My iSPIRT Experience, A Learning Of A Lifetime By Praveen Hari

In 2016, the company I co-founded, Thinkflow, went through a liquidity event. It was a great outcome for all and I was thinking of the next move. It was natural for me to think of starting again. I was wiser, had seed capital and only had to find a problem attractive enough. It looked like I was going down that path and would build another software product company for the global market.

Something interesting was happening in India at that same time. All the global giants were investing in or had invested in companies that were building for India. Venture funds like Softbank, DST Global, Naspers were making bold bets in the Indian consumer space. A lot of digitization was also happening in India. UPI was in the initial release phase (Flipkart had already committed to back PhonePe, when it was just Sameer and Rahul’s idea), the GST bill was tabled in Parliament, a system to track real-time movement of goods was being discussed. It was really a lot of action and if venture investments were any indication, it was the validation of the India story.

In a meeting with Sharad, for the first time, I understood the true potential of the digital stack (now called the IndiaStack) that was taking shape then. While the stack was not fully ready for all the use cases that we covered in the meeting, the vision to solve some of the hardest problems India was facing through technology was fascinating. That vision combined with the kind of commitment the Open API team (it is now called the IndiaStack team) put in is unparalleled in my experience

I left the meeting with a question from Sharad.  “Do you want to do a 2-year MBA that pays you a small stipend?”. I thought about it and said ‘yes’. Amongst all the challenges, unlocking credit for small businesses resonated with me. Having faced the consequences of not having access to timely credit during my Thinkflow days, I could identify with this problem and ended up doing work around data-driven and cash-flow lending. We make a number of decisions in a lifetime but a few handfuls of them are life-changing. And my decision to work with iSPIRT and to focus on Flow-based lending has been a life-changing one.

Over the last 30 months, I worked towards Improving efficiencies in the loan delivery and collections cycle so we could bring a lot more borrowers to the formal system. As an iSPIRTer, I had the privilege of working with CEOs of banks, NBFCs and Small Finance banks to design new loan products. We were working on new ways to use data to underwrite small loans for new-to-credit businesses. I was guiding them on how to use technology to deliver credit at lower costs and worked alongside them to devise new strategies to build new workflows around origination, disbursement, collections, et al.

The iSPIRT stint has been a rewarding one. iSPIRT is all about putting country first and solving country scale problems. Core values such as this and others like setting up fellow volunteers for success were totally unheard of to me in the modern day workplace. iSPIRT is a safe space for any volunteer who is passionate about changing India. The institution has been about investing in the success of its fellows –  I had the benefit of learning from the wisdom of people like Nandan Nilekani, Sharad Sharma, Pramod Varma, Sanjay Jain. My colleagues are A-players and I had the opportunity to learn from and work alongside Meghana Reddyreddy, Nikhil Kumar, Venkatesh Hariharan, Jai Shankar, Tanuj Bhojwani, Siddharth Shetty and Karthik

As I prepare to roll-off my responsibilities at iSPIRT, I want to express my gratitude and a special thanks to Sharad Sharma for giving me this opportunity. He is a great guide and has been a great mentor for me. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you. It has been a great experience working with you and the team and my learnings here are my core strength as I move on to solving for India through my next venture.

Volunteer Hero: Vivek Raghavan

 iSPIRT volunteers build public goods inspired by open-source Linux and Wikipedia. Our volunteers are selfless, committed and conflict-free. They are animated by a burning cause.
One such cause is about creating technology platforms that will help make India a Product Nation. Building a successful country-scale technology platform is hard. And doing this as an open and public platform is even more challenging. It takes talent, sweat, and toil to do this.
Vivek-RaghavanVivek Raghavan for instance. He stepped in as a part-time volunteer to help build Aadhaar back in late-2010. Soon he was working as a full-time volunteer. Had he known that he would be volunteering full-time even after so many years, he might not have taken the plunge! In fact, two years ago, he gave up. After all, it’s not easy to work in a government system to make things happen. But, his sense of mission sprinkled with some emotional appeal from other iSPIRT volunteers had him back in action again.
We have many full-time volunteers in iSPIRT who take a year or two to give back to the ecosystem. But few have done it for six years! Here is a successful entrepreneur – with two notable exits in the US – waking up every morning to make the world better for all of us. His example inspires other volunteers. He kindles the fire that keeps iSPIRT running.
Vivek’s uncommon ownership and determination make him an iSPIRT volunteer hero.
Guest post by Pramod Varma & Sanjay Jain
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”  – Arthur Ashe


Story of an iSPIRT Volunteer.

