In this episode of The Balls Of Steel Show, our host Sarthak Varshney gets in conversation with a distinguished individual, Lal Chand Bisu of Kuku FM. This story is of a man who never let the curious cat in him settle. He gave The BOSS an enticing perspective of how he set course on a journey to impact the masses.
WHAT IS THE BUSINESS THAT YOU’RE IN BECAUSE OF WHICH WE CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE GOT THE BALLS OF STEEL?
In 2012 I started my first company that was in an educational space. My partner and I spent 3 years in this business and got a good response from North India. In 2015 we got an offer from Topper.com to work together. I moved from Jodhpur to Mumbai to work with them. In 2018 I left working there to start my next company. The basic criterion for my next company was to have an impact on a wider group of people.
During 2016 I had started exploring various ideas for my own business. We started with an AR VR project, but we dropped it because we realized that it would still take a long time to expand in India. After this, I got into an exciting field- Blockchain. I started working on a project that would get all the patient records on Blockchain. But I ditched this plan because it was too farfetched. In 2017 I realized that audio is going to be the future. When I listened to podcasts while commuting, I stopped feeling that I was wasting my valuable time. In 2018, while doing market research in India, I realized that this would be the next big thing that will also impact the masses.
In June 2018, we started working on this idea. My cofounders and I, within one week, developed an app. When we started, we had 100 Hindi podcasts. We gathered amazing results; the average listening time per user was 40 minutes. We decided to go with the User-generated content platform. But this did not work out for our platform because with even the minutest audio issues, and we would lose the listener. We also realized that short form in content wouldn’t suffice for us since the first minute decides whether the listener would continue listening or not. So based on this learning, we are now professionally curated user-generated content with long-form content. We are now the biggest non-music platform in India.
LET’S DIVE DEEPER INTO THIS CONVERSATION BISU, WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN LIKE FROM THE POINT YOU STARTED TILL THE POINT AT WHICH YOU ARE CURRENTLY?
I am from a small village in Rajasthan, and I saw a city for the first time when I moved there for my 11th class. I was exposed to the world beyond my bubble and got to know about IIT. Hence, I studied for JEE and got into IIT Jodhpur. Since I was from the first batch, we students used to help set up the college, which was a good experience. In my 4th year of college, I started exploring the ideas for entrepreneurship that would impact many people. The most striking idea to me was in the field of education. I started working on this idea when I was in my 4th year, and my juniors joined in, and we created a good team. After three years, we got incorporated by Topper.com.
TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR FAMILY BACKGROUND
I am from Rajasthan. My father is a farmer and my mother is a housewife. We are four siblings. My parents have not been controlling.
TELL ME THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION ABOUT THE CULTURE OF YOUR VILLAGE BISU
I did my schooling till 10th class from the village. I spent most of my time playing. The people in villages are close-knit and have little to do with the outside world. However, most people don’t get the opportunity or the exposure. I used to love maths and I wanted to get a good education. When I moved to college, I used to dislike my village, but when I started my company, I started comparing my life in the village and in the city. This was the time when I actually started appreciating my life in the village.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR PARENTS?
My father is educated till Grade 5, and my mother did not receive any formal education, and my uncle was in the police. My parents respected and valued education, and due to this, I developed an interest in my studies. They regard mental peace as most important, and because of that, today, I do not get disturbed easily. I have learned to live my life in a minimalist way. My parents taught me to make decisions for myself.
DID YOU EVER SEE ANYONE INTO BUSINESS WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?
No, I didn’t see anyone from a business background. My first dream as a child was to join the army and then to become a school teacher. Before joining college, I wanted to go into civil administration. In college, I decided to begin my entrepreneurial journey as I realized that people in a business run the economy.
WHAT CHANGES DID THE SHIFT FROM VILLAGE TO CITY BRING TO YOUR MINDSET?
When I moved to the city, I hated my life in the village because of the lack of exposure and opportunities. When I compared myself to the people who lived in the city, there was a lot of difference. Moving to the city got me curious about a world I didn’t know. I asked my friends about their plans, and I got to know about IIT through them. And I took their notes and bought books. I used to think that a government job was to be all end all, but when I came to college, I started respecting businesses more.
DID YOUR PARENTS STRUGGLE FINANCIALLY IN SUPPORTING YOUR EDUCATION?
Yes, they did struggle, but I did not realize it until I was in the village. I lived a simple life and studied in a private school. I considered my family to be well off. However, when I decided to pursue science, I got to know the expenses. My parents didn’t let finances govern my education. I got scholarships in school as well as college.
WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET DURING COLLEGE?
My fee was taken care of through the scholarship, but I was dependent on my family for pocket money. I never tried fending for myself, but I believe it’s a good thing to generate income sources for you.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN IN YOUR TIME IN KANPUR?
I spent 2 years in IIT Kanpur, and the campus was excellent. This was the first time I was enjoying the hostel life. Most of my learning was from my college life.
SHARE WITH US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION BISU, WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR TIME IN IIT JODHPUR?
Our batch set up the college and organized all cultural fests. We used to enjoy being busy and learning continuously. Because of this, I developed the habit of getting things done and enjoying that process.
YOUR FIRST VENTURE WAS IN THE EDUCATION FIELD, SO WOULD IT BE RIGHT TO SAY THAT YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR LEADS TO THIS?
Yes, I have a lot of respect for education since my childhood. While exploring the ideas for my business in college, the most interesting one I came across was in the education field. I felt that the current education was not up to the mark and needed improvement. I thought that the best thing you can do for society is improving education.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO COMMENT ON THE OBSERVATION SKILLS THAT THE ENTREPRENEURS POSSES?
