Spotting Success PRAKASH NANDURI By: Kiran Kothuri
ate in the fall of 1997, in the outskirts of Paris, France, two young business school students were zipping back to the city after a series of long interviews with potential jobs. Dusk was soon approaching, and Prakash Nanduri, the owner of a Fiat Panda 500 lovingly dubbed “the tin can on wheels,” was cruising, in deep discussion with his friend about their future plans. Suddenly, Prakash felt the engine revs die down. He glided from the far left lane to the right, and soon enough, it was dead on the side of the road. Almost 40 kilometers away from their destination, a town south of Paris, these two top-tier graduate school students, fully dressed in suits, were stranded with an inoperational car, far away from any form of communication. Prakash, remembering his childhood classes in Zambia, resourcefully MacGyvered a working solution: he dug deep in the engine compartment and grabbed the accelerator cable, deep on the right side. He yanked it loose and stretched it out of the hood, attempting to reach it to the driver’s side window. It wouldn’t make it. Thinking quickly, he stretched
it to the passenger side of the car, where it barely reached the edge of the window. He took his colleagueâ€™s copper bracelet and tied the accelerator cable to it. Prakash trusted his friend with the accelerator, while he controlled the clutch, brake, gearbox, and steering. They cooperated this way, managing to pilot the Panda 500 back to the city. This resourcefulness, along with creativity and relentless passion, has molded Prakash into the successful business executive he is today. Amidst the worldwide entrepreneurship mecca that is Silicon Valley, businesses come and go, fighting for survival every day. Prakash has been an executive at multiple top tech companies, has pioneered a startup himself, and now is working on his second startup, PAXATA, a corporate software solutions business. He has been around the world, has been educated in three different continents, and is fluent in English and Telugu, as well as Hindi and French. His resource-
fulness, focus, and extreme passion drive him to achieve, and his worldly experience helps him be successful in business wherever he goes. Prakash was born in Rajasthan, India, and when he was barely a year old, moved to Zambia, Africa. He grew up in Zambia, attending the British schooling system throughout his early education until the Cambridge equivalent of the tenth grade. At the age of fifteen, he left his parents in Zambia and moved back to India, jumping into the intensely focused, Indian education system to finish up his last two years of high school. After that, he attended the University of Texas, Austin for his undergraduate education, achieving a degree in computer science. After graduating, he knew he wanted to pursue an MBA, but to do that, he would need professional experience. So after graduating in 1992, Prakash joined a small software company startup as a technical consultant, helping clients to use their products. After gaining the experience
needed in a professional business, Prakash moved to Paris and attended INSEAD to complete his graduate studies. After achieving his MBA, he moved back to the United States and started his career in business. Based in the Silicon Valley, Prakash jumped many executive positions in top tech companies, acquiring many relationships and invaluable experience. He met and worked with countless entrepreneurs, and is familiar with success and its polar opposite, failure. Prakash believes that three basic traits are required for success: Perseverance, Focus, and Flexibility. Without perseverance, the idea would not be able to manifest into a viable business, and henceforth, would be a failure. Focus is necessary to structure and prioritize tasks to accomplish goals. Flexibility is likewise a necessity because it allows one to deal with unforeseen events or consequences, and maneuver around obstacles to reach goals.
When asked what measures he takes to prevent failure, Prakash responds: “I don’t think you ever prevent failure. I think what you do is you learn from your failure. I think failure has to be part and parcel of the journey. So if you don’t fail - you don’t learn, but what is important is not to repeat your failure. That’s the most important part.”(1) With this in mind, Prakash personally looks for three important traits when selecting people to work with. Clearly, he looks for people who have demonstrated success in their academics, professional lives, and personal lives. Ironically, he also looks for people who have demonstrated real failure, which has impacted their life, and who show they have learned from that failure. Finally, he also looks for people who have a level of maturity, and understand that successful people do not always have the best ideas. Prakash stresses this idea, as he believes that corporate hierarchy is only useful to make decisions. Ev-
erybody, however, has the same quality ideas, and every idea must be considered, as a gem could pop up anywhere. Prakash explains: “It’s not about working with people who are your friends. You work with people you can actually team with, that’s the first thing. [You have] to start thinking about what is it that you are good at, and what is it that you are not good at; and that requires a certain sense of humility. Knowing what you don’t know allows you to go … out and
crucial for people to maintain perseverance, focus, and flexibility in stressful times, as stressful times are often the make-or-break moments in business. Eileen Deihl, friend and colleague of Prakash, recounts a particularly stressful sales call for the French Division of Campbell’s Soup years ago, as they had just made a sale to the US Division, and the French Division did not care about what the US Division had to say. On the sales call, Eileen, Prakash, and their sales team traveled to France to meet with the French Division, and after an hours’ drive to the French Corporate Headquarters, they arrived at the meeting. Eileen remembers “starting the meeting with somebody from the Campbells France side saying ‘these are the reasons why we would never select [your] product, and why we think it’s lousy.’ And those were the last words he said in English, before switching to French.”(2) With the absolute worst possible begin-
“Failure has to be part and parcel of the journey” find people who know those things that you don’t know so you can create a team.”(1) Another major factor for success is how people react when under stress. In business, unforeseen events happen all the time, causing stress for entrepreneurs, their teams, and businesses. It is
ning to the sales meeting possible, Prakash forged on calmly, presenting the product in French, giving an extremely “even” presentation, refusing to take the bait and respond argumentatively. Prakash persevered through the taunting and insults the French team had hurled at his team; he just adapted to the situation, focused and presented his material with a level head, and in the end managed to turn the downright destitute situation into a positive business relationship, as he succeeded in making the sale. Prakash also strongly believes that any job that one does, can and will be helpful in the future. For example, he re-
counts how he had a job his sophomore year at UT: Austin working for a researcher working with a particle accelerator. However, in order to perform a spectral analysis of the particle accelerator, the professor needed to be able to remotely turn on and off the cameras at the right time, and to do so, he needed hundreds of cables. Prakash’s job was to cut the wires, use a crimping iron and make hundreds of these cables. When he was done with that job, he thought he would never have to make new cables again. Years later, when Prakash was working for Verilog, the network went down at the end of the quarter. At that time, the only form of communication they really used was old email, and with the network down, the entire team was panicking, as nothing could get done. Prakash, being a junior staff member, started looking around at the networking equipment, and found that a networking cable had been damaged. Thinking quickly, he ran to the local Radio Shack and picked up a crimping iron. He returned, and within a half an hour, the problem was solved. This enabled the progress of the entire team, and in the end,
the others were surprised and impressed in Prakash’s ability to actually get in the action and fix problems. Now, between his new startup and family obligations, Prakash is a busy man. He has big plans with PAXATA, driving his team to finish getting ready to fully launch. With fifteen employees currently, he aims for PAXATA to be thirty strong by the end of the year, and if everything goes to plan, to have seventy to eighty employees by the end of 2014. Prakash continues to use his worldly experiences, focus, and dedication to forge ahead to officially launch PAXATA soon. It is always a struggle to launch a new business, and Prakash concedes “the difference between success and failure… sometimes is a very fine line.”(1) With his focus, perseverance, and flexibility, he hopes for PAXATA to thrive in the modern business environment.