Pallav Nadhani, co-founder and CEO of FusionCharts, a company he started in 2001 at the age of 16 from his bedroom in Kolkata, has a question for me: “What is this list about?”
Me: This list is about people under 30 who have been high achievers and disruptors in their respective fields of work.
Me: Do you think your idea of creating beautiful charts is disruptive?
Nadhani says, “Back then, I thought, maybe, yes. But the term disruptive is over used. I’ve come to realise that these are all incremental ideas. Unless you can change humanity, an idea is not disruptive. Like cancer or AIDS treatment. So, the internet is disruptive. Mobiles are disruptive. Touch screens are disruptive. What we have are plain, incremental ideas which have a lot of value to people who use them.”
Few people would let go of an opportunity to laud themselves; tell the world how great they are. But Nadhani is not one of them. It is not that he is trying to be modest either. It’s just that his attitude to success is simple, similar to the idea behind FusionCharts: To show complex data creatively, in a way that a layman can make sense of it.
In its 11-year run, FusionCharts has grown from one kid in Kolkata to a Rs 47-crore company that employs about 80 people, has more than 21,000 customers which includes companies like LinkedIn, Google, Facebook, Ford and even Barack Obama, president of the United States. That’s not all. The company has never raised money; it has been profitable from day one and is funded entirely by Nadhani.
“He’s clearly an outlier,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eye Sight, a consulting firm.
Now, for a 29-year-old in India, that’s a fair bit of achievement.
But Nadhani doesn’t see it like that.
“I don’t let this go to my head. If I was in Silicon Valley, people would not even look at me,” he says. Oh, they would. That is till they hear the word “Bihar”.
Nadhani was born in Bhagalpur, in a Marwari family, and the only luxury in the house was a computer. A student of Mount Carmel School, he says the computer gave him a “cool” status because his friends would often come over to play games. The computer, though, belonged to his father, Kisor Nadhani, who was using it to maintain accounts for a sewage water treatment project he was involved with.
Almost every other night, however, Pallav would spend countless hours on the PC. “A bunch of cousins had come to learn computers; this was in 1997, when my dad started a computer training centre. So, they had books,” he says. “In the night after they went to sleep, I would read those books. I was hugely interested in it [computers] and started learning on my own.”
His father’s training centre didn’t find many takers though, and by 1999, the senior Nadhani had moved to Kolkata in search of better prospects. It is here that he started his web design venture.
Kolkata, though, was a new world for the young Nadhani. He enrolled in La Martiniere for Boys School, where the creme de la crème of the city went to study. “Here I got the aspiration that I want to be like them. And for me to be like them, I really need to work hard. I need to be on top of the game in whatever I am working on,” he says.
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(This story appears in the 21 February, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)