, his first stint involved working with his family’s electronic component manufacturing business facing bankruptcy in India. While this initial endeavor did not succeed, it embedded into him the words of Churchill, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

He continued his journey by moving to Germany and buying the assets of an energy saving lighting manufacturer and helped turn it around by innovating its products and globalizing the manufacturing supply chain. Along with quickly learning the German language, he also accumulated some experience trading commodities in the newly opened economies of Romania and Bulgaria.

His next stint involved moving to Atlanta, GA, and starting up a consulting business helping technology companies with their manpower needs. Facing the economic crisis of the early 2000’s, he saw the opportunity of leveraging talent in India and remotely supporting customers in the US. The challenge of finding qualified technical people in the US enabled the next phase of his venture-building by remotely developing software products for global customers, from the development center in India.

Over the last few years, as CEO of High Peak Software, he has been able to leverage his diverse entrepreneurial, social, educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to create products across fintech, manufacturing, legal tech and other industries leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.

When he is not brainstorming up new business ideas, Vinay is passionate about trekking, climbing and exploring the world together with his wife and two daughters. Together they have road tripped their way through 20 of India’s 29 states and embarked on adventures through many other parts of the world. Vinay’s love for the big mountains is reflected in the name of his company–High Peak Software.

You can find Vinay Chandra on LinkedIn here

Vinay Chandra Transcription 

Sue Stockdale: Hello, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast, where you can be inspired by people who may be unlike you. We hope that experiences enable you to transcend your day to day challenges and reflect on what you are capable of achieving. This week’s guest I’m speaking to is Vinay Chandra, who might describe himself as a serial entrepreneur. He is CEO of High Peak Software based in India and Atlanta in the US and during his career, he has founded and grown many businesses. Welcome to the podcast.

Vinay Chandra: Thank you, Sue. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Sue Stockdale: Now I’m really intrigued to find out a little bit about what motivates you to want to go through that experience if as a founder or taking a business and growing it to the next level and doing it more than once.

Vinay Chandra: And so I really have not done anything else in my life if I did an entrepreneurship. That’s the very strange answer to your question. Ever since I got out of university, it’s been sort of a combination of accidents as well as circumstances, which made me get into entrepreneurship and I’ve never looked back. I’m really a very excitable character. I love new things. I don’t have a lot of patience to keep doing the same thing again and again. So a lot of those things combined together in me wanting to do something new and starting new ventures.

Sue Stockdale: So I am fascinated by how you see it as not doing the same thing, time and time again, Vinay, I guess I want to come back to the start first of all, and to just tell us perhaps a little bit about your growing up your childhood and perhaps how that influenced your approach.

Vinay Chandra: Sure. I’m actually, as we speak, sitting in Bangalore India, this is where I originally come from. But, in that sense, I really don’t originally come from here because I was actually born in Auburn, Alabama, in the midst of the civil rights era, going back in the early seventies. My dad used to be a professor at Auburn and I happened to be born there. And we moved back when I was fairly young about two years old into Bangalore. And my dad continued his professorship at the local university here. So, my growing years were spent in India. India back then was a very socialist country it didn’t have a lot of entrepreneurs in its original sense. There was a lot of state running enterprise my dad actually started up his company and during these times everything was heavily licensed. And if you had to start something up, you had to actually get a license and do things from there. So, my dad actually got out of his professorship which was a very plum job and decided to challenge himself because he was sick and tired of the established hierarchy and the way things were being done and decided to start up a business after getting some money. So that was really in the midst of me growing up when I was fairly young, when I was about eight years old. So in that sense, I saw him make the change from being a professor and an academician into being an entrepreneur and that challenges that he faced with government regulations and how he had to set his business up from scratch, raising capital in a very difficult capital market, Back then banks would not lend to new businesses,  And I really saw that. And I guess that was what my growing years were like and then I spent time in India till I was 18 years till I finished my high schooling, and then moved to Boston for my undergraduate education.  I got degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering from Boston University. And that was essentially a little bit in terms of how I grew up.

