Anecdotes From This Investor-turned-entrepreneur
The SmartCEO|January - February 2018

In an interview with Smart CEO, Bala Parthasarathy, serial entrepreneur and investor, takes us through the various stages of his professional life, the lessons he has learnt and unlearnt along the way and his plans for MoneyTap, a consumer credit, fintech startup

Poornima Kavlekar

“Yes, I like that adrenalin rush. I’m a risk taker and I like the feeling of not knowing what’s going to come next,” admits Bala Parthasarathy. Hailing from Chennai, Parthsarathy has over 16 years of experience in the entrepreneurship space and he has donned many hats from being serial entrepreneur (founding Digital Link, Wyatt River Software and iSelect) to being a venture capitalist. His adventurous streak is hardly surprising. He has climbed the Kilimanjaro, trekked the Andes, Alps and the Himalayas, motor-biked across the African continent, up the highest motorable road in the world at Leh in the quest for experiencing those indescribable moments which have made him what he is.

The IIT Madras graduate started his career as one of the early engineers to build Digital Link, which went public in 1993. Subsequently, he and his friends founded Wyatt River Software which was acquired by SafeNet in 1997.He later started iSelect, a venture which he admits was a failure. The more successful one was Snapfish, which he started in 1999 along with his Harvard Business School classmate and close friend, Sripathy. “We raised money in the dotcom boom and then the burst happened. Luckily for us, it happened before we could spend it all, so we had money in the bank,” he recalls. That being said, Snapfish was compelled to make amends to operate in the tight environment. “That’s when Digital Photos took off and we moved from film to digital,” he adds. Snapfish was later sold (in 2005) to Hewlett Packard and Parthasarathy became the Managing Director of HP Digital Photos worldwide. He helped start Snapfish in 20 countries in Europe and Asia Pacific serving more than 100 million users.

He shifted base to India in 2007 while he was still in HP. In late 2009, when he was considering a change, he met Nandan Nilekani (Chairman, UIDAI) for advice and found himself volunteering for the Aadhaar project. He played a key role in defining the application strategy and developer ecosystem for Aadhaar. In 2011, after a year and half of working on the Aadhaar project, Parthasarathy started Prime Ventures, a seed-stage fund.

In 2015, he felt the need to do become an entrepreneur again and saw an opportunity in consumer lending. He started MoneyTap along with two cofounders, Kunal Verma, and Anuj Kacker, with the goal of providing consumer credit products to lower & middle income consumers.

In this free flowing conversation, he takes us through the various stages of his life and the lessons he has learnt and had to unlearn during the course of his entrepreneurial journey and his plans for MoneyTap in the coming years.

Your profile in each of the roles you have had in the last 16 years is similar, yet different. Can you talk about how you transitioned from one role to another?

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