Interview with Raghav Chakravarthy & Sachin Ravi; SLS Pune-ICICI Alumnus: Going About Start-Ups [Part I]

Assistant Editor, Neeati met Raghav Chakravarthy in her first year at Symbiosis Law School, Pune when he swore in as the President of SLS Students’ Council. A year later, Sachin Ravi took over the position of a Vice President in the same body. They are revered leaders and quizzers and were highly looked upon by similarly starry eyed juniors.

They were until some time ago, working at ICICI and have recently materialised their start-up Walnut Knowledge Solutions at Bangalore.

Start-ups are very close to our hearts too, and hence, we decided to interview them and get some solid insights into law, business and everything in between. [NCR equals Raghav C and SR equals Sachin Ravi].

Since they had a lot to say and we didn’t want to miss out on anything, the interview will be published in two parts, this being Part-I.

Hello Raghav and Sachin! Tell us something about yourselves? 

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NCR: I am a lawyer turned entrepreneur from Bangalore, who is an optimist in humanity, passionate about life and curious to know and learn about the world.

SR: I’m a Chennai-born-Bangalore-bred trivia enthusiast with a weakness for sumptuous food.

Describe your childhood in brief? Your sources of inspiration i.e. your driving forces? 

NCR: Childhood was a simple middle class upbringing in Bangalore. Those insecurities and challenges keep me grounded. Many personalities, family, teachers and friends have inspired me in different walks of life.

Two who I can state offhand are, one is Sir. M. Visvesvaraya, a statesman and engineer from Karnataka, the Krishna Sagar dam that he built supplies water to the village I hail from.

Raghav (L) & Sachin (R)

That is the lifeline to the people of my village, my grandfather was one of the beneficiaries of it and he always revered his contribution with utmost gratitude. Story of a boy born in a poor family to becoming India’s foremost engineer and his yeoman service to people always inspired me.

Second, Mr. Nani Palkhivala, the lawyer who was again, born of humble means, who overcame the problem of stammering to becoming one of the finest lawyers of this country. Lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Albert Schweitzer have been influences as well. I am inspired by stories of people who have braved adversities to script successes for themselves by empowering and instilling hopes in people’s lives.

SR: My childhood while tumultuous at certain times, was balanced by a steady diet of books, movies, friends and the personal computer. One definite source of inspiration has been my grandfather who has guided me with his insightful pointers right from school even till today. One among many of his inputs during my schooling included his reading out C. Rajaji’s Ramayana and Mahabharatha every night before I slept.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories of people/organizations that broke the mould and disrupted what was conventional thought. The adventures and travails of personalities such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Verghese Kurien or Captain Gopinath, and companies such as Google come to mind.

Why did you choose law? 

NCR: Most of my peers were either preparing to become engineers or doctors and I also started in the same bandwagon, midway somewhere I knew I had stopped wondering about things, but was just accepting things, and I was clearly not enjoying it.

At around the same time, I used to watch a couple of televisions shows directed by Dr. T. N. Seetharam which would appear in the Kannada television which always involved plots where there was a court trail, and the lawyer through his advocacy and court craft would provide remedy to the oppressed, the impact that a lawyer can have on society was impressionably portrayed in it. All of these, coupled with my general inclination towards humanities and social sciences veered me to give law a shot.

SR: I was on the lookout to pursue something that wasn’t the norm. While I studied the sciences in classes 11 and 12, I didn’t see myself pursuing engineering or medicine. My parents were initially skeptical, but I chose law because I felt I was better suited for a course relating to humanities or business. Though I took to law, I’m glad I studied the sciences for the rigour it helped me develop. If law hadn’t happened, I would have pursued a course in business.

How was the law school journey like? 

NCR: The Law School journey was both an enriching and a memorable experience. I was fortunate to work with great set of people in the various activities I took part in the course five years in college. It was filled with moments that taught me to be independent, responsible, recurring self-realization, experiences that helped me overcome many inhibitions, fears etc. and just loved Pune and the wonderful friends I made there.

SR: Absolutely incredible. While my schooling was a wonderful time in itself, law school was truly insightful. 5 years in a lovely city like Pune along with a plethora of opportunities and wonderful people from different parts of the country, made the law school journey very memorable.

Over the course of 5 years, along with my college-mates, we participated actively in academic/non-academic events, worked in various student-body initiatives and actively took part in moot court competitions and quizzes, for which we travelled a fair bit. These experiences gave me a number of insights such as working/managing different personalities and most importantly to work with/around the college body.

Things you liked to do in the law school? 

NCR: I enjoyed reading, quizzing, mooting, taking part in college activities, fests, exploring the various eateries in Pune and thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets and exploring the hills in Pune especially in the monsoons. (Symbi, ILS, Ferguson, Sinhagad hills all were conquered multiple times in the course of 5 years). I also did a lot of chatting with friends in the pretext of coming up with plans, arguments in moots etc., coupled with drinking copious amounts of chai.

