Bussiness and Bhagavad Gita: an interview with Mr. Avelo Roy
Animesh Mohanty | Nov 04, 2019
Avelo Roy, MD of Kolkata ventures, a successful entrepreneur, a charismatic speaker and also a great devotee of Lord Krishna, visited the NIT Rourkela campus on 3rd November to deliver a talk on the skills for jobs of the future. Team MM got an exclusive opportunity to interview him. Below are the excerpts from the same.
MM: When did you first come in contact with the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita?
Avelo Roy(AR): I was in the 1st year of my college (Illinois Institute of Technology), I was looking for temples in Chicago and then found out that there were classes on Bhagavad Gita in my college itself. I had a lot of questions in mind and all of them were answered very logically, by my mentors, from the Gita. At the same time, my parents were getting separated. I needed a huge boost and the Bhagavad-Gita gave that boost and transformed my life forever. I became an entrepreneur and didn’t go for a job even when the economy was in a bad condition with unemployment rates reaching 10%. The force with which Arjun fought the Kurukshetra war in spite of his unwillingness to fight, the same force also inspired me to go past all the rejections from about 300 venture capitalists and then we got our investment and made a multi-million dollar business out of it. All of this happened because of the teachings in the Bhagavad-Gita. The words of Lord Krishna were very powerful and motivated me through-out my journey.
MM: You set-up your first start-up at 19, how was that experience?
AR: I was an introvert, never really thought that I would be an entrepreneur at 19, I still remember that I was crying when for the first time I saw my logo on the big projection screen. We were winning competitions very quickly in US and Canada, so it was incredible to feel that sense of pride and worthiness that I am not having to go back for jobs and I am building something which is getting appreciated by the people, they are willing to put in their money for it. So, that was incredibly rewarding just like having a baby. That start-up was my baby and I have always treated all my start-ups as my children. So, yeah, it was amazing to get so early on, so well recognized among the people, seeing money and most importantly living life by creating something rather than consuming other people’s feelings.
MM: How do you think the Indian Startup scenario will be in the next 10 years, given the current trend of global economic slowdown? How should start-ups tackle this kind of unexpected events?
AR: Actually, economic slowdowns are the best time to have start-ups because when everybody gives up, the tough people get going and they are the ones who become entrepreneurs. For example, Google came out of a recession period. Many companies including mine have made money during the recession only because the opportunities are scarce but the competition is almost nil. To tackle these kinds of unexpected slowdowns, startups have to be resourceful. They have to know how to network properly, know where the opportunities are, where things can get done because in negativity also there is tremendous opportunity to excel and the competition is also less. For example, you have a lot of opportunities here at Rourkela than at Gurgaon, in Gurgaon, there are thousand other start-ups so the competition level is a bit high for the originals.
MM: Start-ups are often faced with a dilemma about whether to expand the business or look inward and improve employee retention, ensure good management, etc. How should a young start-up answer this dilemma?
AR: If you expand very quickly, don’t expect your start-up to survive long. So you will have to have the validation first. So first, see if people are willing to pay for a product that you are building. There might be flaws and issues with your product but if they are willing to pay for it then you can be assured that the problem is big enough that people are even paying for an incomplete product, once you have figured that out you can then you can build, test, learn and go along and reach the point where you have a great product, but that validation is important. Only when you have that validation that it is a sustainable and repeatable model that can work here in Odisha and even in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal then you can conclude that you are ready to scale your products and services otherwise, you are going to crash and burn.
MM: Does karma have an effect on our success? If yes, then that would mean nothing is under our control in the present since every result we will get is based on our past karmic results. How do you explain this?
AR: Absolutely, Karma has a strong bearing on our success. I don’t believe in luck, it’s not a Vedic concept but Karma is. Karma is logical, you do something and you get something, if you don’t do something, you get nothing. Yes, we do have things under our control because Karma is not what is just in the past, we are creating karma right now also. For example, if I want to go to the gym and start eating right then tomorrow I will have abs and will be more attractive. So every moment I am creating my future Karma. My past is deciding what circumstances I have right now but with my present karma, I am building the future.
MM: While observing the armies at Kurukshetra, Arjuna was overwhelmed with his feelings and lost control of his mind. Today thousands of youth just like Arjuna lose control of their minds in overwhelming situations, how do you propose we handle such situations?
AR: One of the first things that you should do is right-size your fear because when we feel that there is no shelter then life looks difficult and fear overwhelms our brain. We feel like there is no hope. So there needs to be somebody outside of you, it’s not always that your mind is your best friend, somebody else has to tell you that your present situation is not so bad, even worse things can happen and the best things can also happen. So there needs to be a mentor or a friend or a parent who unconditionally loves you and regardless of what you like to hear or not will show you the truth. So talk to someone, pick up the phone and talk to someone you trust.
MM: In Mahabharata, Krishna takes Arjuna to the center of the battlefield to observe the armies and thereafter grants him the supreme knowledge. In today’s world too, young professionals find themselves right in the middle of a conflict in their lives? How do you propose that we take correct decisions when in such a phase?
