By the time he joined Stoa School in October 2020, Ankit Ruparel had experienced a major personal loss and was desperately looking for a way to get out the career rut he was in. He had a job, and a degree in engineering, but was in search of guidance and direction to break into the world of finance.
Now, less than a year later, he is a part of the founder’s office at WintWealth, a startup that makes high yield debt instruments accessible to general retail investors.
Read as Ankit tells the story of how he went from being stuck at an IT services job to working directly with the founders of a fintech startup, all made possible by his decision to join Stoa.
I grew up in a place called Kodinar in Gujarat. There, my father ran the family business, which involved the wholesaling and retailing of agricultural machinery. But at the age of 50, he decided to quit the business and try his hand at stockbroking. Even though I was only around nine or 10 at that time, I remember how exciting it was to be witness to the frenzied discussions around stocks and markets that used to take place at home. That’s when I fell in love with finance. However, it all came to an abrupt halt after my dad’s attempts failed following the recession in 2008. He had to take over the family business again, and all the exciting conversations turned into complete silence.
But my interest in finance only grew with the years. After I completed my class XII in the science stream from Nalanda Vidyalaya, I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do next. There was an option to move out of the state and go to Kota, but I was hesitant. Eventually, I settled on a degree in electrical engineering from Nirma Institute of Technology in Ahmedabad. Here, I found that I could choose to do a minor in finance. I jumped at the chance.
But life was about to throw me a curveball. It was May 2018. One day, I got a call from home. My father had passed away from a heart attack. Suddenly, I was faced with a lot of decisions. Instead of attending campus placement interviews with the rest of my classmates, I found myself getting on a bus back to Kodinar. I was expected to take over the family business that my father had left behind, because no one else would be able to.
I had watched my father manage the business for most of my life, so I wasn’t completely in the weeds. It took me a little time to figure everything out, but once I did, things started moving. In the one year that I ran the store, I ensured that we saw a 10 percent revenue growth. Things were going great for the business, but not so much for me. I realised that there was nothing left for me to learn, and rather than stagnate in a small town, I wanted to do something that would help me grow.
So, after having put my career on hold for nearly a year, I took up a job through campus placement in January 2019. I hired someone who could manage the business without my constant supervision, and off I went to L&T Technology Services Limited to start my job as an associate engineer. Work was going well, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to get out, I wanted to explore the field of finance, but I didn’t know what path to take. I was sure I didn’t want to go in for a traditional MBA, so I finally landed on a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) programme, for which I was to appear for an examination in June 2020. But before then, the COVID-19 pandemic had hit, and yet again, I found myself reevaluating what I wanted to do with my life.
I had been following Stoa’s co-founder Raj Kunkolienkar on Twitter for about a year at that point, and saw that he was starting a school that offered a revolutionary MBA “bootcamp”. I was curious, and I had nothing to lose. I had quit my job at L&T by September 2020, so I threw in my application and ended up being selected as a part of the first cohort.
I joined Stoa with zero expectations. The only hope I had was that it would give me better networking and entrepreneurial opportunities than I had received in the past. Engineering colleges, after all, aren’t exactly networking hubs.
But it gave me more than I could have hoped for. In the 12 weeks of classes, I watched how a startup is born and how it grows, right in front of my eyes. I now know that a traditional MBA would never have offered me the kind of experience Stoa did. Startups work very differently compared to established businesses, because they thrive on experimentation. Traditional MBAs, meanwhile, have a rigid understanding of how businesses work, and that understanding can’t be applied to high-growth startups.
Then, of course, there is the story of how I landed my current job. In the final week of the bootcamp, we started doing resume-building exercises. During one of these exercises, I mentioned that it would be my dream to work with startups in the fintech space, like Zerodha or Cred. Almost immediately, Aditya at Stoa connected me with Ajinkya Kulkarni, the CEO and co-founder of WintWealth (previously GrowFix) that he is an investor in. A couple of calls later, I was hired to join their expanding team in February 2021, a week before I could finish my Stoa program.
In the few months that I have been at the founder’s office at WintWealth, I first helped streamline the customer service process, and then moved on to managing communications on a larger scale.
Community is everything
The best part about Stoa, for me, has been the community — the members and the value they bring. Through the course of my program, I met so many people, all of whom had different skill sets and experiences. The post-class discussions that took place every evening gave me insight into how many different points of view can exist around just one subject, and all backed by great, evidence-based arguments. How does a lawyer’s brain work? What goes through the mind of a failed startup founder? It changed the way I interact with people.
What is also beautiful is that you can continue leveraging the Stoa community once you have completed your program. For instance, WintWealth is currently working with a PR agency recommended to us by a Stoan. Meanwhile, a former Stoan who runs a marketing startup has reached out to me for advice because they want to add a fintech layer to their business.
My one piece of advice to anyone reading this and considering signing up for the program? When you are at Stoa, you will meet intelligent people who are on the other side of the fence. So be open to ideas that are opposed to yours, and be open to changing your views.