SR: Successfully representing the college in competitions, working with students of different batch on various projects, last-minute hustling for academic commitments, frequent trips to Bombay and other cities for competitions and lastly, indulging in a comprehensive darshan of many food joints across Pune.

Your biggest achievements in law school? If you could reverse some aspects of your college life – what would they be? 

NCR: Few accomplishments include being part of the team that successfully organized two editions of our college fest Symbhav 2011 and 2012, winning the Tata Crucible Campus National Quiz – 2012.

Some aspects of college life which I would reverse are, I would have wished to write more, should have gotten to know my college mates a bit better, should have taken part in debates etc. more.

SR: My accomplishments would mirror what Raghav has said. We’re very grateful for having got a chance to represent the institution on a number of occasions. A letter from the chancellor highlighting our victory at a national quiz is a fond recollection.

I wouldn’t want to reverse the course of the 5 years, but in retrospect, I would have liked to participate in parliamentary debates and would have also liked a chance to see more of Pune and explore Maharashtra.

Subjects you liked the most? Any particular Professor who inspired you?

NCR: Subjects that interested me include constitutional law, political science, administrative law, and legal language. Many teachers were inspiring and extremely supporting, top of the mind include Hajare Sir, Mohanty Ma’am, Sujata Arya Ma’am, Hartalkar Sir, Anand Bapat Sir. From the perspective of administration, Gurpur Ma’am (for the vision), Rawandale Sir (operational support), Joshua Sir (commitment) and Bindu Ma’am (planning and eye for detail).

SR: I liked constitutional law and political science, especially for the narratives that the professors (Mr. Hajare and Ms. Mohanty) employed while discussing concepts. One professor who also stood out was Mr. Bapat who taught us a few business courses.


Post law school, what all have you both been upto? 

NCR: Post law school, I worked as a Legal Manager with ICICI Bank for two years. Having recently quit, Sachin and I have started a small start-up of our own called Walnut Knowledge Solutions in Bangalore [Website accessible HERE] with the primary focus of using quizzing and other knowledge tools to bring about learning, development and engagement.

SR: Funnily enough, after law school, I got the job at ICICI Bank too. Like Raghav said, we’re now pursuing Walnut Knowledge Solutions full-time. 

How was the ICICI experience? What made you change tracks? 

NCR: ICICI experience was professionally and financially rewarding. I was fortunate to have worked under wonderful bosses – Mr. Kannan Rahul and Mr. Ravi Sandip and supportive and fun colleagues in Bangalore and Mumbai offices.

Things which stood out from the ICICI experience was understanding how organizations work, processes in place to bring about operational efficiency, lessons in self-discipline (to do the work you are supposed to do well, regardless of whether you like it or not), being thorough, actions leading to dependability, co-ordination and effective communication with team members to achieve requisite results.

The main reason for quitting was preference and personal assessment of where I would be more impactful.

SR:I wouldn’t be in a position to give as conclusive an answer as I spent just about a year with the organization. I was working in the Hyderabad legal office and I got an idea of the workings of a legal-team in a corporate set-up. I had the benefit of having a wonderful boss in Mr. Syed Quadri and some very nice colleagues as well.

The decision to pursue Walnut arose from a desire to pursue entrepreneurship and getting into the business side of things. As we’d invested a good amount of time and hard work towards our passion, we felt there was a great opportunity for us to pursue Walnut full-time.

How has this decision to differ treated you? What influenced this decision to differ from the conventional route? 

NCR: Taking the decision has not been easy. There have been a fair bit of sacrifices and conscious cut down in lifestyle choices to becoming financially sustainable. Convincing parents has been a challenge – they were caught between their own vision of what their child was to become and what their child really needed, they have been immensely supportive, though my mom genuinely believes that I will not get a bride after this decision. 🙂

However taking the decision has been liberating and you feel vulnerable and naked of sorts letting yourself open to the world! And at the same breadth, you feel ownership over your time and actions – there is only you to blame if something does not work out 🙂 and you are conscious of the fact that taking the decision was only the first step, you have a long journey   ahead of you.

The core challenge now for us is to prioritize work (there are so many ideas in the pipeline, the need to focus on one and bring it to closure) managing time effectively, balance core work with business development, learning to be little shameless in seeking work etc.

SR: The reactions like in most cases, has been a mix. Some people are glad that we’re doing something we enjoy as a profession and in fact have said they would vicariously live through us. Others, rightfully so have questioned the viability of what we’re trying to do, keeping in mind the fairly sizeable opportunity cost.

The folks at home too, were admittedly concerned, considering that we had well-paying job at stake.

Though we’ve only just started off, I’ve come to realize that one spends the most amount of time doing the things they’re least equipped to do. So the journey so far has been one of learning.

Our decision to pursue Walnut was based on an understanding of our capabilities and an awareness of the market. We sincerely believe that there is space in the market for us to carve a niche for ourselves.

Moreover, having spent some time interacting with some awesome people, I believe that a lot more people, especially those with legal backgrounds are veering away from their conventional jobs and pursuing something that they’re passionate about.

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