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“Seek Immortality”

Interview with Nandini Vaidyanathan

Move over stereotypical professors/trainers with straight faces and serious dispositions and brace yourself to meet an uber cool guru with a passion to mentor entrepreneurs and interests as varied as trekking, reading, travelling, singing and cooking.

IPL Faculty and Founder/Mentor at CARMa Venture Services, Nandini Vaidyanathan has over 20 years corporate experience spanning over multiple MNCs. This globe-trotting TEDx speaker and author is keen to share her knowledge and experiences that she picked up during her long corporate tenure.

Q: What are your focus areas at IPL?

I walk the cohorts through a DIY experience of what it means to embrace entrepreneurship as an attitude and a lifestyle. It is a philosophical journey designed to get them to use their sensory organs to their fullest potential, to understand, respond to and change the world they live in, make it a more meaningful place for themselves, their families and the society at large. I see my role, the way the German philosopher Goethe described it, ‘ to help you become not who you are, but who you are capable of becoming’.

Whether PMs are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, largely depends on the culture of an organization. With the principles of Lean Startup espousing rapid experimentation, and as more and more companies start to embrace the agile mindset, hopefully this will change - where the failure of an experiment does not get equated to the failure of the person.

Q: A glimpse of your entrepreneurial journey so far...

It is strange that in retrospect, I see that I have walked the talk, although I didn’t know that earlier. Soon after my pre-doctoral, I spent 20 years in the corporate space, working with diverse MNCs in more than 63 countries. In each of my roles, I was actually behaving like an entrepreneur although I didn’t know it at that point in time because the definition of an entrepreneur was very narrow in those days.

In every job, I started a new company, or a new country, or a new product line or a new way of consuming goods and services. I did all of this not for myself but for the organizations I worked with. Every one of those roles demanded that I think, feel and behave as if it was my own company, even if I didn’t bring capital to the table. So willy-nilly, I embraced the entrepreneurial lifestyle, not just at my workplace but at home too: I started climbing and trekking at the ripe old age of 52. And was not averse to finding love at 53!

That was reinforced further when I decided to return to India twelve years ago, became a teacher, then a mentor and then in 2010, founded my company, CARMa (Creating Access to Resources and to mentor entrepreneurs. In the early days it was mostly people with an idea approaching us to take them to market. But over time, because we were both domain and phase agnostic, we mentored not just startups, but emerging companies, mature enterprises, and family businesses.

So I continue to live the good life – teaching, mentoring, speaking, writing – all in the exciting space of entrepreneurship.

Q: What made you choose coaching as a career option?

We don’t coach, but mentor entrepreneurs to build scalable and successful businesses. Coaching is a peer-to-peer relationship, Mentoring is all-encompassing. We not only upskill the entrepreneur but we build capacities of his entire team and we orchestrate the process in such a way that every single aspect of the business is addressed, be it customer discovery in the short term or blueprint for growth in the long term.

I did not choose to be a mentor. When I started teaching entrepreneurship, I was very clear that I wasn’t going to peddle theory like a typical academician. I wanted to bring realtime-ness to my class and saw mentoring as a means to do that. When I articulated concepts in class, I didn’t want them to be from some text book but from my own experience so that I could speak an authentic language. My narrative had to ring true in my ears first before it resonated with my class and therefore I started mentoring. But over time, it scripted its own journey and completely took over my life.

In my TED talk I had used this illustration. There was a vernacular medium school in Orissa where English as a subject had been introduced for the first time. So the teacher made them write an essay on the cow and told them to learn it by heart for the exam. But in the exam paper, they were asked to write an essay on the tree.

The whole class was flummoxed. But one entrepreneurial thinker saw a way out. He drew a cow and next to it he drew a tree. He then tied the cow to the tree. And then he wrote: my essay is on the cow that is tied to the tree!

That’s my life, everything I do I do it for entrepreneurship. Because it has made me a better human. Because it has enriched my life like no other. It is that proof of concept that I bring to my class.

Q: Being an IPL faculty, what do you think are the things that stand out at the institute?

The heart of the leadership team is in the right place. They walk the talk. And they are committed to bringing about a dramatic change in the lives of our students. That’s a tall order to execute and one may not get it right always. But as long as the intent is there and as long as you are clear on both the intended and unintended consequences of your leadership, it is always possible to course - correct and design a compelling experience for our students.

Q: A few lines on the Nandini that no one else knows about...

Well if I told you, it would no longer be what no one else knows about.

But I will tell you some things which not everyone knows about, largely because people love to stereotype. Most of us understand the world around us by ‘bucketizing’ them. Since I dress flamboyantly, travel extensively, and speak brusquely, most people assume that I must be clueless in the kitchen. I am actually a gourmet cook who loves to entertain people at home. In fact, my third book which will hit the stands in about a month is on cooking! I am extremely house-proud and like a true Libran, love being surrounded by beautiful things. Including high energy, spunky, feisty and beautiful people!

Q: What would we catch you doing while you are away from work?

Oh lots of things. My interests are seriously varied. Reading. Music (both singing and listening, I am a trained Carnatic classical singer), trekking and climbing with Anil, my significant other, running barefoot in the water on the beach (I live in Goa), gymming (big on cross-fit, agility and TRX), cooking and entertaining, shopping (I love avant-garde clothes, shoes and accessories and because I travel so much, I have access to a huge range), flea market browsing for unusual mementos. My favorite shopping destination is Decathlon! Big movie buff, first day first show kind, in cineplexes. Now additionally have become a Netflix and Amazon Prime junkie. Love theatre. Favorite go-to-place in Bangalore is Rangashankara. I also love their sabudana vada and akki rotti. Love exploring new eateries, pubs, intimate art spaces. Generally addicted to new experiences.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you’d give IPLites on the best way to use their new skills and competencies?

Go with the confidence that you can now address any issue, in life and at work, with a multi function approach. Your exposure at IPL should enable you to embrace entrepreneurial thinking not as a career requirement but as a lifestyle choice. Don't set goals and waste your time achieving them. Seek purpose in life-to do good, to create meaning, to enrich your life and that of others. Seek immortality.

This is what I tell them in class too, so it should resonate with them, Cheers!


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