Meet a Member: Pramod Kalyanasundaram
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I grew up in Chennai, a coastal city in the Southeastern part of India. My schooling and undergrad in Electrical and Electronics engineering was in Tamil Nadu. One of my first jobs out of school was with the Center for Development of Telematics (CDOT), working to get everybody in India connected on the telephone network by transforming the telephone telecom infrastructure in India. CDOT essentially hired about 400 bright kids out of college and tasked them with building a Class 5 switch in three years. We had no clue whether it could be done or not, but had a few senior people to guide us. We delivered a suite of products in about four years and got it deployed. Later on, we learned that even four years was phenomenal because it usually takes seven to 10 years to build such a product. It was a great learning experience where we learned that the power of a transformational vision, when combined with a startup DNA, can achieve the seemingly impossible.
About 30 years ago, higher studies brought me to the U.S. I did my masters and PhD, in computer science, from the University of Delaware. What brought me to Massachusetts was the excitement to be a part of a startup. I’ve always enjoyed building things growing up and startups embody that innovation. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I moved to Massachusetts and have been here for over 20 years.
What industry do you work in and how did you get started?
Growing up, my father worked for the railways in India, making me want to build big electrical locomotives. That is what inspired me to become an electrical engineer. But my junior year in college, I took courses in microprocessors and programming. I got really fascinated by the ability to build things quickly in software. The rest is history. I’ve been in software for the last several decades. I’ve been with both startups and big companies primarily in software and high technology environments.
Today, I work today for Boston based Wasabi Technologies that has achieved Unicorn status. We offer just one thing — public cloud storage to our customers similar to AWS. I’m a Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations. So my team is responsible for both building the product and operating the service. I’ve been there for over a year and it’s been a fantastic journey. I’m surrounded by really smart people and the founders are very seasoned as this is their fifth startup together. The culture is supportive and open. In spite of the founders having achieved a great deal, they display humility.
You’ve worked in big companies and small companies, which environment do you prefer?
I have enjoyed both environments. They’re just different. In a small company you get almost a 360 degree view of everything. Especially in the early stages of all startups, you wear multiple hats. You’re really excited about the fast pace and smart people that you work with to build something. When you move to a big company, you understand what scale means, which you may not get in a small company, and scale can be humbling. For instance, when I worked at Verizon anything we did went to millions of consumers. The impact is both big and challenging. I personally think to be a true entrepreneur, you need both of these experiences because it helps you understand what problems you need to solve at different stages of a startup’s lifecycle.
Do you have a figure or a mentor that you looked up to in business or in life?
My father was, is, and will continue to be my role model. He instilled principles in me that make me a much better human being. When it comes to mentorship, like many, when I started my career, my boss became my de facto mentor, really helping me to grow. Over time, mentorship has taken on a different meaning, which has to do with self-awareness, understanding your weaknesses and your strengths, and being able to leverage learning from almost everybody you meet. Now, I feel I learn from everybody, so technically, with a little bit of humility the whole world offers mentorship. So you don’t have to go searching for mentors. All you have to do is be in the moment and be willing to learn from the people around you.
Speaking of mentors, tell us a little bit about your role and involvement in TiE Boston.
I’ve been a member for almost 20 years now. I was very active initially when I became a member. My involvement was geared towards networking and getting to know the community at that time. I took a break when startup life and a young family shifted my focus. About two years ago Neeraj Chandra, reached out to me and introduced TiE ScaleUp which matched very well with what I enjoy doing, mentoring and coaching people.
ScaleUp was a great way to give back to the community. As someone who is passionate about entrepreneurship and mentorship. Those first two years after rejoining, I was both a mentor and leading the curriculum development. Recently I’ve become the chair of TIE ScaleUp which is part of TIE Boston, and my job is to enhance and grow the program over the next few years and to fulfill Neeraj’s vision.
How did you find TiE Boston and what prompted you to become a member?
I’ve been part of the New England entrepreneurial community for quite some time. Entrepreneurship can be lonely and you need all the support you can get to build a successful company. When we were introduced to VCs who were funding the company, we were connected to other Indian entrepreneurs who were quite successful. I came to know about TiE and thought this would be a great way to be part of the larger entrepreneurial community.
How can people engage in TiE Boston to help their personal and their professional growth? What do you recommend in terms of how they might get connected and engage?
At the end of the day, it has to be a two way street. People have to gain something from being part of a community and in turn, the community gains from the individual’s involvement. I’d suggest first to start with networking. Get to know people, get to know all the interesting stories that people have and understand their journeys. There are a lot of insights to be gained from successful entrepreneurs who have been there, done that, seen things, who can advise and guide. The best time to start establishing a relationship is when you don’t need it. You will find that over time as the relationships grow, there is plenty that the community gives back to you. Explore the different programs and activities we have: TYE, ScaleUp, TiE University, TiE Women and so much more. TiE is all about entrepreneurship, but it’s also about people and the community.
What are some of the challenges leaders are facing today?
Leadership is all about two things. It’s about character and competence. High integrity helps create trusted relationships that make people want to follow you. Competence helps achieve results and wins respect. The first challenge that leaders face today is staying current and relevant. People have to spend some time staying current with things that are happening. It is impossible to keep track of all areas given how fast things are progressing, but at least one needs to understand where to focus and make sure that one is current in those areas. The second challenge is always the internal versus the external. You have to stay true to your core values. Balancing the pressure of delivering short term results constantly with the right thing to do when there is conflict can be a challenge at times.
If you were to recommend a book to rising entrepreneurs, what would you recommend?
Being an engineer at heart, one of my all-time favorites is The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder which talks about how Data General built a new microcomputer in a year.
Pramod, what advice would you give the younger you?
I would say, know what you want to do, understand yourself, understand what you’re good at and what you love doing. It’s more about the vision and value creation. Have a big dream and work on realizing the dream. Enjoy your journey and take as many people along with you as you can. It is not what you do, it is the positive impact that you leave behind.