Jay Chopde - It's All About Passion
He topped SSC exams and made sure that his enlarged photograph was hung in head-master's office for several years. In late 80's he could have settled in a job with TCS but he chose to join a start-up. At young age, he climbed the corporate ladder of a huge company in the US only to find that his age, accent & race didn't allow him further growth. He returned to India to build Infospectrum; now a leading product engineering and technology services company in central India. He is Mr. Jay Chopde - CEO Of Infospectrum India Pvt. Ltd. In our Small Talk, Jay shared his entrepreneurial journey. Check it out...
CE: Hello Jay, could you tell us a bit about your background?
Jay: I am an Electronics Engineer by education, an IT professional by trade, an Entrepreneur without a choice and a CEO by default. A small city boy, I grew up in a modest middle-class household in a family with no tradition for entrepreneurship. My first job out of college was with Tata Consultancy Services and my dad thought that I was a nutcase when I quit to join a small start-up team in the late 80s. “Start up” was not a very fashionable word back then mind you!
CE: We've heard that you made your school's head-master put your enlarged photograph in his office for 12 years! Could you tell us about it?
Jay: Oh yeah! When I was in school, my teachers thought that I was over-confident, even a bit arrogant. That impression was formed because once my headmaster asked me where in the merit list I saw myself. I sort of nonchalantly told him “in the 1st 3 for sure”. He scolded me for such arrogance so I asked him what he would do if I did indeed show up in the top 3. He said “Well, what would you want?” I thought for a while and said “You will hang my picture on top of your head like you have pictures of Gandhiji and the likes in your room, same size picture mind you Sir”. He just shook his head in dismay like “you are impossible”! So when I saw my name at #1 in the merit list, I went to him and asked him if he remembered the deal. The great teacher and human being he was, he said “I do and I have no problem in hanging your picture above my chair”. So he did and I would check now and then if subsequent headmasters also continued with that! Looking back, maybe that WAS a bit arrogant on my part.
CE: Was there any special reason behind opting for Electronics Engineering?
Jay: I wish I had something smart or profound to say about that but I don’t! I really had no clue about what I wanted to be in the future at the age of 18. Pretty much every bright kid chose Electronics Engineering in those days and I just sort of followed that suit. Today’s 18-year olds are a lot smarter I must say!
CE: Share any memorable moment from your BITS days.
Jay: Hmmm…the most memorable moment…well, cannot really share the real wild ones in a public forum but what I can share is we had this one subject called Complex Variables in I think the 5th semester. We got back on campus for the 6th semester and I heard a few of my dorm mates talk about so-and-so having topped Complex Variables with so many marks and how there were only 3 A-grades granted because it was such a tough subject with tough exams. I expressed surprise about so-and-so having topped Complex Variables. So this one guy ridiculed me by saying “Like you know everybody’s marks!” I said “No, I don’t but I know mine” The expression on his face was worth more joy than topping Complex Variables! I played so much cricket, Bridge and Chess in my Engineering days that even my close friends had a real hard time believing that I could be in top-10 of the batch
CE: Was it your conscious decision to opt for career in software?
Jay: Total accident. I was essentially a hardware engineer during my Practical Training semester. The company where I did practical training got a rather large software contract and they were looking for anyone who could spell COBOL. I could so I became a programmer! I also envied the programmer kinds because they always sat in air conditioned rooms seemingly doing nothing while the hardware engineers toiled!
CE: At a very young age, you were one of the top performers at The Williams Companies in USA. However, you opted to quit that company and start on your own. Why did you do that?
Jay: It’s a long story but lets just say that I felt my head knocking against the proverbial glass ceiling, one that my age, race and accent was unable to help me break through.
CE: Was the transition from an employee with a regular paycheck to an entrepreneur with no guaranteed income difficult?
Jay: It wasn’t difficult till I realized that I didn’t really have a whole lot of money left in my bank account one day! I was just so passionate about a product idea I had and I got so damn busy working days and nights to bring that to fruition that it just never occurred to me that maybe I should make sure that I have enough money to pay for the next month’s rent and groceries at least. I slept an average of 3 hours for almost a year straight.
CE: What was your first venture?
Jay: It was a company called Softserv Information.
CE: How did Info-Spectrum come into existence?
Jay: During my early days in Consulting, I was between projects (“on bench”) in 1990 it was I think, so I opted to enjoy sunny California while I had nothing to do. After getting totally bored of playing pool, ping-pong and cricket in my free time, Suresh, a good friend of mine decided to dish out some free advice to me by asking me to do something useful. So I figured I would register a company called Prism. After going to the Santa Ana County Office, I found out that Prism was taken already so I tried various names like VIBGYOR (!) in my mind before thinking of Infospectrum. That name was available and thus a company was born! I didn’t really do anything with it though for another 5 years!
CE: Do you think entrepreneurs are born? How can one identify whether he/she has what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
Jay: Entrepreneurs aren’t really born. They are made. Some by birth, some by accident and some out of no choice. If you feel that you are a person who is very passionate about every thing you do and if you have a system, a method or rigor to perform your everyday tasks, if you feel challenged by everything unknown to you, you have what it takes. Being a leader of people and a motivator comes with experience. You don’t really have to do anything special. Be patient, listen, put yourself in the other person’s shoes to truly understand a different point of view and make sure you have a 360 degree view of a situation before you act. That’s it!
CE: What makes you look half your age? ?
Jay: I look my age (duh!). Maybe you have a visit due to the eye doctor?!
CE: Thank you for participating in CE's Small Talk. What is your message to CEans?
Jay: Thank you for giving me a forum to make me feel bigger than I am! I don’t really have a message, I just have a word…Passion. Anything without passion is hollow, be it education, be it your job, be it your business or be it your personal life!