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In Conversation With Desh Deshpande

Ranjani Saigal

(This article is sponsored by Tanna Insurance)

Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande is the President and Chairman of Sparta Group LLC, a family investment office, and is also the Chairman of Tejas Networks. Dr. Deshpande has pursued an entrepreneurial career for the last three decades.  He is involved either as the founder, a founding investor or chairman of several companies including Cascade Communications, Sycamore Networks, Coral Networks, Tejas Networks, Cimaron, Webdialogs, Airvana, Sandstone Capital, A123 Systems and Curata.

Dr. Deshpande lives in Boston and serves as a life-member of the MIT Corporation, and his support has made possible MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.

Leveraging the experience gained at the MIT Center, the Deshpande Foundation has facilitated the set up of three other centers;  Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship in India, Merrimack Valley Sandbox in Lowell/Lawrence Massachusetts and Pond-Deshpande Center at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

Deshpande co-chairs a National Council to support President Obama’s innovation and entrepreneurship strategy. In December 2014,  he won the one of the “Forbes India Philanthropy Awards.” The prominent magazine gave these awards to top business leaders who have used their skills and resources to solve some of India’s most pressing problems. Deshpande, the Founder of the Deshpande Foundation, was awarded as the “Distinguished Non-Resident Philanthropist” for his efforts in helping Indian NGOs scale-up. Deshpande has helped transform multiple NGOs including Akshaya Patra.  

Entrepreneur philanthropist Desh Deshpande has written a new book  to answer questions for entrepreneurs. Titled “On Entrepreneurship and Impact” , the  book  is organized in a easy to read Q and A form. The book is a must read for entrepreneurs. Go to http://deshpandefoundationindia.org/deshbook/#/ to download the e-book and  add your comments. 

Desh talked to Lokvani about the book. 

In this age of blogging and twitter what motivated you to write a book? 
Over the years I have talked to hundreds of entrepreneurs.  Many often ask me questions. Once in a while, I would run into an entrepreneur who would say that based on what I said he changed what he did with his company and that it had a positive impact.  When Rajesh Setty and Raj Melville encouraged me to write a book, I thought I am not very comfortable writing a book, but I felt very comfortable documenting in a question-answer form the questions that entrepreneurs often encounter.

Does your target audience, the entrepreneurs who are starting their venture, have time to read?

No one can read a book before starting a company. This is the book is organized in a manner to give the answer to just the question that is facing the entrepreneur at the moment.  The book does not need to be read in its entirety. Entrepreneurs can read as much or as little as they need to get the quick answers they are looking for. 

Why do you talk about the importance of not having an ego, humility and other aspects, which sound spiritual in nature, in a book on entrepreneurship?

I believe in these qualities not just from a moral standpoint. I value them from the point of competitive advantage.  It makes life easy and success more attainable. 

Not having ego or an interest in a simple life is not easy to acquire. What in your background trained you for that?

Perhaps growing up with the background of Chinmaya Mission was helpful. In life if you work on complicating your life, running after the next big thing, you can easily get trapped.  A simple life allows you to free yourself up to do the things you really want to do and enjoy doing.   

Many successful entrepreneurs do have big egos. What would you attribute that success to? 

Enormous energy certainly will lead to success. However I believe that by giving up ego, the same entrepreneurs could have accomplished a great deal more or done it in a easier fashion. 

In your own journey are there things you regret having done? 

No. At any point in time we make decisions based on what appears to be right at that moment.  Later certain decisions turn out to be bad. In my own life, for my first company, I decided to partner with someone to start the company. That was the wrong partnership.  As soon as I realized it I decided to walk out of the partnership. Staying on would have been a mistake. Regrets come when you know something is wrong and you continue to do it.  When you see something is not working, one should have the guts to change it. It often happens with a hire. When you are hiring, you obviously do because you think they are the right fit.  If it turns out to be wrong, one should have the guts to fire as well. 

What do you look for in a successful entrepreneur? 

There are two important factors that are traits of a good entrepreneur. The first is the motivation of why they want to be an entrepreneur. If someone just wants to do it to make money and retire that is not the right reason and thus may not lead to success. Successful entrepreneurs need also to be flexible to change with the growth of the company.

Is the book meant for US entrepreneurs only? 

The book is in general useful for entrepreneurs. However entrepreneurship has different challenges based on the context. In a developing economy there may be many low hanging fruits as far as innovation goes. However there are many challenges since the ecosystem is not well developed for entrepreneurship. In developed nations while there are many advantages, the innovation has to be profound since the competition in intense. The risk/reward ratio also differs. 

What advice do you have for Presidential candidates who refer to job creation? 

For every 100 job seekers we need a job creator.  To increase jobs, one must create an environment for entrepreneurship . The E-For-All  is something we are working on in our sandboxes in India and the US, and I look forward to seeing the impact in 10 years time. 

What message do you have for our readers? 

I welcome you all to read the book and share your questions and comments. I look upon the book as a conversation. Based on the questions that we gather on the website, I would perhaps write a sequel. Go to http://deshpandefoundationindia.org/deshbook/#/ 

Thank you for your time


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