On the 12th anniversary of ET Wealth, meet 10 people from ordinary walks of life who have redefined financial success.
It may be a sign of the times that success has come to be measured solely by one’s ability to create wealth. Still, it’s a triumph of our times that anyone with ability can do so. Take Nykaa’s Falguni Nayar, who at 50 and with no experience, started a company that, in 10 years, has made her the richest selfmade woman. But is ability the singular definitive characteristic that makes an ordinary person catapult to extraordinary financial success?
“Extraordinary success does not come from a ‘one size fits all’ formula. It can come from a combination of circumstances, strengths, choices, persistence and plain luck. The common thread is ‘compounding factors’,” says Devashish Chakravarty, career coach, mentor and author of Yoursortinghat.com. “So a talent is a compounding factor where it is sharpened and reinvested through hours of practice. Frugality in expense and a smart investment plan are compounding factors for a professional who retires early,” he adds. Even as these factors come together in varying proportions for various people, exceptional success invariably boils down to a single trait. “It’s the ability to sense an income stream,” says Uma Shashikant, Chairperson, Centre for Investment Education and Learning. “You’ll have to pursue it until it works beyond your own expectations, be unrelenting in judging its work, contribute effort and focus to make it sustainable, and make a list of what to do with it, but identifying it skillfully is the most important,” she adds.
The good news is that it doesn’t always take an ivy league education or prodigious skills to do so. People from ordinary walks of life often do it to scale extraordinary heights. In the special issue this week, we have identified 10 such people, not merely as a testimony to such feats, but also because they reflect the essence of ET Wealth and the spirit with which it was founded 12 years ago, on 13 December 2010.
We have defined success not only in terms of creating riches, but in enabling you to realise your goals and dreams, achieve financial freedom, and expand your knowledge about personal finance. So if you can retire at 40, secure in the knowledge that you will meet your goals and not run short of funds; if you can take a calculated risk and make a career change, and the risk pays off; if you drop out of school and still find financial stability; if you can use social media to spread unparalleled financial awareness; or if your startup does so well that it is acquired for hundreds of crores, you are, what we call, an extraordinarily successful person.
“Not everyone begins in a garage with a few thousand rupees and builds a global empire. The people who win are those who don’t take their eyes off the road,” says Shashikant. As ET Wealth celebrates its 12th anniversary, we hope you will always be winners. Much like the ordinary people in the following pages, who have achieved extraordinary success–and created wealth in the process.
STARTED SMALL, MADE IT BIG
India’s No. 1 sharebroker
From losing all his earnings in the stock market to building Zerodha, Nithin Kamath has come a long way.
At 17, Nithin Kamath took to the stock market, investing a few thousand rupees, mostly in penny stocks. Over the next three years, he did side gigs, including multi-level marketing with Amway, while pursuing a degree in engineering from the Bangalore Institute of Technology.
“I got into the stock market because I was greedy and wanted to make quick money, but within a few years, I realised it’s a fallacy. Quick-rich schemes don’t work,” says Kamath, who lost all his earnings, Rs.5 lakh, in 2001. He began working at a call centre and things took a fortuitous turn when a US-based HNI asked Kamath to manage his stock portfolio. Kamath promptly quit his job in 2005 and set up a brokerage firm called Kamath and Associates. “My younger brother Nikhil joined and I discovered he was a better trader,” he says. Both wanted to bring in transparency and a platform for active traders who could do so at a low cost, and the enabler of this idea was the NSE, which introduced a White Label platform, on which the brothers could build their own trading platform. “This was the starting point for our technological evolution,” he says. This led them to start Zerodha, a discount brokerage firm, in 2010. The next jump was when Kailash Nadh joined their team in 2013. “He is a tech monster who has helped Zerodha grow faster and stronger,” says Kamath. For two years, the team worked on developing a more streamlined and accessible online platform, finally launching their first in-house product, Kite, in 2015.