Sue Stockdale: So you had perhaps a degree of inspiration from your father and observing his experience as a teenager.

Vinay Chandra: very much. So that was what I lived and breathed actually seeing him struggled through the travails of political entrepreneurship and that he was a first-time entrepreneur too. And he had no idea how this entire process worked being a technocrat, being a professor, one doesn’t really prepare themselves for the realities of how things actually work on the ground because there’s a reason why universities are called ivory towers.  And it’s really hard. And when you, when you actually step out into the real world, you get hit in the face with all the practicalities and back then India was a super difficult place for anyone to start up a business. This was late seventies and it was not easy for him in any sense. So, everything that you did was licensed and you had to get a ton of permits just to start up a free enterprise. That was what I lived through and was influenced by.

Sue Stockdale: So, once you had done your academic studies, did you go straight into starting up your own business after that? Or did you continue on in the world of academia yourself?

Vinay Chandra: I was supposed to go do my master’s degree. I had an offer from a very prestigious university and being the excitable guy that I am the plan that I actually had was to take a year off and bicycle through India. I bought myself a bike and a kit and was about to get on my bike. And India suddenly landed up in a very difficult time. This was the end of 1992 there were some communal riots in India. Because of it, I had to cancel my plans. So it was a very difficult year in India and then I was trying to figure out what to do next. And what I ended up with was actually trying to help my father with his business. So he had landed up in some difficult circumstances at that time there were some very rapid change of governmental regulations, which had happened at that time between the years, 90 to 92 in India, they were very committed. This India was literally bankrupt it did not have enough foreign exchange reserves because of the socialist nature of the country and the economy. and the government made some very rapid series of changes. And my dad had just planned for an expansion of his business and imported a lot of equipment from Europe. And just as the equipment landed up on the port, we found out the customs duty had been raised by 200%. So, it was quite a shock because the business was actually growing pretty well. But unfortunately, we found ourselves at the receiving end there a little bit, because we now had didn’t have the capital. It was, it was a couple of million dollars back then worth of capital. And we certainly had to figure out how to raise 200% of that to pay government duties, which made no sense at all. And my first experience was actually trying to do, I figured out the chapter 11 for a business that had been in existence for a reasonably long period of time, 150 employees. I’m trying to figure out how to keep the company and make it stand on its ground. So in the end I spent about a year and a half trying to do that. That was amazing experience really nose on the ground, trying to save the business, trying to raise capital, trying to work with the lenders, trying to work with the government agencies. which all came to naught. So, we had to close the business down. So that was my first experience with entrepreneurship.

Sue Stockdale: So one might imagine that having gone through that daunting experience of trying to save a business and being unsuccessful that it might have put you off and you would have gone a different route. How did you pick yourself up from that situation and move forward?

Vinay Chandra:  So I was very glad that at that point of time, I was extremely motivated in the sense that I had just come back from, from the US freshly educated so-called from stepping down from the ivory tower and seeing the reality of it. So I had a lot of energy to sort of say, was able to look at this through rather Rose colored glasses and not let it. That’s me as, as hard as it should have touched me. Um, it was a very, very difficult scenario because my family had a lot of personal guarantees in this. So we pretty much lost everything in this process and had to start a fresh. And I figured. You know, this is what it is unfortunately we don’t have control over all aspects of our life and we just have to roll with it. So I rolled with it and I didn’t necessarily know what I was going to do next. So I began by investigating, some of the things that I had done and this was a manufacturing setup that I was with my father. And I figured the best thing that I could do was continue with this manufacturing, because that was a core competence that I had built. Um, so I eked out some of the savings that I had and went to Germany and went to a manufacturing business fair, just to see what was around. I happened to meet a rather interesting person was an inventor and we’d had a few patents in manufacturing, some energy saving lighting. We were in the early days of energy saving back then. It’s something close to my heart. So I said, you know, this is something that we could really work with how about I go back and start working with this? See if I could set up a facility in India, doing these energy saving lighting. So I got back on the treadmill raised a little bit of money from friends and family. And started working with the gentlemen from Germany so that was my next foray into entrepreneurship.

