Chetan Alsisaria - To Stand Out and Make Yourself Visible Is a Challenge (Co-Founder & CEO - Polestar Solutions & Services India)

People can immediately recall our name and they can associate us with analytics and performance management. Had we been all over the place, maybe that would not have happened. Also, as entrepreneurs, you would get ten reasons daily to not continue but find that one reason which can still drive you.

Tell us about your background, journey, and upbringing.

I was born and brought up in a small town in a joint family. There was great emphasis on education and learning in my family which was not limited to the academic curriculum. After my initial education, I went to St. Xavier’s Kolkata for higher secondary and thereafter did my computer engineering from Jadavpur University. 

Post my engineering, I got a chance to work with PwC, Kolkata. PwC had sold off its consulting practice to IBM at that time and was in the process of rebuilding the consulting business. In hindsight that's the best thing that could have happened to me. I got to work closely with some of the best brains in technology consulting. 

I also got a chance to handle multiple responsibilities early in my career. After PwC, I joined the Technology Integration Practice at Deloitte India. This, again, was a startup practice under an established brand. At Deloitte, I got the exposure to deliver complex BI, Analytics, and EPM projects for large and mid-sized Indian companies. 

That was a great learning experience as a domestic IT business runs on a much thinner margin and, hence, you need to manage the various aspects of business that much better. Actually, it was at that time that I understood the business of IT services better. Thereafter, I had a brief stint with EY before co-founding Polestar with two amazing partners. 

It’s been more than eight years now but sometimes it seems like we started just yesterday.

When and how did you get clarity on what you wanted to do?

Since I had an opportunity to work with start-up practices early on, starting up was definitely somewhere there in my mind. But it was only around the end of 2011 when I was having more frequent brainstorming sessions with Amit and Ajay, who are co-founders of Polestar Solutions that we started thinking about it more seriously. 

Between 2009 and 2011, I worked very closely with multiple private as well as public sector clients and saw them struggling on the data-driven decision-making side. While many of these companies either had or were in the process of implementing large-scale data warehouses and BI, the success of these in real terms was limited. 

Sometimes it was a break between the business strategy and technology roadmap and at other times it was a case of sub-optimal implementation. All three of us felt that we can definitely add value to such clients and help them realize more of their data. That's where it all started.


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What does your typical workday look like?

We have got a very strong leadership team in place who have got amazing ownership and deep expertise in their respective areas. We have also streamlined most of our processes in HR, delivery, sales, marketing, finance, etc. 

Almost everyone in our team - developers, business analysts, project managers, architects, sales and marketing executives, as well as support staff, have got exceptionally high levels of commitment and drive, which effectively translates into me or for that matter any co-founder not having to spend too much time on operational activities. 

My typical day starts with having a group call with leaders where we touch base on various initiatives which are ongoing. One of our key focus areas this year is international business growth so I have been spending time on that. A good part of my time goes into hiring as the most important aspect of IT services is people. 

I also spend time in marketing planning and reviews. I also maintain relationships with some of the most key accounts. Apart from that my co-founders and I try to have discussions with all the people who have recently joined Polestar, in small batches.

Several global companies have come out and thrown their support behind not needing a formal education. What is your opinion about this?

While I believe that your degrees do not define you (I’ve seen some phenomenal people who never had great formal education), we go ahead with the requirement of having at least a B.Tech or equivalent or an MBA for certain profiles, primarily from a practical constraints perspective. 

As of now, we haven’t found a good and yet time-efficient way of screening profiles. Out of the huge number of profiles that we get, our talent acquisition team screens them based on some criteria. 

Till the time we find a better way, we are going ahead with the current methodology. But yes, we definitely would like to come up with a better method which can judge the person completely based on merit irrespective of the qualification.

How do you handle someone who has lied on their resume?

It depends on the intent and also how they respond once the lie is revealed. I've seen many people copy-pasting a lot of content from other resumes and in the process saying things that are not completely true but the intent from their side was not to cheat or lie. 