In the first five years, it was a struggle to build credibility, and a steep curve to go from a team of five in 2010 to over 1,100 employees now. The customers too have grown to 1 crore. At any point in time, about 60% users are active customers placing billions of orders within 5-6 hours, making Zerodha one of the largest stock trading platforms in the world. The firmhas registered a 60% year-on-year jump in profits and revenues for 2021-22 at `1,800 crore and Rs.4,300 crore, respectively. To create financial awareness, the firm has launched the ‘Nudge’ facility recently, where a customer gets a prompt if he’s making a risky move or trading in penny stocks. “I may lose revenue but I know this will work better in the long run,” he says.
“People often achieve one goal and think they have arrived. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. So develop a multi-disciplinary approach and evolve constantly to keep pace,” says Kamath.
Unboxing success in 7 yrs
Focus and an ability to work with very few resources has helped Anant Deshpande build FinBox in a very short span.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, hailing from a conservative Marathi household with no financial backing or mentor doesn’t help. But this didn’t deter Anant Deshpande, whose focus and frugality saw him set up a fintech company within seven years. Today, more than 25 financial institutions across India, Vietnam and the Philippines use FinBox to evaluate 3 crore borrowers and disburse loans worth Rs.15,000 crore annually.
In 2009, when the world was reeling from the financial meltdown, his oncampus job offer was rescinded and he was in dire need of funds. So, he began working at a call centre for Rs.16,000 a month, while teaching maths to kids. Six years later, when financial digitisation was taking off in India, Deshpande decided to cash in on the opportunity. Having worked in the consulting space, particularly in the This led them to start Zerodha, a discount brokerage firm, in 2010. The next jump was when Kailash Nadh joined their team in 2013. “He is a tech monster who has helped Zerodha grow faster and stronger,” says Kamath. For two years, the team worked on developing a more streamlined and accessible online platform, finally launching their first in-house product, Kite, in 2015.
In the first five years, it was a struggle to build credibility, and a steep curve to go from a team of five in 2010 to over 1,100 employees now. The customers too have grown to 1 crore. At any point in time, about 60% users are active customers placing billions of orders within 5-6 hours, making Zerodha one of the largest stock trading platforms in the world. banking segment, he knew the options were unlimited. So he and his brother, Rajat, took their chances and registered FinBox in 2015 with an initial capital of Rs.5 lakh, which comprised Rajat’s life savings. In six months, they shipped out FinBox 1.0, a personal finance management tool for consumers.
However, the revenue flow was far lower than expected, forcing Deshpande to shelve his dream within six months. He returned to a regular 9-5 job, but in 2018, he turned his focus to FinBox again. He revamped the company and this time it worked. “I had always wanted to make a dent in the financial services landscape, especially for the self- and informally employed,” he says. Learning from his past experience with FinBox 1.0, Deshpande, along with co-founders Rajat, Nikhil Bhawsinka and Srijan Nagar, launched their flagship product, Device Connect. Since then, there has been no looking back. Months after they received their first cheque worth Rs.2.5 crore from Home Credit, they got funding from Arali Ventures. This year, they have raised $15 million from angel investors. With his 120- employee strong FinBox, Deshpande is realising his dream of enabling anyone with a smartphone and a bank account to prove his creditworthiness and access financial services digitally.
“It’s easy to burn money while running a business, but the challenge is to create something for the long term that is self-sustaining and adds value to the society,” says Deshpande.
Quitting work at 39
Seven years after Handa ka Funda was set up, it was acquired by Unacademy, enabling Ravi Handa to hang up his boots.
For people dreaming of retiring early, it’s mostly just that, a dream. Ravi Handa has turned it into reality: at 39, he has quit work. It all began in 2006, when Handa took up a teaching assignment at IMS, a CAT coaching centre in Kolkata. The computer science graduate from IIT Kharagpur shifted to Jaipur after three years and, in 2010, he tried to experiment with ed-tech by setting up Maurya Learning. “It didn’t take off, but helped me lay the foundation for my venture,” he says. He continued at IMS till 2011. “It was a non-traditional job, but when I was about to get married, I decided to shift to a Pune-based startup, MindTickle,” he says.
