Venkatesh Thyagarajan is the dynamic and personable CEO of Cabot Solutions, with offices in Infopark and Thevara (in Kochi). I have known the Cabot Solutions team for a year. They always impress me with their forward thinking and new ideas.
Jennifer: Venkatesh, good day. Thank you for your time today to participate in this interview.
Venkatesh: Good day Jennifer. Thank you for choosing to talk to me and your interest in Cabot Solutions.
Jennifer: I think the thing that strikes me most about you is your approachability. Your team members can approach you openly and talk frankly about what is on their mind, and you are also equally open and frank with them. How do you think this relationship with your team members (aka employees) helps your business success and growth?
Venkatesh: I believe it is a big part of my personality that I am open and approachable. Over the years, I have had the good fortune of working closely with some great leaders and I have noticed that all of them had this trait, so I have picked some of it from experience as well. Looking at a team perspective, I feel that a lot of anxiety and stress a team member goes through while working for you can be negated by sharing information that is pertinent to them. Approachability is the first step towards maintaining a good corporate communication culture. Cabot is still a very small firm with about 100 employees and it is quite important that we have the so called ‘family’ culture where team members feel that they belong there and they take ownership and pride in their work. That will only come if they can relate to who is on the top of the organization and align their personal goals and vision with that of the organization. And this directly translates into an empowered and motivated team member and we all know how valuable that is for achieving business results.
Jennifer: Just having visited the Cabot Solutions website, and from following your company news on Facebook, I know that the company is growing quickly. As a CEO this must be exciting! What advice would you have for other CEOs with quickly growing companies when it comes to balancing personable interactions with team members, clients and still finding time for family and personal life?
Venkatesh: I have to admit that managing growth is a challenge, but a very interesting and rewarding one. I am not sure if I am really qualified to be dispensing advice to other CEOs, but I can make an attempt ☺ The way I look at it is to make every minute you spend at the office or at home count. When I am in the office, I try to walk around the desks to chat to folks whom I haven’t interacted in a while. I also do scheduled lunches with teams of employees once or twice a month and it gives me a chance to know what is happening in their lives and work. Dropping in at the kitchen during a tea break once or twice a week is a great way for some informal chit chat that goes a long way. The same applies to family and personal life. All of a sudden I might find that my afternoon opened up due to a cancelled meeting or something finished early. I take that opportunity to spend time with family. And when I have an overload of documentation or other admin work to do, I make it a point to work from home where in I put in around 12 hours of desk time , but with a bit of interruptions here and there to have lunch with family or to pick up kids from school etc. Basically, living at the moment and making use of every minute wisely is the key, I cant say that I have mastered this yet, but I am working on it.
Jennifer: I believe Cabot Solutions has a few initiatives to encourage employees in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. There must be so many ideas for CSR related programs. How does Cabot go about choosing the right ones? What are a few initiatives that Cabot Solutions promotes?
Venkatesh: I am a firm believer of the saying ‘Give a man a fish, he will eat for one day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime ‘. Going by this, I don’t believe in dispensing money to organizations as part of our CSR. Our CSR goals go both ways, one is to have a long lasting and productive impact on the community that we choose to work and the other one is to transform the lives of the volunteers who are part of the CSR program. Recently, we completed a 12 week engagement at a government school in Edapally, in partnership with Navbharath foundation. The program is called Mentor India and its slogan is Changing India one classroom at a time. Our team of volunteers were involved with three classes of the 9th grade in the school. Over the duration of the program, we engaged the students in many active discussions revolving social ethics, concerns for the environment, healthy habits etc. Though I won’t go and claim that we changed the lives of 90 students, in the final presentation ceremony, I could see that we had changed at least 10 students for the better. Many of them thanked us for our efforts and that was a huge reward for our team that did the volunteer work.
Going forward also, we plan to work with the younger generation and help them shape up their careers and lives and make the right choices.
Jennifer: Is there anything else important to share about CSR initiatives in Cabot Solutions?
Venkatesh: I guess I have covered the most important aspects of the initiative above. A side goal of the CSR is to develop good corporate citizens as well and our team is gaining a lot of new perspectives as they partake in such activities. I hope they also see to it that it is not always about profit making or earning a higher salary but also about giving back to the community that supports us.
Jennifer: Back to the background of Cabot Solutions. Is there anything unique to share about the company that not many people know about?
Venkatesh: Cabot is a bit different from a lot of other similar organizations in the area in the fact that from the day of inception till now, we have managed to seek clients and projects from our target markets without actually being there or even traveling there frequently. Based on my exposure to similar IT start-ups, at least one of the founders of such organizations will be living abroad and act as a conduit for projects to come in. In our case, both the directors of the company, Shibu and I, want to live in India and give priority to the work life balance. This outlook has been reflected throughout the organization and in every decision we take. This is not to say that we are not aggressive to market our services, but we believe that people should have a good work life balance and enjoy what they are doing.
