Continuing with our feature series, Meet a Member, we spoke to Rakesh Kamdar about his entrepreneurship journey and what led him to TiE.
Tell us about your background: where you grew up, what’s your family like, and how did you come to Massachusetts?
I am from Ahmedabad, Gujarat in India. And I come from a family who have been in business for many, many generations, with air compressors and manufacturing textile machinery parts. When I was in 10th grade in India, I decided that I will go to US for higher education studies in computer science, something away from our family business. Between me and my brother, we thought about if something happens in the future to the [family] business, we have alternate line to depend on.
I was curious about products, and I used to fill up the postcards from British and American magazines to get product information. I was always curious to learn more about new products and what’s going on in the world. And so, it used to help me teach myself from product literature. I also wrote to NASA to get the Apollo kit!
After completing my B.E. in Electronics and Communications, I came to New Jersey to do my Master’s, and after completing the program, I landed my first job in Boston in December 1987 and since then I am in Boston.
What is your company, and when did you realize that it was potentially great?
As a serial entrepreneur, I have had three companies so far. My first company was an IT staffing company. When I came to Massachusetts for my first job, I worked only for one company for about five years. And right after that, I started my IT staffing company here. I was inspired by encouragement from my dad and my brother as well as I got the inspiration from one of my colleagues working on one of the projects and learned about how to start an IT staffing company. That helped me establish a small office in India and start bringing people on H-1B [visas] to the US. That was the first idea, and I sold my first company, the IT staffing company.
And then, I moved on to my second startup. And my second startup was an internet space. I called that a “successful shutdown” because I ran it for nine months. I raised some money, but then I realized that revenue was a big issue, so I decided not to pursue it further and return 33% investment back to all angel investors!
After that, I took a few years off and started my third company after realizing that staffing is my expertise, so I should remain within the staffing industry. For that business, I got an idea by doing research about healthcare workers in the US and throughout the world. In 2001, I started a healthcare staffing company, DB Healthcare. When I saw healthcare organizations struggling for staff at the time, I decided to get into healthcare staffing services and started nine training centers in India to train experience ICU nurses to take NCLEX board exam and brough over hundreds of nurses to US and provided them on contract services to hospitals nationwide in the US.
Was there adversity along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Every company I had its own challenges to deal with. But being an entrepreneur, I think it is always great to learn from solving those challenges. And one of the examples that I wanted to give you here is during my third healthcare staffing company, I had nine training centers in India to train nurses to take NCLEX exams, and then we would apply for the green cards, and they would come here to the US on a green card, and then we provide them on a contract basis to hospitals in the US. They were granted a special waiver so that we can get their green card in six months.
But during the 2008–2009 financial crisis, US immigration decided to stop that special waiver so that those nurses, instead of coming here in six months, the waiting period became 10 years! That was a huge challenge for my company because my pipeline was basically bringing nurses from India and the Philippines, and we already brought a few hundred nurses who are working on staff, and our contracts now could not replenish the pipeline of nurses because of the delayed immigration waiting period.
From a few hundred employees, my company within three years shrank down to only 10 employees! That’s when we decided to focus on healthcare information technology staffing and hire only people within the US on green cards or US citizens. We revamped our staffing specialty with existing relationships with hospitals and clients, so that part was easy. But this was one of the biggest challenges that I came across, and that’s how we resolved it. I went back to school at Northeastern University to do my second Master’s in healthcare information technology to learn about this business!
How did you find TiE Boston, and what prompted you to become a member?
In 1996, I invited a delegation from the State of Gujarat to promote their software technology park. And during that event, I reached out to Samir Desai, one of the founding members of TiE Boston, to get some help with the event. After that, in 1999 Samir invited me to become a TiE Boston charter member and manage the finances for TiE Boston as a Treasurer.
What is your current involvement in TiE?
I have two roles at present with TiE! I am a board member and a treasurer for TiE Boston, and I am also a vice chairman on the Board of Trustees for TiE Global. I’m really enjoying working with TiE at our chapter level, as well as at a global level.
What did you find most rewarding about this role?
TiE has always been in the center of my entrepreneurship, personal and philanthropical journey. One constant reward from TiE since my involvement, is the inspiration and motivation in meeting other successful individuals. Lately, I am really enjoying providing the same values by meeting and connecting with new entrepreneurs at various TiE events. Making appropriate connections, introductions and providing business opportunities to our entrepreneurial community is quite rewarding to me.
And from this learning, actually, as I became a successful entrepreneur, part of me wanted to give back and continued my journey to take these positions at the chapter level as well as the global level, and see how I can translate what I’ve learned from my journey and help younger entrepreneurs or young professionals coming to TiE and make sure they understand that TiE is a place where you get the mentoring, education, inspiration, motivation for either your current goals, entrepreneurial goals, or professional goals.
What is most interesting/helpful about TiE Boston to you? How can people engage in TiE Boston to help their personal and professional growth?
TiE provides a platform for networking, mentoring and education and it is very important for an individual to attend TiE events to establish initial connections and then continue to foster the relationship. Over the years I learned that, when we meet and observe successful people at such events provides amazing learning experience and one can continue to improve on that for their personal and professional growth.
TiE Boston has curated programs for mentoring and education. I would suggest that all the entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs, professionals should come to TiE events, learn more about our curated programs, and see how they can take advantage of growing their own vision. Either for their professional career or as an entrepreneur and to realize that vision through TiE and TiE’s network.
What are you working on now?
What I learned through this journey of getting involved in so many things, is that I really should have time for myself. Whether you are a professional or an entrepreneur, everyone has 24 hours in a day. One of my focused areas is to make sure I have time for myself and make myself fearless! For that purpose, I commit to tasks with higher impact and say no to all other distractions that come in my way. I treat my time as the most important wealth and continue to focus on activities that I enjoy the most.
Are there any books and or podcasts you would recommend to rising professionals and entrepreneurs?
I’ll summarize all my books and podcasts learning in one sentence: “complexity is enemy of excellence, keep things simple”. If you follow this sentence in everything you do in your daily life, it’ll really simplify your goals, visions, whatever you would like to do. It’ll remove all the complexity from your life, and you’ll be able to reach your goal much faster.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to follow in your steps?
There is no substitute for hard work. So, it’s very important that entrepreneurs are ready to work hard. They must be doers! And the second area I’d say is, that distraction is your biggest enemy, and it’s very easy to get distracted. I would recommend younger entrepreneurs to create a vision board with clear goals and objectives that will keep them focused on their entrepreneurial goals. Like a dream board, I call it- just keep it in front of you, where it captures what would you like to achieve in your life personally, professionally, spiritually, for your kids, for your family.
Bring all these pictures into one vision board and keep it in front of you. When you are distracted, and if this vision board is in front of you, either as a screensaver on your phone or in your office wall, it’ll make you bring your focus back to what is most important for you and for your business, as well as for your family. That’s my best advice I can give you.