He continued with MindTickle for about a year-and-a-half as Vice-President of Customer Success, before starting Handa ka Funda in 2013. It was an ed-tech company that provided an e-learning platform for CAT and MBA coaching. “The idea was to create an online alternative to traditional coaching. I started with a website and one employee,” he says. One of the reasons he could take the risk was that his wife, Neha, a chartered accountant with an MBA degree, was in a stable job. Though the company became profitable within three months, its revenues peaked in 2018-19 at close to Rs.4 crore. As ed-tech boomed, so did the company, and in 2021, Handa ka Funda was acquired by Unacademy. For the next 1.5 years, Handa worked with Unacademy as Director of Content Sales, before deciding to quit. “There were multiple reasons for quitting, including health, but the primary one was to get out of the rat race and do the things I had always wanted to do,” says Handa.
The decision has entailed financial planning to sustain lifelong retirement. “We live in our own house, have taken care of our child’s education, and have sufficient health insurance,” he says. To ensure ample funds for life, they have invested in three mutual fund buckets (liquid funds for short-term needs, hybrid for medium term, and equity for long term). Now, Handa wants to create a podcast on softer aspects of early retirement, and continue with his weekly quiz column on a financial website.
“Success is a combination of talent and luck. In entrepreneurship, you must seize as many opportunities as you can, while in investing, you should know your limits,” says Handa.
DROPPED OUT OF SCHOOL, MADE IT BIG
Despite an incomplete education and four failed ventures, Prateek Singh, at only 32 years, has created a Rs.300 crore firm.
While most kids rush through career goals, Prateek Singh was very clear about what he wanted even as a child. “Earning a lot of money was never on my agenda. I wanted a business to take care of the finances so that I could focus on something that could change people’s lives,” he says.
At 32, with little formal education, he’s living his dream. He has created LearnApp, a financial education platform that teaches people how to invest and trade, with the company currently valued at Rs.300 crore. But it has not been an easy journey. During his initial years in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, financial constraints meant that he had to work part-time in school to fund his own education. At 16, his mother, the sole earning member, had to return to India. It was a difficult time degree, was in a stable job.
Though the company became profitable within three months, its revenues peaked in 2018-19 at close to Rs.4 crore. As ed-tech boomed, so did the company, and in 2021, Handa ka Funda was acquired by Unacademy. For the next 1.5 years, Handa worked with Unacademy as Director of Content Sales, before deciding to quit. “There were multiple reasons for quitting, including health, but the primary one was to get out of the rat race and do the things I had always wanted to do,” says Handa.
The decision has entailed financial planning to sustain lifelong retirement. “We live in our own house, have taken care of our child’s education, and have as he struggled to understand Hindi and schools insisted he join grade 9, not grade 10. Adamant that he did not want to repeat a class, he left school to start trading at 17.
In 2008, he set up TraderSaint, a tradercentric discussion and earning forum, even as he enrolled in a B.Com program at Kumaon University, Nainital, since it was the only institute that did not ask for class 12 grades for admission. In 2009, a random conversation with a US-based broker, nudged him to make his first video. His friend and co-founder Ankush Oberoi’s room became the first studio and they made 20 videos. In 2013, they also developed MarketScientist, which was later rebranded to LearnApp Technologies.
In 2018, Singh started approaching industry executives to help develop educational videos, managed to ger their first 10 mentors. They also raised Rs.2 crore from RainMatter, which was backed by Zerodha. The website was revamped and launched in April 2019. Today, LearnApp offers free financial literacy workshops in schools and corporates, and hosts more than 300 courses. With over 100 employees at LearnApp, Singh’s vision of revolutionising financial education in India is well on its way to realisation.
“What pays off is consistency and a never-say-die attitude. I’m not a very smart guy, but perseverance gives me an edge, as does the support of family and friends,” says Singh.
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER
Channelling money magic
Rachana Ranade has taken her love for teaching and simplifying finance to become a social media sensation.
