Kunal-Kishore-Dhawan
  1. Tell us something about yourself and your background?

I come from a simple middle-class background – with both parents in professional services, my father being a chartered accountant, and mother teaching travel trade and tourism.  I was born and brought up in Delhi, did my schooling in Springdales School, Dhaula Kuan. Then moved just a building down the same road to Sri Venkateswara College, the University of Delhi for my Bachelors of Science (Honors) in Biochemistry. After which, I left for my Masters to the US which I completed in 2012 in the field of Biotechnology and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania.

  1. What was your childhood like? What dreams and goals did you have for your life after you completed your studies?

I would like to say that I had a pretty normal childhood, as a part of an Indian joint family – with my grandmother, parents, uncle, aunt and a younger brother – all living together. The size of the family did reduce with my uncle and aunt moving out to live in the Middle East in the late 90s. Being a typical 90s kid, I enjoyed watching Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon when I had my meals. I enjoyed the 8-bit video online casino games, playing cricket and football with my friends in school and around my house. But I did pursue my fair share of hobbies. I learned Indian classical and semi-classical music for over 11 years, went for inter-school and inter-college quizzes, wrote Hindi poetry and read a lot of books (which I try to do even now).

My dreams haven’t been constant. Changes took place quite frequently, especially during my early years. I always had an interest in biology, having been taught the subject since childhood by my grandmother, I thought of doing something in the same field. I loved reading about space and the astronauts from NASA and thought of combining the two to work in the field of Exobiology – the study of life in outer space. Next came a phase when I started pursuing wildlife biology, having a love for wild animals, but that didn’t really pan out. A part of me even thought I should pursue music as a full-time career option, but I guess I just wasn’t courageous enough to do so.

I then seriously started thinking about what I wanted to do when I reached the 10th grade. The decision to take up biology was a no-brainer, but what specifically within it was still up in the air. I tried studying for medical entrance exams for a year along with my 11thgrade but got thoroughly disillusioned by the state of the torture centers masquerading as “coaching institutes”, who managed to put me off medical studies completely.

Towards the end of school, I had pretty much made up my mind to take up Biology or a field of Biology in college.

  1. What are you currently doing? What motivated you to do this and how do you feel about it?

I am currently the Founder and CEO of a Health Tech Company – Navia Life Care. We developed some interesting and innovative mobile-based products to improve patients’ health. I feel entrepreneurship for me has been a long time coming. Having worked in a corporate environment for a few years after completing my education, I got a taste of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, as well as a flavor of what is needed to run a company.

More importantly, it was while I was completing my Masters that my professors starting hinting at the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, which got a small part of my mind thinking about it as a possible career option. Stagnation of my growth in my corporate job, and a seeming lack of respect for my experience and position among companies that I was applying to for a change in jobs got me thinking actively about it again, and sooner than I could have believed it, the Navia Life Care journey had started.

To be honest, how I feel about it changes every day, sometimes multiple times each day. It is dependent on how the company is progressing, how well or badly it is doing, what is the market feedback and much more. But overall, I would like to think I had made the right decision.

My thoughts through the process have matured, prompting me to fix goals for myself, and this is the first step to achieving them.

  1. What struggles did you face? Did you get any support from your family & friends?

I have faced challenges at every step of my way, but I wouldn’t go as far to call them my struggles. I consider myself to be privileged – coming from a well-to-do-family who faced several struggles prior to my entry into real life – so as to shield me from them.

There have been instances where there have been significant drawbacks, such that the one I faced while I was preparing for medical entrance exams and the disillusionment with the coaching centers. Then there was the time when I left for my undergraduate degree to New York University soon after finishing high school, but just couldn’t adjust to the environment there, and had to return to India to complete college here instead.

Turning to entrepreneurship hasn’t also been straightforward, with the inertia of an easy job holding me back for the longest time. I was never in a situation where I was struggling to manage my finances or having a family to feed, but not getting periodic salaries, or seeing my savings dwindle while I built the company.

My parents were apprehensive when I decided to get into this line of work, as neither of them had experienced it before. My mother had set up a travel institute previously but did not have much success in that, so she shifted to a role that made her excel in her core competency. Similarly, I had never worked on digital technologies and was not a coder, so setting up a company in that domain made them nervous. But they did not discourage me at any point. And I was always comfortable with their presence, I could bank on them if that situation ever arose. I only started giving myself deadlines when I got married, and although my wife has a career of her own, it did add a bit of pressure.

