Santosh Kotnis is an IIT-B and MBA alumni with experience in business strategy, global growth, and execution. A serial entrepreneur and have co-founded technology companies, Angel Invested in Unique business models, built/scaled-up start-ups, built a micro-VC fund, raised money, worked as CEO and Business Unit Head, and grown the global business in the span of the last two decades.
An experienced global business executive with a solid track record of IT and business management experience that involves strategic planning, operations & financial management, program execution with complete P/L responsibility for the business units and organizations ranging from innovative start-ups to international leading organizations. Strong change agent with a focus on organizational transformation for success. Have strong experience of M&A activities; as an operational/business leader and at the board level.
Santosh has been very active in the startup community and advises/mentors startups of different stages. He believes in building the ecosystem and network which enables different stakeholders. Santosh takes a keen interest in VC/Angel activities.
Has experience in establishing & managing P&L of an organization with focused service, sales, and operations divisions by implementing strategies and overseeing division heads to maximize profitability and ensure the best customer experience. He played a leading role in establishing IT Infrastructure & Cloud Operation practice which grew up to the size of $20 million; through effective sales & marketing initiatives, sustained delivery efforts, and bringing out differentiated offerings to the customers.
He has experience in setting up Offshore Delivery Centres to offer IT Services, leveraging offshore advantages, and building streamlined processes to maximize profitability. He has been a key Enabler in increasing the topline & bottom line by innovative products and services aided by technology-optimized business processes.
Santosh has developed and executed global sales/business strategies and has managed multi-cultural teams across multiple geographies
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Table of Contents
Tell us a little bit about your current projects. What exciting milestone would you like to share with our readers? (Don’t hesitate to delve into your achievements, they will inspire the audience)
Santosh Kotnis: I am involved in multiple projects right now, all are exciting and thrilling at the same time.
This gives me an opportunity to work with a great team, allows me to work with different sets of customers and learn from those interactions. This is quite satisfying at the same time.
I am a growth mindset guy and accelerated growth thrills me. I want to focus on building profitability and great teams; which constitute the building blocks of accelerated growth.
- SpringUp Capital: SpringUp Capital is a Micro-VC fund and Scale-Up Accelerator; focusing on spotting, funding, mentoring, and scaling start-ups. Supported by a strong accelerator program, SpringUp enables start-ups across the world to find a market to scale. SpringUp Capital is a Micro-VC fund and Scale-Up Accelerator, focusing on spotting, funding, mentoring, and scaling start-ups. Supported by a strong accelerator program, SpringUp enables start-ups across the world to find a market to scale. We are working with some of the interesting startups which we are backing to scale globally.
- FactoryMind is Norway based Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform; trying to bring Artificial Intelligence to manufacturing and plant data; thereby helping plant efficiency; predict failures, improve forecasting and improve machine uptime. This allows us to work with manufacturing data and help customers build an AI-powered digital twin. We are excited about the initial success of the platform and the idea. And we would like to take this platform to the global level.
- SpringUp Labs: We are developing great software products, with an absolute focus on customer obsession, quality of the code/services, and help companies innovate. The initial response from the customers has been really encouraging and we would like to keep building a customer-focused team to scale this business.
In addition to this, I am also teaching at Geneva Business School; this helps me to interact with some of the bright brains and stay relevant.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Santosh Kotnis: During the initial phase of my corporate career, one of the mentors whom I met in the US told me, the growth will only happen if I work hard and bring some value to the organization & customers. This gave a direction for me in the early phase of my career. Built some great customer relationships, built quality deliverables, focused on processes, and led the team with passion and empathy; which brought early success.
In the second part of my corporate career, I shifted the focus on growth, profitability, and building great teams; which constitutes building blocks of accelerated growth. At this stage, a mentor from Norway guided me towards Emphatical Leadership, which sort of became a force of my leadership style. Got an excellent opportunity to grow along with the company. I always attribute a large part of my success to my mentors and team.
But, all my life, I am inspired by my Guru, who always taught me to stay humble, grounded, and be what you are. There is absolutely no need to try to impress anyone. This has been a guiding principle in my life all along.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Santosh Kotnis: Running a company or startup is not an easy job, it takes grit, determination, and courage to face the uncertainties.
On the other hand, startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.
- Being over-attached to an idea or brand: I would advocate, re-calibrate the idea, pivot if required, and be ready to start all over again. As they say, all startups might not be successful, but all entrepreneurs are. Learn from what has happened, take what worked, and move on to a new set of dreams.
- Having a growth mindset: Customer acquisition has to be the key focus, all the time and should be an important part of the business plan. And how the customers are retained? Are we trying to innovate keeping customers in mind? You may have a legitimately innovative idea for a new product or service. That’s terrific, but if it doesn’t actually bring anything of value to a customer’s life, they can’t be expected to run out and buy it with enthusiasm.
