At 23, Subramanian (Subbu) Parameswaran, who spent his childhood in Bengaluru, did what a number of young graduates in India do — move to the US to pursue a Masters degree.
Subbu’s story, up until here, follows an almost set pattern of the struggles of an Indian trying to go abroad. But in this story, Subbu shares his journey from being a lowly garbage boy as a student to the co-founder of two million-dollar companies.
Learning to Stand on My Own Two Feet
“One of the first things that struck me when I came to the US is how independent people are. They support themselves and most people are on their own — they manage their living expenses by taking up jobs, even while they are studying. That was something that I found uniquely inspiring, and I wanted to be independent too,” says Subbu.
“My first job in the U.S. was washing dishes,” says Subbu. As a student at Mississippi State University, he admits he “was not the sharpest tool in the shed”, and that pushed him to work harder and achieve what he wanted to. He also mentioned how this was the first time he was stepping out of his comfort zone and living on his own managing everything.
“It taught me to be responsible and put in perspective how hard my parents would have worked for me to afford the chance to live the life I was living,” he says. As a student, Subbu undertook a variety of odd jobs, which included, dishwashing, garbage disposal, table cleaning, etc. “In addition to making me independent, those jobs taught me about dignity of labour as well,” he says.
A Humbling Start
Speaking about his initial years in the US, Subbu says, “I supported myself with almost 20 hours of on-campus jobs, including being a dishwasher and a garbage boy at the cafeteria in the first semester. I got paid the minimum wage in the state of Mississippi, which was $5.15/hr at that time.” While this helped ease the financial strain for a while, he found another job the next semester.
“The next semester, my professor gave me a grading job for 10 hours, but the money was still not enough to support myself. So, I worked at a motel where I made $4.5/hr, that was less than the state’s minimum wage,” he says. It was far from easy for Subbu, who adds, “There have been many weeks where I would finish class by around 1pm, start a 3pm shift at the motel, work till about 2 am or until the rooms get sold out. And then, lay out a blanket and sleep on the floor behind the counter at reception. The next day, I would wake up at 7 am and go to school by 8 am for classes. I am very proud of who I became in the process.”
When asked what kept him going, he says, “My personal motivation comes from my dream of someday being able to write a cheque annually, higher than my first salary as a professional in the US, for causes like the education of the underprivileged or feeding the poor in India, and to do so without flinching.” Along with this, he also wishes to be able to “spoil” his parents and family for everything that they have done for him.
Subbu now has the distinction of being the co-founder of not one but two businesses in the US, which firmly attributes his urge to start up businesses stemming from his love of independence. The first company he established was a technology services company, Idea Helix, which came into being in 2014 and the other is a products company, Right Comply, which was established in 2017.
Started with an initial investment of about $30,000, Idea Helix has so far serviced more than 100 companies and has about 120 employees across US, Canada, Europe, and India. Today, it is a company worth $ 20 million. Right Comply, on the other hand, employs about 15 people and can best be described as a start-up which is currently privately funded.
Servicing Fortune 500 Companies
Idea Helix is a boutique business and technology consulting firm that provides high-end consulting services to Fortune 500 companies. Telecom, Aviation, CleanTech, Education, Electronics, Healthcare and FinTech are some of the industries where Idea Helix has a presence.
RightComply, on the other hand, is a workforce compliance framework that ensures transparency and accountability along the entire hiring chain. Subbu says, “With RightComply, we lift the weight off an organisation’s shoulders and bring every stakeholder from consultant to employer to vendor to client, and even the attorney, on a single platform so everybody knows what is happening across the hiring chain.”
For both these companies, the co-founders invested their own personal funds and also went light on their own salaries so that they could get the company off the ground quicker. “We kept aside some of the profits from Idea Helix for RightComply and funded ourselves during the entire product building process,” says Subbu.
Independence is Not Loneliness
Subbu makes a clear distinction that being independent doesn’t mean you do everything on your own. He shares that his partners Vignesh Shivraj, Bharat, he, and the entire management team are equally responsible to achieve success in Idea Helix. Subbu says, “Something that all of us as have been good at is putting teams together, an eye for good talent and the ability to retain them as well.” These qualities helped in building the company. “We also had a lot of support from our friends, who believed in what we wanted to achieve,” he says.
Trust is also a key success factor. Subbu says, “We ensure that we are as transparent as we can be. So much so that we tell our customers how much we pay the consultants and we tell our consultants how much we make. We have built that trust on both sides.”
Ease of Doing Business
Shedding light on how the process of setting up a company in the US came about, he says, “I have always nurtured the dream of starting a company of my own, and I also believe that we display our best potential when we are working for ourselves.”
He continues, “Honestly, starting a company in the US is not at all difficult. It costs $500 and some paperwork. If you have a solid solution, goal and vision, setting up a company is not an issue at all.” He mentions here that one needs to figure out if being an entrepreneur is something that they want to do, and in the same breath he says, “One will never know until one takes that leap of faith”.
Paying it Forward
In his own way, Subbu now mentors students from India who wish to pursue higher education in the country. “When I was looking to move I was fortunate to have had all the help and guidance I needed. In mentoring students today, this is my own small way of paying it forward.”
From being told how to fill out a visa application form to even being coached on speaking in a way that the visa interviewer would follow, Subbu says that he had all the help he needed. “I am actively mentoring some of the students from my own engineering college and I have also taken on the task of being on the advisory board of some of the start-ups in India,” says Subbu.
Subbu also runs the US chapter of an Indian NGO, Dream School Foundation USA which is the US fundraising arm of the Bangalore-based Dream School Foundation India, a charitable trust that aims at making the right to education a reality for the underprivileged.
At 41, Subbu is an example of someone who wished and worked towards achieving his dream and made it big. ‘If you see a turtle on top of a fencepost, know that he had help getting there — that’s me!” he concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)