Sue Stockdale: So I hope you’re enjoying my conversation with Vinay today. You will find lots of other episodes in our back catalog for you to listen to about entrepreneurship, including Alicia Silberg who is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and John Miles whose business improves economic prosperity for those living in Venezuela. And if you hop on over to our website, accesstoInspiration.org, you will find them all there along with the transcriptions for each episode.

Sue Stockdale:  I’m getting the sense of your belief in possibilities and looking for new opportunities. Would you say that those are two things that are part of your personality?

Vinay Chandra:  Yeah, absolutely. I have this never look back type of attitude so keep looking forward and keep looking at potential that can come your direction. So that was one of the things that I did. I saw that this was a pretty interesting opportunity and India was in its early stage of energy saving and, and I thought that could be a lot tremendous amount of benefits to the country as a whole. So I decided to get into that. Yes.

Sue Stockdale:  And was that business ultimately successful?

Vinay Chandra: No, unfortunately it was not right. So one of the things that I realized is you have to make sure you find the right partners. So in this scenario the person that I partner with, which was an amazing technician but he was a pretty lousy businessman. So what really happened was there was a lot of planning that I had done, fundraising that I had done,  and hadn’t reckoned with some crazy behavior on the part of my partner from Germany. So net of net, I had to close down the business, because it did not work. And right around that time, he also went bankrupt in his, a company in Germany. So, yeah, it was a rather unfortunate, So I was able to pick up from that and follow through by then, I had had a pretty good understanding of this particular business. So I actually moved to Germany at that point of time because I knew the business. We knew what the customers wanted. So together with somebody else that I had met and I had established a good relationship with in Germany, we decided to pick up the assets of this bankrupt company because we knew it well and decided to move it forward and see how we could turn it around. So that was a, a venture number three that took me to Germany from India.

Sue Stockdale: I understand perhaps that the actual location in Germany where you were wasn’t necessarily exactly conducive to how you would show up in the world.

Vinay Chandra: Yes. So that was actually pretty interesting. I grew up in a vegetarian family, and a non-alcoholic family. So, all through my university, I followed that ethos and followed it pretty strictly. And here I was all of 25 years old and in Germany in a small village of about 15 people believe it or not. And there were about 500 parks and a hundred cows together with that. And that goes where this factory was located, they employed about 20 people. So, I landed up in this place. It’s in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Franconia. People did not speak German there. They spoke a dialect Franconia and Frankish in German. So me not speaking German was an asset because any normal, high speaking gentleman who came in there did not understand the language. So, it made no sense anyway. So, I figured, you know, let me learn from scratch. So here I was in this little village of 15 people a colored individual with absolutely no foreigners in the radius of I would say about 50 kilometers, at least the nearest town was a town of Nuremberg, So it was, it was very interesting.  The whole experience I was very welcomed. People were excited to see me I was the youngest person in the company. I did not speak the language I looked different. So in that sense, I broke every possible mold that I could, going in to a very traditional hierarchical, old fashioned business setup. So, I guess I fit in perfectly from that scenario.

Sue Stockdale: Vinay, tell me how, how do you, how do you adapt when faced with those circumstances that many people might find quite threatening or even overwhelming?

