Ankur Joshi is a strong, persistent individual. From failing in Maths in an exam to scoring full marks for it the very next year, we know he is built strong! Failures were stepping stones to success for him, and he always looked into the positive side of them.
Here is the untiring journey of this inspirational figure on his road to building Gonuclei.com, powering digital transformation for the banking sector.
YC: We would like to hear about your journey from the very beginning. Can you talk a bit about your childhood?
Ankur: I was born and brought up in Indore. It was a small town back then, and we were a typical rural middle-class family. I am an only child. My father tried his hands at a couple of things, one of them being a distributor of Nippon batteries. Both my parents were national players. My father played Kho-Kho & Volleyball and my mother Hockey & Volleyball respectively. They met at the Nationals and got married.
Unfortunately, my dad had lost his father at a very early age of 18, so he couldn’t graduate. He was therefore very particular about one thing – whatever he ends up doing, he will provide his child with the best education. I still remember a few dinner table conversations regarding money crunch but my parents used to call it ‘Vitamin M’ (laughs big time). My parents sacrificed a lot for me but I had a happy childhood growing up in a joint family.
@ Took my parents for their first trip outside India in 2018
Fail again, Fail better!
I was an average student. I was more focused on sports, especially football. I used to manage 80+ marks till grade 8th without much effort. But, in class 9th, my only focus was on football and I failed in Maths. This was a very big turning point in my life. The whole family was depressed. Being from a middle-class family the only getaway to a better, upgraded and stable lifestyle was a good job. And a good job = good grades.
I felt bad and decided to fix it. Within two months of vacation, I covered the syllabus (solving each and every problem in RD Sharma). I found my footing in Maths and going forward scored 100/100!
In hindsight, one failure gave my life a perspective. I think if I had an average score in Maths in 9th, I would have probably contented myself with it in the future too.
One of my cousins who went to Bombay for work first introduced me to JEE and advised me to go for it. I enrolled myself for JEE coaching and got into IIT Bombay – Department of Metallurgical & Material Science.
YC: On your Engineering days…
Ankur: 2003! IIT was fun, I played a lot of football. I was on my college Football team. IIT helped me in getting over my insecurities, elevating my benchmarks, and interacting with an amazing and varied peer group.
@ IIT Hostel
Job v/s MBA
I scored 99.97% on the CAT exam but picked up a job with Deutsche Bank as an Associate. The salary offered to me was significant considering my situation then, our whole family was taken by surprise. From Indore to Bombay, I had indeed shifted my benchmark!
In hindsight, the choice to take up a job was good. If I had opted for doing an MS or an MBA, I would have whiled away two years. Higher studies meant a bigger loan on my head. A job provided me with financial stability within a few years. This empowered me to boldly take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
YC: What was your career journey like?
Ankur: 2007 – I joined Deutsche Bank. During these 3 years,
- I executed debt capital market deals of more than €35m in revenue credits,
- Debt Capital Markets – Bond origination, Private placements and Derivative sales for Dutch clients,
- Fixed Income team – Credit structuring, securitisation and corporate credit analysis for prop books,
- Prepared proposals and responses for various RFPs from Corporate for Fixed Rate Bond origination, and
- Organised investor roadshows for many corporations, before their bond launch in the market.
Learning – It was a good organisation, but it was a big one. This meant I got to know only a compartmentalised exposure to the work there. I didn’t even know what all things happened in other departments. I was not comfortable. I figured out that this is not something I would want for the next many more years ahead. By this time I had some financial cushion as well and decided to do something on my own.
2011 – RushHrs – Chain of Quick Service Restaurants. We went through a lot of ideas and set up a chain of restaurants.
- During the initial 18 months, I focused on setting up our first three stores to get a proof of concept.
- Raised Growth capital: Convertible Debt, Venture Capital and Structured Bank Debt
- Next 2 years, focused on Business Development – New Stores as well as Franchising. 9 stores strong today!
- Re-aligned our focus on home delivery, Managed 80+ FTEs and 5000+ monthly deliveries
- Turned profitable by managing and putting cost control measures in place
- Financial management, Fundraising, New store setup and supply chain.
- Although it became a profitable lifestyle business within three years, it wasn’t scalable enough.
- Long-term thinking. We were obsessed with short term goals that we never even thought of a year down the line. We were surviving, and when we are surviving we just think of the very next and not long. This tampered with our ultimate vision and hence I moved on from it.
- To be honest with me. Back then I had this “ being cool syndrome.” I was worried about the impression I was having in society. I learned to be honest, at whatever the cost may be.
Having invested around four years into RushH, I decided to move on.
2015 – Founded – Blaez – B2B e-commerce.
Successfully conceptualised and developed a B2B e-commerce marketplace in retail and pharmaceutical verticals. We found investors, built a team and did everything related to a startup.
- Didn’t find the product-market fit and lost patience.
- We started with restaurant management software but it wasn’t a much-required product, then.
- We pivoted to the pharmacy market and did well in Pune. But we found that other cities had a whole different work process, hence our software wasn’t scalable again.
2016 – Back to a job – I took up a role in Tapzo – Chief of Staff | Head – CEO’s office. Tapzo was India’s first all-in-one app. Within two years Tapzo became India’s leading app and was later acquired by an e-commerce giant.
Learning – Energy, aggression, passion, growth, responsibilities, hustle around work were great experiences in Tapzo. I know I would never be able to work in big organisations ever. Once Tapzo was acquired, I decided to start again.
