Ajay Joseph was working as sales director for Avaya India in 2014 and enjoyed his life in Gurugram thanks to the numerous options the National Capital Region provides for dining out. His only grouse was the frequent wait for the cheque, incorrect billing and splitting the bill at the end of every night out. “A lot of people were airing their frustrations over similar issues," says Joseph, 43, who holds an MBA in marketing from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies. Along with three college friends, he set out to study whether this problem was a large-enough business opportunity. “Eventually, we set up Noroc Solutions and rolled out our payment app, Binge, which was integrated with the point-of-sales machine in restaurants. The app enabled users to track, split and pay the bill directly from their phones, with absolutely no intervention needed from the establishment," he says .

Binge offered so much value to both establishments and customers that it attracted investment and acquisition bids within a year. By March 2016, Joseph and his co-founders had a $1 million term sheet and an acquisition offer from vMobo Inc. The college friends decided to accept the acquisition offer.

The turn back

After the acquisition, Bengaluru-based Joseph took up a job at Oracle as director for its application business for India while continuing his engagement with Noroc on an advisory basis. “My position was that if we were to work for another company, then I might as well work for a large corporation, where I would get a new set of learnings from company culture, product and philosophy standpoint ," he says.

Joseph spent just over a year at Oracle before moving back in 2017 to helm the payments business for vMobo, the company that had acquired Noroc. “They were keen to grow the business. The commitment was to give me complete autonomy and to ensure that we created more bandwidth to make the overall business attractive," he says. However, he clarifies that returning to the start-up was never part of any plan.

Start-up learnings

During his start-up days, Joseph gained important lessons in three areas: technology, business and feedback.“One of our biggest lessons was that we would never be able to solve everything before going live as situations that we hadn’t even thought of would come up as critical issues," he says. He also learnt that trying to build both sides of a network is a highly resource-intensive exercise and unless a start-up has deep pockets, it doesn’t make sense to spread oneself thin. Also, customer feedback, both said and unsaid, is critical. “Feedback helps keep the business going as it helps you pivot and understand whether you are too early or your product needs dramatic amounts of refinement," he explains.

Joseph didn’t stop learning once he moved to Oracle. “The biggest learning of thinking like a businessman was that it helps you to enable your team to think like one. It helps a leader coach the team to think from the customer’s perspective and it also helps immensely to be able to use these learnings in presenting your case internally to the organization heads," he says.

The tough parts

When Joseph first turned entrepreneur, he didn’t make drastic changes to his work life. He and his co-founders continued to have a proper structure for their office and implemented the discipline of a large set-up in their start-up. When he moved to Oracle, it wasn’t much of a challenge to adjust to regular working hours.

“At Noroc ,we were disciplined enough to get to work at 9-9.30 am everyday but the end of the day was never a surety. At Oracle, the work culture and my reporting managers gave me latitude to ensure that I had the freedom to do what I wanted as long as the goals were met," says Joseph.

However, one thing that stood out for Joseph was the fact that his colleagues at Oracle were in awe of the fact that he had set up something on his own, ran it for two years and had it acquired. “That was a great validation of our thinking," he says.

The road ahead

While Joseph had certainly not planned on being a part of a start-up so soon after his own start-up was sold, he believes the core tenets to make any business a success are the same. “The ability to deal with ambiguity and to attract and retain customers, capital and colleagues is the key," he says.

Back to a Job looks at start-up founders who went back to being an employee.

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