Interviewed By: Ms. Khyati, IBS- Hyb, Campus Editor, The CEO Insights
The CEO Insights: Your professional journey till date has been quite eventful. Please give us an overview.
Vikas Kedia: I like to think of my professional journey as having been serendipitous. I graduated at the top 5% of my class from IIM Bangalore in the year 2000. In my summer at Deutsche bank the problem of knowledge management kept bothering me. I realized that I was spending most of my time chasing emails, people and researching issues to which others already have the answer. So after graduating I started Knowledge Enabled Networks (Kenets)
The idea behind Kenets was basically to create a P2P knowledge exchange product and sell it to companies. We successfully developed the product but when we started selling it to companies, we realized that the sales cycle was too long.
Then I tried developing a product to do click fraud detection. During this time also the problem of knowledge management kept haunting me.
With time I realized that P2P knowledge exchange had a lot of value when used by individuals. So I started four different community websites on debt, mortgage, insurance and credit. And even now in 2009 the idea remains same but the organization has grown to 200 employees with 5-6 offices around the world.
The CEO Insights: When it comes to family and profession, which one should be the priority? Do you believe that being an entrepreneur one has to undermine some family over profession?
Vikas Kedia: Relative priority between family and profession is an individual choice. Everybody will make this choice based on their unique circumstances. And I think these choices change over time.
I don’t think that being an entrepreneur one has to undermine family over profession. It is very important to understand that we are not going to make an idea succeed by working few more hours every day, what makes a idea succeed is the concept. If the concept is not good enough then even if you work 16 hours a day, it will not succeed. The idea should be able to stand on its feet even if you work 8 hours a day.
I don’t think to be an entrepreneur it is a necessary condition that you will have to undermine family over profession.
The CEO Insights: What made you start with Internext? What are basic principles that you have adopted?
Vikas Kedia: The key insight is that, If a person A staying in New York has some problem there is high likelihood that person B staying thousand of miles away may have had the same problem some months ago. So if somehow we can make it easy for person A to ask that question and person B to discover and then be able to answer that question it will create value. We create a technology platform which allows person A to ask the question and person B to answer that question. When we see people are interacting with each other it will attract a lot of people to the community. Then may be out of 100’s of people that the community will attract may be 1% will need professional help. Then if we are able to capture this 1% who need professional help and allow different companies to talk to these people and eventually offer services then there is money to be made. Well that’s the key idea behind Internext
This basic principle that we adapted has competitive advantage and scalability. We also make sure that we use the best technology available. The 4 communities currently have more than 400,000 members sharing their knowledge and all we do is enable the technology platform.
The CEO Insights: In such a competitive industry where there are so many established players, where does InterNext see itself?
Vikas Kedia: I believe that consumer finance overall is a very competitive industry but we operate in a subset of the consumer finance industry. I don’t think we have a lot of finance communities on topics like debt, mortgage, insurance and credit. We see ourselves in a good position vs our competitors. Our challenges are how to use evolving social network sites like twitter and Face-book and integrate it with our community. We want to enable two way flow of information. People should be able to bring their identity from face book to our communities and be able to take the content from our communities into face book.
If you look back 3 or 4 years ago. You will see that people had started to exchange pictures, upload songs on our community. But then what happened was that communities like facebook and orkut came along and people stopped uploading pictures to our website. They started using facebook or orkut since these were more general social networks. One really does not want to upload their vacation pictures on more than one website.
But that’s ok; face book is a generic community ours is a specific community.
The CEO Insights: What are your dreams or ambitions? Regarding InterNext and for self?
Vikas Kedia: Internext has hired about 200 people now all across the globe and my immediate goal is to grow it to 1000 jobs. I like creating jobs; that’s my way of giving back to my country. The bigger goal is to take the company to NASDAQ.
And goal for myself at the personal level is to get married : – )
The CEO Insights: What is the market and marketing challenges that InterNext face in the recent global downturn?
Vikas Kedia: We have four communities. The debt and credit community are positively correlated to the recession and the mortgage and insurance communities are negatively correlated to the recession. So I think overall our business is recession proof.
The CEO Insights: Do you plan your moves in advance or move along as new opportunities open up?
Vikas Kedia: We have strategic goals with us on what we are doing and why we are doing this. But we optimize our tactical goals on a monthly basis. I basically got it down to three points:
- Kaizen Method – Within the organization if we recognize that we can make small improvements we will do these. The idea is there is no one big thing that will get us where we want to get. There are actually a lot of small things that will help us to get where we want to get. So we keep on making the small improvements keeping in mind the broader strategy.
- Key stats management – We measure some key statistics and these act as headlights and guide as we plan ahead.
- Outcomes theory – We focus on the output and not the input.
The CEO Insights: How do you see the current recession affecting the industry?
Vikas Kedia: We are a part of the consumer finance industry. I think this recession will lead to people rethinking their attitude about savings.
The CEO Insights: What does InterNext do for employee motivation?
Vikas Kedia: It’s a very interesting challenge. One thing that we try to do is have small divisions and have people who have shown initiative and IQ in the past lead these divisions. The idea is to have clearly measurable outputs for each division. Also make it clear to the person leading that division and the people in that division that they will do good if their division does good.
The CEO Insights: What is your company size and what is the procedure to adopt in recruiting the new candidates.
Vikas Kedia: We have close to 200 employees worldwide. We have tried to keep the recruitment process simple. We have 2 HR managers – one is responsible for day shift and the other for the night shift. We try to keep the advantages of a smaller leaner organization in hiring. So people in the company can recruit others that they think will help their division. The HR manager is really there to do the reference and background checks. All the hiring is done by the people who are responsible for the output.
The CEO Insights: What does it take to be a CEO?
Vikas Kedia: A. It takes a lot of hard work. B. Logical thinking C. Ability to create self sustaining human systems.
The CEO Insights: What is the difference in the entrepreneur turned CEO after 25 plus years of experience and in the young fresher CEO with no corporate experience, according to you?
Vikas Kedia: An entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in the corporate world, has a better idea about how a big company runs. He is better suited to design systems that can scale.
The advantages of being a young CEO is that it is more likely that he will not have any pre conceived notion about how a big company works. This can be of value at times since he can look at things with fresh eyes and look at problems with a new perspective.
So I think both have advantages and disadvantages.
The CEO Insights: In today’s time of economic downturn, where do you see entrepreneurship as an option for fresh MBA graduates? What according to you are the hurdles to entrepreneurship in India?
Vikas Kedia: Economic downturn happens every 4-6 years that’s how economic cycle works so its nothing new. Some of the worlds largest companies have been created during recession. But yes it is difficult to find investors during recession and hence it has an negative impact on entrepreneurship. But if you have some capital of your own that you can invest on your idea then I think it’s a great time to enter the industry because things are cheaper now and you can hire better talent.
The biggest hurdle to entrepreneurship in India is that the Indian culture is against failure. We need to decide what failure means. Is it just a learning curve? or, Is it that you could not succeed because you are dumb / lazy ?
The CEO Insights: Do you think that initiatives like The CEO Insights can benefit the student and the corporate community?
Vikas Kedia: Oh! Yes when I was a student I found it difficult to understand what was a CEO thinking? what skill sets did the companies want from me when I applied for a job?
Now when I am a CEO I feel, why don’t students realize the skill sets that I am looking for?
So having a bridge like CEO insights is awesome.