YC: What were the preparations for the new venture?
Ankur: 2018 – The very first thing we did was to list down all the mistakes we had done in the past ten years.
- B2B Vs B2C- I had done two B2C startups and realised B2C is a lot of cash burn. Growth there is eventually dependent on external funding (though nothing wrong with it). But I did not want to be that horse on which VCs play their odds. VCs play their bets on 100 horses, mostly 95 fail and 5 make it big. Eventually, they are more focused on those 5, again nothing wrong with it. This is how VC’s model works. After all, everyone is trying to make money. I chose B2B over B2C this time.
- Thinking short term. In the previous startups we started, we had been thinking very short term (3 to 4 months). Cutting down salaries, asking people to leave and shutting down businesses, is a very painful process. I promised myself, for the next venture, whether it is the product, the team, or myself, I will always keep it to be long-term.
- Thinking small – This time around I was clear that TAM (total addressable market) has to be big. I faced scalability issues with both my previous startups. This time I knew I had to pick a global problem and design a global solution from day one.
- Scalability issue – We knew we have to pick products that can scale across geographics (except the US market) and are homogeneous. We narrowed it down to Banking, Telecommunication and Insurance. We met a lot of people from SouthEast Asia, India and the Middle East.
- Bootstrap vs Funding – In my previous startups I was busy raising funds – burning cash – and then again raising funds. I was always in survival mode. When we were going down, I could not help my team. I had no money of my own to pull up the things. I was kind of asked to exit.
But this time I knew I did not want to get into this loop. I was looking for an industry where people can pay us up front to build and then deliver a product. In the Banking sector, people were ready to pay us upfront.
- Product-market fit – Once we had narrowed down the sector we met a lot of people from SouthEast Asia, India and the Middle East. We went to banks physically, met them continuously, repeatedly and gathered trust.
Mid – 2018 – Eventually we were able to sign up with Federal Bank, ICICI Bank, SBI, IndusInd Bank.
Gonuclei.com – Powering digital transformation and lifestyle banking for several banks across India, MEA & SEA.
YC: For my readers can you please explain what is Nuclei?
Ankur: We have four segments in the same product that solve adjacent problems. One part is for APIs, one for SMEs, another for B2B enterprises. We have a card stack that we have built along with MasterCard as our fourth product. On top of that, we are building a junior banking model as our fifth product, a readymade, compatible model that we can furnish a bank with when they require one.
@ Team Nuclei
YC: What worked for you in terms of Sales and Marketing at Nuclei?
Ankur: Marketing gyan – We did not do any organised marketing in the first three years. We went to banks physically, continuously met them and sold our product. In the B2B market and especially banking trust plays a vital role.
Not marketing was our strategy to win the competition – Not many companies had built the product which we were building. So we decided to lay low till we reach a ten bank mark, thus we will be able to avoid an initial competition with this product-market fit.
We have focused on ABM and nothing else. We also target our specific audience and try to build a relationship with them rather than spamming or selling.
Sales gyan – We have literally written down “DO NOT SELL” in our marketing manual! We try to work on relations and build them. A long term relationship is what you should target. We went to banks and committed ourselves to relationship sales.
YC: Any community which you would suggest to others?
Ankur: SaaSBOOmi is one community that I would suggest for any SaaS founder. I have often received feedback and suggestions from founders and experts.
YC: What keeps you going in tough times?
Ankur: Hmm…Thinking, Three things, maybe:
1. I am a human being – I am an atheist, so I don’t believe in any of the common inspirational beliefs. A few ideas of Stoicism have influenced me, “There will be things under your control, and things that aren’t.” The only guarantee for me as a human being is that I am a human and I will commit mistakes! I can, but, learn from those mistakes and better myself.
2. Optimise – What you need in life, prioritise it accordingly. As you mature in age, you will add experience to yourself and better yourself. Keep learning and experimenting, till you find the right balance.
3. Relationships – Both in my personal and professional life I am very very clear on one thing, prioritising relationships over other things. I have read so many autobiographies, listened to great thought leaders and even my own experience (at 36) realised relationships are very important.
In Nuclei, we are very clear that money will come and go, but the team is what ultimately matters. Be it our current employee or ex-employee, they should feel and speak highly of Nuclei.
YC: A few people who you would like to name in this journey of yours?
Ankur: My wife and parents of course. They did a lot for me, and I owe everything to them. My sister (Richa) has been instrumental in shaping my life. She was the pioneer in the family, who left Indore to get better job opportunities. She was the one who nudged me towards IIT and always encouraged me to break my benchmarks. I unfortunately lost her to covid last year in the 2nd wave.
@ Richa , my sister
Paliwal Sir from my school, Gupta Tutorials, played a major role.
Hitesh Changlani, my roomie at college. We call him Balu, he had an amazing command over the English language. For the first time in my life, I heard such good English. I wanted to have the same level of comfort and ease while speaking English. He helped me practise, never judged me or made fun of me even at that age. It is rare to find people with such a good heart. His kindness has stayed till now, almost 20 years after college.
Sumeet Malik (heading Marketing at Chaayos) was my football mate. We both were on the college football team. He was a super disciplined guy who always slept on time and got up on time. In hindsight, I can say I learned everything about self-discipline from him.
Lastly, my childhood friends at Indore, with whom I could be brutally honest without the fear of being judged. I am lucky to have such an environment, and that is something I wish everyone would have in their life.
@ IIT Football Team
Ankur, it was great talking to you. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best for Nuclei.