Monday Mentor: Rupert Picardo, d’frens consulting
Rupert Picardo, Co-founder & Director, D’Frens Consulting.
I first met Rupert twenty years ago when we both studied in Times School of Marketing, New Delhi. Rupert was the glue that held the class of 50 students together and was everywhere. In all those 20 years, I’ve never met a more creative, out-of-the-box thinker than Rupert. Just being in his presence in TSM taught me how to think beyond the boundaries and have fun in what you do.
He is one of the earliest entrepreneurs starting almost 10 years back. If you want a creative, interesting and exciting approach to your team building, internal comms or employee engagement activities, you should not be looking any further than D’Frens.
I hope you are able to take away nuggets of information from this interaction.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – about your life before you became an entrepreneur.
A dreamer, procrastinator. But I did do well in International sales and business development at the software services firms I worked at prior to starting off on my own. Spent time in a few European countries and some time in the US. This gave me a great world view of a changing marketplace and India’s ascension in the corporate world. The exposure to multiple cultures and people possibly helped decide what I would want to do if I ever ventured into entrepreneurship.
What prompted you to become an entrepreneur? Take us through some of your thoughts as you contemplated the jump into the exciting world of entrepreneurship.
I went through what I believe is a typical restless period of mid-age crisis. I questioned what I was doing, what I wanted to be and how far I’d gotten. Honestly, the entrepreneur bug bit me before the idea. I was almost certain that I wanted to do something without knowing what. The push came when I began to speak to like-minded people in a similar state of flux. We openly shared our fears and discussed business opportunities. I doubt I had (or still have) the guts to jump in to entrepreneurship all alone but the fact that I could take the plunge with three other close friends who shared a similar vision, made it an easy transition.
Tell us something about your company. And why did you decide to start the company with this particular idea.
d’frens is a people engagement organization. We started off with the intention of designing and conducting team building activities that would meet a client’s needs, have a very high experience quotient, be at a quality level that was unmatched in the country and conducted at the highest levels of professionalism. We met all those goals and some. Today, we’re a 26 member organization present in Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and shortly in Hyderabad too. We’ve tied up with team building leaders from 38 different countries (an exclusive partnership with Catalyst Global) in order to offer and deliver the best in the world to every company in India. We’ve also moved from being only a team building company to offer solutions in experiential learning, employee engagement, internal communication, leadership programs, custom designed learning modules as well as digital engagement for mass audiences.
Why this idea? Well we started the company with team building and drum circles (we were the first Indian company offering drum circles back in 2005) because we saw and realized that team building was an abused term and everyone who wished to engage a group – whether in adventure sports or rope courses or just Emcee conducted fun games, would term it as team building. None of these actually addressed the issues that teams were facing but rather only helped in bonding a team – something that can also be achieved by spending more time together or having lunch. We saw the need for addressing the market’s requirements and backed ourselves to provide the high quality content.
The fact that we now work with more than 70% of India’s top 500 companies has given us strength that we’ve taken the right decisions.
As the head of the organisation, your people look towards you for direction, guidance and values. What are some of the key organisation values that you want your people to imbibe and form the cultural base of your company. What are the key things you believe in?
It doesn’t matter what we do, but knowing why we do what we do. That’s the one true message I’d like everyone to know, understand and imbibe.
To explain it in one point – find out what makes you happy and do it well.
- Don’t pretend to work – if there’s nothing to do, chill out. You’re at your most productive when you are relaxed. Go play a game, read a book, take a walk, head home, have a drink – anything but pretence
- Listen to people. Get to know them.
- Customer is king, no doubt but team and team members come first. If we cannot practice what we preach, we have no right to be in the business.
- Stick to commitments and exceed expectations at every opportunity. Starting with time. Don’t say you can do something in five minutes unless its in my inbox by that time.
- Learn something new. Make videos, learn a new musical instrument, paint, sketch, write, roller skate. Its what keeps life challenging
Entrepreneurial life is a series of ups and downs. Can you share with us some of your biggest UP and DOWN moments and what did you learn from them?
One of the biggest downers we had at d’frens was when we had to let go of a key resource. The collective learning was that our business goals may not always mesh with individual goals but you cannot lose sight of one or the other. If they are not on the same track, then the sooner you separate them, the easier it is for both to move ahead towards their respective goals, faster. This applies to customers as much as it does to internal resources.
The ups are many and we celebrate every success, however small, as loudly and boisterously as we can. Our tie up with Catalyst Global can be viewed as one of our biggest ups from a business stand point. Its an eye opener for us to know how team building organizations function across the world, how we can all collaborate and share best practices and how every customer has come to trust us not just regionally but globally.
Who do you consider a role model and why?
If I have to view this as what I aspire to be, then the answer is that I have role models in the plural. I appreciate and admire specific qualities in different people and objects too. A lot of what I see in everyday life becomes a role model or aspiration for me including my dog who can just belly up and lie down in bright sunlight whenever she feels like it. I’d love to do that, but find stupid reasons not to.
On a more conventional note I admire, respect and would love to emulate people like – Michelangelo for perfection, Dali for expanding vision, Tesla for experimentation, Jobs for self confidence… a really long list.
They say that the life of an entrepreneur is 24/7. How do you strike a balance between the strenuous work and the personal life that is so essential to maintain sanity.
I guess its the mind that stays open to ideas 24/7 rather than living the life of an entrepreneur all day. I admit, the initial years were really hectic and I was consumed. I would spend more hours with the macbook and phone than my wife. I think I still do. Her support means the world to me. She always knew before I did that I was capable of a lot more than what I was able to showcase.
I’ve learnt now that its important to set small achievable goals for yourself – on the personal and professional sides too. I’ve set a reminder to shut my macbook at 5:30 every evening. If I can’t complete what I’m doing by then, then its already a wasted day. A few years ago, I set out to learn a new musical instrument and then another and another. I gave myself small projects in painting, carving, etching, holidaying. And you feel good when you achieve these. I still don’t attend “functions” in the family or neighbourhood, but that’s the advantage of being an entrepreneur – you get to choose when you should be too busy to do something you otherwise don’t want to.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Some decisions are based on leaps of faith. Don’t think so much that it will paralyse you. Don’t jump so deep that you won’t know where the surface is. But take the leap, if nothing else you’ll enjoy the rush.
Let’s do a quick rapid fire round.
- Your favourite holiday destination?
- With zero digital connectivity, a great view, a hot tub and a ton of books.
- Your favourite food?
- A good medium-well steak
- Your comfort movie and/or book?
- Avengers / Harry Potter or Lee Child books
- Your most prized possession?
- Collection of musical instruments
- The most adventurous thing you have done?
- A word or a phrase that defines your core life philosophy?
- Make it happen, make a difference (MIH MAD or me mad)