This truly is very important for everyone who wants to be successful. As we grow up, the knowledge we possess tends to rise, and so does the constant chatter in our heads, but this does not add any value in our lives; it just consumes us. If you want to live peacefully, you have to live in the moment.
WHILE SETTING UP YOUR BUSINESS, DID THE JOB SECURITY FACTOR INFLUENCE YOU IN ANY WAY?
Most people want to settle for a government job in India. This factor came into my head too. For me, entrepreneurship was risky but exciting. It’s better to go with entrepreneurship if you have connected the dots correctly and are sure of your skills. The demand for entrepreneurs in the market is high, and it is much better to be one than have a job in the corporate because there is more learning in entrepreneurship. In the corporate, you don’t get exposure to the market but just a tiny portion of the problem.
TELL US VIA THIS CONVERSATION BISU, WHILE SETTING UP YOUR BUSINESS WHAT DID YOU THINK WORST COME WORST COULD HAPPEN?
This is very important while considering starting your own business. While I saw considering this question, the only answer I got was that I’ll be in this position forever if I don’t start this now. Even if I fail, I would still end up learning a lot. I wanted to go with this because I enjoyed doing this work. I thought that worst comes worst, and I’d get a job after a year because the market is enormous, and I trust my skill set.
SO MOVING AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION BISU WHAT WAS THE FEELING LIKE WHEN TOPPER.COM CAME TO ACQUIRE YOU?
When we started our company in 2012, I was in Jodhpur. My contemporaries were doing much better than us because they were in Mumbai. After one year, we realized that Jodhpur wasn’t the right city to start. In Jodhpur, there weren’t any entrepreneurs. I felt that I should learn more and then I should start my company. Around this time, we got an offer from Topper.com, and I decided to learn something from this first. I was attached to my company, and this decision was difficult to take. So, I weighed both ways and realized that you couldn’t make rational decisions if you are emotionally attached to your company. I accepted the offer and took it as a learning lesson.s
WHAT WAS YOUR POSITION AT TOPPER.COM?
When we got acquired, we told them that we would want to start our own company and that here we would like to learn first. When I joined Topper, I explored different verticals. We were just employees there. First 2 years, I enjoyed learning other things. In the third year, I started exploring ideas for my venture.
WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET AROUND THE TIME WHEN YOU WERE EXPLORING VARIOUS BUSINESS IDEAS?
I started exploring and making a list of ideas in 2015. I was looking for the next big thing. Initially, I just jotted down the ideas and not dig deeper into those. In 2016 I started giving my thoughts shape. I decided that the essential criterion should be an idea that can be handled by a small team and the one that impacts a lot of people. Sometimes I used to go for surveys too. A strong team is a company’s strength, and this is tested through the downs that the company faces. Market research and customer preferences should be considered foremost. It is not about the idea, and it’s about the execution.
WHAT WAS THE STATUS OF YOUR PARTNERS WHEN THE IDEA OF KUKU FM EMERGED?
We are three co-founders, Vinod, Vikas, and I. They are my juniors from IIT Jodhpur batch 2014. Vinod was my co-founder in my previous venture too. We both left Topper together and spent months travelling and researching. Vikas was still working in Topper at that time. In June, Vinod and I started our business, and later, Vikas joined.
WHAT DID THE SIX MONTHS BREAK THAT YOU TOOK TEACH YOU?
I was doing surveys and reading books. When I left Topper, it was the first time I was free and had no deadlines to meet. I was free of mind, and this gave me a clearer perspective on various aspects.
WHAT ARE THE BOOKS THAT YOU WANT EVERY ENTREPRENEUR TO READ?
Sapiens is the first book I’d like to recommend. Shoe Dog, The Rational Optimist, and Steve Jobs- The Biography are some excellent reads.
MOVING AHEAD WITH THIS CONVERSATION BISU, HOW DO YOU APPLY MINDFULNESS IN YOUR LIFE?
Being an entrepreneur is not easy. It is a tough job to build a good team, hire people and come up with ideas. This journey is full of surprises and ups and downs. Being peaceful is one of the most important things. Being stoic is very important to align your team, investors and think through the problem to find solutions. Great decisions lead to success, and to make decisions, one needs to be peaceful.
HOW HAS YOUR HABIT OF WRITING HELPED YOU IN UPGRADING YOUR MINDSET?
I started writing when I was in college, searching for ideas for my first company. After that, I started writing about the problems I faced and their solutions. This habit is quite helpful, and writing makes me go into a peaceful state of mind. I write everything I can think of.
TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION BISU, ARE YOU A MONEY-MINDED PERSON?
Yes, I love money. After college, my perception changed that money wasn’t important and that it created more problems. Now I believe that money can solve 90% of your problems. Money, for me, is something that can fulfil my needs. Money is the medium that enables you to do other things. I don’t run behind money, and I run behind problems.
IN YOUR JOURNEY THAT YOU’VE SHARED WITH US IN THIS CONVERSATION BISU, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST HURDLE YOU FACED AND WHAT IS THE LESSON IT TAUGHT YOU?
I enjoy working, and for many, this might be a hurdle. I have always kept my happiness as my priority and have worked towards it.
TOWARDS THE END OF THIS CONVERSATION BISU, TELL US WHAT IS THE KIND OF LIFE YOU LIVE NOW?
I don’t want to be attached to one particular thing, but I want to be curious all the time. I don’t want to settle for anything, and I want to grow. So, I enjoy my life right now, solving problems and continuously learning.
Lal Chand Bisu has taught us that one should never settle and keep expanding their horizons on a truly enlightening journey. This conversation with Bisu has also highlighted that ideas come and go, but execution is the most important aspect of the business. For more such insightful stories, listen to The Balls Of Steel Show and expand your Dhandho Ni Soch.