Pitch and re-iterate: See what sticks. Listen to the questions that come up often. Read the body language when you answer them. Pick up the cues from your counterparties as to what they see as the problem your solution is most likely to fix. Be ready to move away a bit from your original value proposition or pivot altogether. Be open minded. Don’t take negative feedback personally and don’t let aggressive investor questioning make you doubt your idea, especially if you know that they just haven’t understood it. Instead, go back and fix your messaging and see if it is more effective. The final pitch you go with will most likely be nowhere close to what you started with.
I had the pleasure to interview Vaibhav Kadikar. Originally from India and now living in Switzerland, Vaibhav’s initial entrepreneurship involved opening an internet café in India and founding an academy with the aim of teaching senior citizens how to use computers. Since moving to Europe, Vaibhav has completed an MBA at INSEAD Business School as well as founding CloseCross, a decentralized prediction market platform that leverages patented blockchain technology to allow users to engage in multi-party trades on a range of financial benchmarks. After years of experience in finance and trading, Vaibhav’s aim is to drive democratic participation in the financial sector.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Absolutely and thank you for having me. I’m originally from India and spent the first two decades of my life there, going on to study and develop initial entrepreneurial projects such as opening an internet cafe and starting an academy with the aim of educating senior citizens on how to use computers. I then moved to Switzerland and began working in the finance sector while trading derivatives as a hobby. My hobby left me curious and determined to find a way to deal directly with people in a peer-to-peer trading setup, rather than only interacting with large institutions, which is what led me to founding CloseCross, a decentralized prediction market platform that allows users to engage in multi-party trades on a range of financial benchmarks and events.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
When first leading a company, do not underestimate the resources you will need to succeed, be it time, effort, skills or most importantly, money. Funding solves a lot of issues on this front. This indeed was a major challenge for me initially and I ended up injecting a 6-figure sum of my own money to bootstrap the company until we got funding. It is important for any budding entrepreneur to plan the resource requirements and know well before starting if you can get to the critical milestones as per your plan.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Having a great team was an essential enabler in terms of converting my vision into reality. I owe it all to the team that makes everything possible.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- Fix a walk away point: To be successful in negotiations, one needs to know when to walk away and when enough is enough. When starting out in a new venture, you are actually negotiating from the very beginning. Negotiating with yourself, with potential investors, with potential customers and other stakeholders including your family. Set yourself a clear target with milestones along the way so you can measure if you are on the right track. More importantly, know in advance how much time you are going to commit to the new venture and when is it that you would call it quits. This can be a time horizon “If I don’t get funding in the next 18 months, I will stop trying”; or it could be based on specific outcomes, for example early customer/market research.
- Show them, don’t tell them: Don’t be in a rush to reach out to potential investors. They will appreciate a venture that has put in the effort to create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), demo product or a prototype. Demonstrating your product goes a lot further than a simple PowerPoint presentation with flashy graphics and brilliant taglines. This also shows them that you believe in the idea yourself and have invested time and money to get the product to this stage. If you are in a lucky position where you can show some early traction, even if it is only a hundred users, do it. Build a community of people around you that are interested in using the product. Do it on one or more of the social platforms as this is also an early indicator of the future traction the product is likely to receive.
- Pitch and re-iterate: See what sticks. Listen to the questions that come up often. Read the body language when you answer them. Pick up the cues from your counterparties as to what they see as the problem your solution is most likely to fix. Be ready to move away a bit from your original value proposition or pivot altogether. Be open minded. Don’t take negative feedback personally and don’t let aggressive investor questioning make you doubt your idea, especially if you know that they just haven’t understood it. Instead, go back and fix your messaging and see if it is more effective. The final pitch you go with will most likely be nowhere close to what you started with.
- Build a team for success: Having a great team of people around you and keeping that team consistent can be a challenge, as skilled workers will always be in demand. If you are in an upcoming sector, the competition for these skilled resources is even greater. You must work extremely hard to recruit the best people you can and then maintain that team as much as you can. A high turnover, particularly of key members, can hamper success. Pay attention to the team environment, seek out what is important to the individual team members and help them get it. This will give you a much better handle when it comes to keeping your team intact and stable.
- Know yourself and the role: There is a big difference between being an inventor, an ideator and a CEO. The difference between unsuccessful and successful ventures almost always boils down to execution. Simply having a great idea or a patented invention will not allow you to create a thriving business. Learn how to execute and lead a team, and how to get through hours of legalese but come out on top. Complete hours of admin work to just keep on top of requirements and work with all stakeholders (especially regulators, if applicable to you). What you dreamt about before you became a CEO will often be vastly different to the reality. Don’t underestimate the time and effort all these new tasks and topics will take. If you are strong at ideation and invention but not good at execution, get some help. Hire a great COO.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burnout, from my perspective, really occurs when you feel trapped in what you are doing without the ability to change the (bad) elements that surround you, be it people, circumstances, processes or just not knowing what goal you are working towards. You must remember that the road to a successful enterprise is paved with delays, disruptions, frustrations and unexpected failures. You also need to realize and accept that as soon as you have investors on board you may no longer have the freedom to do whatever you feel needs to be done for the business. This is one situation where I have seen strong, well-funded ideas go awry. You must be prepared to work with all your stakeholders and find a way forward, regardless of how time-consuming or pointless it feels at the time. Remember, they invested in you and hopefully you took them on board not just for the money, but also the experience, advice and wisdom they could share with you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It’s a cliché, but behind every successful person there is a strong partner. Without that, one just cannot find the space and time to put in the effort required to get a new venture off the ground. Not to mention the potential monetary support that may also be needed. I, very fortunately, had my wife as a pillar of strength throughout. Without her insistence on me taking the plunge and being prepared to give me 24 months free of financial responsibilities, CloseCross wouldn’t have come to fruition. You absolutely need at least one person that shares your sense of conviction in the idea you want to bring to the market and be there to support you, be your soundboard, and be your cheerleader.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
The ultimate goal of disrupting the financial derivatives market, from the ground up, is still to be realized. We want to be tech enabled, but people driven. All our current efforts are focused on getting our message to as many people as possible and letting them know that there is an alternative to the legacy derivatives markets. One where you don’t need leverage to have significant returns; one where you can easily access crowd wisdom on future asset pricing; one where there are no fixed costs of trading; one where you are in a people-only market without biased centralized derivatives issuers, and one that entirely removes the complexity of entering the market, making it easier for users to understand and interact with the financial markets.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
To show that someone who doesn’t come from a specific industry can actually have the means and ideas to fundamentally change the largest market in the world, the financial market.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
To make the financial sector more accessible to more people globally. With a staggering number of people unbanked, and others alienated by the financial world because of its traditionally exclusive nature, I would want to encourage all citizens to participate in the financial markets and feel empowered to do so.
How can our readers follow you on social media?