From successful and passionate business ventures to being a celebrated business strategy author of Bond to Baba, Ninad Karpe of KARPE DIEM Consulting has worn many hats, and pocket squares.
Karpe, similarly to Eight, believes ‘networking is everything,’ and his mantra for success is ‘follow your passion,’ because it will guide you to success.
We interviewed Karpe to gain insights into his life in the corporate world and his journey to becoming an entrepreneur. He helped us understand what it’s been like working with corporate giants as well as SMEs. His advice for aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs is also something to take with you.
Eight: Please take us through your career path over the past 30 years.
Sure. We can say this is now my 3rd innings in the game. I started my 1st innings as a consultant for companies coming to India for the first time. I did so for about 13 years when one of my clients, Computer Associates (CA), invited me to join them. I worked in the corporate sector with CA and Aptech for 20 years, in my 2nd innings. My 3rd innings is now, as I’m a consultant, entrepreneur, and author.
Eight: When did you choose to become an entrepreneur? You had an amazing journey in the corporate sector, what made you shift?
The starting point towards being a consultant and an entrepreneur began with an urge to write a book. So, I wrote Bond to Baba on my years of business strategy experience. It took me almost 6 years to decide on and 1 year to write. It received good reviews and went on to become a part of Amazon list of memorable books of 2018. After the first edition of the book sold out, I started receiving a lot of inquiries about strategy consulting.
So from then I decided to use all my knowledge and consulting seemed like a natural progression. I had a passion for consulting and entrepreneurship, and business has always been a passion. Business is not for money – of course, these are for-profit ventures, but they need to be fueled by passion.
Eight: Interesting. So usually, people write books while they do consulting but your book became the reason for your consulting. You also started a production house, do tell us something about that.
I wanted to get into the business of entertainment and specifically regional Marathi entertainment. I wanted to deliver good, high-quality content, with very good writers, actors, directors, etc.
So, my partner and I formed a company to produce the same. Our first play came out in December 2018. It’s a thriller. And, now we’re working on our next Marathi play. It’s great fun – conceptualizing, conceiving and seeing your creation happen.
My second passion is pocket squares.
I own a large collection of the same. I decided to create some of my own and worked 6 months on it. Now, the product Karpe Diem Pocket Square is available for purchase online. Everything is outsourced and I have to market it aggressively. As of now, without marketing, sales are happening. Friends and known associates are buying the product from the e-commerce site.
It’s fascinating to create something – from having a design to actually designing and putting it up for sale. I wanted to showcase that despite the current economy, all you need is a good idea and you can become a part-time or a full-time entrepreneur. You don’t need a channel, network, and all that.
Eight: Regarding networks, Eight is all about connecting people, bringing them together to build their network. You took three different journeys, from consulting to corporate to being an entrepreneur. How has the network effect helped you, especially in the production and pocket square venture?
Our networks are everything. Without a network, businesses lose serious money. For my production company, due to the network I have – I’m getting great ideas connected to the corporate journey, some really unique stuff. My play will be the first Marathi play to feature in the Royal Opera House in Bombay after its restoration. A lot of innovative things happen because of the people I know – my network. I’m currently discussing two or three more innovative ideas and many people are pitching in to my Marathi theatre too.
As for the pocket squares, obviously the network is critical. If I want to showcase my product and to have people buy it – the first immediate point of sale will be my network. They know me, or they met through someone – they obviously have immediate connection or trust as opposed to buying from a random buyer on Amazon or other e-commerce sites. So, the network is everything for business.
Eight: In reaching out to an idea to start a production house, did your network help you set things up?
No, setting up I did with my partner. It was my idea but getting creative people on board was facilitated through the network. Most importantly, broadcasting and staging the play, getting partnerships, doing something innovative – all of it happened only because of the network. Nothing else. The network is everything.
Eight: Everybody goes through highs and lows in their career. Was there a point in your career where there was a low and you were struggling? Did you have a godfather or a mentor figure who helped you out? Was the network effect, effective there?
I think when you’re low, you normally or immediately go to your family first in India. For me it was my father. However, you do have business mentors at each stage. When you are in the first stage, setting up a consulting venture is not easy. So, at each stage there was a mentor outside of the home. But I think operating in India, the family is the first level of support you get.
