Prashanth Nanjundappa of Progress On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
9 min readNov 24, 2022


Talk about failures. They are a great source of valuable learnings. If you had one successful launch and three other projects that never saw the light of day, talk about all four. Because if you don’t, that will persist the cultural narrative that we should only go after success, not growth.

The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Prashanth Nanjundappa.

Prashanth Nanjundappa is VP of Product Management at Progress. He has spent his entire career of over 20 years in the tech world, managing cross-functional teams, focused on building and launching enterprise and consumer products globally. Prior to joining Progress, he led the product management teams for high-tech B2B and enterprise products at companies like Cisco, LG Electronics and Knowlarity.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I’m based in Bangalore, India, where I also completed my degree in Electronics and Communication. I have an MBA degree from Indian School of Business. In my 20+ year in the tech sector, I’ve been fortunate to ride the wave of growth, both in terms of my personal career journey as well as the economic boom and the explosion of the digital innovation ecosystem when India was undergoing its biggest digital transformation yet.

I’ve worked for small Indian start-ups and large multinational corporations like LG and Cisco. I’ve worked in teams that grew from three to a thousand members and scaled product lines from a million to 50 million dollars in revenue. Along the way, I transitioned from embedded devices to cloud technologies and from being an architect to product manager to now VP of Product Management.

All the environments I’ve worked in have been such where failure is of high cost. But they have helped me understand the “fail fast” mentality and also shaped my professional outlook to always go after the opportunities that matter the most.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

One time I was forcefully locked in the office of a client for 12 hours. While it may sound a little over the top, it was probably one of the best learning experiences of my career.

Back then, my team and I had launched a product for call centers. One of the clients we had sold the solution to kept complaining that 30% of their calls were dropping, causing them major losses. I was certain that was because they didn’t have the right infrastructure in place. When my team and I got there to sort out the situation, the client was so upset, he locked us in the call center with the words, “You’re not getting out before you fix the problem.”

After speaking to the employees, we realized it was our mistake indeed. We got more boots on the ground, investigated the issue and, after gaining the customer’s trust, walked out of the call center and back into our office to resolve all problems.

The big take-away from this thrill-packed story is: Always listen to your customers and test the product with them before you go big guns blazing. Product Managers sometimes make false assumptions, letting customer feedback fall on deaf ears, and that can be expensive and — sometimes literally — dangerous. Humility is another lesson I learned from this fire drill.

Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I’m first and foremost successful thanks to the people who’ve been my colleagues and mentors. That said, here are my three pillars of success:

Take a strong position, but be open to changing it

You’re an expert, so trust your experience and take a strong stand. But allow people to prove you wrong. If you’re wrong, adapt and change your opinion. That helps you learn and grow.

Be collaborative

Tap into your team’s expertise and diversity. Different backgrounds and perspectives breed a wealth of good ideas. Ask for your co-worker’s input, incorporate it into the work and give everyone due credit.

Trust the data

I cannot stress this enough: be data driven. Back your position with data as much as possible. Democratize the data. Disseminate the information across your company. In organizations where the culture is open and supportive, employees don’t have to worry about others stealing their ideas. On the contrary, sharing information with everyone will improve the morale within the team and the confidence that they’re headed in the right direction.

From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?

I believe there are three major reasons why people are afraid of failure in the workplace. The first is reputation. We tend to equate work failures with personal failures and internalize that failure. If I launch a product and it fails, it is perceived as if I failed as a person. Most of the time that is not true.

The second reason is leadership and organizational culture. If your leaders talk exclusively about success, if the organization doesn’t encourage risk or promotes a hostile culture, you’ll want to play it safe. Overly competitive organizational culture can cause a fear-of-failure mindset.

The third is overvaluing short-term gains. Organizations reward people for achieving goals rather than recognize them for the long-term wins. That culture stimulates instant gratification, which may in turn cause us to lose focus on the big picture. When hitting short term goals becomes the common currency at work, there is a high risk that we become afraid to fail at any time.

What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?

