By Kanav Dwevedi, Batch of 2023
Let’s begin by asking about your startup. So, what is The Healthy Company?
The Healthy Company is a health-tech startup and what we’re trying to do at the healthy company is to maximize the human lifespan. We’re trying to help you fight lifestyle diseases like diabetes, thyroid, PCOD, etc. and other diseases that are associated with weight gain and obesity and we’re to help make customized diet plans, lifestyle plans and goal strategies for you through your personal health coach so that we can fight these diseases better. Our ultimate vision is that every person in the world can have their own personal health coach so that we can fight all of these diseases and prevent them from happening.
What was your inspiration for starting this company?
After my twelfth boards, I weighed a hundred and twenty kilos and I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. It’s a minor form of diabetes which usually happens to elder people, but because of my unhealthy lifestyle and obesity, I was diagnosed with prediabetes. During college, I revamped my diet and nutrition and went on a weight loss journey. That’s how I learned about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. So, that’s where the seed came from. I participated with my senior, Aman Khullar in a competition called ‘Thought for Food’, which involved solving the challenge of sustainability of food worldwide. During the research, we came across spirulina which is an organic superfood. After that, we were still very interested in spirulina and how we could make it a part of our daily lives. That’s what led to the birth of The Healthy Company.
How has NSUT helped in this journey of starting a company?
The best thing about NSUT is the kind of peer group which surrounds you, especially seniors, who are all really inspiring and motivating. While there are a lot of people who’re just concerned with coding and placements, there are also many people who are involved in many diverse and innovative ventures. We have brilliant minds, even on an aptitude level, the students here can compete with the best of IITs. So one can easily find like-minded people to work with. Apart from that, there is an incubator within the college that helps startups get incubated. However, when we had joined the incubator it was in its earlier stages, whereas currently, the incubator is in a much better position. We’re one of the first startups which graduated from the NSUT incubator and probably might be one of the first successful startups as well.
You have managed to grab a seat in one of the most coveted B-schools of India including IIM-A and IIM-B. What motivated you to pursue entrepreneurship over more traditional career paths (like a corporate job) Also, would you continue with your venture or go for an MBA?
First of all, I’ve got nothing against corporate career paths or other traditional paths, but it’s a matter of what might be the best for you. So, I believed (based on my strengths) I could make much more of an impact if I started something of my own and try to add value to the world by creating a company. However, I recognize that in our country it’s a little difficult to justify these things to parents and to society, in general. So, I’ve always ensured that I had a backup. So even if this startup doesn’t work, I will probably go to IIM-A or IIM-B. I have an offer from Goldman Sachs, as well. I have lined up backups and that’s what allows me to take larger risks. That’s how I feel one should look towards structuring their lives, have a decent backup and then you have the ability to take risks without having the fear of failure. That’s what allowed me to push into entrepreneurship because even though 90% of startups do fail, it’s just a matter of taking that risk and trying your best.
What are your plans for the future? Would you be looking to join an IIM or would you continue to work with your startup?
I’ll work on my startup regardless of how things are moving till it comes to the point where we have to close the startup for some reason. Right now it’s doing pretty well, it’s growing and so I don’t see any reason to cease working on the startup. If I feel an MBA would give me the skills to scale the startup to a level that I wouldn’t be able to with my current skill set, I would definitely consider going for an MBA and working on my startup alongside However, if I feel that an MBA would not grant me the return on investment that I need, I would just continue growing my company. That’s a decision I am yet to make, and I feel it’ll be an impulsive last moment decision.
In your opinion, what are the three most important qualities and three greatest challenges for young entrepreneurs in the industry today?
Beginning with qualities, first is the ability to not only expect failure but also accept it. You should be absolutely comfortable with the idea of failing publically. You should have a thick skin and not care too much about what other people are saying, otherwise, you’ll be unable to manage a startup.
Secondly, you have to be very passionate about the idea. Don’t just establish a startup for the sake of identifying with the rebel within you, but because you are passionate about an idea that comes from within your heart and something you can stick to even through thick and thin.
The third quality is the ability to listen and observe. Talk less and listen more. Listen to your customers about what they want, listen to your mentors who have experience in the market, and be very malleable.
Talking about challenges, though there are many, I’d like to list a few especially from the perspective of a student. One of the primary challenges is your age. Because of your young age, a lot of people might not take you seriously. There have been many situations when I had to interview older people who were much more knowledgeable and experienced than me and people misinterpreted my young age with naivety.
Secondly, just managing the workload between the college and the startup is extremely challenging for a student.
