In my latest NEF interview series, I speak to Videesha Kunkulagunta.
Videesha is a graduate from the Warwick business school and currently works as a Project Researcher in the network innovation team at TalkTalk PLC. She is also working on a consumer tech start-up called TravelClouds which she hopes to launch later this year.
This is the interview.
Hi Videesha, Its great to finally have you on YHP, how are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, I’m great, thanks!
Recently back from Iceland so getting used to having more than a couple of hours of daylight!
Before we move on, could you quickly give us some background information about yourself so that the YHP audience can get to know you better?
Well, I’m a twenty something ex - wealth management professional who last summer decided to take the plunge and leave my role at Barclays Wealth to pursue a life of entrepreneurship.
The last six months have been a bit of a whirlwind, however, I’m now working on a consumer tech start-up called TravelClouds (www.travelclouds.net) alongside my co-founder, Katherine Ferdinand which should be launching later this year.
Concurrently, I’m on a year placement as a Project Researcher in the network innovation team at TalkTalk PLC and am gaining much appreciated support from the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. Both are helping me make the transition from Finance to Tech Start-Up.
So you attended the Warwick business school? What was the experience like, a lot more people are deciding to go into entrepreneurship straight after school rather going to university, what made you realise that this was the right choice for you?
Growing up as the first child of two South Indian immigrants, I saw the hard work and dedication my parents applied in order to give me the opportunity to go to university. My dad has a PHD and strongly believes in the value of a formal education so, as a young person without a clear idea of what I wanted to do, it was the natural choice for me.
Once there, Warwick really helped to focus my energy. I have always had an inquisitive mind and had been interested in how businesses were set up and grown, therefore I learnt a lot from both the Management course I studied and the inspirational people around me.
My time at university also enhanced my passion for travel. I like keeping myself busy so volunteered to join the organising committee for One World Week (www.oneworldweek.net), an annual festival on campus that celebrates international diversity. I’ve always been intrigued by differences in cultures and the experience further fueled my interest for wanting to understand and experience each country and culture for myself - little did I know that this had sown the seeds for my step into entrepreneurship!
You had an idea for a food tour business whilst at university and despite attracting interest from an angel investor, you decided to work for a corporate. What is the whole story behind that?
I had an idea to link local London university students with tourists and provide themed gastronomic walking tours around London. The problem was, not only was I trying to take too much on board, but I also didn’t have the self - belief or courage to fully put aside the offer of a graduate role with a secure salary and a pretty encouraging sign on bonus. The irony was that a stint at Lehman Brothers was my first graduate job.
The experience over the last few years taught me a lot. So this time around I have had the time to assess my motivations and set the foundations for my business. Working for corporates opened my eyes to the practicality of business and it has taken me 12 months to research and develop my idea, identify my weaknesses and find a suitable business partner before I was ready to whole-heartily dedicate myself to the cause.
Tell us about the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF), why did you decide this was the next step for you, what was the process?
After working at Lehman Brothers and then Barclays Wealth I realised I was unhappy with the direction my life was taking. I lived a life that many aspired to. Despite spending time working in Singapore, living in a desirable part of London, being able to travel whenever and to wherever I wanted and never worrying about my finances (it doesn’t sound bad, right?!) I just never quite felt satisfied. This time I felt ready to take that leap, knowing that there were other options out there for me.
Experience had taught me that I needed mentorship and a support system that would champion my vision and guide me through the transition from wealth management to entrepreneur and NEF answered this need.
The New Entrepreneurs Foundation not only gives me the facilities, network and opportunity to develop my business, but they also believe that each of us will be one of the next generation of top entrepreneurs in the UK and that level of support is invaluable.
So you said you were working for TalkTalk PLC and what have you learnt from the experience so far?
Working for a consumer brand was a drastic change from the world I had just left but the support from the management team has been incredible.
I had initially gone into this position with a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve by the end of the year, but learnt quickly that I needed to adjust my approach and work hard to gain trust and respect in a sector I knew relatively little about. Business is business after-all, it’s best not to let negative emotions and ego get involved.
Something that Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk highlighted to me is that you will start any role unconsciously incompetent, progress to conscious incompetence, develop conscious competence then only excel during unconscious competence. This is something I now try to apply to my journey with TravelClouds.
Is NEF something that you would recommend to other aspiring entrepreneurs? What’s the value in it?
Definitely. The application process was fairly intensive, however the connections, mentorship and support from both the Foundation and my peers has been priceless.
Tell us a bit about TravelClouds and how the idea came about?
Well, I’ve always been an avid traveller and realised early on that, if I wanted to start my own business, I needed to work on something I was passionate about. After a lot of research I realised that there was a gap in the market for a service that truly allowed people to discover and share unique travel experiences and wanted to fill it.
Setting up TravelClouds has been an incredible experience so far. We’re still early on but it’s exciting to see something that was just an idea on a piece of paper turn into something tangible.
We are now starting to document our journey, so you can keep up to date on Twitter @travelclouds, or contact us via www.travelclouds.net.
What was the main challenge you faced when starting the company and how did you deal with it?
The most difficult part was choosing the right co-founder. It took me a long time to really figure out what my strengths and weaknesses were and to try and spot my weaknesses as strengths in someone else.
Also, it was important to find someone equally as enthusiastic and dedicated to the cause - surprisingly not everyone is willing to answer emails at 3am!
However, I’ve now found a phenomenal business partner, Katherine Ferdinand who not only has a complementary skill set but also ample experience in product development and marketing so I am looking forward to what 2012 will bring.
What would you say has been some of the key things that you’ve learnt along the way?
One of my favourite quotes is “Whilst the optimist, pessimist and realist were debating how full the glass of water was the opportunist drank it”.
So what I’ve learnt is that there comes a point where you need to put the frameworks, strategies and doubts aside and commit to an idea, vision and a team. The only way you’ll find out if your idea is worth it is by putting yourself out there and not being scared of the consequences.
Any type of failure just makes you stronger.
What would you say has been one of your most memorable moments so far?
I remember seeing the first draft of the TravelClouds logo and thinking “Ok...now this is real”, but I’ve had so many incredible opportunities and moments in this journey.
Meeting Charles Dunstone and having monthly meetings with him definitely ranks fairly highly.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
I’ll tell you when we’ve survived our first year.
What can we be expecting from you in the near future?
This coming year a lot more noise around TravelClouds. The programme with NEF finishes in September 2012. Daring to dream, Katherine and I would love to have secured financing by then and be in a position where not only are we self sufficient with TravelClouds but also paving the way to be able to create jobs for other people.
I’m also looking forward to more Travel with trips to Finland, Estonia and Germany already in the diary, more challenges and more fun along the way.