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 ‘Start-ups are the fuel that drive an economy’s development’

Apeejay School Pitampura alumnus Harshit Marwah, who helps business founders understand users through data analytics at Mixpanel, had made up his mind to work in an innovative start-up ecosystem much before ‘Shark Tank’ made it fashionable

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Apeejay School, Pitampura alumnus Harshit Marwah works with early-stage founders and product managers, helping them leverage the power of data to understand their users better at Mixpanel, Bengaluru. Ever since he was in class 5, the world of technology and coding has fascinated Marwah, he tells us. In a wide-ranging interview, among other subjects, he recollects why he was never keen on a conventional office job, fond memories of playing football at Apeejay School, Pitampura and how product analytics can help businesses serve their users better. Edited excerpts:

Please take us through your career progress since the time you studied at Apeejay School, Pitampura. Did you always want to take up a career in Science and tech?

I did my schooling from Apeejay School, Pitampura in the Sciences stream with Physics, Chemistry, Maths and computers in 2010. The thought-process behind taking up Science and pursuing engineering was my love for technology. So much so that I had been coding even as a child since class 5 and I did that throughout school till class 12.  I was clear in pursuing a course close to technology and engineering. So, for my B.Tech and MBA, I joined an integrated bachelors and masters course at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.

For the uninitiated, please demystify the world of Product Analytics.

As the mobile population and the internet population of the world increases, more and more businesses are now online-facing. Product Analytics helps you to measure what users are up to on your platforms. So basically, on digital products, if you want to understand what your users are doing, a field like product analytics, or user behaviour analytics is critical. Put simply, it’s a way of measuring what your users are doing on your apps or on your digital products.

Before Mixpanel, you have worked with Zomato and subsequently with Verloop in Singapore. Please share with us your experience and the highlights of your professional journey so far.

After my MBA, I had a corporate MNC offer but I did not pursue that and took the risk of joining Zomato because I wanted to work for a brand which I could touch and feel. Zomato by then was like one of those products which I would interact with every day as a user and I absolutely loved the product. So it started from a kind of cold e-mail to Zomato that I am a fresher who wants a job. And from there, the whole passion towards start-ups kicked in for me.  Then another cold email to Razorpay later, I joined them as their 20th employee. At that time, the company was just Series-A funded and I spent five and a half years with them across different functions, wherever there was a requirement. During this time, I saw the company go from Series-A stage to Series-E of funding and roughly $7 billion in valuation. Then, I moved to another company since I wanted to stay close to technology. The logic was similar behind moving to Verloop and then Mixpanel: Get to work with start-ups and founders and help them resolve critical problems. So today I work with start-ups and help them build better products with the help of data using Mixpanel.

For those who want to wrap their head around it, what exactly do you do to help early-stage founders?

While there are certain revenue numbers that I focus on, my sole goal is to work with early-stage founders and help build better products using Mixpanel. Typically in the start-up sector, you reach out to people for any and every kind of help. And then whoever can jump in to help out with the problem, people do that. So, right from referring people to start-ups about a good opportunity, to helping them solve problems is part of that. Broadly, we help leverage the power of data and to help understand the users and then provide them solutions.

You’ve been associated with the world of start-ups for a long time. But they appear to be catching the popular imagination now, thanks to shows such as Shark Tank India. Is it becoming more acceptable in our society to encourage the youth to launch start-ups than when you started? How were things for a start-up enthusiast back then?

I think back when I was in college, I would follow a bunch of American platforms. A little bit of reading and watching shows from the US made me curious about the world of start-ups. I think more importantly, it was the fact that I didn’t want to do a conventional run-of-the-mill office job. That was my motivation.  Working for an MNC, what was the mission I could have related to? I felt I should be working in a job with which I feel fresh and motivated every morning? So that is why working for a brand that I can touch and feel came up and Zomato was that brand. I could download that app and see the value-add.  And then I joined Zomato. As I kept reading more about the start-up world and the problems solved by companies in the US such as Google and Microsoft and the value that they brought, I got even more interested in it. My peer network in college was another factor behind this. A few of my very close friends from college have their own start-ups. So we as a group used to feel that doing something of our own or contributing to a mission like this would help us give greater meaning to life. Even during my internships in college I was never inclined towards finding internships at a huge corporation. I wanted to work with a smaller team, in which I could identify and discuss my motivation better. Even in one of the internship interviews in college, I said I wanted to launch a business of my own and I told them about my idea. The managers asked me to present a business plan for a start-up. I could not pursue it full time but I did prepare a business plan and shared it with them. That kind of made me even stronger in my motivation. Most of my friends in the peer group ended up joining start-ups.

Would you still want to realise your dream of launching a start-up of your own one day, and in which sector?

Not in the near future, but yeah sometime in life I would like to take up the entrepreneurial challenge and it is likely to be in software.  

Please share your memories of the time you spent at Apeejay, School, Pitampura.

I think I’ve had the same set of boys as friends since nursery, all the way up till now. Of course, the number of people who I talk to on a regular basis is lesser, but we are all in touch. We may meet once every two years but that friendship still continues. In terms of fond memories, the amount of football we played is something my friends and I can always relate to. Initially we did not even have goalposts in the school due to certain reasons. And when we were in our 10th grade, we went to a zonal football tournament. Mr DK Bedi, the principal, told us that if we cleared even one or two rounds, he would get us goalposts and we ended up winning the tournament.

Which position did you play in and do you still follow the Beautiful Game?

I played in the midfield. No, I don’t follow any clubs or the game, but regularly playing every day in school has helped me build a fitter lifestyle even up till now. So I still follow fitness as a hobby and some kind of physical activity is still part of my daily routine.

Are there any life lessons that you picked up in school, particularly from your teachers? 

Among the teachers, I fondly remember Arvind Kaushal Sir and Kavita Vyas Ma’am who were on the Physical Education side and Bharti Ma’am who taught us Chemistry. During my formative years, if I had to specifically talk about school, I think I picked up the art of balance. Balance goes a long way and is a more sustainable way of moving towards your goals. When it’s time to play, you play all day but when it is time to study, obviously you prioritise your academics and give them the attention that they deserve.

Did you watch the show Shark Tank India and what are your views on that?

Yeah, of course I watched it. I think the show has only added more fuel to the fire that start-ups bring to innovation. Start-ups are the fuel. I very genuinely believe start-ups play a major role in any economy’s development. And if you think India was rapidly developing, it will only develop faster now. Because with the help of the show, you have made the Indian layman accept the idea of start-ups and that you can have an idea and you can put your life and soul into it and not be too worried about the outcomes.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected] He tweets @Aasheesh74

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