Yatra Posts

$3 to $10 Billion: The journey of a billionaire entrepreneur

E Week Closing Ceremony | Bangalore | February 12

By Radhika Saxena

The audience at the jam-packed Jyoti Nivas College Auditorium broke into a thunderous applause as Laura Parkin, Co-founder and CEO of NEN, introduced and invited on stage, a very special guest – Founder and Chairman of the Wadhwani Foundation and billionaire entrepreneur, Dr Romesh Wadhwani.

“Absolutely nothing could keep me away from E Week this year,” Dr Wadhwani said to the enthusiastic audience, who gave him a standing ovation as he took the stage. “I’m just a middle class guy, with mutated genes,” Dr Wadhwani said, leading to chuckles from the crowd. He added that there was no such thing as a “born entrepreneur.” He was the first in his family of doctors, engineers and teachers, to have started a business.

Recounting his journey as an entrepreneur, Dr Wadhwani shared anecdotes about how a late night stroll at IIT Bombay in the mid-1960’s, when he was a student there, led him to start a canteen on campus. For the next two years, the IIT B student union fought election campaigns on the canteen corp agenda – an experiment that had unconsciously set him on the path of entrepreneurship.

After attending Carnegie Melon University, he started his first company, a home securities business in 1973, when America was in the throes of the recession. Neither his Ph.D nor any bright ideas helped as he approached one VC after another, to no avail. Finally the 125th VC he went to gave him his first $150,000 as funding. There he learnt his first lesson: never give up. Things will go wrong but if you don’t give up, then sooner or later, you will get lucky.

He went on to talk about his second venture – a robotics company that he took over as CEO after, by his own admission, “lack of any due diligence.” Transforming a dead robotics venture into an integrated software computing company taught Dr Wadhwani his second lesson: learn to improvise.

He moved from Pittsburgh to Silicon Valley to found his 3rd company, Aspect Development, which went public in 1996. After consistently over performing on Wall Street, one bad quarter led the Aspect stock to plummet from $60 to $6 in a matter of a few weeks. But instead of blaming analysts and the market, by pure hardwork, a positive attitude and a great relationship with his employees, things quickly bounced back. And he learnt lesson number three: don’t let challenges and adversity paralyse you.

As the audience listened, rapt, Dr Wadhwani continued the tale of his entrepreneurial journey: The next few quarters saw the stock of Aspect Development over perform and rise from $6 to $60 to $100 and then to $200! And this was when he got a call from i2 Technologies, who offered to buy Aspect Development for $240 a share.

And that was how the boy, who had arrived at Carnegie Melon University from India, with just $3 and 50 cents in his pocket, sold his third company for nearly $10 billion.

Today, his fourth company, Symphony Technology Group, comprises 10 companies and rakes in revenue of over $3 billion.

“Even today, I have the same fear every time I start a company – fear of lack of ideas, of funding, of whether it will take off. But I’ve never let this fear paralyse me,” shares Romesh Wadhwani.

Egging on the room-full of India’s potential future entrepreneurs, he said to them, “Go for it! Live the dream. I have. You can. And we will.”