Adventures of a serial entrepreneur

Topics BOOK REVIEW

It is unusual for a person not yet 40 years of age to come out with an autobiography. Jason Kothari obviously thinks that his life is sufficiently exciting and has enough lessons for entrepreneurs that it needs to be written about. To be fair, he says a young entrepreneur he had advised persuaded him to pen down his experiences. It is a small book — a little more than 240 pages — and an easy read. It can be finished in a single day, provided you do not get distracted.

Mr Kothari styles himself a turnaround artiste. While studying in the US, he bid for a bankrupt comic book company called Valiant, managed to buy it, and turned it around before selling it for $100 million. Post his Valiant adventure, his resume is slightly less impressive — he was brought in to head Housing.com after its founder Rahul Yadav had spectacularly run it into the ground and been ousted in a nasty battle with venture capitalists. According to Mr Kothari, he turned around a company that was in dire straits, made it the leader in its space before merging it with NewsCorp-backed PropTiger in an all-stock deal that was a win-win for all. Media reports of that time, however, largely saw the merger as a deal between two flailing real estate start-ups in a tough market and suggested that it was pushed through by venture capitalists who had already seen the value of their holdings go down dramatically.

After that, Mr Kothari joined Snapdeal, a start-up founded by his old collegemate and friend Kunal Bahl.  Messrs Kothari and Bahl had been at Wharton and participated in a start-up contest. According to Mr Kothari, he was pulled into Snapdeal when it had already lost out in the race for e-commerce leadership in India, and its venture capitalists were no longer willing to keep giving it big bucks to battle it out with Flipkart and Amazon. Mr Kothari’s version is that he worked out the Snapdeal 2.0 strategy with his team, helped the beleaguered company sell off Freecharge (of which Mr Kothari had been named CEO) to Axis Bank and its logistics subsidiary Vulcan Express, which was bleeding money. After that, he could not see a role for himself in the much smaller operation that remained after the deals, and decided to move on.

Irrationally Passionate: 
My Turnaround from Rebel to Entrepreneur
Author: Jason Kothari
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 268
Price: Rs 599
Again, media reports of that time paint a different picture. Yes, Mr Kothari joined Snapdeal at a critical time, and was there until the boat had been steadied. But exactly what role he played in steadying the boat is not very clear. Neither Mr Bahl nor his co-founder Mr Bansal have written their autobiographies to corroborate Mr Kothari’s version.
What is clear is that Mr Kothari is not worried about joining a troubled organisation — but he also knows when to walk away. In Valiant, Housing and Snapdeal, he managed to get out when he was still ahead. The latter two have not done particularly well post his departure and Valiant remains an also-ran in the comic empire dominated by DC Comics (Superman, Batman, Wonder woman, Aquaman etc) and the Marvel group (Ironman, Avengers series, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow et al). (Though Mr Kothari is now making a movie with one of the Valiant characters).

But Mr Kothari has definitely led an interesting life and he has many lessons in entrepreneurship to teach. The son of a senior multinational executive who was posted in Hong Kong and the US among others, Mr Kothari had both a privileged as well as rough childhood. Privileged because his parents were both high achievers and well off, and rough because he faced racism at an early age. 

According to his autobio­graphy, he exhibited his entrepre­neurs­hip skills at a fairly early age, buying a chessboard for Rs 30 when the vendor had originally quoted a price of Rs 300. He interned in a movie-making company that was making a Jackie Chan film too. He was always a comic book fan and in school managed to build a thriving comic book business buying rare copies and selling or trading them. He went through a rebellious phase, but turned around and became a model student. He learnt to meditate, practised Jainism tenets fairly closely and also learnt Muay Thai by staying for a year in a Muay Thai camp in Thailand. 

He was always a fan of the Valiant super heroes and bid for it when it was in bankruptcy proceedings. When he got the prize, his family put together the money needed to pay for it. They also helped him with funds to run the operations. 

What comes through in the book is that Mr Kothari has all the qualities of a successful entrepreneur. He is obsessive when he decides on a goal, has great bargaining skills, an eye for detail and a stomach for hard decisions.

The last chapter of the book —“Resilience is Essential” — probably has the most important lessons for any budding entrepreneur. For other readers, the book is a nice, one-time read.


The reviewer is former editor of  Business Today  and  Business World. He runs a website called www.prosaicview.com 


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