Kaptains of IIM Kozhikode – Joel Modestus – The Enterprising Entrepreneur

Our ‘Kaptains of Kozhikode’ series corroborates the fact that IIM Kozhikode constantly strives to promote diversity in all respects. Be it extra- or co-curricular activities, sports, debates, international exposure, entrepreneurship et al, students are encouraged to pursue their passions and excel in them alongside maintaining a decent track record of academics. Amidst all this, there are young budding entrepreneurs like Joel Modestus who strongly believe that entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t. A seasoned Chess player, a ferocious reader, an adroit speaker and most importantly a humble human being, Joel has won several accolades in life and aims to give back to the society as and when it is possible.

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You are one of the very few proud recipients of the country to have received the honoured M-Prize for Management Innovation sponsored by McKinsey and The Harvard Business Review. Your article illustrating the same was published in the Management Innovation Exchange (2013). (Link to the article – here ). Please throw some light on your experience in total.

Failures in life are as important as successes, if not more. I firmly believe that if you and your efforts are not getting rejected often, your goals are not ambitious enough. In 2012, I had the privilege of participating in this competition organized by Management Innovation Exchange in association with Harvard Business Review and McKinsey. Despite well-channelized and fervent efforts, fortunately (yes! ‘fortunately’) I was unable to ace it. Man proposes, God disposes, but sooner or later, you are rewarded for your hard work. After investing five precious years of my life in preparing for this coveted national level competition and persevering hard in face of utter failures, I finally won it the very next year!

The experience was highly enriching given the fact that almost everyone else among the 9 worldwide winners and 18 finalists were CEOs, Vice Presidents and learned Professors of Ivy League Business Schools (The list of winners can be seen here). The joy of being the youngest of the lot to have received such an honour is inexplicable. The mere thought of having been shortlisted among the 18 extraordinary finalists is ecstatic! I have for years been passionate about business and management. More than the recognition that followed this award, it was a resounding reminder that I should aim and strive for big and audacious goals, pursue them no matter what, endure through obstacles, which has and will keep me going, in future.

 

Evident from your track record till now, you have been a bright kid right from your school days. From securing national ranks in National and International Olympiads to receiving the Young Scholar award from the Reserve Bank of India, to winning the India Future of change International Business Plan Competition (2011) very recently, who if I am allowed to ask has been your inspiration throughout your journey?

 

Well, I do not have anyone specific in mind. I believe in following the footsteps of ‘commoners’ (rather than the big shots who are already born with a silver spoon) who go that extra mile by engaging in constant struggles in pursuing what they are genuinely passionate about. After all, some commoners are not so common! I am of the opinion that no matter how many distractions one has in life, one should never ever cease the quest for learning.  This is precisely the reason that has always motivated me to participate in various inter-disciplinary competitions and tests that help me know and eventually, expand my horizons as far as my abilities to constantly learn are concerned.  I am definitely very proud of the few big competitions that I have won so far, as they have instilled in me the confidence to march forward no matter what but the one’s that I lost occupy a special place in my heart as they have been responsible in making me embrace the ‘never say die’ spirit that will ensure success in all my future endeavours.

 

With so many start-ups cropping up in almost all sectors of India, but very few of them seeing the light of the day – what according to you is the mantra of being able to carve a niche in this big-bad world of already established bigwigs? Would you suggest any words of wisdom/books from the ones who have already ‘been there and done that’?

As Oprah Winfrey puts it – Every single event in life happens in an opportunity to choose love over fear. I believe that opportunities in entrepreneurship can never be endangered. In fact it is the exact opposite. The harvest is plenty but the workers are very few. There are just too many unmet problems and too many underserved customer segments. And, one of the biggest motivating factors for start-ups these days is their relatively small capital requirements. There has never been a better time to start up. India is ripe for an entrepreneurial revolution. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I am of the opinion that a successful start-up needs to handpick one pressing problem or need of the customers and focus exclusively on solving it in the best possible manner.

If I have to tell you about my favourite literature on entrepreneurship, it has to be the lecture notes of Peter Thiel’s class ‘CS183: Startup’ at Stanford, That is a real eye-opener.

