Smita Gawande, CEO of Torana Inc., was invited to kick-start the Global Leadership Talks series organized by Nagpur First in collaboration with TiE-Nagpur. Smita chose to speak on ‘Being Counter-intuitive to build a Business’; how taking an unconventional approach helped her in building Torana for what it is today. She had won Nagpur First’s Global Nagpur Award 2017 in the ‘Individual Entrepreneur > 5 years’ category.
Smita started with a brief introduction about Torana Inc. & their product iCEDQ. She spoke about their clients in the USA which include New York Stock Exchange, IBM, Franklin Templeton Investments, Nomura, Oshkosh, BlackHawk Network, TJX, Nielsen, Tufts Healthcare, Hotwire, & many more (names include Fortune 500 companies). She said she took great pride that a product developed in Nagpur was used by New York Stock Exchange, an entity on which the whole world’s stock markets depended, to which the audience responded with a big round of applause.
She gave a background about herself - her upbringing, education, work experience & her journey of co-founding Torana with her husband Sandesh Gawande (now the CTO). She was brought up in a typical middle-class service family so clearly she had no business background. Her obvious ambition was to complete education, find a job, get married, have children & settle down. Normal intuition suggests that one is born to be an entrepreneur or one needs MBA to do so. Using her own example, she explained that counter-intuitive to this belief one can become an entrepreneur by accident & yet do well at it.
Next, she spoke of how she counter-intuitively believed that one needed the right people to build a business & not a great idea. She clarified that they themselves had no clue what they were going to do when they started, but she had the right people who she trusted. She then spoke of why they started a research & development centre in Nagpur & not a Tier-1 city as start-ups generally do. This had its advantages & disadvantages but it majorly worked for Torana.
She said that they were able to tap into the right talent who wanted to work in Nagpur for the right reasons; people who had already experienced living in big cities & wanted to live in Nagpur for the work-life balance & to support their families. Nagpur is still untouched by the bad corporate culture & has preserved its innocence which also worked for Torana. The business advantage is that salary & infrastructure costs are 20-30% less as compared to Tier-1 cities.
Another counter-intuitive approach she had was to hire people for attitude & not talent. She believes that talent & skills can be developed but not attitude. She shared the story of one of her employees, who had no degree but was extremely hardworking & fast learner & he grew from being a back office executive to an HR manager.
She further said that she wanted to build a legacy by adding innovative product lines. She didn’t believe in just building a brand & getting funded, something which most start-ups do. Torana has grown organically by focusing on building a product which truly solves a problem. She said India needs more disruptive innovation. India has no Google, Amazon, FaceBook, Whatsapp, Microsoft; Indians may be running these companies but we don’t have innovation in India.
She shared an important point of how Indians judge companies as big or small. Our perception is that a company with a huge workforce of thousands of employees is a big company; this perception is flawed. She believed in setting the right parameters to measure growth. She measured the size of a company & its growth by revenue per employee & its market share. Torana has been in USA INC 500-5000 for the last 4 years & has only 70 employees across US & India. She also gave the example of WhatsApp which had only around 50 employees but has a huge market share & was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.
Further, she spoke of doing the right division labour by assigning roles as per aptitude & attitude. She gave her own example of how her husband Sandesh is the think-tank & visionary while she is the executor. She then spoke of accepting vulnerability as a part of being human & not running away from it because of the role of leadership. She said how feeling vulnerable has helped her in being compassionate not just towards women employees but towards all. Compassion lets her give enough freedom to employees so they can focus on what work they do rather than how they do it. Freedom, in turn, creates a second level of leadership which is always good for a company.
She finally spoke of how she is counter-intuitively using womanhood to her advantage. It is difficult being a woman in this society but she has successfully used the qualities which womanhood brings to run Torana effectively.
She finally thanked the entire team of Nagpur First & TiE Nagpur especially Dinesh Jain, Sachin Jahagirdar & Milind Chittawar for giving her the opportunity of sharing her ideas on such a platform. The event was well received & appreciated by all.