Q. In this crisis, what do you see as the priority areas which we can get started on?
A. See first of all in the last 6 years since I stepped down from Infosys, I’ve been working very closely with youngsters. I’m very confident in saying that the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive, the innovation is very much alive. They have no preconceived notions, they don’t have experience but have enough support. The crisis has given us an opportunity and we need to now solve problems as quickly as possible. Breaking some rules with minimum amount of resources, speed and a fast response is the need.
Q. Just like MyGov who have come up with a competition mode to give funding to the best ideas as far as teleconferencing is concerned, would you like to do something similar?
A. Yes, in fact, we have been saying to the State and the Central Governments that they need to work with start-ups as they are innovative. I’ve also been involved with some of the initiatives around the Covid-19 in terms of fund raising and innovation. This is an opportunity, and we have to leverage this wonderful pool of resources that we have, and solve some of our problems. We need to solve issues related to personal protective equipment, ventilators, testing and to learn new technology to understand the data itself and what it tells us. Looking at new models to support, for example; a lot of social enterprises are working with migrant labour. Many such initiatives have emerged and are in place, which makes me very glad that this is now being recognised in a new way of doing things. As I said, this crisis is giving us an opportunity to try and test these out.
Q. Where does a Kris Gopalakrishnan see the biggest opportunity? Let’s start with the technological solutions and then I’ll talk about the social solutions with you. Where do you see the biggest opportunities emerging?
A. Currently, healthcare usage, medical technologies that are available can help not only understand the virus better, but also how to prevent the virus from spreading. For example, if we talk about social distancing. Now, can we use technology to understand how social distancing is happening? Where will the hotspots emerge? We can also use AI machine learning for solutions. See, after this crisis is over, many of these will get repurposed to newer applications and we will find commercial value for them.
Q. Tell us about what have you been personally working on?
A. I have been working on supporting the start-up ecosystem. Much before the crisis hit, we had one of the most amazing start-up ecosystems in the world. If you talk to students, they all want to be part of startups. We cannot lose that momentum or passion, we want to reduce the number of start-ups that will fail. To support as many start-ups as possible in any way is one of the things I’ve been working on. Second, is to repurpose their solutions so that in this crisis, they have a value proposition which will bring them revenue which is very important.
Q. Have you found some examples that can be repurposed to generate revenue?
A. I don’t want to name the company but they were in the business of fitness and with all the gyms shutting down, they have moved to virtual home-based exercises and coaching, which is very important in difficult times like these when classes are not happening. Another one would be to understand and learn the medical data to boost immunity, mental health.
Q. In a complicated time, what advice can you give businessmen? How do we hang in there?
A. Survival is the mantra, how do we survive? Controlling your expenses or trying to minimise our expenses. When one looks at experiments, look for one that can give you immediate revenue. Then you must make sure that you involve each and every one of your employees such that they feel that they are part of the solution. Even if you are making them take a salary cut, discuss with them, explain to them why this is necessary and to make sure the company survives. These are uncertain times, if you have to unfortunately close down your business, you have to do it in such a way that you reduce the pain.
Q. There do exist facilities that otherwise have viable businesses or desperately need funds, crowd finding platforms do exist. There is a very well-known US platform called Patreon where anybody can choose to fund an idea that they choose to. This sort of crowd support at a time of crisis, how do we socially bring it in our system?
A. If you have an investor, talk to them because they want to make sure their investments are protected. They will support you, if they can. Second is, of course, friends and family. Third is, we have been making presentations to the government not just about the start-up ecosystem but also about the industry in general. The government has to increase its support for the industry in difficult times. They need to come forward, the banks need to come forward. This has to be a collective effort, it can’t be one section of society. Together we have to figure how to tackle this virus and this challenge.
Q. For the young entrepreneur right now, looking back to when you were starting out what’s the one advantage that you would want people to push?
A. To look at the crisis as an opportunity, this will be over at some point. Even though we don’t know when. Make sure that you survive. In the future, I would say resilience is the most important characteristic in business. Try to be as reliable as possible, so that you can withstand any challenge or crisis.
Q. What do we need to change in the approach of logic?
A. Fund of funds is one way that can be followed. While many companies have investors and through those investors you can actually increase the funding to the entire industry, as this is coming through the VC community, they know how to manage this and how to support the best ones. Second, would be short-term debt, which is also very important, and the third is pre-pay the orders. If you give them some orders, pay them in advance.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge you are seeing right now?
A. How long is this going to last, the uncertainty is a concern. It fuels some kind of helplessness. If you know you need to survive for the next two months, people can plan. What I tell people is to plan for 6 months, then we’ll see what will happen.
Q. How is the era of social distancing working for you?
A. After some time, staying at home becomes boring. My wife and I are bored.