Deepak Goel is the founder of KarmaCircles, serial entrepreneur, mentor to several startups, investor and a TEDx speaker. In an exclusive interview with People Matters, he shares his insights on the importance of mentoring in today’s business and how it can help catalyze the thought process and foster true leadership.
As a young entrepreneur during the initial days, what are the strengths you imbibed in yourself to become a successful businessman today?
- Strength to be different and question the status quo
- Strength to always think about others before thinking about myself
- Strength to accept things as they happen
You have been with 3 startups across different domains, what are the challenges you have faced in establishing them?
The building blocks to start any company are pretty much the same. It is important to have a distinctive spike and the zeal to create. Domain doesn’t matter much. What it takes to establish any organization is the ability to solve a diverse set of challenges. In Coupons.com, it was an interesting challenge to create innovative products. In IndiaHomes, it was building a great team and in Packback, it was to figure out how to get the first million dollar of revenue.
You have worked with the author of “Lean Startup” Eric Ries and Steve Blank. Can you share your experience?
I took a course with Steve Blank when I was doing my MBA at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. During that course, I met Eric Ries several times and got the opportunity to learn from him as well. Eric was building IMVU at that time using the Lean Startup principles. Both Eric and Steve spoke about “Lean Startup” principles well before the book was actually written. It was a pleasure to learn from the masters first hand.
Transition from mentor to being a founder. What prompted you to start KarmaCircles and what is the whole concept behind it?
I have mentored over a thousand entrepreneurs over the last six years and it made me realize that when I was mentoring them, I was also actually learning and gaining as much as them, despite the fact that I wasn’t charging anything in return. During the course of time, I ended up gaining a lot for myself in terms of business and holistically as a professional. I invested in a few startups, joined the advisory board of several startups and became a co-founder with one. My experience has taught me that if you do good karma in the business world, it actually circles back to you whereby you end up gaining a lot even if it is not a direct monetary benefit.
The idea of KarmaCircles originated when I met Rishad Tobaccowala at a conference in Chicago and told him that I would like to get mentored by him. We met over lunch and discussed my career aspirations at length. He gave me several good tips on what I could be doing next in my career. I was overwhelmed to meet such a person whose time is so precious. This made me think how humble and kind he was to give me his time and guidance without expecting anything in return and he even paid for the lunch.
Consequently I thought, why not create a platform where anyone could do the same for those in need of guidance, suggestions or may be mentorship. KarmaCircles was launched in 2015 with an aim where anybody can receive and give free mentorship and advice. It’s a peer to peer mentorship platform where one can request time and schedule meetings. We have also created non-monetary incentives for people who are willing to help others; one of the most important incentives being the Karma Note (aka thank you note). These Karma Notes help the givers in building their online reputation based on the amount of help they give.
How do you measure the satisfaction quotient of your receivers through KarmaCircles?
At the end of every meeting, a receiver thanks the giver for helping through a Karma Note. We don’t focus on the actual advice but we focus on the meeting experience. Gratitude is for the time given by the giver and not necessarily for the advice given by the giver. For a paid platform, it would make sense to review the giver but since all our givers help pro-bono, we focus on expression of gratitude.
We believe that one can truly have a strong professional connection only if there is an aspect of give or receive; and the best part of our platform is that anyone can be a giver or receiver of help.
You have used gamification as an engagement strategy for your givers and receivers. So how do you see the role of technology transformation in business?
Technology is the lifeline of any business and in order to connect with anyone we need to leverage technology effectively. KarmaCircles is available on your smart phone as well as computer and it allows you to fix meetings with people anywhere in the world. You don’t need to go anywhere to give/receive help. The actual meeting may happen in person, on phone or on Skype but the entire meeting process is documented via the app.
What is your monetization strategy since KarmaCircles is an open marketplace and free for both experts and advice seekers?
At the moment, we’re focusing only on growth. KarmaCircles is growing with a combination of two growth strategies - Enterprise Strategy which includes accelerators, business schools, and corporates and the Influencer Strategy which involves recognized personalities.