When Rachana Ranade, a chartered accountant and lecturer at various institutes in Pune, uploaded a recording of her teaching sessions for students in 2019, she was in for a surprise. The 95-minute video struck a chord among people way beyond her student community. ‘Basics of stock market’ set off a financial content juggernaut that today pulls in millions of eyeballs, attracts top brands and rakes in earnings in eight figures. Ranade’s passion for teaching shines through in the ease with which she simplifies complex financial concepts. A generous dose of wit and charisma make for a potent mix that gives her a deep connect with the audience. “I recognised the need for simplifying finance for the masses and took a leap of faith,” she recounts.After the lockdown in March 2020, her channel exploded.
“This was the time people realised the importance of having a secondary source of income,” she says. Consistent delivery of content catapulted her to the top of the social media financial influencer community. Her YouTube channel now boasts 40 lakh subscribers. Companies too are queuing up for brand presence in her videos and paying big bucks to do it. Her very first brand tie-up two years ago fetched Rs.25,000. Today, she charges Rs.6 lakh per integrated promotion, and Rs.12 lakh per dedicated promotion in her videos.
In 2020, her earnings crossed $1,00,000 or nearly Rs.80 lakh. SocialBlade, a provider of YouTube user analytics, estimates her annual earnings at Rs.1.6 crore at the upper end. She has also started paid memberships to her channel for exclusive content, which contributes the most to her YouTube revenue. Her website has also enrolled 1.5 lakh learners for paid courses on various aspects of finance. Ranade admits she could not have pulled this off without her family, especially her husband, Akshay, who is also a chartered accountant and was working for a German multinational firm before quitting to support his wife. Initially, Ranade took her family’s help in recording videos, but now has a dedicated team of 20 members She has also started a Marathi YouTube channel recently, which has already amassed 3.7 lakh followers.
“This is a crowded space and not something you can do as a side hustle. It needs dedicated time and effort. It’s important to present one’s true self to the audience,” says Ranade.
The video wizard
In just eight years, Dhruv Rathee has become a social media star with his videos garnering nearly 5 crore views a month.
While working as an intern in Germany, I realised I wasn’t cut out for a 9-5 job. So I began making short videos. I knew one could make money through YouTube, but hadn’t thought of it as a career,” says Dhruv Rathee, who has amassed 94 lakh YouTube susbscribers in eight years. After completing mechanical engineering from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, Rathee went on to pursue a master’s degree in renewable energy. In early 2014, he also started a channel on YouTube, posting travel and photography videos. Unhappy with the political scenario in India at that time, Rathee published a video on the BJP government later the same year. The video went viral, providing Rathee instant fame.
However, it took him almost a year to gain enough subscribers to earn his first paycheck: $100. It took another brand presence in her videos and paying big bucks to do it. Her very first brand tie-up two years ago fetched Rs.25,000. Today, she charges Rs.6 lakh per integrated promotion, and Rs.12 lakh per dedicated promotion in her videos. In 2020, her earnings crossed $1,00,000 or nearly Rs.80 lakh. SocialBlade, a provider of YouTube user analytics, estimates her annual earnings at Rs.1.6 crore at the upper end. She has also started paid memberships to her channel for exclusive content, which contributes the most to her YouTube revenue. Her website has also enrolled 1.5 lakh learners for paid courses on various aspects of finance.
Ranade admits she could not have pulled this off without her family, espethree years to grow his base to 1 lakh subscribers and start earning a decent income from the platform. From then on, the jump was quicker, and now Rathee has about 94 lakh subscribers, and an average of 5 crore views every month.
“In the initial years, I experimented a lot and made many mistakes. I was bold and had the freedom to say whatever I wanted. Now, however, I’m scrutinised more, so I have to be careful about what I present on my channel,” says Rathee. He has made sure that his content is clean, with no abusive or bad language.
