View from the Valley
Anand Chandrasekaran is a remarkable and successful alumnus of PSG Tech (B.E. Electronics and Communication Engineering, 1995- 1999) who has helped revolutionize the world of technology by contributing for over 17 years to the industry. He has built several successful products and led multiple product organizations like Yahoo!, Facebook Messenger, Snapdeal, Airtel, etc. Having been named one of Silicon Valley's 40 rising stars, his experience and expertise in the domain speak for themselves. Anand is the Executive Vice President at Five9 presently. Our correspondents were fortunate to get the opportunity to converse with him. Here is an excerpt of the interview:
Q. Can you tell us about your journey in the world of IT?
I graduated with an Electronics and Communication degree from PSG College of Technology in 1999 and went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. Back then, it was one of the first times someone went from PSG to Stanford. I am thrilled that there are many more who have been able to pursue the same since then.
I was already bitten by the entrepreneurial bug when I was in Coimbatore. After leaving for Stanford, the desire to start and build something new became even more intense. I was lucky to partner with my co-founders to start a company called Aeroprise Inc. We built the company for over 7 years, from 2001 to 2008, and in that time, we successfully gained over 150 enterprise customers. It was finally acquired by BMC Software, one of the top 10 software companies in the world.
Since then, I have been fortunate to help build some of the largest scale products like Yahoo!, Facebook Messenger, Snapdeal, Wynk Music (as part of Airtel), Five9, etc. I initially transitioned to building consumer products at Yahoo! Then, later at Facebook, I worked on Messenger, which reached over a billion monthly users during my time there. Between 2014 and 2017, I was involved in building Android-first applications for companies like Wynk Music (premium content), My Airtel (bill payments) and Airtel Money (payments platform), Snapdeal, and Freecharge, among others.
I have had the privilege of having worked on over 5 products with 10 million users each globally. More recently, I came full circle, getting back to building B2B products at a publicly traded company called Five9. Since 2019, we have added $10 billion in the market cap, driven by remote work in contact centers due to the pandemic.
Q. Tell us about your time at PSG.
I am incredibly grateful to my professors who were so dedicated to technical excellence. In particular, I recall a lot of long philosophical conversations with the late Prof S Jayaraman in my department. I made some lifelong friendships that I cherish to this day. I still remember long conversations about life with my friends as we sipped coffee at NMB. I recall the amazing Tek Music, all the inter-college extracurricular and cultural programs. Back then, team PSG was jokingly called the “Gravediggers” because when the team showed up, the other colleges had their graves dug automatically. I am thrilled to have spent 4 of my most fun years on campus.
Q. You have worked for several years in remarkable companies including Yahoo, Facebook, Snapdeal, Airtel, etc. What is one important lesson that you learned in your experience with multiple organizations?
The biggest lesson is that we exist as businesses to serve customers. This is a great honor and opportunity. So many businesses grow and then forget what made them successful. The key is to consistently and accurately understand the prominent problem areas and then solve the problems efficiently. I think that is the key to succeeding across industries or geographies. This holds true, regardless of whether I was building a startup like Aeroprise or a product with billions of users like Facebook Messenger.
Q. How different was your experience in working for/having a start-up and working for a multinational company?
Every company was once a startup, but as some of them succeed and grow, they also for the most part slow down owing to many different factors - size, taking risks, bureaucracy, to name a few. Startups have a lot less to lose in the initial stages and can take the big swings. They can make decisions faster and course-correct more easily. However, as startups grow, they also need some discipline and process to be able to scale efficiently and become a large successful company. If you are just starting your career in the industry, startups offer opportunities to take up different roles and reinvent yourself. On the other hand, established companies, especially ones with a track record of excellent teaching, help you acquire specific skills. Both can be good fits at different points in your career. What works best for you depends on what your goals are.
Q. What would your advice be to students who are to enter this constantly changing industry? What should their road-map be like?
I would say it is important to focus on two things. Firstly, identify one or a small list of things you are passionate about. Once you are able to identify your passion and pursue it, that is when work will not feel like another boring chore. Secondly, develop skills and get better at something every day. This focused pursuit of skills and passion is a great way for students to indulge their curiosity. Take advantage of mentors and professors to get better at your skills.
Also, hopefully, the job you pursue is the first step to indulge in areas that you are passionate about and a way to become one of the world’s best at something. Remember to consider paths like entrepreneurship early in your career if that is your calling. Ultimately, as Steve Jobs said – “Don’t spend your life living someone else’s dreams!”
Q. What kind of discipline do you think has helped you reach where you are now?
There are a few practices that I have developed and followed that I believe have helped me a lot. Firstly, take care of your health - both physical and mental. It provides the means to lead a full life. Once that is ensured, get 1% better every day at whatever you are passionate about and are good at. Slow and steady wins the race. Try to focus on the long-term goals. Try and avoid short-term or transactional relationships and efforts. Saying NO is a key skill so you can focus. And lastly, always remember that you make your money from your successes but you make your reputation from your failures. Never be afraid to make mistakes and use them as learning opportunities to better yourself at every step of your life.
Q. What do you think could be the newest technology we could look forward to anytime in the future? Flying cars, maybe?
I am excited about 0-1 innovation - things that didn’t exist except in science fiction becoming real, as well as 1-n innovation - things that only exist in one part of the world becoming cheaper and more globally distributed.
On the first front, we are seeing flying cars for sure, including one or two going public in 2021 through SPACs. New battery tech, which is one of the biggest limiters of what can be built, is being invented. I am very excited about innovation in “atoms”, real world vs “bits” alone in the coming years.
In India, the availability of connectivity to over 400M users, many of them browsing and consuming in their local languages and often for the first time, will spur an explosion of India-first services like Rupeek, Dealshare, NoBroker and many others where there is no equivalent in the US. I am looking forward to seeing many of these be built by the PSG students reading this and I hope to help them as they set out on these journeys in their careers. My best wishes to them!
Team Bridge would like to thank Mr. Anand Chandrasekaran for his consideration and for taking time off to talk to us despite his busy schedule.