Bhavin Turakhia is a serial entrepreneur that has found five companies. The first company he started at 17 got acquired for $160 million. He is presently heading Radix – a leading registry for top-level extensions, Flock – a suite of productivity apps, and Zeta – a digital payments platform. Radix is a $200 million company, Flock he has invested his personal wealth on, and Zeta has raised already over $60 million.
In this episode you will learn:
- Bhavin’s hiring process and tests
- What you should do instead of focusing on valuations
- What he spends most of his time on as a founder, CEO, and Chairman
- The nonprofit programming initiative CodeChef
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About Bhavin Turakhia:
Serial entrepreneur and billionaire, Bhavin Turakhia is driven by a passion for problem-solving and maximizing efficiency through technology-led innovations.
In the last 22 years, Bhavin Turakhia has built 5 successful businesses, all driven by his belief that “it is our moral obligation to make an impact that is proportionate to our potential”.
At 17, Bhavin Turakhia co-founded Resellerclub, Logicboxes and BigRock, which he exited in a $160 million transaction in 2014.
Bhavin Turakhia is presently heading Radix – a leading registry for top-level extensions, Flock – a suite of productivity apps, and Zeta – a digital payments platform.
Connect with Bhavin Turakhia:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a serial founder, a founder that has built and scaled many companies, companies that have been acquired, companies that have raised quite a bit of money. I think that during the time with him, we’re going to be able to capture and learn from all the different experiences that he went through while going through his journey. So without further ado, I’d like to welcome our guest today. Bhavin Turakhia, welcome to the show.
Bhavin Turakhia: Thank you, Alejandro. It’s a pleasure being here.
Alejandro: Originally born and raised in Mumbai, so tell us about life in Mumbai.
Bhavin Turakhia: Mumbai’s an amazing city, actually. It’s got a lot of character. I spent almost 27 to 30 years in Mumbai growing up. It’s a very enterprising city, and pretty much the financial capital of India. Every set of entrepreneurs, everybody who’s ambitious comes to Mumbai to make their career in Mumbai. It’s always abuzz with excitement. Throughout the day or night, you’ll find action on the streets. It’s an amazing city.
Alejandro: Very cool. I know that very young when you were something like ten, you started coding. How did you start to develop this attraction or love for computers?
Bhavin Turakhia: I always was a huge fan of math and physics. Early on, growing up, I was always a nerd and a geek at heart. My school, which I was in [0:01:37] in Mumbai, installed their first computer room in 1989 when I was ten years old, and I was hooked. I would spend all of my short breaks, lunch breaks, several hours after school every day. My dad would buy me tons of programming books, and I would go through them one after another. I went through more than 25, 30 different books to learn programming and GW-BASIC, Visual Basic, and CC++ on MS-DOS back in the day. So, yeah, I was fortunate to find my passion early on.
Alejandro: Very cool. I know that at this time, as well, you started to read some of the biographies from other people. How did you start reading and learning from others that were successful, and what were some of the patterns that you were starting to recognize?
Bhavin Turakhia: I’ve always been an avid reader all my life. Most of what I am, a lot of the credit goes to my father, who was so invested and spent a considerable amount of time, effort, energy, and resources behind our education. He used to buy me a lot of books. One of my favorite genres was biographies about successful and failed entrepreneurs. Sometimes, you learn more from failures than success even. I’ve devoured tons of biographies back then; I still do. Back in the day, I devoured biographies of Microsoft, Intel, Apple, and I was quite inspired. One of the things that I took away from most of these books, and I learned a lot from reading about entrepreneurs. One of the things I somehow took away was that all of these individuals started out just like me in some sense. They went through their ups and downs, successes and failures, and mistakes. I loved this feeling and excitement that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. This is something my Dad would keep telling us that you could achieve anything you set your mind to. For me, it felt like I could relate to them. I felt like I could achieve similar success if I persevered and followed my passion.
Alejandro: I know that you later went to study science, but it didn’t go as expected. So what happened?