One is risk-aversion and limited exploration. If you’re scared to fail, you’ll chose the path that will guarantee you success. That inevitably makes you risk averse: you take less risks and consequently explore far less options to innovate existing solutions to a current problem.

The second is that fear of failure slows you down. I value speed over perfection. Why? Because what you’re imagining as the “perfect” product or service might be wrong. Being fast to market will allow you to test your product or service with real customers and that’s when it makes the most sense to perfect it using customer feedback.

The last one is that fear of failure will likely create a timid team. If a leader is risk-averse, they might hire smart people, but kill their potential.

In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?

Yes, I’ll give you a strategy for each of the three downsides I described above.

To enable innovation without fear, create safety nets that will limit the impact of potential fails on your team and the business. If you’re a developer, create functional tests. If you’re a product manager, design and run small experiments and wok on a plan B.

If you don’t want to be slowed down, fail fast. You are going to fail anyway, so accept that and run with it. Identify the biggest risks in your project and tackle them first. It’s better to fail in the first month of development than at the finishing line.

Another strategy to avoid big slow-downs is to avoid big, ambitious milestones that take a long time to complete. Create your hypotheses and break them down into small, manageable milestones. Every milestone should have a measurable outcome and you’ll know whether you’ve failed or succeeded by running time-bound experiments for each hypothesis.

Then get buy-in from leadership. Show them your timeline and explain how you’re planning to mitigate the risks. That way, they’ll have the right expectations and also have your back if things go astray.

The last and very important element is to hire a diverse team of smart individuals and trust them. We’re more likely to accept constructive feedback from people close to us.

We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?

During the golden age of payments digitization in India, the company I worked for decided it also wanted to move from primarily using pay checks to digital payments. I spearheaded the project and assumed implementing a digital payment gateway will suffice. We took six months to implement the gateway only to see a mere 10% of all transactions go digital. We realized that, while people were comfortable paying through cards, they didn’t trust online payment because of the rise in digital fraud at the time.

How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?

It took me an extra six months to get to a stage where 80% of business transactions were done digitally. Going back to my point about failing fast, if I had created mock-ups of the digital payment system and showed them to my sales team, I’d have pivoted much earlier and saved those six months of development time and resources.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.

I don’t think people should strive to rid themselves of fear. Fear is a good thing, and your success in the workplace or in your career is not dependent on it. You can be afraid to fail and succeed. You can be free of that fear and still fail. Knowing — and embracing — that things are going to fail at some point is what will truly protect you from doing the wrong thing for too long.

My approach to failure is very practical: acknowledge the possibility of failure and see how you can effectively and methodically minimize its impact on the business. And, as recap, remember this: create safety nets, prioritize speed over perfection, build trust with your team, get buy-in from leadership, celebrate successes and failures alike.

Talk about failures. They are a great source of valuable learnings. If you had one successful launch and three other projects that never saw the light of day, talk about all four. Because if you don’t, that will persist the cultural narrative that we should only go after success, not growth.

The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?

I disagree as it could be easily misinterpreted. What is success? The definition of success should be clear. When success is clearly defined, there can be multiple ways of achieving it. Take for example companies like Zomato, DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats who operate in the same industry — they’re all successful, but their path to success is entirely different.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I don’t consider myself a great influence yet, but I’ve adopted an attitude that I’ve seen many successful product leaders share. It’s based on these principles:

  1. Be open to changing your views.
  2. Don’t get hung up on your ideas and don’t get defensive when evidence proves you wrong.
  3. Experiment and iterate frequently if you want to move fast.
  4. Change the goal if the situation requires it.
  5. Stop when things don’t work. Don’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

Andy Jassy, now CEO of Amazon. He’s been a great inspiration and influence on my way of working. Andy’s journey of taking Amazon Web Services from inception to a global, revenue-driving business is fascinating to me.

I once had the opportunity to hear Andy’s story in person, in a small gathering organized by AWS seven years ago. Needless to say, I’d love to know more and pick his brains in a 1–1 conversation over coffee/lunch.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best place to follow my work is LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor