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Scale It Up

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Humans always have the tendency to make the first move and just go ahead, but do we actually look far ahead? Do we even try to scale up? Or are we just happy to run the rat race and not actually Scale It Up?

Well, in reality, there is a huge gap between scaling it up and just moving ahead. In this episode with
Ishan Gupta, a global executive, and an investor, we explore what it actually means to scale it up.

Entrepreneur by Heart

Gaurav: What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Ishan: Being an entrepreneur is a mindset. I have been an entrepreneur for eight years building companies, and another two years as the country head for Udacity in India, which is also entrepreneurial in nature. There, I realized that what really matters more than being an entrepreneur is having an entrepreneurial mindset. Over the last decade, a new distinction has come up, where it has become very fashionable and glamorous to be an entrepreneur. But the behind-the-scenes is really hard work. Any overnight success is a decade-plus in the making. It’s all about the mindset. So to me, that’s what entrepreneurship stands for. 

Do you have the mindset to be resilient? Do you have the mindset to be patient and play the long game? Do you have the mindset to continuously learn? Do you have the mindset to continuously change track as and when needed instead of getting stuck in what you decided was the right hypothesis for yourself? I think if we do all these four things, we can essentially be entrepreneurial in nature. Now, whether you run your own company or you work with someone, it’s just your day job.

“Adapt to the new challenges that you’re facing and show up every day.”

Gaurav: Since you have worked with such big names, like Paytm and Udacity, what’s the best piece of advice that you have received? And how did it help you?

Ishan: Your career is built on the shoulders of others and there are many who mentor us along the way. So, Vijay has been a mentor for me and I’ve learned a lot from him, sometimes by getting the advice directly, or sometimes just seeing him in action. One of the pieces of advice that he gave me directly was ‘Reset, Reset, Reset’. So once I asked him, “What does it mean? You’re going from meeting to meeting. How do you manage so many different topics in a day?” His advice was, “I just make sure that when I go from one meeting to another, I’m consciously resetting. And that really helps.” As a leader, that has been very helpful, a very simple advice but a powerful one. That is all you need to do before the next meeting. Forget the earlier one so that you can go into it. It’s very powerful.

Gaurav: What you are talking about is letting go of everything that happened just a moment back and show up with a different energy altogether and start from scratch to build anew from that moment. I wish it could have been as easy as you’re saying.

Ishaan: Half of the game is purely about showing up, especially on the tough days. If you show up, then things will definitely improve. It will take time. But if you don’t show up, I’m pretty sure things will not improve. So showing up matters. That’s the second piece of advice that I’ve felt has been very helpful for me, especially in times when things have been very challenging.

The Three Pillars of Leadership

Gaurav: Ishan, you are leading an organization, you’re leading large teams, you’re managing P&L accounts of huge organizations. What do you think are the most important three pillars, which are extremely important for a leader to consider? 

Ishan: First, be a leader all the time. Be a leader for your team, a leader who can be trusted. And a leader who’s known to be fair doesn’t let politics creep in. Second is the element of team building. Scaling it up doesn’t happen by you, it happens by the team that works alongside you. So how do you invest in the right kind of hiring to build such a team? 

Hiring is important but it’s only the beginning. Once you get the team together, how do you make it a high-performing one? How do you set the right incentive? 

And the third part is goal setting, alignment and processes. There is a lot of decision-making along the way. It becomes easier, because either you have the right goal set or your processes are in place. So how do you do that? You have the right team. You’re being a great leader. And they have a lot of guidance in place on how to execute. 

So those are the three elements that are critical to scaling up anything. Companies can scale up. But when companies are scaling up, individuals have to scale up as well. It’s a very tightly coupled relationship that works together.

Upskill Yourself

Gaurav: Why is it important to upskill yourself every now and then? And what does that mean to you today, when you’re already playing the game at the global level? 

Ishan: The world is evolving at a high pace and upskilling, or learning is all about a mindset. So a learner, by mindset, is more open to absorbing new things and seeing better ways of doing the same things. I spend time reading a lot of books, and I spend time learning how to cook, I spend time improving my swimming technique, I spend time writing Scale it Up, and many other things. And that has helped me to just think more broadly and deeply at the same point. 

I also took a course in Defy and crypto, just to understand what is happening in this new emerging world of blockchain. And it widened my horizon. So, learning, reskilling is a mindset that just helps you absorb more. Holistic development is important to broaden our horizons and then in some areas, you deepen your excellence as well. Even in school or college days, we just learn and have fun in the best class. Why can’t that mindset be present all the time? 

“It’s not only about deepening, it’s about broadening because that helps you bring a different perspective to look at life.”

About the Speaker

Ishan Gupta is the Global Head of Operations at Udacity, He is responsible for driving successful outcomes for customers worldwide (consumer, enterprise and government). Previously, he built Udacity’s India business from the ground up. Udacity is working to democratise education by making it more affordable and accessible to individuals all around the world. Udacity, based in Silicon Valley with offices in China, Germany, India, and the United Kingdom, offers online education to millions of students in partnership with leading companies such as Google, Facebook, AT&T, IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa, Mercedes, Didi Chuxing, FlipKart, and others. 

Before joining Udacity, Ishan was the Vice President at Paytm, one of Asia’s largest fintech companies, (valued at $6 billion) till the end of 2016. He was also the Founder & CEO of EduKart.com, which became India’s largest ed-tech marketplace in only five years before it was acqui-hired by Paytm. The company grew to become India’s largest education marketplace. Ishan previously worked as a growth manager for Facebook in India and founded a corporate development section for a telco services firm. He was also the first growth evangelist for Facebook in India. 

Ishan’s zeal for democratisation of education has allowed him to lead and participate in different efforts that have resulted in education being an equaliser, with the concept that “good is the enemy of great.”

While still an undergraduate student, Ishan founded his first company that delivered offline technology training across India. He captured the learnings from this journey in a book titled Make the Move: Demystifying Entrepreneurship, which sold a few thousand copies.

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