Legendary heroes are usually the founder of something—the founders of a new age, the founders of a new religion, the founders of a new city, the founders of a new way of life. In order to find something new, one has to leave the old and go on a quest of the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potential of bringing forth that new thing. In a country such as India, where debates rage on as to the originality and sustainability of firms, this difference is borne out even more starkly for a few firms.
Joseph Campbell popularized the notion of an archetypal journey that recurs in the mythologies and religions of cultures around the world. From Moses and the burning bush to Luke Skywalker meeting Obi-wan Kenobi, the journey always begins with a hero or heroes who hear a calling to a quest. At the outset of the voyage, the path is unclear, and the end is not in sight.
The hero’s journey is an apt way to think of startups. All new companies and new products begin with an almost mythological vision–a hope of what could be, with a goal that few others can see. It’s this bright and burning vision that differentiates the entrepreneurs from big company CEOs and startups from existing businesses. Founding entrepreneurs are out to prove that their vision and business are real and not some hallucination; to succeed they must abandon the status quo and strike out on what appears to be a new path, often shrouded in uncertainty. Obstacles, hardships, and disaster lie ahead, and their journey to success tests more than financial resources. It tests their stamina, agility, and the limits of courage and of all those who choose to join the league and move ahead on this path with them.
As we think of this, we are joined by the two men who have spearheaded this drive to mould CARS24 to where it stands today. It’s been a long day and all of us are tired but the chemistry between the two men is palpable, they discuss a lot on whispers and exchange knowing glances, are they our archetypal heroes? Yes, and we are here to know more about their journey.
As usual, Vikram starts, “We have surely learned a lot/ gained maturity in understanding the power of people in making or breaking a business.
As a result, we have worked hard on people, culture, and our purpose.
Deep customer focus has been a core to us from the beginning – be it channel partners or customers. I think we are 10% there and a long way to go hence. But I am very sure we will set the platinum standard for a phenomenal customer experience in the auto segment.
Innovation is surely that has been at the heart of this amazing service we have built. Right from getting customers to sell their car at the best price within hours and not months, getting channel partners to source cars with maximum ease or managing the entire process end to end. We have sown seeds for the future of used car trade industry.”
Mehul is evaluating his response and he adds, “I Agree, we have evolved across everything – Business maturity, Processes, People development, etc. One thing which remains the same at the core is our purpose – simplifying transactions of used cars and moving a completely offline industry to an online transacting platform. In today’s world, a startup continuing to deliver what it had set out for, is quite an accomplishment. “
Truly the journey has been unique and interesting, and there might have been some interesting milestones on the way and it’s a difficult question to ask the people who have lived and breathed the firm every single day for the past 18+ months. But we do get around to asking it.
Vikram: Well that is a tough one! But let me give it a shot,
Mehul reminisces as he recounts the three major milestones:
But not all memory is smooth and fluid, memories have a darker reflection in the mirror, the dark side of the face, regret or realization. It’s not easy to counter these twin conundrums and yet the key to the future always lies in facing the challenges that these 2 paradigms pose, head on.
Mehul immediately adds: “It has to be defining our values. It would have helped us in taking a lot of decisions more accurately and early.
Beyond that, I think we have focused on appropriate topics at the right time. Our first 6 months were about scaling up, our next 6 months were about processes, and our last 6 months have been about people and profitability.”
Vikram: “This for me is a very personal realization, I wish I could be an even better manager than what I am, don’t think anything else would create more value than that – for me and for CARS24. It’s a very personal sort of realization but it’s a pretty accurate assessment of your question”
It is rare when entrepreneurs themselves look to challenge themselves and their notions. For far too long the image of all too powerful and all-knowing CEOs have clouded the popular media, men who can do no wrong and even if they have faults, they are never admitted to, why then this discussion.
Vikram cares to elaborate, “We want to build that culture within the firm, we are working to disrupt an old and large industry, the key message is to challenge the status quo and try, try, and try”
Mehul adds, “It’s about building a hypothesis-driven approach to work, it is difficult to work out and instill but that is how you can truly succeed, I am a firm believer in questioning the value you add to the firm and yourself on a daily basis, if you feel there is a gap, confront and change and seek out help if required, we are proud to have built a nurturing ecosystem too”
Vikram: “Management is about creating leverage. Increase your leverage through your team and colleagues. Extract the best from people, success shall follow”
Mehul: “You are the ambassadors and flag-bearers of CARS24. This is your company. Always run it that way and keep doing the right things.”
In any startup, the image that goes around is that people are working for a higher calling, for motives beyond the obvious. For some it is the culture, for some, it is the overall vision that drives them, and for some, it is just the galvanizing force of the leader.
Mehul: “That’s a simple one, I see it every day, wherever I go. People, madness to achieve and overachieve and the real purpose of work – creating a genuinely large, profitable and sustainable business.
Vikram: “It’s pretty simple and yes I too have seen it in the firm, in every person I talk to
As we draw our discussion out, VC starts glancing at his Kindle and the shine of the light of the device on his face provides us with the perfect setting to ask our next question as we ask them to look into the crystal ball and predict the future.
Vikram glances up and remarks, “We shall be the biggest used car player in every sense of the industry. We would be the established pioneer of shaping up the used car market. We will be thought leaders and the go-to source for the customer to sell their car.”
Mehul adds in here after thinking for a while, “We are already the largest online player doing real transactions in the used car space. We have dominated C2B, and we have started our journey towards domination of B2B and Financing too. I see us becoming the third largest car selling company in India – after Maruti and Hyundai by end of next year. And not long before we surpass those two too”
Those are some big and ambitious plans and the path to the future looks paved with greatness. As we close, we cannot help but take away a personal anecdote from the discussion.
Mehul: “Numerous such memories flash to my mind. One that I would call out is the first BMW (our third car) transacted at Golf Course Extention Branch. No sense of pricing, no sense of evaluating a premium car, no proper branch, no idea of inter-state documentation (UP car) – but we decided to take the risk and go for it. And we bought it. And we made a good money on it. It was such a strong confidence booster that we can do whatever we want and achieve whatever we dream of as long as we believe in it and are ready to give whatever it takes!”
Vikram now caught up with reading another book, being the prolific reader that he is, adds: “For me too, it is a car level memory and it has to be our first car, literally!”
As the journey of the heroes continues, we will be there to share the next part of this story and how the firm, the founders and the team are doing, that is definitely another story for another day. Until then, keep following this space.