Bhavin Turakhia: Actually, I started out by—every parent wants their child to become a doctor or engineer. I wanted to do something in computer science. We said I should take up computer science [0:04:01], but when I went through the [0:04:02] curriculum, I figured I’d already done most of it on my own. So I didn’t want to spend four years of my life learning a bunch of stuff that I already learned on my own. So I decided to switch to commerce. Actually, I originally thought I would just drop out and start my company, but my parents were insistent that I should get some degree. So I switched to commerce. I had joined this college called [0:04:27], but I never attended. I only went for exams and got my degree in distinction, but apparently started various entrepreneurial ventures, consulting people writing software, and then co-founding my first company during that time.
Alejandro: You were literally 18, so one question that comes to mind is, do you think entrepreneurs are born or do you think they’re made?
Bhavin Turakhia: I absolutely believe entrepreneurs are made. As I said, I was fortunate to find my passion early on. I think entrepreneurs are usual to pursue passion and success instead of automatically result as a side effect in many ways. And I think a lot of my reading, a lot of my journey has been thanks to lots of lessons I’ve learned along the way to my success and failures—success and failures of other people. I do strongly believe that if you find your passion and you want to solve a problem in life. I also believe that frustration is the nest of entrepreneurship. A lot of entrepreneurs will find something in life or some passion, some problem they want to solve, and that’s what really carries them on.
Alejandro: Tell us about your first passion or the first problem that you encountered. You, obviously, encountered this with Divyank, with your brother. This was with Directi. Tell us about it. How did you guys incubate this idea? How did you bring it to life? How did you guys decide to go at it together because working with family members is not easy? So walk us through that process.
Bhavin Turakhia: Back in ’94, ’95 is when the internet first came into the country in India. The moment internet access became available, I was excited about the possibility and potential that it had for businesses. So in ’98, I borrowed close to $200 or $300 from my father. I bought our first server in a company called Alabanza. Then we started selling web hosting space and domain name registration services because we figured if anybody on this internet is becoming this big phenomenon. By that time, it was still early days of the internet, but I, at least, believed it was going to become a big phenomenon, and I felt everybody would need some assistance and some services to get their web presence set up. That we would be the most fundamental service that we could provide, so we started off that way. Then grew that business and became one of the first ICANN accredited domain registrars in the country. Built out this entire—we set up a platform that enabled almost 40,000 50,000 resellers around the world to buy domain names, hosting, email service from us, and we sell them to their customers, and then carry it on from there.
Alejandro: Why did you guys sell?
Bhavin Turakhia: I wasn’t looking to sell the company. It was already running the internet at that point and time. I was, 2012, planning to start my next company, Radix, and I happened to meet the CEO of Endurance actually for a potential partnership on Radix. He turned around and said he was interested in buying my other company, which by then was being run by a bunch of others from business sites that I had brought into the company, and they’re actually running it today. I wasn’t sure at first, and I said, “I’m not looking to sell the company,” but we started having meaningful conversations. Over a period of about six, eight months, eventually, it made sense for us, for our employees, for the company as a whole for them to be able to leverage that technology across their broader organization. Over time, we felt that it was a win-win scenario for everybody involved.
Alejandro: Here, you guys were doing domains, web hosting, so quite a different variety of services that you were providing. How big was the business prior to the acquisition?
Bhavin Turakhia: We had about 9.5 to 10 million domain names registered around the world. We had 40, 50,000 resellers who were actively selling our services around the world, upwards to 60 to 70 million dollars in revenue, and a profitable company growing double digits year on year. Presence with customers upward of 80 to 100 countries around the world. A vast majority of our revenue coming in from North America, Europe, India, and a couple of other companies in Asia-Pac. Yeah, a fairly global company spread across the globe in terms of clients, revenue, and employees.
Alejandro: Got it. How old were you when the company was acquired? How old were you at this point?
Bhavin Turakhia: How old was I in 2014? Well, that would be 34.
Alejandro: Got it, 34. So this was the first exit, and you started Directi at 18. Correct?
Bhavin Turakhia: 17.
