The Enterprising Entrepreneur: Deepak Mishra
NITR has produced a lot of alumni who have reached the pinnacles of success in various walks of life. One such Alumnus is Deepak Mishra from the batch of 2009, who chose the path less-trodden and went for entrepreneurship when he decided to give up his regular job and start-up his own product, Awesummly – a news app delivering pocket-sized news of one’s interest at real-time. An average student with a genuine flair for coding, he had never been a topper in class, but he managed to leave his mark by his technical skills and by establishing himself at various areas of responsibilities in his career. Team MM caught up with this frank and insightful alumnus in Bangalore for a tete-a-tete about how his experiences at NITR have shaped him, over time.
MM: Tell us about where you are from and what Deepak Mishra was as a child and consequently as an adolescent.
DM: As a child, I was always a backbencher and also an introvert. I neither watched television or read novels like any of the other kids. That is probably the reason why I was not aware of many things happening in and around the world. I think I was pretty much like that till I completed my schooling and entered college, where things changed for good. Till my tenth grade, I had my mind set on taking up medicine as a profession and I had sincere intentions of becoming a doctor. However, my father was an engineer himself and that somehow catalyzed my desires to pursue the same. One day, I attended a lecture session at Arun Roy classes (a coaching institute in Mumbai) and I got so inspired by Arun Roy that my mind changed. I was so much into engineering after that session that I quit Hindi and Biology as my electives and took up electronics instead.
MM: What were your feelings when you first entered NIT Rourkela as an undergraduate student and how have those four years impacted you?
DM: Like I already mentioned, college brought about a drastic transformation in me. When I first came here, I slowly started interacting with people and over time I made some really good friends.
In fact, college made me the exact opposite of the kind of person I was back in school. I no longer saw myself as an introvert and the hostel life definitely played a major role in bringing about that metamorphosis. I loved the interactions with my seniors and I think that helped me a lot.
MM: There are a lot of presumptions that students have about their CGPA, but you have proved them all wrong. What does that feel like?
DM: I can only say that I have been lucky. My CGPA during the recruitment process before joining my first company was 7.02, but by the time I joined, my final semester of college had been spent in the way how final semesters usually are, and so my CGPA dropped down to 6.95 (laughs). Fortunately for me, the HR at the company was nice and I never really faced any trouble.
Once I joined, things like CGPA mattered less. I always did enjoy coding, so cracking interviews was not much of a trouble. I had my goals set and achieved most of them while working in that company. Even now coding is like an addiction for me, I’m always working on my laptop. Whether it’s night or day, whether it’s creating something new, or redoing old codes to make them faster, I love coding!
I daresay I’m really good at it, and that is probably what has kept me going through all these years.
MM: You made it to the ACM-ICPC Asia Finals at a time when not many students from our institute were even proficient at coding. How did you manage to do that?
DM: For a competition of that level, you need to have a faculty mentor to guide you through the process and a good team. I had very sharp teammates, Swapnil and Varun. The competition had a total of three rounds out of which two were regional and were held in the institute itself, and the finals were conducted in IIT Kanpur. None of us were prepared for the first round. In fact, we just got to know about it 2-3 days before it was scheduled.
Prof. B. D. Sahoo trained us for the second round and the finals. He was a very strict teacher, but he had a lot of knowledge and a good network. He gave us guidelines about what all we should study and practice. The whole ACM-ICPC experience also helped me get into his good books, for the rest of my time in the institute.
Every year only one team qualifies for the world competition from the college. It was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience, and I’m glad I had that exposure early in life.
MM: How recently have you visited the institute and what was your reaction?
DM: Last time I had visited the college in 2010 for convocation. So, it obviously hadn’t changed much in half-a-year’s time after final semester. I met some of my professors and it was a good experience altogether. I have good relations with two of my professors – Prof. S.K. Rath and Prof. B. Majhi. Prof. S.K. Rath used to like me a lot and that was special because he liked only two people in the class – my friend Swapnil and me, with whom I went to ACM-ICPC.