Just that they didn’t understand the true weight of what they wrote or rather copied. While I’m completely against candidates copying resumes and not working hard on something which happens to form their first impression in an organization, I still give the benefit of doubt to the candidate.

Over the course of the interview, if I feel that the person is genuine and is a good fit from a cultural and capability standpoint, I go ahead with them. In some cases there are blatant lies which become evident and we have got zero tolerance for such things.

What are some of your typical challenges and how have they evolved over time?

The challenges in a young high-growth organization change and evolve fast. Initially, we were neck-deep in operational activities, and managing our time for strategic initiatives was a challenge. 

We solved this to a good extent by forming a great team and defining processes for most things. Having said that, right skill availability still remains one of the major challenges till now which I think is true for all IT services organizations.

Also, defining and refining the processes to understand and retain millennials is an evolving process. The millennials are in general very sharp, smart and have got much higher exposure than we ever had. I find them in general to be very efficient with a very fast learning curve. 

But they also get bored of stuff quickly. Honestly, you need to be in their shoes to understand them best. The good part is that we have got some leaders who have risen through the ranks extremely fast and are handling key responsibilities which help us see things from a different perspective.

Another challenge is that the analytics space is very crowded from both the product/platform as well as service providers' perspectives. To stand out and make yourself visible is a challenge. 

Thankfully at Polestar Solutions because of our strong consulting approach, excellent delivery, and client-centricity, we have been able to do that, but this is something that you can never take for granted. You have to continuously innovate offerings as well as marketing aspects and get better.

Today, of course, our challenges are unique and complex given the current context. As self-isolation became paramount, maintaining the welfare of our team of over 200 people became a concern and priority for us. We’ve launched a Covid-War Room internally to help those impacted by Covid-19 - our intent is to step up and support our people during these challenging times.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs or those eyeing the top job?

To be very honest I don’t think I have reached that stage where I can advise people, but I can share my learnings. The fact that we started with a very focused offering, has helped us immensely. 

People can immediately recall our name and they can associate us with analytics and performance management. Had we been all over the place, maybe that would not have happened. Also, as entrepreneurs, you would get ten reasons daily to not continue but find that one reason which can still drive you.

Also, you are nothing without a great team. Form a high-performance team and give them authority to make a difference. If you have got the right people, they will not fail you. And lastly, for us, the fact that as co-founders we have got deep trust in each other has helped us sail through rough waters. So, choose your co-founders wisely.

Which is your favorite book and why?

There are many wonderful books both fictional as well as non-fictional which have impacted my thought process. One of my favorite books is Fountainhead which I read while I was in engineering school. The book strongly talks about individualism and challenging conventional thoughts based on strong logical reasoning. 

It's not like individualism and a great team cannot go hand in hand. While teams are required to deliver and make things happen, there definitely needs to be someone who is ready to take individual accountability. 

I can link it to great organizations where people maintain their individualism, come up with ideas, innovate, and are not scared of suggesting/doing things that are different from the set way of doing things. 

These are typically the organizations and institutions that grow the most over a period of time. Most of all, with that thought process, you as a person would be happier, which is the ultimate goal of life, isn’t it?

Bio - 

Chetan Alsisaria - Co-Founder & CEO - Polestar Solutions & Services India Pvt Ltd.

An excellent business leader and technologist, Chetan have, over the past 17 years, led many technology-driven business transformation engagements for clients across the globe for Fortune 500 companies, large/mid-size Indian organizations, new-age companies as well as in the government sector.

Chetan’s area of expertise lies in identifying strategic growth areas, forming alliances, building high potential motivated teams, and delivering excellence in the areas of data analytics and enterprise performance management.

As Co-Founder & CEO of Polestar, he has defined the business processes for sales, marketing, human resource, delivery, and finance. As a leader, his focus has been on sustainable growth with a win-win situation for all stakeholders (employees, clients, suppliers, society, at large).

Prior to founding Polestar, Chetan worked with leading consulting firms such as
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young.