Lastly, the most important challenge that I actually face is that entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey, so you have to be ready to make sacrifices. There have been times when my friends have gone on a vacation or for parties when I had to stay home because I had something important that needed to be done. Though that’s not exactly a challenge, it’s more of a choice that you make and before starting up, you have to be ready to make those choices.
What were your first experiences of professional life?
There were a couple of things that are closely related. Firstly, I learned web development through an online course, and very soon I got a project about developing a website for certain medical institutions. That was when I learned what it means to have a client who is actually paying. After that, I did my first internship in Dell Communications, which was my first exposure to corporate life, and where I realised that a traditional corporate job is probably not what I’ll enjoy.
You’ve worked as an intern in a few different places. What differences you noted while working for a tech company (NTT DATA), a finance firm (GS), and the Indian govt (Cyber Security Intern at Central Secretariat)?
The working culture is more or less the same in the corporate world irrespective of the company. However, it was an entirely different experience working for the government. Goldman Sachs is a financial firm but I was still working in a technical role. I stayed there for two months. I observed a lot, whether it was casual office politics or keeping your manager happy and one faces these things in big corporations, whether it was Goldman Sachs or Dell.
Working for the government was a very different experience because one generally has the notion that the government is not really interested in the welfare of people and there’s an attitude of apathy. What I learned instead, is that the government is more than willing to take up interesting projects but the primary challenge is the management of resources. While the government as a whole has a lot of resources, its distribution becomes a challenge. The project that I worked on was about building a neural network that can predict crimes before they really happen. We took in arrest data from all over Haryana and we mapped out different parameters and we let the neural network tell us what the most effective policing routes were that the Haryana police should use to tackle crime and what kinds of crimes are likely to happen at what time. So, this was a very interesting project and the government was enthusiastic. However being an intern project, it didn’t see the light of day in any company but the government was willing to innovate and they actually ended up deploying this project. So, over this period I observed that the government is a really good career alternative, one that we don’t think of. Working with the government is especially beneficial if you want to make an impact because the number of people at stake is exponentially larger than what you get after working in a corporate job.
Since presumably, a lot of first and second years are going to be reading this, I wanted to add a little something.
Usually, we’re attracted to big companies, like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, or Goldman Sachs for that matter, or any company offering you a 20 lpa package, especially in the second and third year. While doing internships, one thing you realise is that a lot of these companies have their headquarters in other countries and that’s where the major work happens. India has a lot more back offices where all of the debugging, testing, and support work occurs. So top projects here aren’t interesting enough or impactful enough as they are in other companies. For example, developing natural language processing for Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa is mostly done outside of our country while offices in our country just support stuff that’s already in place, this is something I’ve noticed in my internship experience.
How did the experience of working at these places influence you?
Working at these places, you tend to recognise the importance of a team. Whether it’s a large organisation or even your own startup, the emphasis on team building is something constant throughout. This was something that changed from school life to college life, where you’re working on your own, preparing for entrances, you don’t have group study sessions. While preparing for tests, you’re mostly alone. Even in group projects in college, they’re not really group projects in a true sense. But if a company team is assigned a project, you pick up subtle cues about working in a team just by being there.
Do you have any dream plan set up for the future or you just go with the flow?
Honestly, I don’t have a plan. The way I usually look at it, I don’t try to predict my future. I’ve given myself a four-year window till I’m at least twenty five years old, during which I’m going to take the risky decisions, work on the longshots, and the dream projects, even if I am unable to pocket money. And if by the time I’m twenty-five, none of this materializes then I can pursue a different option. I can go for a traditional corporate career or even work in wall street. At twenty-five, you can still start over and have not lost much time. This is an uncommon perspective. Everything from our time in college and in school is framed as corporate-ish but it’s really not. Everyone has their own journey.
Any advice for NSUTians early in their college life?
Yes. Firstly ( and this really worked for me) don’t make a decision on what you want to do very early in your college life. Spend the initial one or two years exploring as many things as you can to get a diverse perspective. Don’t think that you have to start coding or that you have to go into a special technical field so you have that tine advantage, about placements or internship seasons. No. You can only make a decision for the rest of your life only if you explore well enough. You don’t want to regret this decision ten years down the line, think ‘ this isn’t where I want to be’, and change careers then. So give yourself the time to explore different things and get a lot of hands-on experience. Apply for internships here and there, work for people in diverse fields, try working for free, not for the money but instead for the work experience. You’ll learn much more that way than in the college environment or any coding courses.