This week, I spoke with a management consultant turned entrepreneur, Suhas Ghante.
I met Suhas in Spring 2016 when we both joined the board of Young Professionals of San Francisco (YPOSF). I knew I liked him from our first conversation – he was quietly energetic, engaging and I could tell he had a real knack for connecting people.
Now, over a year later, I’ve watched him make a profound impact on our organization as the Director of Sponsorships & Partnerships – constantly hustling to establish and nurture key relationships to better serve our members.
Originally from Laurel, Maryland, Suhas has had a diverse career that has led him to his current role as Co-Founder & COO of Zyudly Labs, an early-stage startup focused on cybersecurity solutions for financial services organizations.
With a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, experience working in management consulting and now a fixture in SF’s startup scene – Suhas’ career journey and insights make him the perfect Rising PROfile, inspiring others to be brave and try new things.
Tell me about your career journey and what led you to your current role?
“I’ve been fortunate to have a diverse set of experiences since I started out at age 16 as an Engineering Intern at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. I worked on cutting-edge projects at an early age but yearned to explore the business side of the working world. So after college, I joined Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm, where I worked across various industries, including defense, healthcare and finance. After a couple years, I had an opportunity to join an early-stage healthcare consulting firm where I met some of my best friends.
On a whim, I took a week-long trip to San Francisco and loved every bit of it. Soon after, I found a way to make it to SF, hone in on what I love the most (connecting people) and use both my engineering & consulting background. In late 2013, I made the big move out west and joined a boutique consulting firm where I helped launch a new service offering, focused on big data analytics. After a year, I took some time off and doubled down on my personal obsession with being a connector by joining Innovaccer, a seed-stage data analytics startup, as their VP of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships. After their successful pivot into healthcare analytics, I left to co-found my own startup, Zyudly Labs.”
What were some important lessons you learned working at your first startup, Innovaccer, and how have you applied those lessons to Zyudly?
“The biggest takeaway from working at the first startup was the importance of hustle, specifically as it relates to sales. As Mark Cuban says, “Sales cures all.” Very, very true especially at early-stage startups. Doing whatever it takes – be it mass emailing conference speakers asking for a meeting or setting up cold call campaigns to get that first meeting – every little bit counts, especially in the early days.”
You just completed your second stint at 500 Startups (a global venture capital seed fund) last month. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience and your biggest takeaway?
“What gets measured gets improved. At 500, we were hammered every week on our OMTM (One Metric That Matters). For us, it was the number of new sales’ leads generated. Find your OMTM, in life and/or business, and do everything possible to accurately track and boost that metric. You’ll genuinely be surprised by the results.”
Do you see yourself staying in the startup world or diversifying/trying something else?
“I think startups offer a nice conduit for people with an innate entrepreneurial mindset. I’ve learned that giving back to my community gives me great satisfaction as well. Other areas like non-profit boards and social impact organizations are great to apply that mindset to as well. Chances are I’ll stay in or around the startup world for the foreseeable future, so I can leverage my experiences and help impact the lives of other entrepreneurs.”
What is your best advice for people looking to join a startup?
“Just do it! And hang on tight, it’s quite the ride! I think life is all about learning (and particularly learning from mistakes), and if you aren’t learning every day you are dying. Startups offer the best way to learn a lot of different things in an abbreviated timeframe. That’s what makes them so fun! A year ago, I had no knowledge of cybersecurity, didn’t know a thing about business accounting, and barely knew what went into setting up payroll & benefits. I can’t say I’m an expert in any of those three now, but I know enough to get by – which for 90% of things in the world, is all you need.”
How about for those interested in starting their own company?
“A lot of folks get intimidated by the idea of starting a “company.” I know I did. What exactly does it mean to start a company these days when we have the gig economy in full swing allowing everyone to hustle? I’d encourage folks to redefine the notion of “starting a company” to “working on my own terms.” That may mean starting a side-consulting practice, freelancing, coaching, anything that allows you to sell something directly. Immense satisfaction will follow, guaranteed. Don’t be fooled into thinking that starting a company = raising VC money or creating the next unicorn. Starting a “lifestyle business” can be great as well!”
What’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in your career and what did you learn?
“Embracing the oh-so-millennial quarter life crisis, I took about 5 months off to “figure out life and work on living well” in early 2014. I travelled to Peru, India, and did a cross-country road trip with a buddy. I had no concrete plans and sadly, no goals. Those 5 months were fun but not as impactful as they could have been. I wanted to launch a business but didn’t know for what. If I had to do it over again, I’d map out my short and long-term goals – it doesn’t matter if the goals aren’t fulfilled, just the idea of working towards them will make that time much more impactful.”
As many entrepreneurs know, startup life can be really demanding and discouraging at times. What keeps you motivated and excited about your work?
“You have to truly believe you are on to something big, world-improving. Otherwise, you’ll quickly lose motivation after one too many late nights and early mornings.”
What professional organizations/groups are you involved in & around the Bay Area?
“I serve on the board of the Young Professionals of San Francisco heading up partnerships and sponsorships. I’m also on the Leadership Council of the Bay Area Chapter of the American India Foundation. These groups have been great for building out networks and helping folks get connected.”
Has anyone inspired or mentored you throughout your career?
“I’ve been very fortunate to have several mentors throughout my career, some formal, most informal. To say they have been instrumental to my growth would be a huge understatement. I firmly believe great mentors have the ability to take you from good to great in your career. Mentors come in all forms, many of mine come from history and philosophy, including Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Lincoln.”
How do you plan to keep rising in your career?
“By helping others first and foremost.”
One last thing, what are your favorite things to do for fun?
“Cook! And once my ankle heals up, get back on the road cycle & play tennis. Until then, I’ve been reading a bunch – I try and do a book a week. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the huge influence that books have had over my career. Here are some of my favorites:”
- Letters from a Stoic
- Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- Bouncing Back: The Life of Bill Bartmann
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
- The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now
- Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat
- Yes, Chef: A Memoir