Kunal Chopra is passionate about building and scaling tech companies. He is currently the CEO of Kaspien (NASDAQ:KSPN), a software and tech-enabled services platform company that partners with brands to grow their businesses on marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, and eBay among others. Kaspien is headquartered in the Spokane, WA area, has over 150 employees, has done almost $1B in marketplace sales, and has served over 4000 brands.
Kunal is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Aventis Alpha Care, a technology-enabled home care services company aiming to consolidate, transform and disrupt the global senior and terminal care landscape.
During his 15+ year career in technology, Kunal has held leadership positions as General Manager at Microsoft, General Manager at Amazon, Chief Operating Officer of eSports betting company Unikrn and as Director of Product at the world’s fastest-growing startup at the time – Groupon. He has also consulted with the world’s largest hedge fund – Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest fixed-income investment advisors – NISA Investment Advisors, and the world’s top education-focused performance marketing company – All Star.
He also holds an MBA from a global business school – The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business and a Masters in Computer Science from Clemson University. He is also a mentor and an advisor to early-stage technology startups through his association with Techstars – a top startup accelerator. Kunal is an angel investor in early-stage startups and has authored several books on business planning and execution, career planning, and leadership.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Kunal Chopra: I grew up in Mumbai India, where I studied computer engineering at The University of Mumbai. I then came to the US to pursue a Master’s in Computer Science from Clemson University. I booked a one-way ticket to the US, borrowed $6000 from my friends and family for my first semester’s tuition to change my life.
After graduating from Clemson with a 4.0/4.0 and armed with experiences as a teaching assistant and research assistant with the Department of Computer Science, I was hired as a Software Engineer at Microsoft, where I spent 6 years in software engineering leadership at various product groups n the company – Office, Windows, and Microsoft Dynamics.
I then decided to add to my skillsets by moving to Chicago and getting my MBA from The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. From there started my career as an executive in tech. Since then I’ve served in various leadership positions. I served as the Director of Product at Groupon, COO of a venture-backed eSports betting startup in Seattle, General Manager at Amazon Fashion, and General Manager at Microsoft’s World Wide Learning.
These experiences led me to be the CEO of a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ – Kaspien (NASDAQ: KSPN).
In all the roles I’ve had so far, I’ve always found myself at the center of setting vision and strategy, building, launching, and distributing products and services, putting together strong operations, building the right organizations and culture, raising capital, and scaling globally both organically and inorganically – all resulting in massive value creation for all my shareholders, customers, employees, and other stakeholders.”
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Kunal Chopra: Yes, I’m extremely grateful to Mr. Dhimant Dalal, who has been my mentor since a very young age. Mr. Dalal guided me in choosing the right career especially as my parents recognized my love for computer science. My parents were not particularly educated. My father worked in Bollywood (the Indian film industry) and my mother was a housewife. Mr. Dalal on the other hand was an entrepreneur, who had successfully built and run a large business, someone whom I looked up to very dearly.
When it came time to pay for fees to apply to US universities or to do my GMAT, Mr. Dalal wouldn’t think twice before giving me his credit card. When my father passed, Mr. Dalal was there to continuously advise me on how to manage life without a father figure. When I finished my Master’s in the US and was thinking about returning back to India, Mr. Dalal advised against it and pushed me to continue further.
Today, Mr. Dalal is always there to guide me, serve as a reference when needed, and be a sounding board when I have ideas I’d like to bounce off someone. Mr. Dalal paved the way for a kid who had big dreams but didn’t have the financial or emotional backing to pursue them.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Kunal Chopra: The worst advice I’ve ever received is to wait and things will fall in place. This was given to me by one of my first managers at Microsoft, who today is at the exact same place career-wise that he was when I joined more than 15 years ago. When asked for a promotion, he said “Wait and things will fall in place. You’ll get promoted”. When asked for more managerial responsibilities, he said “Wait and things will fall in place. One day you’ll become a manager”.
My advice is exactly the opposite. Things will not fall into place. You have to make things fall in place. You have to take control of situations and make them work for you. The universe is always giving you opportunities. It’s up to you to recognize them. Things only fell in place, when I took control of my situations.
This doesn’t mean that you must not be patient. You certainly must be patient, but you’ll have to act consistently, recognize when things are working and when things are not. When they are not, you must pivot. Micro speed, macro patient.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Kunal Chopra: It’s been a mix of both positive and negative. Positive because our company has enjoyed more demand from consumers, who are shopping online, online being the dominant channel that we sell through.
