Tarun Thakur is a co-founder and the CEO of Datos IO, a Silicon Valley startup that produces an application-centric data-management platform. He entered the business world at 16, when he had to take over his father's work, in his native India, of traveling to unload, store and sell shipments of teakwood.
As a new startup founder, Thakur's work at Datos IO has brought onboard customers such as Home Depot, Macy’s and OpenTable, with funding from investors that include Lightspeed Ventures, Cisco and NetApp.
Thakur spoke with Crain National about growing his company — and about the importance of perseverance.
How have your prior experiences prepared you to lead Datos IO?
A part of starting an entrepreneurial journey is actually your upbringing. I grew up in an environment where my dad was an entrepreneur and my sister [started] her own practice in the medical profession.
The second factor is the hardships you have faced in life. If you’ve been able to get through those hardships, then you can do other things. Building a company requires a lot of mental endurance.
I think the experiences I've had — in research and thinking about how to productize disruptive ideas with engineering and marketing — really helped me get grounded and have the ability to start a company and sell the ideas to investors and raise money.
My experience back at school at Duke University was highly educational about emotional intelligence. Leadership is all about EQ, not IQ. My Duke years really were the roots of my ability to now go and hire people, motivate them and get them excited about my ideas.
You have to know how to connect with people and understand them — and how to be the shoulder when they need you. In a company, you actually need [foot] soldiers whom you can empower and who make contributions to the company.
What challenges do you face in the field?
Building a company has many challenges. For example, how do you find your first fundraising opportunities when you’ve never done it before?
It took me time to understand that my board is not my boss; my board is really a part of my team.
It’s my job to take [the board members] in a certain direction because they’re relying on my analysis and feedback. They’ll push back at times, and that’s their job, but it’s not their job to make the decisions.
Another challenge is scaling. Getting from two people to 10 people was not hard. We were able to pull that off and hire strong talent. But taking a company from 20 people to 50 people or 30 people to 100 people — I think that’s a completely different re-invention of yourself.
Hiring is part of scaling. Hiring those leaders who can help you scale is important because you cannot scale the company by yourself. You need people who are empowered by your vision and who are willing to get there also.
When you’re disrupting these companies, you have to be very strategic in how you do that.
Another challenge: It takes a few years, but once you prove the strength of a space, you have to maintain your innovation in the market. Then you have all these people who follow you and also want to be part of the growth in the market, so you’re dealing with more competition. We were in this market and now others are reacting overnight.
What goals are you focusing on for the company now?
We have a goal to scale the company from 30 to 50 people. Hiring those leaders to go build the teams is a big goal for the company.
Another goal is really to maintain our sanity as we’re going along and pushing the company forward as fast as we can.
What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
My main advice is to always believe in yourself; there’s something that led you to start a company.
You may start to doubt yourself at times because you feel like you’ve never done it before and you don’t have the experience. It may be true, but you have to go through the journey because good or bad, that experience is only making you stronger.