Vinay Chandra: It’s usually a sink or swim approach too. It is, it is quite life threatening, right? So if you don’t adapt, you die it’s as simple as that. So here I was the vegetarian nonalcoholic in the middle of pork eating, beer guzzling, Germany. There were, there were 15 people, obviously in that village, there was a brewery. There were 15 breweries in a radius of probably five kilometers and there was no such thing as vegetarian food because even, even the salad came with bacon in it. So I, I managed with with rice and yogurt, which was a pretty staple, is how they get thing for, for about two weeks. And that was it. And then I said, you know, that’s, that’s it. So why not get into it and the best way to endear yourself as to people is, get in and share a meal with people. So that’s what I have found in all my travels around the world, working with different kinds of people. If you break bread with people it is an amazing experience and it is the most disarming thing that you can do. After a few weeks I said, okay, enough of it. And then I got into managing to eat everything around me and managing to enjoy beer. And since then I love beer.  I can eat anything that moves literally. And, that’s, that’s how I have survived. it’s, it’s quite amazing. Once you take your mental hangups out now you start looking at it from a lens of, this is what one needs to do to survive. You get through it and you start managing everything. Nothing becomes impossible after that. So I continued along the trajectory of manufacturing, and then I sold that business in Germany.  So, and fast forward the business which I started in 2011 actually is where I am right now it’s mostly software development. We not only build software for ourselves. We also help other companies build their product software. So, we do both of it we are a software, product development company, as well as an internal product development company. So, a lot of it revolves around AI and that’s something why it’s the buzzword. It’s something we have been doing for the last five years actually.

Sue Stockdale: So that’s artificial intelligence. You’re talking about, where do you see the world of artificial intelligence going?

Vinay Chandra: Um, there has been a lot of pride in AI. I would say in my academic and business life span over the last 30 years, it was actually one of the things that I studied about back in university and that was in Boston. Unfortunately, we just did not have the computing power back then to realize a lot of things that were happening, and I actually worked with a team at a university, which resulted in Siri today. So, Siri, in your iPhone comes from the team that I worked with back in the early nineties. So, it takes a long time for some of this technology to actually incubate and come out and get to the next level. AI is one such thing, because a massive amount of computation power that is required to get things done. So over the last five years computational power has increased. Cloud computing obviously has helped a great deal companies like Google and Microsoft and Apple have been very instrumental in pushing this technology forward. Partly because they have access to a tremendous amount of publicly sourced data, you and I are glad to use Gmail free of cost and give them access to our data and our photos on Google photos or and these companies are happy to take this free information and essentially turn their AI technologies on top of it, which has resulted in a lot  of advancement in the AI field. So, a lot of that what you see today is as a designer of some of these lives’ companies doing on their competition. And this industry is, is moving very, very rapidly making strides every year into dimensions that were previously not possible. We are also helping in our own small way in this particular area. So we have been contributing in manufacturing as well as in services with a couple of AI products and one of the things that is happening is actually helping remove mundane things that people do. So, as I told you at the beginning, I’m an excitable guy, and I don’t like to do reputative tasks again and again. So that’s one area where AI does come in. So there’s a lot of repetitive things that are done in businesses that can easily be taken over by AI systems. And, inspection is one such area within a factory. It could take the form of reviewing documents with the lawyer, for example.

Sue Stockdale: Vinay with all of those ventures that you have undertaken. If you look back now and reflect on what you have learned about being an entrepreneur, what do you think are the important messages that you could give to other people about entrepreneurship?

Vinay Chandra: First of all, have a very, very supportive partner at home.  , you can’t go anywhere with that, ensuring that your spouse or significant other is 150% behind you and has your back, because entrepreneurship is one of the most difficult things that you can do in your life. It’s not an easy place to be, especially because most entrepreneurs are, are low and resources higher than energy. And obviously energy doesn’t be of this and that’s all the set-up area. So, if you don’t have a supportive partner, you’re not going to get anywhere and that’s only going to make your life a lot more so sure. That side they’ll flip it up and make sure that if you are. Signing on a partner, make sure you tell him or her what they’re in for and they know what the real truth of it is.

Second thing is you have to be able to challenge your beliefs every single day. It is, you cannot hold it fast to a single belief and say, I’m going to live or die by this.  You have to make sure you consider evidence that contradicts your beliefs all the time. And in a lot of case, admit the possibility that you are just playing wrong. That’s a very, very important thing. And also knowing that when you’re wrong, it’s okay to reset and reboot.

It’s just impossible to know everything but It’s also knowing that you have the ability to challenge everything that you know, and that’s what entrepreneurship is about. It’s okay to challenge those things that, you know, come up with you assertions and go out and do your things. So that’s, that’s also one, one more thing. That’s actually helped me out.