At the same time, this excessive demand, across the industry has caused supply chain issues, making it hard to get access to inventory in a timely manner.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Kunal Chopra: They are all important to us and they are the foundation on how we’re building this company. Our mission, vision, and values are at the center of all that we do.
- Our vision at Kaspien is to be number 1 in global gross merchandise value (GMV) in the seller services market. This big hairy audacious goal is our long-term plan that we all dream about every day.
We will achieve our vision through the execution of our mission daily – which is to accelerate the growth of brands on today’s leading online marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, eBay, etc.
Finally, none of this can happen if we don’t display the right behaviors. We call our values “Leadership Principles”. These principles, of which we have 7, are the foundation of how we bring people into the company, how we grow them, how they succeed, how they are performance managed, how we deal with our customers, how we make decisions. Our values are not words on the wall, but a significant part of our operations. At Kaspien, we won’t succeed if we don’t aspire to do big things, execute on our mission daily and display the right behaviors. They’re all important.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Kunal Chopra: Success is no doubt very subjective. There is a lot more for me to get done for Kaspien and personally before I can even consider being successful. However, the following 3 character traits have certainly guided me so far:
- “Consistently” delivering results.
I’m the kind of person, who believes very strongly in the power of goal setting, setting clear measures of success and targets, driving towards roadmaps and milestones. Results are at the center of how I think. I’m always working backward from a goal. I also believe very strongly in “single-threaded leadership”, a single accountable person to driving results.
- Growth Mindset.
I’m a person who believes that anything is possible if you put your heart and mind into it. Anything can be learned and the fear of not knowing should certainly not hold us back from pursuing large goals. There is the first time for everything and the attitude of learning and improving will take you through any new situation you face.
- Inclusiveness and alignment.
Inclusive leaders don’t tell people what to do. They inspire to bring people along. Then ensure that they can connect the dots among all, can integrate, and ensure alignment. They ensure we’re all moving in one direction.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Kunal Chopra: I wish I had started building my personal brand a lot earlier in my career. It’s only over the past few years that I’ve been investing in my personal brand. At the end of the day, a brand is a way for customers to connect with a company and/or product. That brand takes time to build and is not an overnight effort. There is a compounding effect similar to what you see when you start investing at a young age. The earlier you start the more the end result will be.
For individuals, you are the product and your customers are the people you interact with – bosses, coworkers, the community, media, future employers. How you are perceived by the world at every stage in your life is going to define the new doors that will open up for you, the relationships you build, and the impact you will drive. Irrespective of which job you are in or what you’re doing in life right now, your brand will define how the world sees you, irrespective of where you go.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Kunal Chopra: My leadership style is a balance between “inclusivity” and “single-threaded leadership”. Inclusivity because as leaders, our job is to bring people along for the ride. We have to ensure alignment. We have to make decisions by utilizing the best data available and that will come from diverse perspectives and having the right people in the room. When a decision is made we want the people around us motivated and not told what to do so that they are excited to drive.
On the other hand, I also believe that teams will fail if they don’t have a single accountable leader who is driving results and is supported by others. This is what I call single-threaded leadership. For any project or program, if one can’t identify the “CEO” of that project or program, the single-threaded leader, the project is most likely doomed for failure. One person is responsible for driving. One person is accountable for results.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Kunal Chopra: Please go right now and start a company. Something I wish I would’ve done at an earlier age when my risk profile was a lot different.
Entrepreneurship is the foundation of any world’s economy. Entrepreneurship is what creates value in the world, is what creates jobs, is what uplifts people, is what satisfies people, and is the opportunity that you will get to completely change your life – whether you succeed or not. Entrepreneurship will teach you difficult life skills like managing money, working in teams, fundraising, selling, recruiting, goal setting, dealing with failure, showing grit, being customer-focused, etc., etc. These are things that are not taught to us in school.
It is an experience that will make you successful in any other endeavor that you will take on in life, even if it’s just another job.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Kunal Chopra: “There is no growth in the comfort zone and there is no comfort in the growth zone” – a quote that a senior manager at Amazon taught me.
In life, I’ve realized that whenever I’ve grown (either personally or professionally), it’s been at times when things got uncomfortable and I had to push through them. When I came out on the other side, I know I was a completely different person – with new lessons, new experiences, a better leader, a better father, made more money, etc.
However, on the other side, when things get comfortable, the quote has taught me to not settle and when things are settling down, it’s time to start to get uncomfortable again as there is more growth ahead of you. This constant sensory acuity of where you are and the ability to take action is how I lead my life.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Kunal Chopra for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Kunal Chopra or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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