In Conversation with Raghavendra Singh, CEO & Co-Founder, i2i Funding

Q1. Can you give us a snapshot about your academic and professional background? What responsibilities have you dealt with so far?

I did my schooling from Varanasi at the Central Hindu School. Post that, I took the IITJEE exam, and had two options – I could enrol at IT-BHU, or join the B.Sc program for Nautical Sciences, at Training Ship Chanakya, Mumbai University. TS Chanakya at that point, was India’s premier, and only government institute offering a course in Nautical Sciences. I went ahead with the latter option, and then started my career in the merchant navy by working at a US-based shipping company as a Deck Officer, where I worked for around three years.

Then, I joined British Petroleum Shipping as an officer for about five years. Soon, I decided to do something else because life was getting monotonous. I mean initially, it was quite exciting and adventurous, but only up to a certain point. So, I decided to do venture elsewhere, appeared for the CAT exam and joined IIM Calcutta. After that, I joined Genpact as a project manager. My responsibility was to oversee project transitions from various locations all over the world to Genpact’s India locations. It involved the complete planning of project and other aspect such as operations, training and more.

Q2 . This was right after your MBA?

Yes. After around two years, I joined a digital publishing company – Aptara. Here, there were two roles I was working in. One involved managing the entire supplier management and the second was digital marketing in education. I worked on a portal where I worked with digital publishing with almost every kind of e-book. I was also responsible for setting up a web portal called Aptara Direct.

Here, Vaibhav and Abhinav – my co-founders worked with me. We’d been thinking about starting something on our own. We looked at multiple ideas and came up with this idea of peer to peer lending – leading to the inception of i2i Funding. We started working on it and once, we launched the portal, Vaibhav was the first who left to look at it full-time. Then I moved as well sometime in 2016.

Q3. So, you have pretty diverse experience across the technologies…

Yes, very diverse experience. I have probably worked on almost everything.

Q4. Are there any standout or most memorable moments that you have from these diverse experiences?

Onboard the ships, it was an entirely different life. You have to follow a system and schedule: you reach the port at night, face a lot of bad weather. You are traveling every day, so time zones are also changing. You have to adjust, so it is mentally as well as physically challenging. At the same time, it is also very satisfying because you are traveling to new places, meeting new people and new experiences. Every day you are accomplishing something – like even loading cargo was a bit hectic. As you are away from the shore, you have a lot of responsibility. You learn a lot of things. I’d say my time there was amongst my most memorable moments.

Q5. You went on to work with multiple other organisations. But, in general, beyond the ones you worked at, are there any particular organisations that you admire for their culture?

British Petroleum for sure. The organisation has zero tolerance for any deviations from the policies it has. They treat their people very well. If anything is wrong, you have to report everything and then explain it all. At the same time, they value you – the employees. Talking about incidences, I have one incident. The deck officer went inside the tank and he slipped and got burnt. Even at the time being Junior officer I managed a lot of things like getting the right authorities, setting up the hospital transport and more.

Q6. Coming back to i2i Funding, what has been your talent acquisition strategy to get the brightest talent to your company?

There have been a lot of difficulties we’ve faced with respect to hiring, just like any other startup. We soon realised that it was better to hire through references, at least at the senior level. It’s always better to have references. If the candidate knows about you and you know the candidate, then he/she can open up to you better and there is more transparency and trust in the whole scenario.

 

Q7. But regardless of whether you hire someone via reference or via other channels, is there any particular trait you look for in a candidate irrespective of the job description?

The most important trait in a candidate must be the desire to do something new. The candidate also needs to have some kind of technical and business knowledge of the field, as well as the drive to make progress. Having some technical knowledge is, of course, imporant, as you will not have ready-made resources available at startups. But drive and desire are the most important characteristics. We may hire people with a lot of experience, but if they do not have the drive then they are not a valuable asset.

Q8. What are your thoughts on automation being encouraged across the industry? Will companies, including startups, reduce their hiring intake?

Every 10-15 years, job profiles change. Think about it. Earlier nearly everything was done using pen and paper. With the introduction of computers in the 90s, there was a fear of people losing their jobs. But they created a whole new set of jobs and industries instead of just stealing jobs. Again now, the roles are changing. Basic tasks that can be automated are removed from human intervention, We will soon have more useful AI, and this will make way for a system where people can move higher up in the corporate hierarchy and add more value.
Sure, if people are not adding value to their organisations, or if they aren’t up for new experiences and learning, they will face issues regardless of the impact automation has.
A utopia where computers take over nearly all the jobs so humans can take a backseat is too far into the future for us to worry about.

 

Q9. Speaking of the future, what are some of the things that you look forward to in the future for your company?

In the digital space the companies that are just replacing the brick-and-mortar model with a digital equivalent with minimal innovation. That needs to change. There is a lot of scope in digital lending. Thanks to Aadhaar integration and other digital sources of data coming into play, we will start to get a lot of data points that will enable us to take better decisions instantly. At the moment, companies engaging in financial lending are looking at primarily two things: what kind of company they are working with and your CIBIL (credit score).
AI, Neural language processing, and Machine Learning are already out there, but the ground reality is that no one has used them to their fullest extent. Once everything is made digital then decisions can be made fast since we will have more data sources. Also everyone will fight for this technology in the tech space wherein only the best will survive.

 

Q10. Any advice for candidates who might be looking to pursue a career at an organisation like i2i Funding?
Recently I came across a video dealing with “what determines who will be successful”. It was the Marshmallow test – where young kids are given two options – they can either take one marshmallow for themselves right away, or wait some time longer to get two marshmallows. The kids who waited, who did not want instant gratification, were the ones who were seen to be performing better in life across certain popularly accepted parameters.
We also ask candidates and offer them two options – you may get a lower pay every month, culminating in a high annual bonus. Or the second option – that you get a higher, fixed salary with a lower annual bonus. Those who opt for the first one have the desire to do well, so that they get a higher bonus at the end of the year. They tend to be confident in the long-term about themselves, and the company as well.
Essentially my advice to candidates looking at a career anywhere at all, would be that they should have some basic, threshold idea of what their company does and how it operates. Many people coming for interviews surprisingly do not even look at the basic business functionalities of the company. Even if you score lower on other recruitment parameters, there are some basics that you should know about your desired company. You will get most definitely get points for that on an interview.

 

Rapid Fire

Q. One thing you love about your city (Noida) ?
The infrastructure. Noida is a very well planned city.
Q. One gadget you cannot live without?
Certainly my smartphone
Q. What do you do to relax?
I play some sports and love to spend time with my daughter
Q. If not in your current profession, what would you be doing?
I’d be some sort of sports analyst, or a political analyst.
Q. Describe working at i2i in one sentence
It’s a complete roller coaster ride
Q. Favourite movie?
The Shawshank Redemption

 

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