Alejandro: 17. Wow. What a journey, Bhavin. Out of all these years, pushing Directi and you finally get it to the finish line, 106 at 60 million there in Mumbai. It’s a big number for being there as well because here in the U.S. it’s a big number. I can’t even imagine in Mumbai. What was your biggest lesson from this journey?
Bhavin Turakhia: I learned lots of lessons along the way. I think some of the biggest mistakes I made have been building products nobody wanted, so I’ve learned a lot of lessons around validating my hypothesis at every step, creating MVPs before we invest significant amounts behind a particular part. One of the things I’ll share with any and every entrepreneur is the best advice that I can give that I learned along the way is refocusing on hiring the best talent. I still spend a lot of my personal time and attention on ensuring that we hired the absolute best talent in all of my companies. That has meaningfully helped me grow businesses in different diverse industries and spaces to a large-sized global organization because the kind of talent that we have. Those are the top few things that come to mind. Something that I would typically say is to focus on value, not evaluations. It’s something that I tell young entrepreneurs because these days, it’s very easy to get caught up in these big numbers because media tends to glamourize mostly evaluations. I really believe that evaluations should be set aside, and if you follow your passion and focus on creating value for your customers, then valuation will automatically follow.
Alejandro: I thought that was really interesting, so let’s hone into that a bit, in validating the hypothesis. Let’s say you come up with an idea—you’ve started so many companies, Bhavin. Let’s say you come up with an idea, and you want to validate whether it has legs or not for you to explore further. What are, for example, the three most immediate things that you would do to measure if it makes sense to invest more time or not on that idea?
Bhavin Turakhia: I would say—three most important things or not, but I’ll quickly rattle out the way I would structure it. First, we talk to customers as early and as often as you can. A business is essentially a target persona and a problem that you’re trying to solve for. Then you have a solutions base, which is the actual product. I keep telling people that a successful business comprises of a target persona with a problem, not a product idea, and a hypothesis, which is what a lot of people sometimes end up starting with. My objective would be, well, validate that the target persona actually has a problem? How are they currently solving it? Do you have something that’s 10x better? Because people will not migrate unless the advantage in migrating to your solution is substantially better than the pain of migration that they would have, with whatever they are using currently to solve their problem, even if they’re solving it in a half-hearted manner. So the idea would be, get in front of customers as fast as possible. Validate through—we use various techniques. Sometimes, we’ll have ideas. We’ll use what the industry calls fake, so we’ll create a mock version of the product, or we’ll create a mock version of a feature inside a product and see how many people click on it, or how many people ask about it. We’ll create fake Facebook ad campaigns to see, “Is there a level of interest found on Google or Facebook trying to advertise to our target audience with the message that we’re thinking the product should portray? The problem that we’re trying to solve for and see how many people get attracted to it or click on it or are willing to buy it, and things of that sort. There are a lot of techniques and approaches from primary to secondary sources to validate your hypothesis. We try to use as many of them to get a reasonably good idea on the target persona, and the problem we’re trying to solve for on the fact that we offer a meaningful benefit and advantage on what our go to market strategy could be and what kind of traction channels we could use to get to these customers and get to the customer base. Preemptively also think about what kind of revenue models this could result in, at least in some of our businesses. Some of them might be more market-share oriented. There’s a lot of initial work and effort, but you can do a lot of these things quickly. You can do some of this stuff in a matter of weeks or a couple of months, and you have a much better idea in terms of what you want to go without there.
Alejandro: Let’s go back to the story. You guys sold for 160 million. What was next after Directi?
Bhavin Turakhia: I started in 2012, a company called Radix. My younger brother was already running a company called Media.net. Media.net was into contextual advertising. Radix was into domain name registry services. We owned .tech, .store, .website, .space, and many other premium, top-level domains and top-level extension. That was the next phase. Along the time I was selling Directi, because I started Radix in 2012 was the Directi sale happened in 2014.
Alejandro: And your brother did pretty well with media.net. I think it was one of the largest attic acquisitions in history. Is that right?
Bhavin Turakhia: Yeah. It was among the top largest—top attic exits globally. Certainly, the largest—definitely one of the largest bootstrapped attic exists globally. He started doing work on that advertising space on a couple of brands and business systems, 2005, 2006, onward. Started media.net in 2010. Ran it for six years, and then sold it for 900 million dollars in 2016.
