Serial Entrepreneur Shoba Purushothaman: Entrepreneurship Could Be the Defining Business Movement of the 21st Century

Shoba Purushothaman is an entrepreneur who has built companies in the U.S.,Europe and Asia.

Her early career was as a business journalist, including at Dow Jones & Co. in Washington DC, New York and London. She left journalism in 1994 to begin an entrepreneurial partnership with Anthony Hayward that continues to-date. Their first business, started in London, was successfully acquired in 2001 by a public company.

Their next business, The NewsMarket started up in New York City and pioneered online video distribution between the news and marketing industries. Shoba served as CEO until 2009, raising over $20 million in venture capital from top tier funds to build its technology platform, global footprint and blue chip client base that included Google, Intel, IOC, BMW, the U.S. State Department and Samsung. The NewsMarket and Shoba have won awards for technology, business model, rapid growth and entrepreneurship.

She is now focused on her third start-up, this time in India. Training Ventures (India) is building a portfolio of training businesses aimed at narrowing the skills gap as India becomes a key part of the world economy.

Shoba completed college in Australia and graduate school in the U.S. Born in Malaysia, she is of Tamil descent and speaks English, Tamil and Malay. She is now a U.S. citizen.

We spoke to Shoba about how it feels to be an entrepreneur in India right now; why she's changed her mind about all-women networks; and why she believes entrepreneurship could be the defining business movement of the 21st Century.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch Training Ventures?

SP: I had been coming to India on business since 1999 and around 2007 began to feel that building a business in India would be an exciting challenge. Then, on a business trip to India at the end of summer 2009, I knew that the moment was right – the energy in the air was electrifying. I felt an adrenalin rush to act immediately.

So, the inspiration was really about doing something in India. Six weeks later I arrived in India to begin working on a start-up.  

The decision to launch Training Ventures  – a portfolio of training and education products - was inspired by my career path over 20 years where I’ve worked in Asia, Europe and the US; this embedded a very ‘global’ perspective in my DNA. Secondly, my co-founder and I were inspired to capitalize on two areas of expertise we’ve built our careers on - digital technology and digital video. The education and training industry globally is being transformed by digital technology and the demands of an increasingly global marketplace and so we’re very inspired by being able to tackle a market opportunity on the back of our experience to-date.

TNW: How does Training Ventures distinguish itself from the competition?

SP: Three ways. First, our content is unique and addresses the specific problems faced by business and industry in the emerging New India where the skills gap is debilitating.  We spent a year collating information from industry operating in India and used this to create training programs that tackle the problems faced in building a world class workforce.

Second, our initial products target a market segment that is being neglected by the rest of the industry that is focused on a high volume, mass-market opportunity. So our market entry strategy is different.

And third, we’re taking the time and effort to build a very high quality foundation and have the luxury of being able to do this because we aren’t chasing a volume market and we are self-funded right now.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

SP: Critical. We see technology as our leverage, our accelerator to scaling and as our differentiator in locking in customers for long life cycles. We don’t even have a web site up yet, which is terribly old school but our efforts on the technology front are in several areas. Operationally, we are using it to bring process, for quality control and to enable scaling in what is a huge market. The other way we are using it is to build a community and extend customer relationships in multiple ways. The third way technology is defining our business is by enabling our clients to measure the ROI of our training programs.

TNW: What is next for Training Ventures? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

We are still in infancy – not even a year into our launch. We haven’t begun to even scratch the surface of what we want and need to do and so my list of “what’s next’ is painfully long right now! 

Technology is a key enabler for us but I think we will only truly begin to use and exploit its power later this year as we move from the infant stage to the next where we will scale customer numbers and widen the product portfolio.

TNW: How does it feel to be an entrepreneur in India right now, in such a time of economic growth?

SP: Often I wake up thinking starting up in India will prove to be the cleverest thing I’ve ever done. Although there’s a lot of global attention on the tremendous opportunities India offers, it’s a fact that most people living outside of India don’t really have a sense of just how terrific a market opportunity this is.

Our clients – who have come from all over the world to India - are experiencing double-digit revenue growth and the biggest issue for them is getting their teams to a level of performance that can deliver to the best global standards. It’s hard not to be thrilled by that kind of market potential for our business.
And, its also wonderful to be an entrepreneur in a market size of 1.2 billion where you don’t need to worry in the same way about “market size”, “barriers to entry” and “competition” – three things that I think many entrepreneurs in other markets often have to defend.

And then there are times where I think I am a certified lunatic for trying a start-up in India.

