Soundhariya Viswanathan / Reading Time: 8 mins
Welcome to Founders Unbound, a podcast that discusses the intricacies of running a startup and the challenges that come along with it.
Our guest today is Rahul R., founder of OctoSpaces and 15 other ventures under Octopus Group, shares his journey and what led him to become an entrepreneur with a diverse set of companies.
Rahul R, or RR as he is fondly called, has a unique entrepreneurial journey. Having started multiple organizations, all in starkly different sectors, we had to start by asking how he embarked on this journey that entrepreneurs rarely if ever, dare to take. Rahul's answer was simple,
"My reason for being multifaceted is that I'm a Gemini. I can't stand the mundane.
I like to challenge myself every day, scare myself every day and do something uncomfortable every week"
Though he explains further that he never planned for his company to grow in this manner, the diversification was purely a result of organic growth, that connected dots along the way. While he currently owns 16 enterprises and has supported numerous others along the way, none of them were started simultaneously, Rahul reminds us.
When asked how he manages it all, his answer is simple.
"The more you have to do, the better you get at time management.
I think that's one of my superpowers – Time Management"
Rahul's words of wisdom for sustainable growth and managing multiple ventures came with the confidence of a man who truly has seen and done it, time and time again. It was simple advice that resonated with all of us, and our listeners "Learn to let go. You should be able to believe and trust others, and delegate your work to your team".
The key to running a successful business comes from being able to work with a variety of people which, Rahul notes, many struggle to do.
"We are not the best sometimes (to run our organizations).
We need more. It's not a tennis match, it's football. We need a team"
While having a team to rely on is crucial, as the person running the person behind the idea, self-discipline and self-motivation were the key components that helped Rahul on his entrepreneurial journey.
'Everything is cyclic', he claims. The process of creating a business starts with an idea, that flows into a business plan, followed by figuring out operations and then breaking even. However, if you don't have self-discipline, self-motivation and time management, don't do it.
When asked what drives the man behind the companies, Rahul explains that he likes to describe himself as the most hardworking guy in a room. A trait he first recognized in himself at the age of 14, and continues to push him at 35. This alongside his forte of being a Master of none but Jack of all trades has also helped him along the way, along with self-discipline of course.
As the founder of 16 enterprises, we had to delve a little deeper to understand how he manages it all! Is there any room for work-life balance? Rahul's answer here surprised and amazed many.
"I only work 3 days a week, Monday to Wednesday.
Most people can't disturb me then. The other 3 days of the week are dedicated to my passions and interests.
I create art, read, write and learn. I'm ambidextrous, so both my right and left brain are always at work"
As a successful entrepreneur you often also take on the role of being a role model, Rahul doesn't know why he's a role model but claims that he has a lot of energy and his focus is to use it positively. While many don't know what to do with their energy, Rahul aims to use his towards creating something impactful.
Over the years he's found that profits are great, bank balance is good but social impact is most important to him. Reminiscing on a story he'd been told as a child, Rahul tells us…
"My grandmother once said, if someone can help another in need,
but chooses not to do so, their purpose of being on earth is useless. I was 5-6 when I heard this, and it has since been etched in my memory"
When asked about his support system, Rahul says that his sounding board is mostly himself. While he built his company with his mother, and he is proud of it being a woman-led organization, at the end of the day his decisions are no one else's but his own.
Finally, we asked if he had a favorite. The answer - his tech incubator, alongside projects that bring together art and entrepreneurship.
Failure is something most entrepreneurs are well aware of. When asked how he deals with it, Rahul states plainly that, "Failure is part of our life, more than success. You should be best friends with your failure.". His motto: Fail young. Fail fast. Learn from it and don't make the same mistake twice. Failure teaches more than success.
Rahul shed light on the deeper aspects of failure by explaining that failure teaches more than success. Success could just be a product of luck and things coming together.
"Failure is a great father, he teaches you well.
Success is a mother, she loves you without having reason"
However, in the Indian scenario, he muses, nobody teaches us how to handle our failure, how to take on rejection. As a society, we don't talk about these things and it feels scary. This is something we need to change, from early on in our schooling.
A great learning opportunity lies in understanding what others have faced, and so we asked Rahul about his three mistakes and challenges he has faced. The biggest challenge he found was finding the right team – the people who will understand your visions and work with it. But for this, we need to open-minded, diligent and generous, only then can we find our team and delegate work.
Another crucial challenge Rahul has faced over the years is motivation. Firstly, staying personally motivated, the next is keeping your team motivated.
The third challenge and one that has been echoed by many other entrepreneurs is when to scale. People think they've made it big and are eager to expand, but scaling should be calculated. Talk to mentors, get advice, but in the end, take a calculated decision based on your understanding and capacity. Scaling also tops the list of Rahul's three mistakes.
In 2014, Octopus Group was listed as one of 20 companies to watch on the Forbes list, but in the same year, the company faced bankruptcy. While the scaling efforts had gone awry, Rahul believes it taught him a great lesson on understanding limitations. The salient lesson here, however, was that when Rahul had built his business, he never took short cuts. Thus, when faced with adversity, he was able to build it up again from scratch, as he had done it all before.
Rahul's second mistake: Trusting people. "I trust people based on what they say they can do. Usually, the results are very different."
The third and final mistake Rahul shares is biting off more than you can chew. "Do not take on more than you can do.", he advises. "Don not push or burn yourself out, to the level that you will not have peace of mind. A peaceful mind is No.1"
Rahul's purpose is very clear. Create social impact. Commenting on this, he says…
"I want to create social impact and keep helping as many people as I can. Not just by charity, but by empowering ideas, funding startups, taking local products into the global market and more."
About the future, he says
"I want my life to be a journey, not a destination.
I like the idea of not having a fixated purpose, but for now, it is that I want to empower the local market and work with student & women entrepreneurs"
His dream – Create India's largest incubator that works with artists & entrepreneurs.
In conclusion, Rahul was kind enough to share a short story that shed light upon his journey and how he came to be the entrepreneur he is today:
At 14, I told my dad I wanted to open a Pan Dabba. My dad was shocked but calmly asked me what had brought upon this idea. I explained to him that I wanted to get into business; this was all I knew to do, so I asked him for Rs.10,000 to start my business.
He asked why not any other business, so I explained that I had seen numerous Pan Dabba's that thrived outside Hyderabad's biryani restaurants, it seemed like a good idea. Additionally, this seemed like a job where I would be cash-rich and see the money I make in hand.
It was at this age that I knew I wanted to be in business. As I grew, I tried my hand at more business opportunities. I bought and resold sim cards at Rs.25 margin and collected Rs.1500 in 6 months. This money I then invested in Amway.
While I did not know how Amway worked, I quickly learnt and adapted. By the age of 17, I had saved Rs.30,000 from my ventures. I then told my dad, I wanted to start a business with the money I had, to which he said 'Ok'. His only advice, however, was that I first understand the people and place where I want to run a business.
At 17, I took Rs.15,000 from my savings and travelled the length and breadth of the country for 6 months. I went from Kanyakumari to Jammu & Kashmir, from Gujarat to Meghalaya, travelling by bus and train, till I turned 18 and could start my company.
At 18, I created Octopus Group with Rs.15,000. Today I run the same company, and it's worth close to US$100 million.