"To be a successful CEO, you have to be a successful leader first."

Initial journey towards creating your own venture as an independent innovator, nurturing you to become a successful CEO:

When I began my entrepreneurship journey, I was determined to make an impact on the world. I started out by observing what is important and that's when I figured out that food, water and air safety were critical because these are the basic necessities of life; improving their quality will improve the overall quality of life. Hence my personal mission was to improve food, water and air quality in India. This was also triggered by an event when a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with food poisoning- severe enough that he was hospitalized. He had fits and basically had three worms in his brain. That’s when I realized that small steps should be taken to improve food safety. When I looked at the state of food safety in the country at that point in time, 15 years ago, I realized that a lot could be done in this space and that’s exactly why I started to work and grow in this area. To be a successful CEO, you have to be a successful leader first. You have to have empathy for your teammates and clients, a vision which other people can rely on and a strong enough purpose. I kept trying my best to always work to solve large problems; solve them quickly and effectively whilst ensuring that I am able to add some kind of value to the world around.

 

Biggest challenge you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it:

As an entrepreneur, innovation becomes a crucial part of who you are and how you grow as a person and an organization. But with experiments come a lot of struggles, setbacks, disappointments and failures. Your ability to handle them sets you apart from others. At Equinox we always say, “Fail forward, fail fast, so you can figure out what works.” We experiment a lot and many of them don’t work, but then the ones that do, allow us to scale. One of the biggest challenges I faced in my career was when I created a product in the hygiene space called ‘Hygiene Shield’. It was a certification for Hygiene and Safety for restaurants and food manufacturers. I put a lot of effort creating the product and we spent a lot of marketing money on selling the product, but we literally sold in single digits. It was an absolute public failure. I felt horrible that I am such a promoter of hygiene and safety and I created this product which I thought would do really well but it didn’t. I soon learned that whenever people are spending money, they need resorts to turn it from an expense to an investment. Once we were able to apply this principle, we actually became one of the largest auditing companies in the country, partnering with many other brands like Zomato, Swiggy, Dineout and the like. Since then, we have conducted 50 thousand+ audits across the country. Thus, my failure transformed into a mantra behind my future success.

 

Your key leadership strengths and any particular business challenge that you had taken in your hands and solved that made the single biggest impact on the organization:

I think any C-suite leader will instantly understand how important a good leadership is. Like I always say, ‘Be the Leader you never had’. I’ve had fantastic leaders in the past but something that I realised helped myself and the organization grow was having 'No Ego'. I tried getting good people on board and allowing them to do what they do best. It is ok for people to disagree with you and I think that is a very important value that I was able to bring to the table. We have created a work culture where we make sure that we let ideas grow. It could be from anybody but their opinions need to find space to stand on its own feet; the concept is called Meritocracy. I think that was one of the biggest changes that I was able to bring and probably had the biggest impact on the organization where we allow people to disagree with each other, to challenge core beliefs, the first principles and create wonderful products and experiences for the people.

 

Your personal mantra to the perfect work-life balance as well as your personal goals in life apart from business and how they aligned with your expectations, values and in turn your position of high responsibility as a CEO:

When you start off as an entrepreneur with your first company, the work life balance can be quite tricky because there are so many different balls in the air that you have to manage. But as your company starts stabilizing a little bit and you start getting good people on board, they shoulder some of your burdens. This is when you can start focusing on work life balance where after office you can switch off and focus on your personal life. Something that has been very important to me is my family and personal health. For the longest time I gave priority only to my family, which came at the cost of personal health. Over the last 2 years, I decided that personal health and family are equally important. I started managing my time in a better way in order to focus on my workout and diet regime. In the last two years I have been able to lose almost 15kgs and stepped into a healthier lifestyle which involves living right everyday. On the personal side, I have two kids and I love spending time with them too. Everyday, my work ends at a certain time and then you’ll find me around my kids, doing activities like drawing, reading, watching movies or playing chess which we enjoy together. It’s a lot of fun and I always look forward to that.

 

As a National Resource Person for FSSAI, your take on the evolution of health and fitness in our country and the importance of healthy lifestyle for the coming generation:

I would say that the pandemic has made everyone conscious about their health choices. People are definitely making efforts to become more aware and knowledgeable about the food they consume and the activities they indulge in. This could be one of the most positive things amidst the crisis. However, I still feel India has a long way to go in terms of health literacy. Lack of awareness can lead to stigma and stereotyping, especially when it comes to food-borne or water-borne illnesses. It’s crucial to understand the causes behind these diseases and encourage communities to incorporate safe and hygienic practices in their routines and promote a healthy lifestyle for the coming generation. FSSAI is putting in a lot of effort in different campaigns that they are running across the country like ‘Eat Right India’, ‘Eat Right Campus’ and ‘Aaj se thoda kam’ campaign. A lot of public outreach campaigns have been created to educate the citizens on what healthy behaviour looks like, the different steps they can implement at home for healthy living. Making nutrition labels mandatory was a very important move, because now everything you eat, you are very well aware of what you are putting in your body. Making nutrition labels mandatory in restaurants is also going to be one of the most forward-thinking moves, as many countries still don’t have that and this is definitely going to inspire them.

 

Who would you consider to be the mentor that helped you overcome difficulties and what is the most valuable lesson your mentor has taught you:

I realised the value of mentorship early in life. A mentor who has really pushed me to become more successful is Dr. Velumani, the Chairman of Thyrocare. He is somebody who has taught me two very important lessons in life- to have a vision that is much larger than yourself and the importance of process. Whenever I discuss about my dreams and visions with him, he supports me at every step and pushes me to work harder. He has also helped me identify how creating processes in an organization allows you to scale flawlessly. For every other aspect in business or personal life, having a mentor is absolutely critical.  I have a mentor for PR, Strategy, Finance, Collaborations, creating a powerful brand etc. For all these different aspects, these mentors play a fantastic role in my life and I am grateful for having such terrific people around. To contribute further, I personally mentor a lot of start-ups and founders in whichever way I can. I used to be an Angel investor and have stopped doing that now, but my mentoring still continues; be it strategy, raising funds, growth hacking and the like. I am always happy to help fellow entrepreneurs grow their businesses.