We talked to Parag Sharma of Mantra Labs on how to build intuitive products and solutions for clients and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Parag Sharma: We are doing quite well. One of the upside to this pandemic was that due to work from home setup, I spent more time with my kids and family.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Mantra Labs.
Parag Sharma: The majority of my career has been in the startup industry. I have seen companies building teams, building the leadership, reaching out to investors, etc. I was fortunate enough to be closely connected with the startup community and the startup ecosystem, even before starting something of my own. Before Mantra Labs, I worked on a product called Buy Easy, an e-commerce platform for online grocery shopping. The ecosystem was still evolving at that time. Running a business in the eCommerce space, especially in the grocery market where margins are skinny, requires a significant amount of funds not available in the market. Around the same time, I figured out a way to fund the eCommerce business at the early stage – technology consulting. For the first few years, we did technology consulting for a few customers in the US, which was invested in Buy Easy. However, the amount was not enough to scale-up the business at Buy Easy. Over time, we realized that our primary business was coming from tech consulting, and we were doing quite well in it. Hence, we decided to focus on product development and tech consulting, and that’s how our journey started. One of our early success stories was ZipDial, which was later acquired by Twitter. With my co-founders Mikhail Mitra and Kumar Sambhav Singh, we have now built a lot of knowledge and technology capital in Insurance and Digital Health Consulting.
How does Mantra Labs innovate?
Parag Sharma: We focus a lot on learning and the latest technologies. Our partnerships with many startups give us opportunities to work on cutting edge technologies. Also, while hiring, we look for people who have the spark of innovation in them. Building the right team, culture, and a studied approach is essential for continuous innovation. We are building a community focused on the Internet of Intelligent Experiences.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Parag Sharma: It was an unexpected and unpleasant experience, and we had to quickly deploy our Business Continuity protocols to ensure no loss to client business due to changed circumstances. We provided secure means of communication and established remote work practice. Indeed, our company was also affected by the pandemic and suffered losses for a couple of months in between. However, we were determined to work closely with our clients to protect revenue streams and unlock new avenues in a changing world. It has helped us stay ahead of the curve as the markets opened up, and we have now seen a significant uptick in business.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Parag Sharma: Certainly, some difficult choices had to be made. We had to work with our customers to ensure business continuity, which meant rationalizing invoices which impacted our topline. Top executives took salary breaks, and all expenses were deferred or rationalized. We also learned that our services’ productization was too critical to provide continued services for our customers. Hence, there was a renewed focus and attention to building products like Hitee and Flowmagic.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Parag Sharma: There have been times when things haven’t gone the way we expected. Naturally, it’s very demoralizing and negatively impacts the psychology of the people in the organization. But in times like these, I feel that it is more important to bring your focus back. Rather than continuing to worry about the problems, the only way to change the situation is to find solutions that would address those problems. So, along with me, the entire team gets into a problem-solving mode together. We meet and identify various issues grappling with the company and leave the floor open to discussion. Automatically, solutions start coming in from the most unexpected corners. It creates a feeling of inclusiveness. That’s how we can come up with innovative solutions. Focusing on finding solutions and involving people in discussions rather than worrying about the problem alone is how we deal with stress and anxieties.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Parag Sharma: There are many companies, big and small, both established and newbies that make the market extremely competitive. The only way we have been able to make a name for ourselves and continue to strengthen our position is through a relentless pursuit of excellence. Unless you have a culture of innovation and creativity in your organization, it isn’t easy to stand out from the crowd. It cannot be technology just for the sake of technology but how it will address the customer’s needs and problems. It is where we have forged our core competencies and how we have continued to stay in the game.
Your final thoughts?
Parag Sharma: The pandemic has indeed been a learning experience, both personally and professionally. Though there have been some setbacks, we surely will bounce back. We have been doing quite well in the Digital Health space this past year. Also, the insurance industry is growing faster, which will boost the implementation of technologies like AI and Machine learning into their operations. Unpredictability will undoubtedly be there until the COVID crisis comes under complete control. Still, we are now much better equipped than the pandemic’s initial stage and are ready to adapt. We have quite a lot planned for the next year in innovation with new technologies and solutions. Indeed, the coming months will be quite interesting for us.
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