Slide Is Optimism
the Secret Ingredient
in Innovation?

Startup-O Stars is a series that captures stories of authentic tech entrepreneurs from Asia, to share their insights, learnings, tips & resources with the community. It aims to foster a deeper understanding of these journeys, direct from the trenches.

Ankit Karamchandani
– Co-Founder and CEO – Redsky

Ankit Karamchandani, co-founder and CEO of Redsky talks to Startup-O Stars about leaving a large corporation to pursue his idea.

It is fair to say that Ankit Karamchandani has built his career on positivity and optimism. He launched his startup Redsky in 2016, after a 6-year stint in Unilever. Looking back over the last 3 years, he is quick to point out several high points of his journey so far.

“My days are packed, and in general, the experience is fun,” he says of his life as a nomadic entrepreneur. In a month, 10 days are spent in Bangalore, 10 in Bombay, and the balance in Singapore, where his wife lives and works.


How to freefall into entrepreneurship

Ankit’s dream took shape while he was heading Retail Innovation for Unilever in India (HUL). The idea for Redsky grew out of an attempt to digitise market data. Where many employees would hesitate, Ankit didn’t. He approached a senior manager, whose casual remark suggesting he launch the project as a business, sparked an epic journey. His inherent optimism allowed Ankit to take the plunge into entrepreneurship based on a solid idea, a white paper, and little else. As he walked away from his job at Unilever, he says, “I was brimming with confidence. Ironically, that was to be depleted within the first 6 months.” Ankit advises entrepreneurs-in-the-making that the first 9 months are critical – “if you can survive those, you can survive the journey.” The key, he says, is to be as emotionally and financially sound as possible, as the rest is rarely ‘rocket science’. Like all first-time founders, Ankit had a few surprises ahead of him. “The first 6 months were eye-opening,” he says, of a time when “I had no idea what was going to come my way!” He describes this period as being hilarious and scary in equal measure. Decisions and learning curves loomed large – Ankit had not practiced as an engineer in a decade, and had to make inroads into the technology world. Bootstrapped funds were limited and needed to be deployed with care. The regulatory regime, deadlines, taxes, filings, were all new and needed attention.

“Making that the first 9 months are critical. If you can survive those, you can survive the journey."


What does it take to find joy in a 75% pay cut?

Walking away from a regular salary was easier for Ankit compared to many others, as he is frugal by nature. Ankit went from a regular salary to none at all, then to one-fiftieth of what he was earning. Three years on, he earns a quarter of his previous salary. In this regard, Ankit highlights a trait that he considers key in his journey, namely, comfort with uncertainty. “Entrepreneurship is not your game if you need to know where you will be in 6 months to a year,” he says, referring to promotions, projects, and learning, as well as income. He is at ease with following the path that Redsky charts for him. Instead, he is motivated to make his ideas take shape, make an impact, change how his industry does things and add efficiency. He believes that spending on the product is key; a whopping 30% of all spend by Redsky is on innovation. Future readiness, impact, and driving change make this entrepreneur tick far more than monetary rewards. Entrepreneurship is exciting, in Ankit’s view. An entrepreneur has the capacity to align everyone’s interests, and to create win-win solutions for clients, stakeholders, teams and themselves. This broader world view allows for genuine problem-solving and promotes collaboration.

“Entrepreneurship is not your game if you need to know where you will be in 6 months to a year.”


Things he took with him on his journey, and some that he actively shed

Ankit’s foundation was built during his 6-year stint with Unilever, which provided him with an exceptional understanding of the retail industry, as well as the skills to manage people and change. For this he credits their management traineeship program, wherein, at the age of 23, he was managing a 25-member team. He credits his business school background with having given him on the ground skills such as, cash flow management, projection, and identifying and tracking the most relevant metrics. These, he feels, are greatly significant for entrepreneurs, who can often be influenced by emotion and gut feel. “Having the right objective metrics to measure help you keep your feet on the ground. Positivity can only take you so far, so you need to plan for the right things at the right time,” he believes, of the need to deploy measurable tools in his business. There were, however, other attributes that he needed to shed for this journey. The corporate world allows its employees time away from the job – whereas most founders will attest to the fact that they never can truly switch off in the same way. Secondly, he needed to shed the need for recognition that a corporate job builds into its system, via promotions, bonuses, reviews, and ‘pats on the back’. An entrepreneur needs to learn to be their own champion and laud their own achievements, milestones and goals. As Ankit explains it, “success parameters need to be more internalised rather than externalised.” The biggest adjustment, however, was the need to be entirely self-driven and -reliant. At his corporate job, every day came with a task list, a structure, and myriad opportunities to grow and create. Here, he found himself at a loss, unnerved by the prospect of a day that wasn’t already packed with meetings, a phone that was not constantly ringing and an inbox that wasn’t flooded with hundreds of emails.

"Success parameters need to be more internalized rather than externalized."


Who needs burnt bridges when we can all win?

In an interesting departure from the expected norm, Ankit did not burn bridges when he resigned from Unilever. Instead, he soon engaged them as a client. For this, he credits the lasting bonds and networks he built in his time with the organisation.

His intimate knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the organisation, and its priorities and constraints allowed him to turn this dream into reality. He was able to turn this knowledge into a tactical strength by making himself visible and available. His message to his old employer was, that he is there to solve problems.

In this respect, he advises new entrepreneurs to show flexibility when approaching a large prospective client. The initial focus with large scale clients needs to be getting a foot in the door. For example, his first project for Unilever was not directly related to Redsky’s mission, rather it was part of an effort to make Redsky known to Unilever, to become an approved vendor, and from there to grow the relationship by demonstrating value.

The overarching objective in these early stages should be to create top of mind recall in the prospect’s management hierarchy, to position one’s startup as a problem-solver that can engage with flexibility. Large organisations tend to be process-bound, for example, vendors of products and services need to be approved. Ankit advises other founders of B2B startups to do all that they can to become approved vendors to such clients, to promote meaningful long-term engagement.

"Having the right objective metrics to measure help you keep your feet on the ground."


Onward and upward for Redsky

That Redsky is on its intended trajectory is beyond doubt – they are currently expanding across 2,000 stores, a complex and rewarding process that entails much planning, testing and dry runs. Further down the road, they will take their products into new geographical markets in Southeast Asia, as well as add to their suite of products. In charting this course, Ankit continues to be driven by innovation. With several patents filed, Ankit is focused on building an innovation pipeline that will help small retailers to access the best tools to make them competitive in this digital era. At its heart, Redsky aims to offer small retailers the same tools that modern chains are privileged to deploy – thereby modernising the sector as a whole. Ankit knows the Indian retail market like the back of his hand – facts, figures and concepts come naturally to him, and he is focused on using this knowledge to make an impact on the landscape.

Startup-O is South East Asia’s leading platform for startup assessments, investments, and venture building. It was created with ‘Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs’ ethos at the core of its design. The assessment platform coupled with venture funds helps with systematic discovery & investing in high traction tech startups. These promising growth startups are selected through a transparent process which is a blend of multi-stage online evaluations conducted by seasoned global experts & proprietary ranking algorithms on the platform.