In Conversation with… Shantanu Jain, Co- Founder, Readon.
Please help us know you better.?
I come from a typical middle-class business family, settled in Kolkata. I am a Chartered Accountant by profession, and a social entrepreneur by passion. Over my 5 years of corporate journey, I focussed on learning about as many industries and companies as possible.
My work allowed me to talk to some of the most brilliant minds in India Inc, as well as interact and engage with people at the grassroots level. From the remotest villages in Odisha to the best business parks and hotels of Mumbai – I have seen it all.
I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2018. I completed my three years of training from Grant Thornton. Post qualification, I joined Swiggy as an in-house business consultant.
I love reading, writing, and building things up from scratch. From time to time, I don the hat of a business consultant, process excellence professional, and a teacher who loves simplifying complex financial concepts.
My love for traveling took me on an 8,000 km long train journey across 12 States in 15 days, where I got to interact with over 1,000 individuals about their problems, aspirations, and passions (across different income, literacy segments).
When not doing any of this, you can find me mentoring CA/MBA students and soon-to-be entrepreneurs.
Tell us about your business venture. How did it all start?
How I see ReadOn is as a community of folks deeply passionate about the world of business and finance. Right now, the focus is on decluttering news from noise, especially in the business and finance domain, where our core competency lies. We are an online media and e-learning company that focuses on delivering handpicked, quality content in an easy-to-digest language in two formats: one 3-mins read every morning, and (we have just started with this) three 1-min reads every evening. The objective is to enhance GenZ’s business and financial knowledge, giving context and insights that stem from years of experience in the business world, while not boring them to death with heavy words.
How has your journey been so far?
Exciting, adventurous, sometimes nerve-wracking, mostly fun 🙂
What does a day in your life look like?
My day starts with reading business newspapers, articles, etc. Then, at exactly 11:15 am, Yavantika (my co-founder) calls me up to discuss the day’s affairs. Post that, it’s pretty random – more of fire-fighting, and enabling conversations with readers, team members, external partners, etc. I also love mentoring young CA/MBA students and devote 2 hours every day to that. While doing all this, you can find me reading a book or two. Always.
How is the competitive scenario in the industry you operate in?
We operate at the intersection of media-tech and ed-tech. While there are much bigger fishes in the pond, we have been able to create a niche for ourselves. Both these markets, independently, are gaining momentum – but there is only a handful that is merging these two.
As an entrepreneur, you might have faced many challenges as a part of your journey. What motivates you to keep striving and never give up?
The fact that I work with some of the smartest brains day-in, day-out, solving a problem that plagues ~100 crore Indians, and do what I love doing every single day is motivation enough, I guess. Would anyone give up on anything they truly love?
Moreover, challenges are what make this journey fun.
I think, a lot of founders, when they start up, don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t realize what they are getting into, and how tough the journey can get. I gave up once, in college, when we had an on-demand book rental service startup. Reason? I did not have enough experience in leading teams, I did not understand the funding game – I believed companies have to be profitable first, to convince investors to invest. I was not ready then.
So, I devoted the next 3-4 years to learning as much about the space I was deeply interested in, learning how to work with different types of people, leading teams of different sizes and capabilities, rooting myself deeper into the startup space.
Now, I know and understand the game we are playing, I understand what it’s going to take to make ReadOn a great organization that creates a positive impact in the lives of our readers, members, extended community, and even our peers. Giving up is not something we think about; we are all-in on this.
Having a good team can make or break a start-up. What are your thoughts on building an effective team?
Absolutely. Integrity, Energy, and Intelligence (in terms of cognitive diversity) – in that order – is the holy grail of creating a high-impact team. The toughest task for any Founder is to make highly intellectual people work together, in sync with what we want to achieve.
Start-ups that crack this early on have a higher probability to succeed.
Organizational values, if cemented early on, also helps bind the early members, and enable them to look for talent that aligns not just with the org’s objective, but also its culture (something I learned working at Swiggy).
At ReadOn, these are some of the values we live by:
1. User Comes First
2. Urgency in efforts, patience in results
3. Always Ask “Why”
4. Trust Forward
The pandemic has affected many businesses. What are the immediate challenges your business faced and how do you plan to overcome them?
We are the child of the pandemic. ReadOn, in its current shape and form, came into existence only because I was saving on some travel time, and decided to invest that into making financial concepts fun and simple.
One of the biggest challenges facing me as I embarked upon this journey was creating a completely remote team: to date, I have not met a lot of ReadOn team members physically. What we learned early was that the culture of the organization, how we treated our interns and core team members, would determine the quality of our output.
So we made sure that we had a robust hiring process upfront: selected people who were self-driven and disciplined (our conversion ratio is 150:1, implying, we take 1 intern out of 150 candidates who apply).
My process excellence background also helped here: we now have very member-friendly content management processes in place which helps us deliver quality content every day (minimize process anxiety, optimize process efficiency, maximize quality output).
Looking back at your entrepreneurial journey, is there something you feel you could have done differently?
We could have started earlier.
What would be your advice to all the budding entrepreneurs?
Don’t fall into the pit of chasing tags, titles, and money. Maximize learnings, optimize earnings. You will need to earn a fair bit to be able to support your family and loved ones, but don’t just do things for the sake of maximizing income. Also, focus on building skills. Try out new things. Deliberately seek out people who have a view opposing yours, build cognitive diversity. Be a generalist.