Vinayak Shrivastav Of VideoVerse: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO
Never believe you’ve fully mastered the work culture or anything else. Always be willing to listen, and to learn.
As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Vinayak Shrivastav.
Vinayak Shrivastav is the CEO of VideoVerse (formally Touch AI) and spearheads investor management, business and strategic growth, with the responsibility for ensuring the roadmap of the organization is aligned with the vision. He has a background in engineering and an MBA from London Business School. Vinayak has worked as a venture capitalist steering high-growth start-ups toward profitability before co-founding VideoVerse
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
As you know, I come with a background in engineering and during my tenure with venture capital firms, I worked closely with the media sector and experienced first-hand the slow innovation and adoption of new-age technologies in this sector. When I met Saket Dandotia and Alok Patil they were already working together on AI-led models around 2015. We met at an industry party and over a few beers, we hit it off and realized we had been thinking about the same solution from different ends. Bringing our synergies together was the next obvious move.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I do not have a particular story or event that stands out; the entire journey so far has been very fulfilling. I can share, though, that working with people twice my age was not on my radar and I had no idea how enriching it would be. I never thought I would be in a place lucky enough to lead a team of such experienced and talented people. It is a very humbling yet tremendously rewarding experience.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When you manage a company based on technology, you tend to take so much for granted. While planning for the biggest of events or meetings, something small like forgetting your HDMI cable can throw you into disarray. I have learnt the fine art of keeping backup kits, presentation checklists and also delegation so that there is always someone else to keep me in check.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are just so many people and I cannot possibly name just one person. Having a supportive family helped me to dream big, and to try new things. Over the years some amazing colleagues helped shape my ideologies and perception. Today, my co-founders Saket and Alok help me bring to life an idea that we believe is changing the technology and world around us.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I truly believe the need for diversity is not just the need today, but also a must for our future to be a balanced and safer environment. It is not just about gender or race, it is about providing the same opportunities, the same odds of success, the same secure environment and education and then allowing people to grow as per their inherent capabilities and drive. Who are we to set boundaries and classify people before even giving them a fair chance in any stage of life? I am not sharing this to prove our diversity, but the global sales team at VideoVerse is led by two amazingly talented women and I cannot even begin to tell you the cohesiveness they bring to the team and how they lead by example.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
It is a fine line and you have to consciously work towards it. It is not as simple as just assigning numbers to gender while recruiting and saying we are diverse. It has to be well thought through by ensuring everyone gets a fair chance of selection and then subsequently succeeds. It is about developing a culture of equality and togetherness at work. The environment around us has to be encouraging and work toward changing the mindset.
A simple step of ensuring that everybody at our company feels safe and has the confidence to walk up to their supervisor and share concerns is just one way of building an inclusive team. We have a system of a weekly team meeting within each function, where every single member, irrespective of seniority or position, joins in and shares one or more high points of their week as well as their low points. It is astonishing to see how they all support each other and the connections they have despite the world being virtual right now. To us, it is about creating a sense of belonging and giving each and every team member the feeling of being acknowledged, respected and most importantly heard.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The key aspect is the Accountability for everything and Responsibility toward everyone. One is no longer an employee, but instead responsible for not just the success of the business but also the wellbeing and success of his or her team. Yes, a good leader always takes on this onus, but if you change jobs you are quickly absolved of this responsibility, which is not the case here. Also, CEOs carry the weight of making the business succeed because so many attach themselves to either as investors, contributors or even employees, believing in the CEO’s dream. It is no longer just your vision or big idea.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
It is certainly not all fun and games. There are no shortcuts to success and if you think once the business is all set up life will get easier, it doesn’t. The CEO is not the end stop to everything. In fact, more often than not they do what others expect and ask them to, so as to ensure all is running smoothly. When you create a company, you make the team, divide up the work, assign roles and set expectations. As CEO you are responsible for ensuring the dots stay connected and everything continues to function smoothly. You are both the leader and a worker, as you are suddenly answerable to so many on both levels.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I think the biggest would be no that there are no fixed work hours. Business is constant 24–7.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
While there are no specific traits, I do believe not everyone is cut out for it. It is not just about talent, ambition or drive. No one avoids it on purpose; everyone aspires to be their own master and lead, but often people realize over time whether they fit the role or not. Often it’s self-realization and sometimes you learn the hard way. You have to change your personality very many times. Introverts also have to put themselves out there, lead; take ownership. It is not an easy path and unfortunately through all this, you also have to stay likable.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I still have a long way to go before I can start giving out advice. My journey is still evolving and I believe I am still a learner who has so much to learn from others out there. And maybe that’s my advice. Never believe you’ve fully mastered the work culture or anything else. Always be willing to listen, and to learn.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Success can be defined in many ways and in any case, I doubt I am there yet. The one way I can always give back,, immaterial of what stage in life I might be, is by always making the time to connect, share experiences and help fellow entrepreneurs and colleagues. If my time and life experiences help shape or guide someone else’s journey better, then I think it is a full circle.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
It is a lonely journey, and when they say it is lonely at the top believe it.
You are the master of your destiny and it’s a path you must tread yourself.
Trust me when I say this: no one helps you and anyone who says they will usually do not.
Hard work and only hard work prevails; the hours will be insane and life does a 360 on you.
You have to learn on the go and adapt, in order to survive.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There is so much one can do and help improve the world, but the one thing I’d consider is an app or portal that makes health accessible and affordable for all. A way to connect a patient with a doctor anywhere in the world and not be dependent on long wait times at a government hospital, free from bureaucracy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
We have all heard this, but I make it a point to follow it “Do unto others what you want them to do unto you”.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would have breakfast with Apple CEO Tim Cook and learn how to succeed in making a cash cow out of a business; have lunch with Elon Musk and share our love of cars, and definitely have dinner with Mark Zuckerberg so we can share ideas about the tech-savvy future we have both aspire to create.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.