While Rathee started out as a lone wolf, he now has a team of four people, who work with him on research, writing, checking for factual errors, and video editing. “The biggest challenge is to communicate your point without offending people. If you talk about an unpopular opinion, you expose yourself to a lot of hatred,” he adds. Rathee has also been involved in several controversies, including social media spats with celebrities like actress Kangana Ranaut, and having his videos being taken down on Facebook, though they were later restored along with an apology. Now, he wants to produce videos in regional languages. “I can’t sit on my laurels. I have to constantly think of evolving and diversifying my content,” he adds.
“The biggest challenge is to communicate your point without offending people. If you get 5-8% of trolls, ignore them, but if they go up to 60%, then re-evaluate the video,” says Rathee.
SOLD A STARTUP
After selling Innovsource, a successful manpower sourcing firm, Reddy and Gorle have started a unique restaurant chain.
For entrepreneurs setting out on a startup journey, the anticipation of thrill and success is often tempered by financial struggle. Raja Sekhar Reddy and Shishir Gorle have fortuitously managed to skip the latter during their 14-year journey of founding, expanding and selling Innovsource. “Since the entire funding of Rs.8 crore from 2004-6 was provided by my former managing director, with a 10% sweat equity for each of us, we did not have to worry about financing,” says Reddy. A manpower sourcing company, Innovsource was founded by Reddy in 2004, after he quit GTL Limited. It was a Mumbai-based telecom company he had joined in 1994, after completing his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad.In 2006, he was joined by Gorle, another GTL employee.
Within a month of launch, Innovsource had employed 15 employees, and within two years, made a revenue of Rs.5 crore. After 2006, the growth was organic and exponential, with the company earning `1,000 crore by 2014-15, and securing big clients like Amazon, Axis Bank, Flipkart, SBI Cards and BigBazaar. What truly worked to grow the company into a leading manpower sourcing firm was fiscal discipline. “We practiced strict discipline in navigating the cash flow and providing credit periods. The staffing firms that offer 1-2 month credit are eventually decimated because the gross margins at EBITDA level are only 1-2%,” says Reddy.
In 2015, the GTL MD decided to exit Innovsource as he wanted to focus on telecom. The duo scouted for buyers and signed a deal in 2017 with FirstMeridian, an HR investment platform. As per a news report, two companies, including Innovsource, were acquired for Rs.350 crore by FirstMeridian. Reddy and Gorle exited in 2018. This was not the end of journey for the duo. While still at Innovsource, in 2015, they had invested in and launched a restaurant employing hearing-impaired staffers. Today, they have four such restaurants under two brands, Mirchi & Mime (fine dining) and Madeira & Mime (café), and a salon (Mirror & Mime). Two more restaurants are set to open in 2023.
“Maintaining financial discipline in cash flow and credit, as well as following good governance practices are crucial for the success of startups such as ours,” says Reddy.
TOOK A BIG FINANCIAL RISK
It was all in the stars
Leaving a stable job in the US, Punit Pandey returned to India and developed an astrology portal that is valued at Rs.10 crore.
You could call it fate. Punit Pandey would probably ascribe his success to the stars. After all, not every IT professional would shun a well-settled life in the US to return to India and turn an entrepreneur. Pandey did just that, founding AstroSage, a leading astro website that boasts 10 lakh daily active users. Perhaps, Pandey has just learnt to navigate the bumpy ride that began in Auraiya, Uttar Pradesh, where he was born. A hotbed of violence, murders and anarchy, the place was not the right setting to inspire learning and creativity. It also didn’t help that he had been afflicted with polio early on in life. What kept him going, though, was his voracious appetite for reading, and a big influence was the book on astrology he picked up at a fair when he was just 9 What truly worked to grow the company into a leading manpower sourcing firm was fiscal discipline. “We practiced strict discipline in navigating the cash flow and providing credit periods. The staffing firms that offer 1-2 month credit are eventually decimated because the gross margins at EBITDA level are only 1-2%,” says Reddy.
