As a young boy, Vijay Arisetty would chat with the pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) at the airfield of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, where his father worked. Little did he know that he would join their ranks and be awarded one of the highest distinctions the Indian Armed Forces bestows for valour and self-sacrifice – The Shaurya Chakra.
Today, he is the co-founder and CEO of India’s best-known mobile-based security and community management solution for gated communities MyGate. He credits his learnings as a pilot for the meteoric rise that the company has witnessed.
As part of YourStory’s series, ‘Money Matters with Shradha Sharma’, — where we talk to experts, entrepreneurs, and investors for insights and inspiration — Vijay Arisetty speaks to YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma about disciplined innovation, facing challenges, and what success and money mean to him. Here are some of the highlights from that session.
Serving others is key to entrepreneurship
After graduating from the National Defence Academy (NDA), Vijay joined the IAF where he trained as a helicopter pilot. This was to be a pivotal moment in his life as the devastating tsunami of 2004 saw him perform search-and-rescue operations for hundreds of people stranded in the islands of Andamans and Nicobar. Not only did this earn him the Shaurya Chakra, it also laid the foundations for what would power the rest of his career decisions.
“There are a lot of things the armed forces taught me with respect to entrepreneurship, especially as a helicopter pilot. Helicopters generally go to places where there are no other means of communication. We are usually in an unknown area, and get limited information about our missions. We have to go there, figure it out, and get the job done. That in itself is entrepreneurial,” he says.
He also says that like in the armed forces, entrepreneurs have to manage with limited resources. “All this helped me join the civil world and taught me how to plan out my day or business or strategise for the future.”
When Vijay retired from the IAF after a shoulder injury, it was the first time he was living outside a cantonment in 14 years. “These were heavily guarded and secure areas. Our kids would go out and play and we were confident that nothing would happen. Civilian life proved to be very different,” he says. Vijay says he assured his wife that they would live in one of Bengaluru’s best gated communities. But despite the high rentals, Vijay was shocked to see how lax the security was at the gates. From domestic help to delivery executives, nothing was being done to differentiate between those who were coming into the society. “That’s when I decided we could solve the problem and design something that would help the security guards do their job seamlessly,” he says.
Do something better than you did yesterday
This was Vijay’s mantra ever since he was a child, and he says his career path has always stayed true to that.
“In school, everyone talked about becoming a doctor or an engineer. Nobody spoke about the NDA. People said it was very difficult to get in. So I decided to prepare with a single-minded focus,” he says.
Vijay went on to become the second person from his school to gain acceptance to the prestigious military academy.
His shoulder injury while in service meant he could no longer fly and would have to take on a desk job. But Vijay already had the next goal in his sights.
“I once had the opportunity to fly former Prime Minister Vajpayee to the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. On my return, I told my colleagues that I was going to do an MBA there. I studied to get in and did not even apply anywhere else.”
After graduating, he got his dream job at Goldman Sachs, which he calls a defining milestone in his life. Vijay discovered that the pace of life and work as a civilian was a lot more fluid and at a completely different pace than what he was accustomed to. “I went from being Squadron Leader Vijay to Vijay the civilian. I also learned a lot from my millennial colleagues and that transition was very important.”
The secret to success
In October 2016, Vijay quit Goldman Sachs and founded MyGate with Abhishek Kumar and Shreyans Daga. Today, they are present in 10,000 communities and 2 million homes and have raised $67.3 million in funding over three rounds.
“The first round of investment was used to build the team and get the right kind of talent. The second round was to make sure that we are able to demonstrate growth and that our product would work not only in Bengaluru or Hyderabad, but also in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi.
I think the third round of funding was for growth. In six months time, we went from 100 people to 600 people,” he says.
Welcoming the competition
With community management a growing sector, several players have entered the space with Reliance’ JioGate the most notable new entrant. Vijay welcomes the competition.
“I actually see the competition as an opportunity. With more people coming to solve the problem for residents, it’s a good thing. If there is a hurdle, we can help fill that gap. The best in the business will be the ones who will get the largest share of the pie.”
Data and community protection is key
Vijay says that MyGate takes data privacy very seriously.
“It’s very important for us that our clients trust that their data will not be misused. It’s like telling a lawyer or doctor everything knowing your information will be secure. We are in a similar business. So, none of our team members, employees, or community managers have access to your information.”
MyGate recently took on the mammoth task of being completely GDPR-compliant, one of the first internet consumer companies in India to do so. “We redesigned our entire infrastructure to make sure that none of the data is going out of the system. We employed consultants from outside and made sure that we are ISO 27001. We also studied and incorporated the recommendations from the privacy bill proposed by Justice Srikrishna.” This means that if anyone is trying to access a user’s data, the latter gets a notification about who is trying to access it.
Data is not the only thing that MyGate has amped up its controls over. With the COVID- 19 outbreak, the strictest measures have been implemented at all their communities. “COVID-19 has changed the way gates behave right now. We have introduced measures to ensure that not only the residents, but the guards who face maximum exposure are protected. We have built systems where the security guard does not have to interact with the visitors who come. It’s all completely contactless and social distancing is maintained at all times.”
Vijay says that hiring the right people has made all the difference to how nimble MyGate is, which made adapting to new requirements easy. “The Director General of Police (DGP) called me on March 22 and said that the number of cases in Karnataka had increased. That evening Prime Minister Modi announced the 21-day lockdown. We actually went to the DGP’s office with a prototype of the product on the morning of March 23, did a pilot on March 24, and rolled it out across our communities on March 25. So within 72 hours, we built this system which could not only handle past requirements, but take on new ones like passes for essential services, delivery executives, etc. making it easy not only for residents and businesses, but most importantly, for the police on the ground to validate, even if they did not have a smartphone and internet connection.”
The meaning of money
In keeping with the Money Matters with Shradha Sharma theme, when asked what money means to him, Vijay has an interesting take.
“Our social interactions are not governed by money. It’s there to fulfil our aspirations and I don’t have too many. My father said he wanted enough money to give me a 3x better lifestyle than he had. And he achieved that. I too want enough money to give my kids a 3x better life than I had. More than money, the kind of impact we as an organisation are going to make, on the people around us, is far more important to me.”
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