How to start up? An interview with Rahul Vishwakarma
This interview with Rahul Vishwakarma is a special one. As now one of the top AI leaders in India, Rahul was asked to give some insights to college students at his alma mater on entrepreneurship. You get to learn about his college days in chemical engineering, how he met Kailash Ahirwar (who wrote the book on GANs), and how together they both have dived deep into deep learning, started Mateverse, and then Raven Protocol.
What a journey it’s been since 2013 to become an industry leader who works with global enterprise companies. He is literally defining the future of AI and deep tech.
A graduate of the class of 2013 in B. Tech Chemical Engineering, MANIT, Rahul Vishwakarma is the Co-Founder & CEO of Mate Labs, and Co-Founder of Raven Protocol. Mateverse is a Machine Learning and Data Science Platform helping Data Analysts and Data Scientists in saving over 8 weeks spent in Data Cleaning, Data Pre-processing and building custom Predictive ML models by its end-to-end proprietary automation technology. Raven Protocol is a decentralized & distributed deep-learning training protocol, providing cost-efficient and faster training of deep neural networks.
Could you tell us about yourself, and your college life?
I graduated in 2013 in chemical engineering, and experienced a remarkable transformation in college. I came in as an introvert, exited as an extrovert. First year went by in understanding the MANIT life, which is different from other colleges. 2nd year onwards, I started learning to groom myself in this environment. In 3rd year, we revamped the E-cell, so in final year, I was instituted as Event Secretary, and then was made the Treasurer. College helped me to build confidence in myself, and I learned to take risks while predicting the outcomes. Afterwards, I travelled a couple of countries, worked as Control Engineer, and in the field of Design Engineering. I left my job in 2015, and came to Bangalore to start my own company.
What was your perception of your branch?
I loved it. Chemical engineering allows you to work on ideas and build them at scale. I started with design engineering, and loved my job there. I was placed on campus in DODSAL. Kailash, my co-founder, and I had been really interested in computer programming. We got into AI in the college itself. The best part of AI is that it’s less of computer science, and more of mathematics. Our startup was one of the first ones in the country to pick deep learning. From there we grew our understanding and started consulting a few companies. We decided to not work jobs for more than 2 years. I loved my job, but I wanted to do even more, solve tougher problems.
Could you tell us more about your entrepreneurial ventures?
I’ve co-founded two companies, Raven Protocol and Mate Labs. Mate Labs is a Machine Learning and Data Science Platform. We developed a technology to solve a problem we were having at Mate labs, and we set up that as a company, Raven Protocol. It is basically an infrastructural technology for decentralized & distributed deep-learning training.
How was the experience of starting a company, and some roadblocks you faced?
It is excruciatingly difficult but it doesn’t matter when you’re doing things you really love. It was difficult for us because we didn’t understand or know how to build a business, get into the market, scale up etc. We knew how to build technology not a product. We didn’t understand how or what was this ‘focus’ was and nobody was there to help us out in identifying how we should be doing it. After constant iterations, we sped up, reviewed our iteration cycle, and came up with a solution. The task of making people believe in your work, that’s how we learnt to tell stories and started reaching out to investors, making them believe in us, and hiring engineers, who still believe in and work with us.
Can you tell me about the most exciting moment in your entire career as an entrepreneur?
There were many. There was one user who wrote a really long mail during the time our platform was in its Alpha stage, praising it highly. We never anticipated people using our platform to solve a problem like that, and that mail motivates me to date. Second was when we launched an integration with IFTTT. That was the first time machine learning was truly democratized, and people from across the globe applauded and appreciated our efforts.
Could you provide a guide-way for those planning to go in entrepreneurship?
There are two types of people, emotional and practical. If you’re an emotional person, identify your love and passion and then design a problem statement around it. Focus is the single best thing that a startup can have. You are not the only one looking at the problem and others would come into the market way earlier than you if you take too long trying to build a perfect product. Move at each step instead of stalling in a single place. Nothing is permanent in a startup.
If you’re a practical person, go and find a problem statement that’s big enough and find people around you who can help. After that the steps are the same for both types of people. Find a small solution that solves the core problems and not all the auxiliary problems around it, and get into market as soon as possible.
Could you comment on the startup ecosystem of the country.
I might sound diplomatic, but a few people say negative things of the ecosystem because they faced a lot of difficulties, and positive because they made it. The hard truth is that you need money for any startup and what matters for an investor, is how they can increase their money. It is a bet for the investors which they’ll make if it seems logical. You have to prove that people want your solution to the problem, and you do that by going into the market.
What is the optimum time for a student to get into entrepreneurship?
There is no optimum time. A student can get into entrepreneurship in college as well. It’s a fact that the smallest of problems will take up to a year to solve. So you should at least be able to ensure your food and shelter for a year. Luck also plays a factor in getting into the right place at the right time, whom are you raising money from, who are you introduced to, etc. I took two years, because we wanted to save up some money from my job, and that’s how we survived for two years.
Could you suggest reading reference for aspirants?
I’ve read multiple books and blogs and they really help. I would suggest to start with ‘The Lean Startup’, and ‘Zero to One’. Identify which sector you are in and read the blogs of venture capitalists. If you are a SaaS start-up, then Tomasz Tunguz is a noted VC and a very popular blogger. Expressing an idea effectively is an important part of entrepreneurship, so you should also read on how to tell a story. Works of Professor Aswath Damodaran are also recommended.
What has been the greatest reward of being an entrepreneur for you?
Satisfaction. That’s it. Satisfaction of being able to do what you couldn’t have, otherwise.
The interview was originally published at Rahul’s alma mater.
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