Alejandro: Very nice. He’s already at it again with Zeta, which is valued at 300 million. Right?
Bhavin Turakhia: Zeta is founded by me and Ramki. My younger brother is actually not involved in Zeta.
Alejandro: Okay. Got it. So many brothers and so many tech entrepreneurs. It’s unbelievable.
Bhavin Turakhia: Yes. I co-founded Zeta with a person called Ramki. He was the CTO of one of my companies before and has worked with me for about ten years. The two of us started that in 2015.
Alejandro: 2015. Okay, but let’s not lose track here. Let’s talk about Radix. Why did you start Radix?
Bhavin Turakhia: I’ve always believed that part of the process in the ICANN decision-making process to try and get new gTLDs, new top-level extensions out as fast as possible because of websites around the world. I’ve always believed that before 2012, before these new top-level extensions were launched that the options for most customers were fairly limited. You could register a domain name in whatever: .com, .net, like a few different extensions. That didn’t make sense to me. Think about a world where everybody has only one last name to choose from. Like all of us have the same last name. It makes no sense. Yet, most of the internet until 2012 was like that. Most of the websites around the world were .com. It doesn’t matter what they did or what they stood for, etc. So I strongly believe that consumer choice is important as the effect appears to grow, and we became one of the largest applicants of new top-level extension when I can finally announce the process in 2012. Then won and got the license to operate now nine to ten different extensions that are currently representing 25% of the market share of all new gTLDs domains that are registered around the world. That was what sparked Radix. Given that I only had close to about 12 to 14 years of experience in industry, I could leverage that to make sure that we create a meaningful business plan that selects the best gTLDs and the best business plan to accomplish, to get to a sizable business volume.
Alejandro: This is not 200-million-dollar companies, so what’s the business model? How do you guys make money?
Bhavin Turakhia: Every time you register a domain name that ends in .store, or .tech, or .online, you’re essentially paying your domain registrar who, in turn, pays us that money after keeping a portion of the revenues themselves. If you go to GoDaddy and search and buy alejandro.space or alejandro.tech, GoDaddy registers it with us because we own the .tech extension. You might pay them $30. They might get $20 per year for that name. That’s the business model, and that’s how I make money on Radix.
Alejandro: That’s very cool. One of the things that I’ve seen here, Bhavin, is that you seem very, very skilled at creating companies, kind of like put them already on the hypergrowth and on the scaling mode, and then you’re very good, as well, at recruiting the right people to take it on and keep building while you’re putting yourself more at the strategic level. For example, here in Radix, you became chairman. How do you go about this?
Bhavin Turakhia: Absolutely. I love building companies. I love solving problems. A typical company goes through three phases as I see it at the macrolevel. You start off with the discovery phase. I love that phase. This is when everything is weighing and ambiguous and uncertain, and you’ve got a problem that you’re passionate about. You don’t necessarily know exactly how you’re going to tackle it, but you’re in the process of learning a lot, doing really fast, rapid experiments, and absorbing information, bringing in the initial talent. If it’s a tech company, the software developers, the product managers, the initial sales and marketing people that will help you run your go to market motion, etc. But this is the initial discovery phase. Once you get to product/market fit and a sales-ready product like a PMF and SRP stage, you get into scaling mode, which is the next phase where you now have a product that proven product/market fit. You potentially have a revenue or go to market model that works, and you’re putting in capital, resources, money, people, etc. to scale the business really rapidly. You’re typically seeing high-double digit or high triple-digit growth, year on year. Then you eventually get to a stage where you have this steady growth phase, and you’ve scaled the business substantially, and you now have steady growth, steady revenues, steady profitability, and so on, and so forth. I try to be very involved and personally hands-on with the discovery phase. I try to induct the right kind of management talent, mid-management, etc. in the scaling phase that works with me on the right platform channels to scale the business, and I’m fairly hands-on and involved there. Then by the time I’m getting to a steady growth phase, I’m bringing in the right senior leadership that will take on the company and ensure that it steadily continues to grow from that point onward.