Enterprise strategy:This allows any organization to create a gated community to give & receive helps within their ecosystem and creates non-monetary incentives for people to help others. For e.g., you can create a group in KarmaCircles for people who read People Matters magazine and anyone can give and receive help within this community and build credibility after helping others through this platform. Another example can be Microsoft; wherein they can create their own community on KarmaCircles for their employees.
Influencer strategy: This is essentially bringing very influential people on the KarmaCircles platform and encourages them to offer their help to others via KarmaCircles. On a note, LinkedIn also deployed Influencer strategy effectively in their initial stages.
What made you to become an investor and what is exactly your investment philosophy?
Being an advisor to several startups and having reviewed more than a couple of thousand business plans, I can quickly gauge the potential of a business. My investment philosophy is quite simple - whenever an entrepreneur approaches me, I have four questions for them to answer before I look at their pitch deck.
- What is the problem they’re trying to solve?
- How is that problem being solved today?
- What is their solution to the defined problem; and
- Is their solution superior enough that people will change their behavior?
Last one is the most important question for me. Can they prove why a consumer/market will use their product/ solution over the ones that already exist? When I have logical answers to these questions, the other important questions follow.
What is your vision for the firm?
Our vision is “Instant Karma”. Anyone in the world should be able to receive help whenever they want and wherever they want. On the other hand, anyone should be able to give whenever they have an extra hour. They come to KarmaCircles app, make themselves available and they start getting meeting requests in no time. This is very much like Uber. All passengers have a cab at any point of time and every cab can get passengers whenever they are free. Creating a platform where both givers and receivers can build a trusted two-way relationship benefiting each other and with the think tank we have, we believe KarmaCircles can make a real difference.
We have a long way to go but this is our eventual vision.
What is your mantra to build winning teams in your organization in future?
We don’t believe in “A” players, we believe in “A” teams. Respect for your teammates is critical to succeed. Secondly, flexibility is required for anyone to succeed in a startup. Thirdly, we believe that our team members should focus on their learnings as much as their earnings. We may not pay our employees the best salary but we ensure that they are always trained on the best-in-class technologies and tools. Lastly, we always ensure that our employees are on a growth path and positioned to achieve their long-term career goals.
This is our mantra to build winning teams at KarmaCircles.
KarmaCircles is all about getting good karma by mentoring, so what according to you is the role of mentoring in business today? Is it given equal importance like other factors such as leadership and performance?
True leadership does not come through trainings; it is only developed through a culture which fosters mentoring. Mentoring is a prime ingredient in building foundations of businesses as well as in networking. It not only reduces the time required for knowledge transfer by providing direct access to peers who can share the required knowledge and skills in an environment that promotes rapid learning but also empowers learning in ways that training programs can’t. Mentoring is an integral part of leadership and it is directly proportional to performance. Organizations today understand that mentoring is more of a professional development and leadership development exercise helping people grow and achieve their goals. Therefore, businesses should give equal importance to it as adequate mentoring would not only enhance performance but also create excellent leaders.
What kind of leadership style should young entrepreneurs have in getting things done to influencing others?
I believe that young entrepreneurs should try mentor-style leadership so that they can forge personal connections with their team members. Mentoring is the best form of leadership. Entrepreneurs certainly need to pass on the knowledge and experience to their team members and try to grow them. They should also help them move to a different role within their own (or an external) organization based on their skillsets and ambitions.
Finally the last question of the evening, could you name that one person who has changed your life and inspired you?
Nipun Mehta (founder of ServiceSpace)
Rapid fire questions
- If you could time travel and meet your younger self, what advice you would give?
Don’t work for one company for more than two years unless you get promoted every year.
- If you could snap your fingers and have founded another business, what would it be?
A company which creates MVPs for non-technical founders.
- Who is the first person who comes to your mind when you hear the word “successful entrepreneur”
- Companies similar to KarmaCircles
None in the online space but there are few offline organizations based on pay-it-forward principles.
- Who are the 3 Corporate Honchos you admire?
Larry Page/Sergei Brin, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos
- What’s the one and only one thing an Entrepreneur must have in his/her mind?
When I am on my death bed, will I be proud of what I am creating today?
- What motivates you to wake up in the morning?
Opportunity to work with the KarmaCircles team. They all are truly inspiring.