  1. Do you have any role models in your life who influenced you? What lessons did that person teach you?

I don’t think I have ever had any role models, but there have been several people who I have followed closely or have influenced me in different ways. During my early childhood, these were renowned wildlife biologists including Steve Irwin, Jeff Corwin, and Sir David Attenborough.

I have found the writings of Richard Dawkins and Matt Ridley very interesting, and have shaped my scientific temper. Richard Dawkins’ writings made me question the existence of God, and was critical in my turning into an atheist.

As I grew up, the influencers came closer to home. Each has had a role to play in shaping me into what I am today.

From my grandmother, I learned that one shouldn’t let a loss deter one’s spirit – she lost her husband almost 29 years ago but is the most spirited person I have ever seen in my life. My father taught me what it takes to be a man – honesty, punctuality, hard work, and always being there for family because ultimately family is the only thing that is there for a person even when they lose everything. From my mother I learned what it is to be a human – overcoming difficulties, adapting to adversity, and not letting failure stop me. My wife has taught me humility, loyalty, and importance of being a good person. There is value in being grounded, come what may, and for this I credit her. Each of my close friends has had a bearing on my personality.

Each comes with their fair share of qualities – grit, tenacity, diplomacy, and much more. Although it is impossible for one person to possess each of them, one should make efforts to learn whatever they can.

My professors in college and Masters too have had a huge effect – teaching me how to balance business with science, and negotiation techniques, the importance of the first impression, and how to crack deals – all of which have been critical in helping me setting up this business.

  1. How has been the journey so far, did you ever felt like giving up? And if you could recount the instance for our readers.

The journey to set up any company is always full of ups and downs. There are the good days and there are the bad days. Sometimes, the good and bad happens within the same day. But it is something that needs to be accepted. From the time it was all but a scribbled-on white board to today, with paying customers, satisfied users and an angel investor, I feel we have come a long way. But there is a realization that we still have a while to go. There definitely have been times when I felt like picking something else, although not necessarily giving up. I had decided to give myself 1 year to assess the business properly, but upon advice from several veterans decided to stretch it to 1.5 years.

There were times around January and February this year, where it seemed that we will not be able to stretch our resources to last the entire time, but having a clear focus and timeframe helped tide over that period as well.

  1. In your difficult phases, what keeps you motivated/what makes you hold on?

I guess having a long-term vision helps, and having a clear sense of purpose. Plus my family is a huge motivator. I strive to see the pride on my father’s face and to hear a “well done” from my wife. Also, I refuse to have Plan Bs. I realized that if you have a Plan B, then you don’t give everything for Plan A, and that is the reason why the task will fail. Till Plan A doesn’t crash and burn completely, keep at it, and don’t even think about anything else. Entrepreneurship is tough, but can be managed – all it takes is patience.

  1. What do you see as your place or purpose in life? How did you come to that conclusion?

My purpose is simple – be better than you think you can be. My place is clear – with family – with my wife beside me and my parents and grandmother and brother around me. The realization was gradual, as I stayed around and away from loved ones. Growing as a professional made me realize that there are many things that need to be improved or things that could be built, so I fixed a target of making 10 things during my lifetime and Navia Life care is the first of those.

  1. As we launch this platform “AlphaIndians,” how do you think it will help people know the unsung stories of our nation?

I think AlphaIndians would have the most impact if it went to the hinterlands of our country to find the real gems. Urban India would no doubt have several success stories but it is the not-so-easily accessible places – the Tier2, 3, 4 towns, the villages – that are in need for avenues to showcase talent. And don’t just build stories around the successes, showcase those who tried and failed also, as they too tried to bring about change in the country.

  1. How do you define yourself as an AlphaIndian? What best advice would you like to leave for our readers?

When I think about AlphaIndians, I think about pioneers – the first of their kind – which I definitely don’t think I am. But I would strive to be one day. Someday, I too could make or build something that would be the first of its kind, or pave a path not yet taken. That day, I could definitely be called an AlphaIndian.

I think my previous answers do give a lot to think about if read carefully. There is a lot one can learn from the people around them – so keep your eyes and ears open always. Strive to be better than what you may think you are capable of. Work towards being a better person – one who values the lives of others, one who understands the importance of family, acknowledges the role that parents and loved ones play in shaping one’s life, and all in all, make the world a better place by their smallest of gestures. A simple “thank you” to your parents, to your partners, to even the people who help you manage your lives, goes a long way. And lastly, be prepared to wait – for good things do happen to those who are prepared to wait, but work during the waiting time.

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