Alejandro: Choosing a CEO for your own business. That’s a super risky decision because you can literally get someone that is going to break the business, everything that you’ve worked so hard for. What are the questions, the right questions that you ask, or what are the traits that you look for, that individual that ultimately, you’re bringing on board as a CEO?
Bhavin Turakhia: I’m on a very macro level than most people. No matter what the level, we look for people who are smart and get things done are, I think, two of the most important qualities. With any role, like a CEO, for instance, in case of Radix, by the way, the person who took on the role of a CEO is someone who’s been working with me for more than 12 to 14 years. So I know him quite well. He’s actually grown up the ranks along with me and multiple other companies before. So there’s a significant level of trust, and I know what he’s capable of. In Zeta, right now, we’ve hired a president in India who’s going to handle the entire panel for India. I’m in the process of hiring a president in the U.S. These are all completely external hires because Zeta’s scaling at a rapid pace, and we have internal people that could directly take on these roles. But I’ve been very meticulous. Two of the presidents that we hired in India, one of them took me almost 11 months to find. I’ve gone through tons of candidates, detailed case studies, detailed ref checks, detailed processes with me and my co-founder to get to a point where I clearly understand that their values match with us, their cultural values, and cultural fitment, they’re really smart, that they can handle ambiguity, rapid scaling, have similar ideas in terms of go to market discovery, and so on. Those are the kind of traits that we would look for
Alejandro: So Bhavin, when you’re recruiting, I’m sure that there is, obviously like you said, a multiple process, multiple months, and in many instances, there are years. But I’m sure that there is one question that you ask that for you the answer is going to be a make-it-or-break-it for you. What is that question, and why?
Bhavin Turakhia: I must admit, actually, it’s quite the opposite. The process in most cases what I prefer. So a couple of things that I’ll talk about. One is, I always prefer doing case studies that enable me to think, enable me to understand how a person thinks. If I’m bringing them on for a particular role that I understand that they’re going to leading product. I’m going to give them a product case study and really understand in a fresh environment with specific questions exactly how creative they are within those constraints and how they can come up with—we test for comprehensiveness, creativity, rationale, and logical reasoning in these case studies. Most of the questions are around trying to test them for, “Here’s a problem statement. This is the goal you’re trying to achieve,” and they’re really ambitious goals. So it might be where if I want to grow the India business to 100 million dollars in revenue over the next 18 months, come up with a strategic plan, both go to market, what are things that you’d change in the product, things of that basic, the idea that I’m looking for. It doesn’t necessarily have to agree with everything the person says, but what I’m looking for is creativity, comprehensiveness, and logical feasibility of whatever they come up with. And they need to be scenarios and situations. If it’s engineering, then we go to an extensive technical process. That all depends on the level you’re at, coding, architectural skills, and so on. Each role and function has its own process. Then during the process, we also test for cultural fitment and that.
Alejandro: Got it. In your case, for example, in Radix, what was that moment where you told yourself, “I need to put myself up at the chairman level and get someone at the CEO level?
Bhavin Turakhia: To be honest, Sandeep Ramchandani, the CEO, is already managing CEO-like responsibilities for a year and a half before he officially took on that role. He was already owning strategy, owning execution, growth plans, etc. and I was working closely with him to ensure that we pass on whatever mentorship that I could and work with him on areas that I thought were important. But otherwise, he was already starting to run some of those responsibilities having grown up in the ranks there. Then at some point was ready to take on that role meaningfully and take things forward.
Alejandro: Very cool. And your next rodeo was Flock. Tell us about how you incubated Flock because you already had enough on your plate, and you decided to launch one more business.
Bhavin Turakhia: I’m passionate about productivity. In my personal life, also, I try and do lots and lots of experiments to increase my productivity, my efficiency, whatever I can do to improve my efficiency, and what I can achieve every single minute of my life. Flock was born out of that notion like, “Let’s create a toolset for teams and individuals that enable them to enhance their productivity. Communication and collaboration, we believe, is one area that has significant scope for improvement in an organization. So that’s the area that we took up first. I started working with a team. So we’d actually already built some instant messaging software for end consumers before that then pivoted and morphed into Flock. We started with messaging. Then we built video calling. Now, we’ve built email calendar and contacts and essentially providing a comprehensive productivity suite to companies around the world.
