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Interviews

“Push a little every day; over time you would’ve covered a great distance.” Meet A S Raj Gopal!

I got an interesting opportunity to e-interview A S Raj Gopal – MD & CEO, NxtGen Datacenter & Cloud Technologies.

He’s got 20+ years of rich experience across IT & Telecom. He has worked at the most envied organisations like Dell, Microsoft, Reliance Communications before founding NxtGen in 2012.

Raj specializes in strategic & business planning, sales & marketing leadership, alliances and HR management. I took the liberty of sending him a long set of q’s which he sportingly answered the very same day!

1. You have worked with the best names in the industry like Dell, Microsoft, Reliance and others. What made you start NxtGen? How did the entrepreneurship bug bite you?! 🙂

I guess most of us want to be their own boss 🙂. When I was in college, I tried starting up along with a few friends. After a couple of years, we realised it is not just about idea & enthusiasm; we needed to understand the nuances of running a business in more depth. We had to close down after a good start.

I had the opportunity to learn more when I spent time with Michael Dell and Anil Ambani. They inspired and kindled the thoughts of starting up again.

“We are building NxtGen for our next generation.”

The moment you think of doing anything for your children, a lot of things become clear and everyone does their best. It took some years of preparation. I had to ensure I was debt free and could provide for my children’s education before I was ready to give it everything I had. And more importantly, my wife has backed me 100% on this venture. These aspects were very important for me to ensure I had the perseverance for the long haul.

When you have a successful career, one tends to be more careful in giving up to start up. It takes a very big effort to move from the comfort of working in large organizations. Once you are on your own, you start at zero and have to build it from scratch. In just 4 years, NxtGen has 9 datacenters and nearly 2,000 customers! I do not think everyone gets as lucky as I have!!

2. Can you share any milestones about NxtGen and what do you have on the roadmap for the next 12-18 months?

In August 2015, our flagship datacenter in Bangalore became operational – it set a new benchmark in DC design and energy efficiency.

Last year we crossed many milestones – we became operationally positive, an important milestone to ensure NxtGen is there for the long term. 

We have acquired 6 datacenters, enabling us to accelerate our footprint in India.

Over the next 12 months, we are focusing on taking our service global, while we continue to leverage the big opportunity in India.

We are keen on learning from our customers what we should be doing in 3–5 years timeframe. We are doing a private event with 200+ customers in Singapore between 25th – 28th June in Singapore. Post which, we will be fine-tuning our medium term strategy. The event is called Nxt-2016, Gazing into the future! And we hope to make it an annual event of learning from customers.

3. How is NxtGen helping startups navigate their datacentre requirements?

We bring a lot of expertise at the infrastructure layer. Many of our young customers have great developer skills. What we add to that is the resilience and performance that is required to ensure that their business is successful.

End-users have too many choices. We help our customers to avoid failures and a great end user experience so that an acquired customer stays acquired!

It starts with scanning for vulnerability assessment of their applications and advising them on the areas that need to be strengthened. We have a great insight into how we can scale the applications and databases, when it matters for them.

For some we have been able to enable new business models. Every customer is unique, our engagement provides a deeper understanding of individual requirements and provides an optimized solution.

We also ensure that startups do not get tied into a platform. Most cloud platforms work on retaining the customers by forcing them to integrate closely with their platform. I believe customer retention should be based on superior service, not by forced platform integration.

4. When is an ideal time for startups to move from shared servers to their own professional grade systems?

Before one gets their first customer. The best way to build a business is with a great customer reference.

“Time and Reputation are most precious for any organization, if these two are managed, most startups will be successful.”

Shared systems do not guarantee on performance; performance is needed when your end customer is active with your business, and we cannot let down the end-customer. Our end customers have great choices, it is us who do not have a choice. We have to make the most of every moment the customer spends with us and hence startups should not take a chance.

5. With AWS opening up an India Region datacenter, how do you see it impacting the datacenter business in India? 

There is no clear leader in the cloud services space in India, it will happen over the next couple of years.

Infrastructure will not be all in public cloud; best practice is that all systems of engagement ie. customer services, sales & marketing are ideally leveraged from public cloud. All systems of record are best held in private clouds, the model for long-term is hybrid of public, private and physical compute infrastructure. In 2015, 38% of the data in public cloud has moved to private cloud, owing to privacy and cost considerations by enterprises.