- Building Teams: Businesses are not run by one person; entrepreneurs should be able to build a world-class, customer-obsessed team. How to inspire others to join your dream? How to attract brilliant minds to join your team?
- Managing finance: This is absolutely a focus area. Can I manage my payable and receivable efficiently? Cash flow is another important aspect to be focused on.
In the end, remember that the most successful entrepreneurs focus their efforts outward toward their customers rather than inward toward themselves. They primarily want to make a difference in someone else’s life, not their own. Once you focus all your efforts around that idea and proactively address the other challenges on this list, you’ll be able to survive some of the most devastating mistakes that many entrepreneurs make daily.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Santosh Kotnis: We are in a difficult phase of human history.
Although we might feel we are at the end of it, the global economy is still months, if not years, away from being restored to the state it was in early 2020. Most businesses the world over have been forced to adjust to significantly lower revenue levels, depleted capital structures, and reduced employee productivity and morale.
This is a new normal.
Most of us have a good idea of the definition of growth, but resilience is a relatively new addition to our thought process. So here is a definition: “Resilience is the ability to protect and grow value in the face of rapidly changing external conditions.”
However, there are some examples, who not only withstood this wave but also grew. This is the result of a great resilient approach, which is essentially a mixture of Company Culture, Leadership, Values, Ability to adapt to change, and have a great amount of execution discipline. During this difficult time, the leadership gets tested. And companies with great leadership were able to survive and thrive.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Santosh Kotnis: We are a fund, run by successful entrepreneurs, we know what it takes to build & scale a startup. We know how to work with founders and what problems they potentially face.
Mission: We scale early-stage technology companies to rapidly grow their business and expand globally by providing international mentoring, a global eco-system of accelerators & funding. Spring Up Capital is supported by global investment, global accelerator programs, and the technology start-up ecosystem; which will enable global technology companies to grow their business by providing expertise, ecosystem, and capital for the growth.
Another great difference is our team: A global partner team; with decades of PE, VC, and Business Growth experience ready to help. Engaged Execution Approach: Spring Up team will be part of the business execution, making those business connections, spending time in defining growth strategy, traveling with you to introduce to other incubators, and acting as a bouncing board for product innovation.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Santosh Kotnis: I am an Empathetic Leader, and I put a lot of passion into the initiatives I engage with and I look at everything from that angle. This helped me to build some of the large business relationships, helped me to build great teams with whom I can go to any war, and most importantly, it built a culture of belongingness in the team. Due to certain business numbers or some customer escalations, I might have acted tough, but the team understood that. So, my only suggestion to leaders is to combine passion and empathy and this will bring wonders to your business results.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Santosh Kotnis: This is absolutely true. The personal brand of a CEO gets reflected with the company very nicely.
The CEO should be the brand carrier of the values of the company she/he represents. We can’t only talk about the customer-centric approach but the reality is different. Can a CEO really walk the talk?
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is famously quoted as saying, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
With increased adoption and consumption of social and digital media; it is an extremely important point to reflect the personal brand and carry the corporate brand as well.
How would you define “leadership”?
Santosh Kotnis: Leadership has a very simple definition yet very complex.
It is a combination of multiple factors. It is an ability to dream about the future, build the team, work on that dream, execute to the precision, and keep motivating the team. And bear the consequences of the result.
It is a combination of qualities like facing uncertain times, grit, focus on the larger picture yet knowing the details of details, and courage to follow the dream against all odds.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Santosh Kotnis: If people were born with entrepreneurial skills, then why should one pay for college?
This is often a topic of debate.
Leadership skills like entrepreneurial are inborn and they only can be bettered with learning and experience.
Entrepreneurship is an art and not a science. It is a set of innate traits that is perfected with time through learning and experience. Not everyone can be a good entrepreneur just like not everyone can be a good actor. Nothing can turn a follower into a leader. It is a matter of choice. It is more like a crude talent that needs to be refined.
What’s your favorite “leadership” quote and how has it affected the way you implement your leadership style?
Santosh Kotnis: “Leadership is about being of service to others, not being served by others. Be a mentor, not a boss” — Unknown
Can I be empathetic to others? Can I connect with my team members? Can I build great relationships? Can I stand by my team when they need it the most?
Leadership is about being honest, being humble, being helpful, and making a difference in their life.
Servant leadership is about coming from a place of wanting to add value to others other people and enrich other people’s lives. This is different from being a boss, where orders are given and there is a clear divide on authority. Being a mentor means coaching others through educating others and authentically edifying their team. A great leader commands respect and does not necessarily demand respect.
This quote, plus some of the best leaders I have worked with in the past, my mentors really helped me to frame my thoughts about being a leader who listens more, empathizes more, and doesn’t act like a boss, but a mentor.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Santosh Kotnis 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 Santosh Kotnis or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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