I am Taron Mohan, CEO of NextGen Tele and an iSPIRT Volunteer. I usually meet many CXOs of Banks for selling mobile-SIM-overlay based financial inclusion solutions. This one time I was on an email thread with the CEO of a big Public Sector Bank with other iSPIRTers. The discussion was about India-Stack. In my entrepreneurial zeal, I pitched my NextGen Tele SIM-based solution. I quickly realized that this was a mistake. I knew instinctively that I should not use an iSPIRT session to further my own private self-interests. iSPIRT’s credibility comes from Volunteers like me putting India first. While working for iSPIRT we set aside our personal gains for a larger cause of building a Product Nation.

I’m now an advocate for all of us Volunteers signing a Volunteer Code-of-Ethics that sets clear expectations from all of us. This would help us maintain the high standard that we all hold ourselves to. So, working with the iSPIRT Fellows Council we drafted the Volunteer Code-of-Ethics. I have signed it and will abide by it. I plan to even assert my iSPIRT Volunteer Code-of-Ethics in my email signature.

iSPIRT Volunteer Code-of-Ethics
As an iSPIRT Volunteer, I am committed to making India a Product Nation. At no point in time, I shall use my iSPIRT Volunteer status to further my private or business interests. I hope to set a high ethical standard and be an example to others.

On Behalf of the Fellows Council –
Manjunath Nanjaiah, Thiyagarajan(Rajan) & Sharad.

Mavens are Everywhere

Playbook Round Tables were created with an intention to orchestrate the coordination and exchange of tacit knowledge. Thoughtful Founders acted as facilitators in this sharing of tacit knowledge. We call them Mavens. For them, their contribution to #PlaybookRTs was a labor of love. It is a selfless contribution to making India a Product Nation.


Thanks to the Founder Mavens, PlaybookRTs went on to become very successful. The topic coverage grew. However, we were not able to find Founder Mavens for topics like Design Thinking and Inside Sales. We wondered if we should look for Mavens who were not Founders. But we were skeptical if they would be animated by the Product Nation mission. And, even if they were, would they contribute selflessly in a pay-forward manner that the Founder Maven did? Would they sign the Maven Code-of-Ethics?

Then we ran into Deepa Bachu. 

Her commitment to making India a Product Nation was there. Yet we wondered if she would be willing to pay-forward in PlaybookRTs. We knew this was not an easy call to make. After all, it meant forgoing workshop revenue from product startups for the foreseeable future. As we talked, we realized that Deepa’s dilemma wasn’t whether she should make this selfless contribution! Instead, she was worried if the PlaybookRT attendees would value something that was free!  

This led to a couple of experimental PlaybookRTs.

And here we are! Deepa learned that Sometimes Free Is Valuable. And we learned that there are contributors to the product ecosystem who will put the cause before their business. We find that the Practitioner Mavens are as vested in the pay-forward model as Founder Mavens. We cherish and value both of them.

With inputs from my colleague Rajan.

Volunteer Hero: Rohith Veerajappa #CredoStories

Most of our iSPIRT volunteers have demanding day jobs and yet they jump in to build public goods. They are animated by a cause and a sense of community. Some of them take their commitment to the cause so seriously that they let no task, however unsexy and mundane, get in the way of progress. Their do-what-it-takes approach is what, ultimately, turns ideas and intentions into reality. These unsung volunteers are heroes to all of us!

Take Rohith Veerajappa for instance. He stepped on the night 7th January 2016 to take charge of the 200 PNgrowth attendees boarding buses at Madiwala at 5:30am next morning. What was likely to be a chaotic and messy beginning turned out to be a wow experience. The boarding was smooth and efficient. He made the first touchpoint for attendees to a transformational bootcamp an out-of-norm experience. It was the best start that one could imagine.

Nobody asked Rohith to step in; he took the initiative on his own. Nobody was there to commiserate with him when he worked through the night; yet he was energised and upbeat. Nobody was there to demand a high standard from him; he set the bar himself. This uncommon ownership and determination is what makes him an iSPIRT volunteer hero.

With inputs from Gokul KS

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.  – Arthur Ashe


Because Sometimes Free is Valuable

Whenever I have helped someone I believe their thanks is sincere and heartfelt. Can’t beat that wonderful feeling, so I do my best to make time and pay-forward.

Amongst the many that pay-forward, I was really intrigued by the iSPIRT community. A group of best-in-class entrepreneurs (and one could say even, celebrity entrepreneurs) coming together to share their knowledge with fellow and new entrepreneurs. With the hope to share some of my knowledge I started my engagement with iSPIRT running design thinking roundtables.


I have had the great fortune of having exceptional mentors teach me what I know about creating solutions that delight customers; design thinking – a mindset and a process to get inspired by customers, focus on trying things quickly and learn as you go to create solutions that will create awesome customer experiences. It was now my time to pay-forward. What started off as a pro-bono effort has brought me to today where I can proudly say that I am amongst the few privileged to be a part of this highly trusted iSPIRT Maven community.

