Meet 26-year-old entrepreneur Aadil Bandukwala. At the age of 26, he is the CEO and owner of not one, but two companies -- a web consultancy firm called Leading Minds and the quirkily-named recruitment agency Talent Onions. In an interview with rediff.com's Insiyah Vahanvaty, Aadil discusses his career, his passion for entrepreneurship and what it's like to run two organisations of his very own on a day-to-day basis.
"My hometown is Belgaum, situated between Bangalore and Mumbai -- and that's where both of my businesses are located too," he starts off. "After school, I took the CAT exam and received admission to the Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development (Pune), where I chose to study entrepreneurship. Three months into the academic year, however, all of us who had elected for the subject were still to attend a single lecture -- the institute was simply not holding the class! We decided to approach the Dean and were told that there were no faculty members to teach entrepreneurship and that the college would be happy to transfer us to another course." Dissatisfied with this option, Aadil did take a transfer -- to the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) in Ahmedabad. There he was a model student, topping his classes and winning the Student of the Year award.
"Entrepreneurship runs in my blood," he explains. "My father runs his own distribution company and when I graduated, it only seemed logical that the next step for me was to launch my own business." So in 2005, he took a loan from his father to start up Leading Minds -- a venture which started off as an HR firm, then took up education consultancy and finally wound up as a web agency. "I had to borrow money from my dad, because as Muslims we can't take loans from banks. We're against the system of interest," clarifies Aadil. "I was lucky that my family was so supportive of me. Dad wanted me to join the family business, but I asked him for five years' time to try my hand at something new. I have a younger brother, Atique, who has always been interested in the family firm, so I wanted him to join my father instead."
"When Leading Minds started off, it looked at the niche area of coaching students for MBA programmes," he continues. "The company offered services like tests, counselling, training courses etc. However, I soon realised that most of the revenue was coming in from building websites and web development, so we gradually turned into a web consultancy firm."
Two years later, in 2007, one of Aadil's professors from the EDI, assistant vice-president of BPO Genpact got in touch with him, requesting him to help the company hire people. "I looked upon it as an opportunity to learn and took on the role of a recruitment agency," he smiles. Promising his professor 200 walk-ins, Aadil proceeded to mobilise all resources and the head count for interviewees that day actually hit 300!
That same year saw Aadil launch his second company -- recruitment agency Talent Onions. "Our sole client when we started up was Genpact," he says. And in the beginning, the going was tough. "People wouldn't look at us because we were based in Belgaum, and didn't have an office in Mumbai or Delhi. Also, I was only 22 years old, so most people just didn't believe I had it in me. But then we landed Ambuja Cement as a client and Siemens followed soon after. Today we have 13 clients. Some people put their faith in me, others booted my behind, but I'm grateful to everyone because it helped me learn."
Being the CEO of two companies, however, didn't stop Aadil from returning to his books. "I've enrolled for my PhD in new-age business models of online recruitment, from the National Institute of Management (NIM). It's a good course; and they let me do it via correspondence, so I can study from home. They have also set me up with a mentor who is a veteran in the industry. I like writing too, but when you publish through white papers, they don't get recognition unless you are a PhD. In the future I want to develop a software for (computer giant) Macintosh, under Leading Minds. In India, very few people have even heard about Macintosh," he enthuses.
So what future plans? "After I finish studying, I want to expand Talent Onions to different cities," says Aadil. "Scaling is difficult -- most companies fail in that phase. And business has been slow recently, because of the recession, but things are picking up again now."
And unlike most young businessmen who can't wait to settle into a bustling metropolis like Mumbai or Delhi, Aadil is content to live in his hometown. "Personally, I will always be based out of Belgaum. I love the small town life -- being able to come home for lunch everyday, deciding when I want to work and when I don't. Entrepreneurship is a definite boon when it comes to your personal life -- at the moment I've taken 25 days off to get married and work hasn't stopped, my employees have all pitched in. Moreover, my friends are all in Belgaum and I want to give back to this city as well. And if all this isn't reason enough, my mom can't bear it when I'm away -- it was very difficult for her when I was studying in Ahmedabad," he says.
What advice does this 26-year-old CEO have for people his age looking to start out on their own? "See, in school we were all told, 'Oh, its okay to lose' but I think that's bulls***!" he says emphatically. "We all play to win; we should strive to do that. Losers play for the spirit of the game, we play to win! One of the biggest mistakes I see is people giving up within six months to a year of starting up their businesses. Don't think you'll start making profits right away. Just believe in the power of your dream, and good things will happen. Find good, passionate people to work for you, because you can't make it happen all on your own. Adopt technology, because without that, no matter how big your idea is, it won't grow. Remember, ability without dependability, flexibility and reliability is a liability. Take inspiration from success stories in India and abroad, follow blogs like I do, and you'll get to learn a lot."