Because despite all the giddy statistics and the undeniable market opportunity, being an entrepreneur in India is not for the faint-hearted.

At a personal level (entrepreneurs are after all people too!) I find being in India right now very stimulating because of the significant social change that is also taking place. It’s great to be in a place that you feel is going through a historic cultural, social and economic shift.

Although my ancestors came from India, that was about five generations ago and I have no family here and have never lived in India. And so, India is familiar enough to be comfortable but different enough to be exciting.

TNW: At The NewsMarket you raised $20 million in angel and Tier One venture capital funding. What are your top tips for female founders looking to raise capital for their business?  

SP: It’s easier than it’s ever been for women to access capital, although I recognize that that’s not saying much!

But with the options expanding, I think women can afford to get more selective about the kind of investors they look for and bring into the business.

The evolving climate also means women can get bolder about their ask and stand firmer with negotiating a fair deal.

TNW: What lessons did you learn from launching The NewsMarket and Bulletin International which you went on to apply when launching Training Ventures?  

SP: One lesson was that it was terrific to have built Bulletin out of P&L and not to have raised any outside capital.

I think it’s very empowering for a start-up to actually get to sustainable revenue generation without outside capital if you can.

It instills a different discipline and unleashes creativity and a sense of urgency that is hard to replicate when you have a bank balance. We are doing that with Training Ventures now.

The other is to always listen to what your gut tells you about people – whether they are employees, business alliances or investors. If in doubt, never be afraid to walk away.

TNW: Tell us about the transition from journalist in a large corporation to founder of a business. What aspects of branching out on your own were a challenge and which did you enjoy most?

SP: Well, I was lucky as a journalist because I worked for two of the best brands in the news industry in their respective markets. I didn’t need to explain who I was or why I was calling and certainly, didn’t need to justify why anyone should pay attention to me. And, at that time at least, working for a media company didn’t mean you had to worry about a paycheck!

As a start-up entrepreneur you have to prove why someone should pay attention to you – whether it’s a customer, prospective employee, banker, investor or business partner.

But I think the payoff for that downside comes very quickly with the huge sense of accomplishment, gratification and adrenalin rush that making things happen all on your own brings. And now, after more than a decade as an entrepreneur in multiple places around the globe, it’s great to feel that you can be master of your own destiny.

I think journalism, particularly business journalism sets you up very well for entrepreneurship. After reporting on the biggest corporations, brands and interviewing business leaders, you do become more fearless and confident about taking things on.

TNW: How did it feel to sell Bulletin International after founding it and running it for six years? Did you ever doubt that you would go on to found another business?

SP: Actually, my co-founder and I sold Bulletin because we had come up with the idea for The NewsMarket and wanted to pursue that market opportunity. But in the early years of Bulletin, if you had told me that we would sell it and go on to start another business I would never have believed that because I think initially you are so focused on the big idea and you just can’t imagine any other possibility. Then possibilities present themselves and you know that you just have to go for it.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

SP: I only recently discovered DWEN but I am delighted that I am getting the full immersion now because DWEN 2012 is happening in Delhi, India in June and I shall be an enthusiastic participant.

I was someone who originally didn’t take to the idea of all-women networks because I didn’t think gender should be factor. Now, I realize that it’s a critical aspect of being in the game.

We live in a very networked marketplace today and as globalization deepens, networks of common goals and interests will become increasingly important.

TNW: You have worked in the US and India. Generally speaking, what could the two cultures learn from each other in the way they do business?

SP: I’m not sure you have enough space for that! I think that for now, India probably has a lot more to learn from the U.S. simply because global business has evolved in a way that is more aligned with US business practice than probably any other style of business. If I had to summarize this, I would say India needs to embrace a culture of global business professionalism that comes from having the right kind of processes, skills and values.

However, I think that India is redefining the concept of innovation that will probably teach the rest of the world including the U.S. that innovating in the face of a lack of basic infrastructure and purchasing power is not only possible but can change the fortunes of millions. Some of the most astounding products and services are being launched here that most entrepreneurs and companies in the US would assume takes millions of dollars and plenty of other resources.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?

SP: If you look at one of the major challenges facing many economies around the world today, it’s creating sufficient jobs. All statistics point to the fact that jobs aren’t going to suddenly reappear and indeed, may be lost forever.

That’s why I believe that entrepreneurship has the potential to be the defining movement of the 21st century in the business world.

With technology and globalization removing borders, there’s truly never been a better time to take an entrepreneurial path.

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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