Practitioners like me synthesize and create new-knowledge in a specialized field. This, in my case, is in Innovation & Design Thinking. A large part of such specialized human-knowledge, however, is stored as experience. It is tacit knowledge. The more you teach, the more you learn. Your knowledge gets refined almost everyday. So of course I wanted to share my knowledge fully expecting that I will be learning by teaching.

I was requested to do it pro-bono and sign into their Maven-code of Ethics which fundamentally is to commit for a pay-it-forward model, not expecting any payback in any form from any participating startups.

Do our audience even trust a Practitioner who is providing pro-bono services to be of high-quality, I wondered?  We live in a culture where often quality if assessed with price and I wasn’t sure at first what I should expect. However, after just doing a couple of Round Tables I realized that trust is indeed created when people give selflessly in a pay-it-forward model. And, it is this very high degree of trust that allows entrepreneurs who are a part of the roundtables to provide open feedback to practitioners (aka Mavens) like me to continue learning and refining our craft. This is indeed priceless. Add to the this, the satisfaction of working for the cause of building a Product Nation together with many spirited Entrepreneurs.

Asserting my Maven code-of-ethics and being a Proud Maven at iSPIRT

I am Pallav Nadhani from FusionCharts. Like my fellow entrepreneurs, who dream of making India as a Product Nation and building a great ecosystem together, I found my calling answered with iSPIRT Playbook round-tables. I volunteered to become a Maven so I could share, learn and disseminate the best-practices I had learnt in my entrepreneurial Journey, with other fellow entrepreneurs.


Playbook enabled many of us to learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. It was an exciting opportunity to meet incredible and passionate entrepreneurs, and help them in whatever way we can, and also learn from them. I found that there were many like-minded Mavens, who were already helping many start-up founders (attendees), in a completely self-less way by paying-it-forward and not expecting anything in return – and there was a clear blueprint that I could follow. I felt honored to be a part of this iSPIRT Maven-community.

However, during the course of this journey, an unexpected event happened. A couple of attendees, across different playbook sessions, came up to me and asked what we (or iSPIRT) were expecting in return. Baffled by the question at first, I asked them what they meant. Their answer took me by surprise – they mentioned that at a few other similar forums, which they had attended, the equivalent of Mavens had asked for (free) equity along with a senior designation (typically Director or above), in exchange of the knowledge and network connections they were enabling to help such startups. Initially, I thought this could be fair, as different members of the ecosystem may have different operating protocols, but it turned to a point where our actions, which had no such intentions of getting anything in return, were also painted with a similar stroke of doubt. And I realized that this question was not just asked about me, but also some other contributors to iSPIRT.

I was giving completely selflessly, and so were many other Maven’s that I knew, within the iSPIRT community. We never had any intentions of gaining anything, or to further our own self-interest in anyway. However, the attendees assumed, that I as a Maven, would also do such demands in the future. That day, I felt victimized by this system, as my integrity and good intentions were being questioned.

For a few days, I pondered over this conundrum, and I reached out to Sharad and other Fellows in the iSPIRT community. During those conversations I proposed that the best way is either to set a clear protocol of expectations (from Maven’s side) or to not allow attendees to assume. We needed to Sign a Code-of-Ethics and resolve this conflict once and for all. Once we pledge that we will not breach the Maven-Code-of-Ethics, it would not compromise our own integrity in the eyes of the System or other people in the System. So, with the help of the iSPIRT Fellow-Council, we decided to draft the Maven Code-of-Ethics and I have signed it & abide it.

Maven Code of Ethics

As an iSPIRT Maven, I facilitate PlaybookRTs and Bootcamps. This is part of my pay-it-forward commitment to make India a Product Nation. At no point in time, I expect any payback for this from any participating startups in any form including advisory or sweat equity. My selfless contribution is for a cause larger than myself. I hope to set an example so that the entrepreneurs that I touch also embrace the pay-it-forward spirit.

Along with me the other maven who have signed the Code of Ethics are: Avlesh Singh (WebEngage), Aneesh Reddy (Capillary Techonologies), Amit Ranjan (Ex-Slideshare), Amit Somani (Prime Venture Partners), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshdesk), Jay Pullur (Pramati), Paras Chopra (Wingify), Pravin Jhadav(Servify), Rushabh Mehta(ERPnext), Sanjay Shah(Zapty), Samir Palnitkar (Shopsocially), Suresh Sambandam (KiSSFLOW), Shankar Maruwada (EkStep), Shanmugam Nagarajan (24[7] Inc), Sridhar Ranganathan (CrediBase).