Alejandro: Very cool. At this point, you’ve already had achieved meaningful success in your professional career. Obviously, you had built that financial muscle, as well, from your exits and what you were doing with your other ventures. So why did you decide to go out and raise money?
Bhavin Turakhia: The money was raised for my next company, Zeta.
Alejandro: How did you capitalize Flock, then.
Bhavin Turakhia: Flock’s been capitalized out of my own personal wealth so far.
Alejandro: Got it. So you were the one financing it. How big is Flock today?
Bhavin Turakhia: We are a couple of hundred thousand users on our messaging platform. We’ve got a pipeline to grow to almost a million accounts in our email platform. Customers from upward of 50, 60 countries. About 125 odd employees across multiple global locations. Most of our go to market came together in the last six months and is going to be aggressive growth going forward now across 2020. That’s the year where we’re looking at spending most of our resources behind go to market and growth.
Alejandro: With all these companies that you’ve started, we’re talking about the drive and the passion. There are a lot of people that I speak with that they think that it makes sense to go out and launch a business for becoming a millionaire and making millions and all of that stuff. What piece of advice would you have for those?
Bhavin Turakhia: I kind of said this before, focus on value, not valuation. I think money and everything else is a side effect. To us, it never made any difference that we had 160 million dollars from our first exit. Divyank went on to create close to a billion-dollar company. I subsequently formed a bunch of different companies at various stages. Zeta is now a 10-million-dollar company as of 1 1/2 years ago. I think the money, the valuation, is all side effects. I’m passionate about the problems that we’re solving with Zeta, for instance. I think it has potential to become 20, 30 times, or even bigger than anything I’ve built so far in my life combined. In many ways, the goal is to—I’ve always believed each of us has a moral obligation to make an impact that’s proportionate to our potential. I feel that I still have a lot more potential in terms of the kind of impact that I can make, the difference I can make, the employment I can create, the technology innovation that I can be a part of in the payment world. So, yeah, I think that’s what I believe people should pursue.
Alejandro: I love it. Let’s talk about Zeta. Zeta is your next move. What drove this move?
Bhavin Turakhia: I and Ramki, my co-founder, we’ve been passionate about the payment space and excited about the space since quite some time. In 2014, we got together and started discussing, “What would the world look like today if we had to rethink an entire payment system and banking system from scratch?” We strongly believed that across the world, banking technology is comprised of all these legacy taxes we’ve built the last 20 years that think of ledgers and transactions as fundamental units, but they don’t think of people and purpose. So our vision is to actuate the world to invisible payments. We strongly believe that payments should not—nobody should care about payments. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m excited I have to make five payments today.” They’re always trying to achieve a purpose. So we built a cloud-native, modern application platform that takes purpose to the core, enables true rules, workflows, APIs, and configurable modular architecture, enables banks and financial companies to provide a much more engaging experience for their customers when it comes to payment products or financial products and services. We now have upwards of 4 million users. We’ve launched in four to five different countries, and we’re launching in a few others. We’re processing close to a billion dollars, 660+ million in transaction volume, and we’re growing rapidly there. It’s essentially intended to disrupt legacy technology in the banking and financial services space with a much more modern, new-age banking platform that we think will really drive what we call democratization of banking and payments across the world.
Alejandro: You were saying that on Flock, you financed it from your own pocket. Here on Zeta, there was a time where you decided to open it up for outside investors. Why did you do that here?
Bhavin Turakhia: Zeta is my most ambitious plan to date. I see it as one of my biggest goals and objectives in terms of the kind of scale that it can achieve. As we went through that process, Ramki and I felt that it makes sense to scale rapidly through external capital. At some point in time, it would become unfeasible for me to continue putting my own personal capital behind it. We also felt that we had a strategic deal. A year and a half ago, the investing company is a company called [0:31:47], which is also one of our partners. There was a strategic business deal that we worked with them on that apparently came as a part of this investment. So overall, it became a scenario that they would help us scale as well as confirm and commit business volumes from a partner that we respect, and we’ve done a lot of work with.
