Nandini Vaidyanathan – The Start-Up specialist

She’s a traveling teacher who teaches entrepreneurship in several ivy-league business schools around the world including Princeton, London School of Economics and National University of Singapore, overseas and in India in IIMA, IIMB, IIML and ISB. Her moment of epiphany happened six years ago when she realized that in India not too many people became entrepreneurs simply because they didn’t know how. Thus began her journey of mentoring entrepreneurs.  After having mentored 700+ entrepreneurs, Prof. Nandini Vaidyanathan shares her passion with us.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

Welcome to Twenty19! It’s an honour to have you as our mentor today. Tell us about the finest moments of your schooling, college life and family

After completing my schooling and graduation in Bangalore, I went to Delhi school of economics to do my Masters. I did my pre- doctoral in London School of Economics. My family comprised of my mom, dad, younger sister and me. I used to be an introvert and book worm. I’ve undergone a drastic change over a period of time! Until pre doctoral, I was only interested in teaching and research.  I was a good student so it was fairly clear, that’s the path I would choose.

How has your corporate life and the transformation as a mentor been?

My path diverged in 1983 when I came to IIM Bangalore on a short break.  It was campus recruitment season. One of my friends who got recruited in Nagarjuna Signode asked me to apply for the same.  I met the MD of the company and he said that he was looking for a person with background like mine. I joined the company for Rs1800 salary and began my corporate career. I’ve spent 20 years in corporate sector and have worked in many MNCs across continents in very challenging leadership roles.

I came back to Bangalore 6 years ago for personal reasons. Since I had a passion for teaching and when IIM offered me to teach entrepreneurship, I gladly accepted. But in my second class I figured, entrepreneurship can’t be taught unless one is inspired by the same. That inspiration has to come by being an entrepreneur yourself or by thinking like an entrepreneur. Even though I’ve never been an entrepreneur during my long stint in the corporate world, I associated myself with many startups and got the name “Start-Up Specialist”. When you are a start-up specialist, even without knowing it you start to think like an entrepreneur. This thought gave me an idea to mentor entrepreneurs and I got into this fascinating world of teaching entrepreneurship and mentoring.

You are instrumental in so many startups in India and abroad. What are the basic differences you have noticed among the young entrepreneurs of India and abroad towards their B- plan?

The Americans are so obsessed with their own country that their awareness about other countries is abysmally low. India is not a self-obsessed nation and hence, when an Indian comes up with a plan, he sees its market at a global level and opportunities at a macro level. Indians are far more intelligent and better exposed than people abroad. We also have a great ability to put things in better perspective. Hence, our capacity to come up with a good concept is much better.

But we fall short in our ability to implement and think it through because in India we don’t validate the concept in the market before taking it there. We don’t go to the prospective customer to understand the acceptability and marketability of the product. In US if I come up with an idea, I can talk to 10 different people and these people will give me 25 different suggestions. I can evaluate all of them before I take it to the market. Here in India, we bring the product to market and when customer doesn’t buy it we do market research and it becomes like a postmortem. We are an insecure nation and we are petrified of sharing our ideas with anybody because we assume that the other person will steal it. I always tell my mentees, if the idea is so commonplace that you are scared people might steal it, it’s not worth pursuing!

What has been your experiences as a mentor?

I’m very passionate about entrepreneurship. I have mentored more than 700 entrepreneurs in 100+ domains. Mentoring is not about advising – It’s about showing a person different options that exist and allowing the mentee to pick up the option. When you have just graduated from a college, you may not be aware of all the options that exist in front of you. The mentor brings two things viz. better perspective because of his/her experience and the network which is very important for entrepreneurship.

I am the Director of CARMa, an organization that mentors start- ups, mature enterprises, family businesses etc. We have developed virtual mentoring by leveraging technologies. We mentor start-ups from concept to going to the market. We believe that the biggest pain point for entrepreneurs (at any stage) is access to resources and markets. CARMa offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn, find their inner potential and transform not just their lives but others lives as well. CARMA’s whole ambition is about making every Indian an entrepreneur. I don’t mean that everybody should go and start off a new business. What I mean is everybody will think, feel and behave like an entrepreneur.

Your book “Entrepedia” is a perfect road map to many who would like to be a successful entrepreneur.  Could you share some of the glimpses of the book?

Over the course of mentoring, I realized that a lot of people in India don’t come for mentoring. I thought, the best way to reach out to that population is to create a guide / navigation map for them which elucidate step by step all the processes to become an entrepreneur in India. It is a book to guide one from concept to going to market. The books presently available in the market tells how to incorporate a company in America while Entrepedia is a simple book with lots of examples, real time case studies based in India so that you understand and register the facts. In the past 8 months, so many people have reached across to me after reading the book and asked me if I could mentor them. It makes me feel so good.

Before we sign off, What advice would you like to give the current generation on building a strong entrepreneurial India?

It doesn’t matter whether you start off your own company or you work for somebody else! Nothing stops you from thinking like an entrepreneur. If you are working for a company you can take ownership. To become an entrepreneurial thinker you need not start your own company. If you look across the world today, one place where there is maximum number of opportunities available is India. India is the most exciting place to be in. So focus on India, focus on what you can do for your country to make it a better country. Focus on India and say I can’t find a more vibrant place than this!

The Expert Speak series features successful individuals who have made an outstanding impact in their respective professions. Powered by, this series aims to bring out their influences and insights which can be shared with the students to guide them towards making the right career choice. You can nominate an expert who you want to be featured here.

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