Eight: How did you choose your mentors? Are these the people you know or people you wanted to know – how did that happen?
You know you have to be lucky to get a good mentor. Each stage of your career requires a different mentor depending on where you are in your career.
Eight: For younger people, what should be the tactics for identifying those mentors? What should somebody look at while finding the right mentor? There are certain skills not taught in school; like people management, money management, and time management.
For the newcomers today, it’s a different world. We can learn a lot from them. I have business intuition that comes from 30-40 years of experience, but I have to understand technology trends, consumer trends, behavior patterns. So, now, reverse mentoring works better. The skills you mentioned can be learned from multiple courses available and you don’t require personal assistance to acquire them. There’s nothing I can tell them which they cannot find.
Eight: When there was no internet – How did you reach out to people apart from conferences? How did you find your mentor?
Those were different days. Unless you had physically met someone, it was tough to find people. Even today, when we have a huge network, the relevance of personal touch is important. Technology has helped build a large network for everyone, but then in that large network, how do I differentiate between you and someone else – so that’s where personal touch comes in.
Eight: So, spending more time with your contacts is important? While you’re talking about reverse mentoring, do you actually mentor people?
I do that, and not as a business. I never say no to anyone. Formally, I do consulting and have taken only 3-4 clients. Of which, one is a fintech startup, another in hospitality, and some other businesses – all young people. Consulting is my core business. This is all for profit, proper professional engagement.
Eight: A bit of a detour, but what are the technology or apps you can’t live without today?
I use collaboration apps. Collaboration is key and these apps play a big part. Social media apps are obviously critical, as they keep you informed about your network. The third is the business-cum-personal apps that ensure your network remains active. And the fourth is the personal section, which includes food, entertainment, wine, etc. For now, I’m fascinated with fashion because of the theatre company.
Eight: When you were a 20 year old, did you have any specific game plan, things you wanted to do? Is there anything you’d go back and tell yourself?
Things have just happened, and they still just keep happening. I think as a 20-year-old, one of the things to do is select subjects of your choice. Nowadays, young people have multiple options. I suggest they pursue their passion, everything else will fall in place. There are multiple courses available for them. My only regret is that we did not have the freedom of learning subjects of our choice.
Eight: Finding one passion – that makes it complicated because today there are too many things people get confused about. How do people find their passion?
I think it’s not easy because most young people in India have to first find a living, and that is not necessarily connected to their passion. The ideal scenario will be if you can make a living out of your passion.
Eight: Your 2nd and 3rd innings were similar, but it requires courage to actually step into doing what you love and make that a business. How did you convince yourself to take a step forward towards your 3rd innings?
You do have to be a madman sometimes in life. If you don’t behave like an idiot, you will not do it – because these are crazy ideas. Both my ventures have no connection to each other in terms of branding, but they are my passion. That’s why I say if you have passion and feel something for it – just do it. Remove your logical hat.
Eight: You have also been associated with a lot of Industry bodies, like CII. How did you manage it? Were you actively looking for these kinds of opportunities or this just happened?
From the very beginning, I tell people to contribute some of their time back to the industry to create an industry voice. I have been doing it since my 1st innings. I strongly feel you should spend 10–20% of your time – be it industry association, or independent industry body. This is not charitable work and you get to meet a lot of interesting people. CII just happened, I never went to CII or any other association for network effect or for wanting to meet people. I went with the agenda of giving some part of my time to an association, create a joint voice for policy advocacy and thought leadership. I as the CEO during my corporate days used to tell my HR team to go out for the association, take some lectures and ensure that they spent at least 5–10% of their time on it. I really urge everybody to do this.
Eight: Traditional workplaces compared with new forms of work, like WeWork, are very closed. Especially in economies like India or other Asian countries, companies don’t allow their people to go out. Is that a bad strategy?
Yes, it is a bad strategy. It will create an expiry date for either the company or its employees if they do not step up.
Eight: As a company, why do you think that people stop or are stopped?
Short-term vision. These activities are absolutely critical to get your company the image in the association. You are contributing in the front row for policy advocacy. Network comes as a by-product of these initiatives and that helps create meaningful relationships.