 

 You are a member of the highly coveted Entrepreneurship Cell at IIM Kozhikode. In the recent lecture series organized by E-Cell, you were the youngest of the speechmakers to have inspired students. Tell us more about your experience.

The Entrepreneurship Cell at IIM Kozhikode is still at a very nascent stage and we (I along with my ambitious team), are looking forward to building it to the best of our capabilities. We have a program called K-Starter that aims at promoting entrepreneurial interest on kampus by holding discussions and lectures, motivating students by organizing competitions, dispelling their misconceptions and eventually, moulding them into successful entrepreneurs of tomorrow. The response so far has been overwhelming, implying that there is a lot of latent desire for entrepreneurship among MBA students. We have conducted 5 sessions so far with many more to come in the second year for the benefit of the current as well as the incoming batches.

There are certain topics that interest me and hence, enable me to get familiarized with the core concepts related to them as well as the latest trends around that topic better. ‘Disruptive Innovation’ and ‘Idea Generation’ are two of such topics. Hence, a few of my lectures hovered around them. The sessions were very interactive and at the end of the day if you see, I ended up being the biggest beneficiary out of the entire process! However, there is a long way to go with the programme, lot more needs to be done and we have exciting and well-thought out plans for the same. Our immediately next activity is going to be a visit to the Startup Village(The Incubator) in June, where around 30 highly motivated students from our college will get the opportunity to interact with start-ups and the brains behind them.

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Everyone knows that Chess is a natural cerebral high. You are known to have been playing competitive chess from a very young age. Tell us something more about your hobbies.

Dilemmas can be harsh at times. I used to play competitive chess in School. When I was in class 11, I had to choose between concentrating on studies and pursuing my passion for competitive Chess. In today’s world of cut-throat competition, you more often than not have to go with the safer options and hence, I chose the former. I still play chess at college level and am the captain of the chess team here. Chess, to say the least, has been an excellent teacher. I owe my sharp thinking and problem-solving skills to this wonderful game. Well, I am eagerly looking forward to the Anand-Carlsen Rematch this year!

Apart from my love for Chess, I like watching tennis. I closely follow international affairs. I am also a huge fan of Gospel music and Johnny Cash.

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Do you want to start a start-up of your own sometime in life? Which is the most lucrative business to be in today, keeping in mind the Indian scenario?

I will definitely start up (and looking at his track record and pace, he might start up very soon!). But, more importantly, I want to play an important role in transforming and developing the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in India. As I mentioned earlier, the time is ripe for an entrepreneurial revolution. Focussing on entrepreneurship is inevitable, if India wants to become a super power. It has been observed that for myriad reasons, the most innovative ideas come from start-ups, contrary to the popular belief of them coming from big companies.

In my opinion, rather than looking at sectors and industries, entrepreneurs must focus on ‘the job that a customer wants to get done’. That is, instead of looking at a sector like ‘education’, you must focus on the core job i.e. ‘learning’. This will give you a totally new perspective and will allow you to identify productive avenues, something that is the need of the hour. There is usually one of four common constraints that customers face in completing a job:

– Wealth

– Access

– Time

– Skill

The most lucrative avenues for entrepreneurs are ones in which the constraints are severe. So, if you move in to reduce even one particular constraint (for example if the constraint is wealth, you make it more affordable) very well, you will inadvertently end up having a good business. In India, such lucrative jobs are in abundance. Affordable learning, easy communication, constructive collaboration, developing skills at a faster rate, access to health and nutrition are some of the jobs that almost instantly come to my mind, that can prove to be highly profitable arenas to enter into.

 

As told to Venu

 

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An Upantya Visharad in Hidustani Sangeet and in Bharatnatyam, Venu has been the epitome of versatility and consistency throughout school and college life. An EC engineer, she was a member of AIESEC & NU Tech where she managed various activities. She loves micro blogging and working for stray animal welfare. She is currently a management student at IIM Kozhikode (Class of 2015).

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Venu Merh

An Upantya Visharad in Hidustani Sangeet and in Bharatnatyam, Venu has been the epitome of versatility and consistency throughout school and college life. An EC engineer, she was a member of AIESEC & NU Tech where she managed various activities. She loves micro blogging and working for stray animal welfare. She is currently a management student at IIM Kozhikode (Class of 2015). You can read all her stories here. Twitter handle - @foodasaur

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