AR: Again you need mentorship to handle such situations. The way I do it before investing or before getting into a company or field, I talk to a mentor who knows that field very well and 5-minute phone calls save me months worth of worries and pains. So, don’t get into trouble and ask your mentor but before you make a decision, get in the habit of getting ideas from experts. Five minutes can save you a lot of hassles, somebody who knows the field and has been through all the troubles associated with it can easily help you through.
MM: In the chapter on Karma yoga, Krishna mentions Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed otherwise work binds one to this material world? How do we offer our work to God when most of the time whatever work we do is aimed at gaining materialistic success and money?
AR: That’s the exact problem, that’s why we are not happy. Even-though we have money, food and sex still, happiness eludes us. So that mentality has to shift, it has to be for a higher purpose. So that’s why Krishna recommends the performance of yajnas, yajna means sacrifice. So when you sacrifice for a higher purpose like you give money for charity or help the needy people, you feel good about yourself and that is a whole different level of happiness. Now what to speak of doing something for God, doing something devotional or spiritual, that happiness is beyond what words can describe. It’s regardless if you have money or not you will be extremely satisfied from within because God is the source of all happiness and spirituality. Yoga means to connect but when Atma and Paramatma connect that’s the beauty of bhakti-yoga and that’s where the happiness comes from.
MM: In the race for success, we often find ourselves losing out on valuable relationships with people. How do you propose that we overcome this?
AR: Please value people more than things, today we value things more than people and what happens is: those things are eventually lost, but the relationships are also not there, so when we are in trouble we have nothing but if you value people then even when you don’t have those things the relationships will remain and sustain you. During the Cold-war, there was a bunch of Russians, they were all millionaires, suddenly everything was taken away from them and they were put in prison. In prison, they all networked with each other and became friends. As soon as they were released from the prison after the cold-war, they all became millionaires again and the reason for that is their mindset and their friendship and networking. So, when we value things and those things are gone. What do we do? But when relationships are there that brings in everything.
MM: In the chapter on Sankhya-Yoga Krsna says, for him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for the one who has failed to do so, his mind will be his greatest enemy. How do we control the mind in a world full of distractions?
AR: Meditation is the mechanical practice of controlling the mind, so basically it is the ability to say no to the mind with the help of intelligence which is backed by knowledge. For example, a child has a tendency to put everything in the mouth but eventually, the child learns that this is food, this is shoe and this should not go into the mouth. Similarly, a child might think that it’s nice to jump from a building but when he/she falls from the bed, he/she realizes it hurts and comes to the conclusion that if I jump from a building, it will kill me hence I should do it. This is experience and knowledge, sometimes we don’t have experience and that’s where knowledge comes in and there is Bhagavad Gita telling you if you do this then this will happen. So when you have the knowledge, intelligence kicks in and says “mind, I know you want this but we cannot go in this direction because it won’t be good for us” or it may even say us “ mind, I know you don’t want to go in this direction but I still want you to go because that is what I want.”. So having the ability to say yes or no to the mind is you being in control rather than the mind being in control and that allows you to achieve whatever you want in life.
MM: It is said that the Bhagavad Gita is the best and the oldest book on management known to mankind for 5000 years. How are the principles of Bhagavad Gita applied outside India and how differently are we applying them inside India?
AR: Outside India, I know of many places where they are being very well applied. From Harvard to Oxford they teach Sanskrit and the Bhagavad Gita is actually studied very seriously. Here in India, we have been brainwashed by the Britishers and today we are the pseudo-secularists and we believe that everything in Hindu Dharma which is Vedic is a part of Mythology. It’s our history and they have named it mythology. Today we are ignoring our own heritage and our own wealth, so Bhagavad Gita is lying in most houses wrapped up in a red cloth and it’s worshipped but people are actually supposed to read it. But there are people like me also who are working to reinstate the Bhagavad Gita as a book of knowledge regardless of religion. So dharmic youths need to come out, they need to be educated. Personally, I do that by educating people and entrepreneurs specifically so that if they value these teachings then others will automatically follow them and start valuing these age-old teachings of the Gita.
MM: You have been on the White House Panel for Entrepreneurship Education. What difference do you see between India and the USA with regard to startups?
AR: In the US, people are actually ethical in terms of building a business and managing money. Investors’ money is not for my business class ticket, it is actually for my business. That’s the mindset in the US. Most of the start-ups in India, unfortunately, are very short-sighted which again comes from our schools where it’s okay to cheat in exams and get passed. That mindset actually percolates all the way into jobs and all sorts of things. So what happens is Entrepreneurs, as soon as they get the money, they start buying things for themselves or paying higher salaries and that kills their business and sustains them somehow for a very short period of time. This mentality, hopefully, will shift over time
Team MM is grateful to Mr. Avelo Roy for sharing his thoughts and knowledge with us. We wish him luck in his future endeavors.