Alejandro: I’m sure that for you, making sure that you had people that were particularly aligned on the vision and on what you guys were set out to achieve was super important. When you’re opening your cap table for others to join that, as well. What were some of the things you were looking for in those people?
Bhavin Turakhia: We were looking for what I would call smart capital. Not just money, and not just capital, but somebody who could also help us and work with us to grow business, or open doors for us and things like that, which is the reason why we worked with this strategic on this one.
Alejandro: Makes complete sense. As well, in terms of the networks that they can bring, and the rolodex, and contacts, and I’m sure that was also important.
Bhavin Turakhia: It gives us [0:32:59] primarily themselves are inclined, so they would themselves bring in the business. But in the future, also, as Zeta continues to look at potential capital raises in the future, we certainly will look to participate and partner with financial partners in the ecosystem that can bring in much more than capital and still bring in their rolodex and contacts and open doors for us.
Alejandro: Also, when you’re building a fintech company—here in the U.S., regulations are a beast. Those regulatory hurdles are tough, and they’re real. Tell us about the regulatory landscape, as well, for fintech companies in India.
Bhavin Turakhia: The financial regulation has always been exhaustive in many ways, but I would say that in the fintech world in the last five, seven years, I’ve actually seen regulations been ahead of technology. In many ways, U.S., Europe, and India have seen the Central Banks and regulators progressive in terms of enabling the interest of the consumer, security of the consumer, and at the same time, progressive in terms of technology adoption. India has gone through ways of modernization, digitization, and encouragement productions of MDR to ensure that digital payments become a reality. So there are a lot of emphasis the government has put behind, not just in India, but across the world to digitize payments, and they’re doing a lot. In many ways, I think that technology needs to catch up in many of these countries, and that’s where Zeta’s playing a role. Separately, though, I must say that Zeta’s role is predominantly that of a technology provider, so we provide our technology to regulated license players like neo-banks, fintechs, banks, etc. We, ourselves, are not a bank and don’t intend to be, so we actually have to ensure and see that our systems are fully compliant with regulation, and we do that at all points and time. From a security standpoint, data localization standpoint, local regulation standpoint, so our technology platform is fully compliant with whether it’s Europe, we’re working in Italy and a couple of countries, in Asia, Vietnam, India. We’re launching shortly in the U.S., so we’re ensuring that our platforms are fully compliant with local regulations, and then we work with regulatory entities to provide them these capabilities.
Alejandro: How many people do you have in Zeta now?
Bhavin Turakhia: I think it’s close to 450 people across Zeta.
Alejandro: Wow. Is it true that right now, if I understand right, you are the CEO of both Zeta and Flock?
Bhavin Turakhia: Yes, that is correct, though I do have a co-founder in Zeta, and I spend a relatively large amount of time there. I have a senior leadership team in Flock, so I have a head of engineering, chief revenue officer, chief product officer that takes care of all of the aspects on Flock’s business.
Alejandro: Wow. Bhavin, when do you sleep?
Bhavin Turakhia: That’s my [0:35:53], sleep.
Alejandro: It’s unbelievable. How do you diversify the time so that you’re able to be equally effective because building one company as a co-founder and CEO is challenging already, with just one? Here you are doing it two times at the same time with two different companies. So how do you manage to do that?
Bhavin Turakhia: As I said, it’s a talent. I have amazing people in Flock that actually hold the fort, and I have an amazing co-founder in Zeta with an amazing team there that hold the fort there. I tend to spend a majority of my time on Zeta these days. But to that extent, I think I’m supported by an amazing team that enables me to perform the miracles, I guess, that we’re performing.
Alejandro: Is there a routine that you follow, or how does a typical day look like for you, Bhavin?