We probably have the most employee friendly rules, if you want to call them rules for lack of a better word, around working from home or sick leave or even care during emergency situations. I personally don’t think this is such a huge deal, but when I speak to people from other organizations, often they are surprised to hear our lenient outlook on these and that’s when I realize what we are doing.
Our long term goal is to be the employer of choice in the region and I see that we are well on our way to achieve that status in the next five years.
Jennifer: How was the name “Cabot Solutions” chosen?
Venkatesh: The word Cabot came to Shibu’s mind (He named the firm , not I) from his pleasant experienced he had had at Cabot Trail, a very picturesque and serene place in Nova Scotia, Canada. When the firm was started, we wanted to have a market focus in Canada, especially Atlantic Canada. The word ‘Cabot´ connects well with Atlantic Canadians and we kept the name.
Jennifer: I know Cabot Solutions specializes in Mobile Apps. What are two or three of the most interesting projects? What made these particular projects stand out? (Feel free to share any links to these apps if they are open for public purchase. We can also put images of them if available.)
Venkatesh: These apps are best demonstrated through the PowerPoint below.
Jennifer: What is the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for Cabot Solutions?
Venkatesh: Our biggest selling point is our dedication to the projects that we have chosen to accept. Once we accept a project, we make sure we deliver the project to the satisfaction of our end clients, no matter what challenges we have to encounter. It is hard to be on time and on budget in any IT project, and anyone who has worked in an IT project can vouch for that. As a vendor, it is sometimes hard on us when the projects go beyond the projected timeline and it increases our costs and cuts our bottom line on the project. But we are empathetic to our clients and ensure that the project is delivered even at our loss, so that the clients get value for the resources they have spent on the project. Many of our clients have sent in appreciation letters for this kind of commitment that we display on our projects. And that is also our primary reason why have a very high retain rates for our clients. This also partly explains one of my above answers as to why we are not living in the US and sending projects to India. In one way, our clients do it for us by bringing us repeat business and recommending other clients.
Jennifer: As much of the client base for Cabot Solutions is situated abroad, what advice do you have for Malayalees or Indians who regularly interact with foreign, and specifically North American clients?
Venkatesh: My first and foremost advice would be to become good listeners. This is a skill that I find lacking in our youngsters especially. I can understand that it is difficult to stare at a speaker phone or a computer screen and listen to the voice that is coming through it and make heads or tails out of it, especially when it is a foreign accent too, but we have to give it a hard try and master this if we need to build a career in Indian IT industry.
The second piece of advice would be to ask questions when we don’t understand a subject. It is ingrained in our culture not to ask too many questions and we just nod our head and move on. This is a very harmful behavior and would lead to several issues in IT projects.
The key to both points above is the command over the English language and also to understand the nuances of communicating with Americans. I think that is where we all could use some help from outside.
Jennifer: At the start of the interview, I mentioned your unique relationship with your team members. What are the best qualities in your team members? What kind of qualities (outside of technical skills) are important to have to be a successful team member at Cabot Solutions?
Venkatesh: At Cabot, we not only value the core skills needed to perform the job, but we also look at the numerous other soft skills they bring to the table. At around 100 members, we have one of the most vibrant teams in Kochi Infopark. Motivation, Leadership, Compassion, Team work, Responsibility, Sense of Humour are all characteristics of a successful team member in Cabot. Right from the day we started Cabot, our goal has been to build a team that can conquer anything that is on its way. Going by that vision, we have always welcomed people into our team for their strengths and we would like to continue to grow in the same fashion.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for spending your time with Authentic Journeys. Have a wonderful and successful 2014!
Venkatesh: Thank you Jennifer for the discussion. By way of answering your questions, I also got a chance to do some introspection and the process authenticated many of my beliefs in our team and in our path that we have chosen to follow. You have also played a role in our success so far and I hope we can continue to work together in building successful companies like Cabot, right here in Kochi. To continue this discussion with Venkatesh or to learn more, click here to contact Cabot Solutions.
Venkatesh and Cabot Solutions is featured on Authentic Journeys as part of the Infopark Startup Series. Images, PowerPoint, and logo used with permission.
Be on the look out for more interviews with Startup Companies here on Authentic Journeys.
More about Cabot Solutions:
Cabot Conversations: MyStrong Circle Case Study (Podcast)
Working With Americans: Stories and Lessons from Cabot Solutions
The previous interview in this series was with Venu Gopalakrishnan of Litmus7.
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