He flunked 12th grade once, even dropped out of his MBA programme, but at 26, Rishabh Lawania is a self-made millionaire.
If stories of individuals fighting all odds were adapted into biopics, the Gurugram youngster would be the lead runner.
Who is Rishabh Lawania?
26-year-old Rishabh was born and brought up a middle-class household in Delhi. After completing school, the conventional road for him to take was the same his father once took to become a civil engineer. And so Rishabh opted for the science stream, his first step towards studying civil engineering.
After writing his Class 12 board exams, like most of his peers, Rishabh gave the AIEEE to gain admission the top engineering institutes in India. Little did the teenager know what the results had in store.
The first blow came when he flunked his boards in the first attempt. And while he confesses that for some time it did feel like the end of the world, Rishabh did not let it deter his confidence.
In the gap year after the results, apart from preparing tirelessly to clear his boards in the second attempt, Rishabh also ventured into the events industry.
He remembers it clear as day. Walking into Gurugram’s Ambience Mall to host his first event. He was given a t-shirt and some placards to promote a soft drink brand and earned Rs 500 as his first salary. This was only the beginning.
He continued to build a strong network in the events industry and at the young age of 18, decided to launch his first start-up, Red Carpet Events.
Through this event management company, he organised over 70+ promotional and corporate events across Delhi-NCR and Jaipur.
In an interview with The Better India, Rishabh says, “I ran Red Carpet Events until my first year of graduation. But the schedule was a bit taxing, considering I had to juggle between education and work. But at a time when most of my peers would rely on pocket money, I was earning my own.”
And though Rishabh got back to mainstream education, the entrepreneurial bug had already bit him. So, he focused on connecting with as many entrepreneurs, VCs and investors as he could, to understand how to start a sustainable business.
After his graduation, his work as a freelance researcher for top companies increased his exposure on the start-up and business ecosystem in India.
Throughout his entrepreneurial journey, he decided to be a realist and not an over-optimist, says Rishabh. And thus, he embarked on a journey of building companies that though not necessarily the size of Apple or Microsoft, were profitable and also offered an easy exit.
Before you think he had it easy launching his second startup, let me tell you that his journey to well-earned success also began with some failure.
In 2013, Rishabh launched JusGetIT, a last-mile logistics startup that offered doorstep delivery of groceries. It worked for about seven months and partnered with 30+ vendors and shopkeepers. It even offered tech solutions to kirana stores to increase their revenues. But it failed to raise sufficient funding and had to shut shop.
But this did not throw the young entrepreneur off the startup space. Instead, it fuelled his resolve to create a sustainable B2B tech platform that could be scaled up.
In 2015, Rishabh, who was then in the United States, teamed up with techie Keshu Dubey and launched Xeler8, which he considers his most successful venture to date.
Xeler8 started as a deal-sourcing and research platform to help, track and analyse startups. The idea of starting the platform came from his experience as a young entrepreneur when he wanted to learn more about his competition in the market.
“While there are several dedicated platforms that have in-depth coverage and database of corporate biggies, I realised that there weren’t many platforms that focused on the Indian startup space. And even the few that existed didn’t do justice to the required coverage. And Xeler8 offered a database of 65+ Indian startups in 47+ industries. This included funding, founder details and lots more, which made it a lead-generation as well as market research tool,” says Rishabh.
In a year and a half, Xeler8 was acquired by ZDream Ventures, a Chinese accelerator and venture fund for an undisclosed amount. At the time, the product was still in the development stage.
Today, the platform is being used internally by ZDream, to evaluate the ecosystem of Indian startups. Rishabh also served as the Chief Operating Officer and Head of Investments for a year after the acquisition, thus kick-starting his journey as an investor.
The decision to sell the tech startup while not easy was the smart thing to do. Shedding light on his decision, Rishabh says, “When we started off, we knew Xeler8 wasn’t going to be a $100 Mn company. It was bootstrapped since its launch. And we had to build it to be sustainable, profitable and ensured it offered a smooth exit at the right time.”
His stint as the COO at ZDream, helped him learn a great deal about the startup ecosystems across India, China, Japan and the US. This also exposed him to the challenges and growth opportunities faced by startups in these countries.
After a year, he quit his position as the VC and alongside partners Keshu Dubey and Nayantara Jha, decided to explore Africa.
His latest venture, WeeTracker is a global tech media platform where you will be able to read the stories of various ground-level entrepreneurs. It launched early this year.
He shares, “In simple words, WeeTracker is to Africa what The Better India is to India, only in the startup space. It will create an extensive network to connect indigenous African startups, entrepreneurs, and investors. Apart from providing data and information on the startup space, the company will also provide skill development and enable investments from developed countries to promising African startups. In the longer run, WeeTracker plans to raise a $20mn fund.”
Since many of these operate in sectors like financial tech, agritech, cleantech, and water tech, the partners aim to help these upcoming and deserving indigenous startups solve local problems and create social impact.
His three-year vision is to develop WeeTracker as a sustainable brand across Africa.
Rishabh at 26, is what most spend a lifetime becoming. A successful investor, a mentor, and a businessman with a global vision. His network spans not just India but also China, Japan, the United States and now Africa.
In his advice to entrepreneurs, he says, “Don’t treat your startup like your baby. Be realistic, not overly optimistic. You have to build it in a manner that it is sustainable but also offers a smooth exit when an opportunity knocks at your door.”
To the students who dread results and think failure is a downward spiral, he says,
“I don’t think grades matter. Your mark sheets do not define you. If you have it in you, you can hustle and get things done. Not everybody is born to be an engineer or CS. Even at this age, I continue to face failure each day and continue to rise above it. Naysayers will talk and try to pull you down. But once you are successful, you’ll see how quickly their behaviour turns around. What will remain constant is the love and support of your family. So keep working smart.”
Who would have thought that the youngster who was ridiculed based on his mark sheet is not only a successful entrepreneur and investor but also helps drive the economic growth of a whole other continent!
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Rishabh here.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)