There was also one experience with Prof. Majhi which I particularly cherish. I had done a project on “Genetic Algorithm” along with 3 of my classmates under him, an extra academic project which we did because of our own interest in the subject. Due to my “backbencher status”, I faced an initial neglect in the project. I studied about it in great detail for two nights straight and finally implemented the algorithms in the program. It was during the presentation that Majhi Sir realised that it was I who did all the coding and thus I was able to earn his respect and trust.
MM: How important is alumni relations to an institute like ours? Please comment on the current scenario.
DM: I have always believed that alumni are an institution’s most loyal supporters and they are crucial from the point of view of guidance for jobs, further studies, etc. and provide initial network to juniors.
Thus by engaging with alumni, an institution can benefit from their skills and experience, while an alumnus gets a chance to relive his nostalgia or give back to his beloved alma mater. Many of them are well placed in top-notch companies and are in a position to offer jobs to other students from their institution.
Some of us have started doing our own projects, and we can definitely hire them as interns or employees so that both parties can benefit from this arrangement. As far as the current scenario in this aspect is concerned, Utkarsh Singh from 2015 batch is working with the content team of Awesummly since May of this year. He got to know about Awesummly and me through NITR AlmaConnect, and went ahead to contact me and the other two co-founders. The bottom line is that the alumni database is a powerful tool which can be used to create opportunities for current students.
MM: What was your motivation behind taking on Taekwondo and proceeding to procure a black-belt in the same?
DM: As I mentioned earlier, I was very shy during my childhood days and my mother, owing to the fact that I was physically weak, wanted to make me taller and stronger. So, she sent me to a Taekwondo class and after six months, I started enjoying that. After two years, my trainer realized that I was capable enough to train other students. I thoroughly enjoyed doing that too. After five years, I got the black belt. Then I had to quit Taekwondo because I had my board examinations coming up.
MM: You went on to become an entrepreneur yourself, and that is a trend which is catching up pretty fast in India, at the moment. What is your opinion on the current scenario?
DM: Earlier, only mature people used to venture into the field of great unknowns, i.e. starting their own company or business. The scenario now has changed to a large extent, and even youngsters are brimming with enthusiasm. Lots of college students are coming up with excellent ideas for start-ups and are even managing to find investors to transform their dreams into reality. The start-up culture is currently getting established all over the country. However, it is important to understand that start-ups exist because people have an idea which they love and think people would like.
MM: Do you believe that the institute has a greater role to play in creating entrepreneurs and is the status quo conducive for such individuals?
DM: I believe entrepreneur quality is inborn but institute does plays an important role in shaping one's mind and intellect, be it in the way of providing a platform for ideas to materialize or by giving a lifelong association of friends and seniors.
The Institute helps in developing most of the skills that you can develop in your youth such as technical skills, communication skills, financial management or stress management. Institute brings out sincerity in you. Institute gives you exposure and helps you build a good network by putting you on the global map.
In startup world, the mentioning of alma mater comes up while funding. Investors do a background check of founders. Keeping aside the very idea of your startup, it may be difficult to get funding for your startup if you’re not from a well-established college or are not perceived as a sincere student by the investor. There is a saying in the sphere of entrepreneurs that investors put money in team instead of idea. In toto, I would urge the juniors to take the academics and college life seriously.
MM: You’ve come a long way in your journey; how do you feel when you look back – do you have any regrets?
DM: I don’t have any regrets per se. Though several bad things happened but a lot of good things also happened. The bad things teach you a lot, so I don’t think that counts as a regret.
Whenever I had a tough time in my life, I used to think about all the things that can possibly go wrong. That included getting a low CGPA, being jobless after my graduation, getting fired from a job, start-up not being able to stand out - What more? So, if you are prepared for the worst, then you don’t have anything to be scared of.
MM: What would be your message to young NITians, who look up to you?
DM: As an alumnus, I would like to advise all students not to start their careers by watching TVF pitchers. If they have any good startup idea, I am always there to help and guide them. Obviously, professors and friends may not be able to guide them too much in this domain which is why we (alumni) are there for. They can contact me anytime for any help they need. Please download our news app Awesummly from the PlayStore. You will definitely find it useful (laughs).
You can download the app from here: http://bit.ly/nitrolabs