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From a computer mechanic to serial entrepreneur

July 11, 2008
His father died in an accident when he was just nine; he was the eldest of three siblings. His mother, a government servant, brought them up in tough circumstances that probably drove him to be an achiever.

Today, at 46, he is a successful serial entrepreneur, who has sold three of his companies for millions of dollars after scaling them up and adding value to them. He is in the process of scaling the fourth one.

Meet Krishnan Ganesh, a mechanical engineer from Delhi College of Engineering, a post graduate from IIM Calcutta and founder, CEO and chairman of TutorVista.com -- his fourth business venture -- an online tutoring company that imparts education to students in more than 13 countries, primarily among them being the US.

Recently, Ganesh has started a hybrid model of online tutoring in India as well. He spoke with Prasanna D Zore about his life, entrepreneurship, the challenges of creating an Indian brand in the US and how his Indian foray could change the way students in rural India learn.

Tell us something about yourself...

I studied in a Tamil government school in Delhi. My mother brought us up after the death of my father. It was quite a challenging childhood in as much as my mother was the only earning member of the family.

I did my mechanical engineering from Delhi College of Engineering. I worked for Tata Motors (then TELCO) Jamshedpur for 12 months. Then I realised that engineering is not really my cup of tea. So I did my post graduation from IIM Calcutta. I was never a brilliant student and I never topped any of my classes.

About your serial entrepreneurial ventures...

After management I joined HCL where I worked for five years in various functions including as executive assistant to Shiv Nadar. It gave me exposure to the workings of multiple departments and functions. That's where my entrepreneurial journey started.

My first venture started in 1990, a company called IT&T -- IT and network services company -- with just Rs 93,000. Five friends chipped in with the amount from their own savings. Here I gained the confidence that I could handle multiple functions and make quick decisions. This was the time when there were no venture capitalists, no liberalisation. The biggest challenge then was to convince my family because I didn't come from a business background. Two, there was no funding available; there were no private equity firms. And the third was convincing people that even a services company could make money.

My parents MOTHER? and my mother-in-law were very upset that I was leaving a cozy corporate job and risking my money in a business that did not even manufacture anything. They called me a computer mechanic.

After that I started four more businesses, scaled them successfully and sold them.

I ran IT&T as its CEO and co-founder till 1998. Though I then moved out, I was still the largest shareholder and director of the company (in 2003 the business was sold to iGate). In 1998 I moved to Bangalore from Delhi to work as a chief executive with Bharti British Telecom/ Wipro British Telecom.

After a two-year stint with them I started my second business venture with my wife and another partner called CustomerAsset. It was later acquired by ICICI Bank in 2002 when we reached 1,000 people and they renamed it as ICICI OneSource (today it's renamed as FirstSource). My stake was bought by ICICI Bank for $ 20 million.

In 2003 I was looking at a new business venture when I came across Marketics. A bunch of people from IIT and IIM had started this company. These people came to me for mentoring, guidance and some money to scale their business. This was later sold to WNS, an NYSE listed company for $ 65 million. This is a great case study in how one can create value from scratch (only half a million dollars were invested in this business), without the help of any venture capitalist.

After that I was looking at starting a business that would use Indian resources to service the global market. It was here it struck me that instead of starting a traditional BPO or ITES or call centre, which is what India is known for why can't I start my own brand in the US? That was the main idea behind starting TutorVista.com.

Photographs: TutorVista.com

Also read: 'Self-belief is essential to be a good photographer'
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