Bhavin Turakhia: Typically, I spend most of my time in London. I have a house in London, India, and the U.S., and I spend about 60 to 70% of my time in London, which gives me a perfect time zone that’s centrally located to manage and coordinate with my offices in Europe, U.S., and India. I tend to wake up in the morning and start my workday pretty early and get a full workday overlap with India and mostly spend in online meetings with my team there. And then I spend evening times working and coordinating with my teams in the U.S. and Europe. A large chunk of my personal time is spent on product strategy and on large deal-making. Those are the two areas that I focus most of my time on. So, Zeta, for instance, a lot of the go to market where some of the large deals report into me, and I work closely with the team to make that happen. Then work closely with the Flock team on product and product strategy and GTM strategy basically. That’s typically the functions that I tend to manage.
Alejandro: One of the beauties of being able to become successful, or to have a couple of exits is that you’re able to give back. I understand that you are also part of CodeChef. Can you tell us about this initiative?
Bhavin Turakhia: CodeChef was started, again with my passion of programming, I felt that—it started with an India focus. I felt that the quality of programmers in India was not equal to the rest of the programmers of the world, so we decided to create a self-learning platform where people can compete with each other and learn programming skills. Since then, it’s grown to a global competition platform that holds hundreds of competitions every year, and millions of users and programmers participate in these contests around the world and compete. Then we publish all their solutions on the website for other programmers or participants to learn from. So that’s what CodeChef does. It’s a nonprofit, so I’m currently investing behind it as a pure sponsor—doesn’t have any profit objectives. The golden objective is predominantly to grow the quality of [0:39:20] coding and programming around the world.
Alejandro: That’s very cool. You know, I understand that the journey of being an entrepreneur, there’s no such thing as a straight line. And I know that we all have our moments, and some are pretty dark. But ultimately, we get to learn a lot from them. Now, as you’re looking back in this journey of building and scaling companies, what was that moment for you where perhaps it was a major breakdown, but it led to a massive learning opportunity for you? What was the moment?
Bhavin Turakhia: I haven’t had any breakdowns, but I certainly have had my fair share of failures. We launched this Build It for Me website product back in 2008. I tried to sell it for a year and a half. It didn’t work out. We weren’t getting the kind of revenue that we wanted against the cost that we were spending. So I had to stop that after a considerable amount of investment. As I said, before Flock, we were working on an end-consumer messenger product, so competing with Facebook Messenger, etc. and spent several years behind building that. That didn’t work out. But each time, I’ve learned lessons in product management. I’ve learned lessons in go to market strategy. I’ve learned lessons in terms of validating first, identifying kinds of personas, and many other lessons along the way. So I’ve seen the failures, but each time, I’ve always treated that as, “Oh, yeah. I made a bunch of mistakes.” Well, maybe sometimes even a long period of time. Now, I know what not to do, so I can now ensure that I don’t repeat that going forward.
Alejandro: Yeah. I’m talking about those lessons learned. There’s one question that I typically ask the folks that come on the show, and that is if you had the opportunity to have a chat with your younger self. Let’s say with that Bhavin that was starting or thinking about launching that first business Directi at 17. Knowing what you know now if you had the chance to go back in time and to be able to sit down with that younger self and perhaps give your younger self one piece of business advice, what would be that one piece of business advice before launching a business and why?
Bhavin Turakhia: These days, they talk about this model they call TAP. It stands for Talent, alignment, and prioritization. I feel that success in business comes to hiring the best talent, that’s the talent part. Ensuring that they’re all aligned to the same goals and objectives, and we use OKRs for that. By the say, I would strongly recommend that as a tool and framework. And ensuring that they pick the highest priority initiatives that will achieve those goals and objectives. So as long as you have talent, alignment, and prioritization, you have the formula for success. I think this kind of crystallization is over years and years of making mistakes and failures. So, in many ways, if I could teach this model and talk about this to my younger self, I think that would be my advice.
Alejandro: I love it. Bhavin, for the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Bhavin Turakhia: You can connect with my name @bhavinturakhia. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter, and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to drop me a line. At any time, I’d be happy to hear from fellow entrepreneurs.
Alejandro: Fantastic. Well, Bhavin, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Bhavin Turakhia: Thank you, Alejandro, for taking the time.
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