India is home to 55% of global managed services, we want to leverage managed services enveloping our high-performing virtual servers, we believe this has a global value proposition and hope to make a mark globally.

AWS entry will accelerate the market for public cloud, however, it is a very complex system offering over 1,000 services. It takes an expert to leverage AWS to its potential, it also takes an expert to figure out how much it costs on AWS.

6. What are some of the disruptions that you foresee in the near future in the Indian IT-Infra space?

Hyper-convergence of infrastructure ie. software defined everything is the big thing that has started to happen. Most enterprises are looking beyond traditional models to deploy their IT infrastructure.

It is software which is enabling the disruptions, India has a strong asset in software development, some of the good ones are being bought over by global players for their IP. We do not have the tech-savvy market to scale the business, one has to look to western markets for scaling new ideas.

Specific to IT-infrastructure, it is now possible to build a digital business without investing in IT infrastructure. The enterprise capital spend on IT will reduce and it will increase with service providers.

7. How has your association with Dell helped you scale?

Dell is one of most important partners to enable our growth. By working closely with Dell, we have been able to standardize our infrastructure to reduce time to scale and eliminate the need for skill development. Dell started working with us even when our business was small and enabled us early in our business. We have recognized this contribution and have remained very committed from our side. Dell made it possible for us to build a replicable deployment model, which is now going global, starting with Singapore.

8. Has working with giants like Dell & Microsoft helped you in shaping processes at NxtGen? Should all entrepreneurs first work with a corporate before starting up?

It depends on what an entrepreneur wants to do with his business. Good ideas can establish a business traction and can be sold to global businesses for scaling it. Alternatively, the entrepreneur can decide to scale it and make it into a big business.

It helped me solve many things with the experience and more importantly, exposure of working with big companies. If you want to scale a business, you have a lot to learn from the big ones.

When an entrepreneur wants to scale a business he should look at getting people with the specific experience on-board, it necessarily does not mean one must have the experience themselves. It is very difficult to find a person who would fit well into a start-up.

9. As someone who has successfully raised two rounds of funding, are there any learnings you could share with youngsters looking at raising money?

Whether to an investor or a customer, you are making a promise. If you deliver on your promise, investors and customers are not rare to find.

Valuation for the company is decided by your customers, not by the investor.”

“Most times I find the focus is on the idea, but very little understanding of the market and market players. 
Prior to meeting investors, quality time should be spent on understanding the overall market.”

I personally value, Michael Porter’s five forces and validate my business model against the same.

10. Startup founders find hiring and retaining good talent to be one of the biggest challenges today. Any advice?

Founders expect the same level of passion and energy from the people they hire, leading to frustration and loss of relationship. Onboarding a talent is most important for both the person hired and the founder who is hiring. It is not difficult to find the balance once the expectations are clear from both sides.

“Everyone has something unique to offer;
it the onus of the founder to understand and leverage it.”

11. The toughest part about being CEO?

Earning respect for what you do vs. what you are. 

“It is also important to realise that the work being done by your team is more important that the work you are doing.”

12. Company culture starts from the top! What is one core value that you stand by and is reflected in everyone at NxtGen?

“Lead by enabling” is the virtue I try to imbibe into managers at all levels.”

Our business is built on efficiency, which leads to value creation, part of which is shared with the customer. We make a commitment, we have to deliver at all costs to anyone, including employees, customers or investors.

13. One mistake young entrepreneurs should avoid early on…

Compare with others. One must build a business with its value proposition and market differentiation. Too many times, I see people borrowing ideas.

“The moment you borrow ideas, you are following, you can never be the leader.”

14. A founder & CEO’s job can be extremely stressful. What do you do to “keep sane” 🙂

One has to love what you do, then there is no stress. Stress builds up when you have loops of unresolved issues running in your head. I have learnt to switch off well after few years in Dell; it was stressful then. Now, I work hard for the entire week, take off completely on Sundays and start afresh on Monday morning.

“Most times I find solutions to my issues, when I start afresh instead of keeping at it.”

15. One startup you really admire and why?

NxtGen, my baby is most beautiful, do you disagree?

🙂

16. Some parting advice to our Rodinhooders.

“Push a little every day; over time
you would have covered a great distance…”

Thank you Raj, for your time and for sharing these valuable gems with us Rodinhooders!

**** 

[With tech inputs from Abhik & Nameet]

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2 Comments

  1. I really find his advice useful. Had some ahah! moments while reading. 

  2. glad you did azad!!

    🙂

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