The third thing is having the ability to keep your feet on the ground. But your head in the clouds. It’s a hard thing to do, obviously but you have to know when reality is reality and at the same time, have the ability to future think and dream.  It’s a very different scenario when you are faced with the possibility of not being able to make payroll this month. But you have to now think about your product that is going to come down the road, and that is going to be successful in a year or two. So you have to have that ability to keep that longer term timeframe, vision a bit and have the ability to drive yourself towards that. Being bipolar in that sense is, is also very entrepreneurial quality and being able to manage those things without letting that affect you or be more realistic is a very important quality as well. So those are some of the features, the things that I have found to be very helpful to me.

Sue Stockdale: I’m how do you keep yourself motivated? I’m thinking, it sounds like there’s a bit of a rhythm that you’re involved in taking adventure. I was starting out from scratch or taking it over, grow, you know, growing it and then finding a time that it’s time to leave and move on to the next thing to sail it or whatever. How do you know when it’s time to effectively fold, leave that and move on to something else?

Vinay Chandra: Obviously the easiest thing to do is when it fails, you move on, right? So that’s, that’s an easy one – not everything that you touch is going to succeed. If everything that you touch actually succeeds, then it’s actually a strange phenomenon. Then you haven’t been lucky enough because I think the best thing that can happen to an entrepreneur early enough in their career it’s to have failures because failures are the foundation to success. At least I have a bunch of intrepreneurs within my company which means that we have micro businesses within the company. There, we have micro ideas which are being incubated. And multiple businesses being incubated at the same time. So we set up these teams of microentrepreneurs you know, and they go out and work with their internal, external customers and build their products. So for me, I dabble in a bunch of different things at the moment I have the ability to get in and out of some of these things on a day to day basis. So I keep myself very, very motivated because every single day, and in each of these teams, they’ve got a young folks who are very energetic. I see a lot of me in, in them and it really is likes me and motivates me to mentor these people and work with them as they make their mistakes and as they, they grow their small businesses internally and work with their customers. So that keeps me extremely excited.

Sue Stockdale:  So my final question to you Vinay is if you could go back to the start as a young boy and knowing that what you know about entrepreneurship, what would you learn?

Vinay Chandra: It is really the journey that matters and not the destination and entrepreneurship from that perspective is a journey. You have to enjoy every single day of the journey. It’s akin to being on a multi-day hike. And you’re actually enjoying the scenery. You’re not thinking about where you’re getting to at the end, but it’s the smallest steps in between that you’re enjoying and air that you’re breathing, the streams that you’re crossing, the little stumbles that you’re taking along the way. So that is what one needs to enjoy. Don’t look at it as a, get rich, quick scheme. It’s not the case. That’s never going to happen. Nothing in life happens quick. And if it has happened quick you know, you’re fortunate at the same time, unfortunate because you haven’t had this sense of, of the journey. So follow the journey and make the most of the journey. It’s, it’s really all about the journey.

Sue Stockdale: So it sounds like the richness comes from the richness of experience rather than just purely financial wealth.

Vinay Chandra:  Yes. And if you have the right motivation and the right attitude, financial motivation comes to you at the end of it. It is the result of what you’re doing. If you’re not thinking about it too much, it will come to you. It’s, it’s one of those things. It’s actually a very karmic thought. Do the task at hand, in a fully fulfilled way. And the results will come to you. You don’t have to necessarily think about the results. If it is yours, it will come to you.

Sue Stockdale: Wise words so much to leave our conversation. Vinay it’s been a great pleasure to talk to you today and get your insights about entrepreneurship and life. And if people want to find out more about you and your business and what you do, how might they do that?

Vinay Chandra: HighPeakSW.com is the name of the business, and it was truly a pleasure to talk to you today. So, I’m glad to have conveyed a few of the tidbits that have learnt along my life, along the way with you.

Sue Stockdale: Thank you very much for your time.

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1 comment on “28. Vinay Chandra: The relentless optimism of the entrepreneur

  1. Optimism is essential for entrepreneurs at all stages of their careers.

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