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Entrepreneur Profile: Phanindra Sama, Redbus

By Aditya Prathipati, MEMP, ’14

During Diwali 2006, a young electronics engineer working for Texas Instruments in Bangalore, India, wanted to take a bus and go home to be with his family. Destiny did not let him go home. Instead it provoked him to create a business that let millions of Indians book ‘bus tickets’ online. Phanindra Sama created Redbus which is now one of the most successful ventures in India. Redbus was nominated one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world and was recently acquired by Naspers.

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I recently had the privilege of conversing with Phani and it was definitely an enlightening experience. The following is a summary of the Q & A we had.

Q. If you had to ‘start-up’ again with a similar idea (like Redbus), would you be doing anything differently? What was a special learning you had during the growth of Redbus?

Phani had a couple of interesting things to share here. He stressed the importance of front end hiring. Generally, when it is a new business, people get so caught up and busy that they tend to give hiring less priority. But a good keen eye for the right people always pays off. It would also get you the A-team senior management in place faster and effectively.

Another lesson during the process of entrepreneurship has been about leadership. You can find a number of videos with Phani giving some insightful tips on leadership. One of the key things to note about leadership is knowing when to put your foot down and knowing when to be open to ideas. Good leaders strike a balance between kind heartedness and decisiveness.

Q. Being an electronics engineer, were you able to apply any of your skills from electronics in your company?

While Phani might not have been able to put exact electronics engineering material to work in Redbus, he definitely could identify some key transferable skills. Certain attributes like problem solving, getting to the depths of subjects to clearly understand the world around you, realizing the importance of sophisticated technology and simple concepts help you greatly in a business. Moreover, an aptitude for such learning would give you more confidence in yourself.

Q. I hear that you are thinking of turning into an investor. If you were investing in a new venture, what would you be looking for?

People. The team that initiates and executes the venture is the crux and soul of the start-up. Though a certain amount of diversity in the team is good for everyone, a team without the right chemistry will not be able to pivot success. Phani also reflected that this was one of the main reasons why they were not only able to survive but also be in a competitive position.

Q. A personal question. You have a reputation of being very humble and simple. How do you stay so grounded? What is your approach towards people?

To this question Phani laughed and said “I actually don’t know. I was told that I am humble and I even asked my wife about it. I guess I just am the way I am.”

In one of his interviews, Phani had mentioned why he leads a simple life. He says that if you lead a simple and natural life, irrespective of the turns your life takes, you will sustain yourself and not find it traumatic. “You should let life be unfair to you sometimes”

What a novel, profound thought!


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