Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

When founders become popular, they can serve as role models for aspiring entrepreneurs: Amit Jain

Amit Jain, chief executive officer and co-founder, CarDekho, talks about his debut at Shark Tank India Season 2, the importance of women and small-town entrepreneurs, and why businesses need to stay lean to succeed

Published: Feb 17, 2023 05:17:05 PM IST
Updated: Feb 17, 2023 05:30:34 PM IST

Amit Jain, chief executive officer and co-founder, CarDekhoAmit Jain, chief executive officer and co-founder, CarDekho

Amit Jain, the chief executive officer and co-founder of GirnarSoft, a software outsourcing company that launched CarDekho in 2008, has become the newest member of the business reality show Shark Tank on Sony TV. He replaces Ashneer Grover, the former co-founder of fintech BharatPe.

Jain clarifies, "I don't see myself as replacing Ashneer. Instead, I bring a unique flavour and perspective to the show as a new shark." In 2006, Amit and his brother Anurag Jain left their comfortable tech jobs in the US to return to their hometown of Jaipur and start their entrepreneurial journey in a small garage. Today, GirnarSoft has grown into a unicorn with a valuation of $1.2 billion. In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Jain discussed his debut on Shark Tank Season 2, the significance of women and small-town entrepreneurs, and the importance of keeping businesses lean to achieve success.

Edited excerpts:

Q. Why did you say yes to judging Shark Tank? What kind of experience will it add to your life?
I thought this could be a platform to get my voice to millions of Indians and inspire them to pursue something big. I have been building my entrepreneurial venture for 15 years, and a large part of this journey has been bootstrapped, so I can personally relate to the participants on the show. I thought it would be exciting to give back to the community by sharing what I've gained from my entrepreneurial journey. Personally, I had the opportunity to meet some interesting founders and learn from them. Many of them come from different sectors and industries, although the core business principles remain the same. However, I was able to gain industry or category-specific knowledge. I was inspired by many pitches, where the founders shared inspiring stories. I'm looking forward to making a significant impact through the show on the entrepreneurship wave in India.

Q. Are there any favourite judges on the panel that you really like or relate to?
I believe the current Shark panel is great. They come from diverse industries, so I think each of them has something unique to offer to the show. There is no favourite, but I think Peyush Bansal of Lenskart mirrors my ideology. Since he also comes from a tech background like me, I can relate to him the most.

Q. Is there any particular kind of startup idea that will make the cut this year in the season?
Shark Tank Season 2 is witnessing a lot more refined ideas because the participants are coming in at a more evolved state. The ask is higher, the equity they wish to dilute is lower, and their businesses are also at a more evolved stage. The preparation the participants have done is insane because they've seen Season 1 and understand what kind of questions can be asked, so they come prepared. I have categorised my investment into two segments: one is where I like the entrepreneur, the business, and the scale can be much larger. I'll get my money back in multiples if I invest. The second type of business can be where I may not get my money back in multiples, but it's for a cause, and I can help inspire millions of Indians watching the show. For instance, women entrepreneurship is something I'm advocating for. I also feel strongly about home entrepreneurship because India will progress only if local communities build businesses. More businesses should come out of small-town India so that local-level employment can also be created. Our per capita income is only $2,100, and in order to take it to $3,000, to $4,000, we need women entrepreneurs and small-town businesses to come into play.

Also read: VS Mani's GD Prasad on being a former ad man, Shark Tank, personal branding

Q. Do you think that Shark Tank has made entrepreneurship cool and mainstream?
I think it definitely has made a large impact on the perception of being an entrepreneur. Before this show, many parents would think their children are pursuing entrepreneurship because they couldn’t secure a job, but that has changed. Now there is pride attached to being an entrepreneur. But I must add that most entrepreneurs also fail, but the reality is that what they learn in pursuing entrepreneurship, they can never learn it on the job. You're making so many decisions on an everyday basis and multitasking, and this is a life experience. You're practically the master of your own destiny. My view is that it is immaterial whether one succeeds or not. Being an entrepreneur, they will definitely become a much better version of themselves at the end of it.

Q. When you look back at your own journey, do you think you would have done something differently?
I would not change anything. I have never started my business for valuation as there was no startup wave when I started. We came back to our hometown (Jaipur) for our family and we started the business as a result of a set of circumstances. But we did dream big from day one because I decided to create a billion-dollar company back then. And then the execution is what mattered after that. We kept chasing the dream and kept executing on the ground. I think that made all the difference. We bootstrapped for six or seven years and then we raised funds. That meant that our DNA was very different from those startups that quickly raise money. We were extremely lean and had a frugal approach to building the business. We ran a lot of departments on our own. I have been a coder, a product designer, a digital marketer, a brand marketer, and a sales person. So the kind of exposure, wisdom and learning that I have gained is unmatchable. We are growing at 70 percent and every year, and I’m handling a company of a size that I have no experience of. I keep on learning and expanding myself.

Also read: How Shark Tank India gave startup brand TeaFit its biggest marketing lift

Q. What are the key life lessons that your entrepreneurial journey has taught you?
I think it has taught me a lot about persistence and perseverance because things will not happen the way you think they should happen. Hard work has been ingrained in me because as a founder, you really have to work hard, be passionate about the business. I think there is a lot of merit in both execution and strategy. I've learned that there is no such thing as a perfect product, because you will become a better version every day. So, don't aim for perfection. Agility matters a lot. One should have faster learning cycles and embrace failure as a way to learn. Be agile to take feedback and incorporate it to become a better version. I think an agile, "fail fast, learn fast" approach works really well. Be lean so that you have a longer runway. Be frugal in your approach and have a large vision, and dream big.

Q. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Don't start your business just for the sake of starting up. Don't become an entrepreneur just because it's considered cool or simply to seek valuation. Solve real fundamental problems and feel strongly about them. Keep a close connection with your customer. Raise money when you want to scale, not just to sustain or for the sake of burning it.

Also read: How 100X.VC takes startups from zero to one and beyond

Q. What do you think about startup founders becoming big personal brands?
The founder is merely a representative of a brand. Before Shark Tank, nobody knew Amit Jain. When founders become popular, they can serve as role models for aspiring entrepreneurs. I meet many young people who tell me they want to become a "shark" and have entrepreneurship goals. Shark Tank has made entrepreneurship a celebration, which is much-needed. However, I don't think I will ever be bigger than my own brand, and I don't see myself getting involved in the celebrity fame game. I would be more satisfied if I could inspire the youth of India and produce 100,000 entrepreneurs in the country.