In 2015, the GTL MD decided to exit Innovsource as he wanted to focus on telecom. The duo scouted for buyers and signed a deal in 2017 with FirstMeridian, an HR investment platform. As per a news report, two companies, including Innovsource, were acquired for Rs.350 crore by FirstMeridian. Reddy and Gorle exited in 2018. years old. At 10, he learnt programming on his own when a relative gifted him a book on computers. Even as his uncle taught him astrology, his father bought him a personal computer and he learnt coding. After completing his master’s in computer science from Agra University in 2000, Pandey decided to invest in tech stocks and raised funds from acquaintances to start an IT enterprise, Eon Technologies.
However, the venture went bust after the dot-com bubble burst in 2002. Kneedeep in debt, he went into hiding in Indore, looking for any company that would hire him. He finally joined an IT company, Yash Technologies, which, in 2004, sent him to the US. Just as he was beginning to settle down to a comfortable life in the country, he decided to come back in 2010 because he wanted to be close to his family and, of course, focus on AstroSage. In 2008, his brother had already registered Ojas Softech, the company that owns AstroSage, and for which he had developed a prototype website as early as 2003. Bootstrapped from the start, and with no external funding in 12 years, AstroSage has developed into a Rs.10 crore company with 25 employees. Now the company has also ventured into developing AI/VR games.
“Being good at something needs tireless focus, learning and dedication. Your ideas may not yield results immediately, but your conviction will pay off one day,” says Pandey.
RADICAL CAREER SHIFT
After 26 years in the civil services, Atray has moved to mentoring youth, writing books and being a columnist.
Being a motivational speaker is seldom a career goal for people. Nor was it for Vivek Atray, when he graduated as an engineer from NIT Kurukshetra, in 1988. He started working as a faculty member at Aptech, but in 1991, after his father, an IPS officer, passed away, he joined the Haryana Civil Service.
As he sifted through plum posts— Director, Industries, Haryana; Director, IT, Chandigarh, and Deputy Commissioner, Panchkula—he left his mark, initiating new projects and influencing people. In 2012, he was elevated to the Indian Administrative Service. The transitional process to becoming a motivational speaker had begun much earlier when he delivered speeches as chief guest for various events.
“This is when I realised that I enjoyed oration and that it had an impact on people,” he says. His oratory skills got him invited to government departments for motivational training. His first TEDx talk came in 2013 while still in service, and his first Josh Talk garnered 10 lakh views. “I was really concerned about the youth and wanted to do much more for them which I could not do while in service,” he says. Today, most of his sessions are pro-bono and directed at youth welfare. As his passion for motivating others surged, he began planning a career swap in 2014. In 2017, he resigned from the IAS after 26 years of service despite opposition from family and colleagues. It did help that his wife was running a playschool and earning well, while his two daughters were practically through with their education.
However, the assurance he needed for a smooth financial transition came from the offer of a paid post from Shoolini University in Solan, where he continues to be a visiting professor. He now earns a higher income than he did in service, and addresses people from the industry, academia and government. He has penned four books, is a columnist for a leading newspaper, and has conducted 8 TEDx talks. He also holds workshops, mentors a training academy for civil services aspirants, and is a member of Governor’s Advisory Council for Chandigarh, among many other pursuits.
“If you want to change careers, start planning at least 2-3 years earlier. I even did micro-planning so that I wouldn’t feel a drastic change after leaving the IAS,” says Atray.
On a career carousel
From an IPS officer to an investment professional and now an entrepreneur, Rajan Singh has followed his convictions.
For Rajan Singh, variety has certainly been the spice of life as far as career is concerned. At 45 years, he has made a successful transition from being an IPS officer to an investment professional, and now, an entrepreneur running HabitStrong, a ‘gym for habit building’. After graduating from IIT Kanpur in 1995, he joined the Indian Police Service and served as police commissioner of Thiruvananthapuram, the city that he has now chosen to settle down in. Ten years on, he felt his work was creating more dread than joy in his life. “I could have carried on for another three decades, but it wasn’t the life I had envisioned for myself,” he says.
So, to find a higher meaning in life, he quit the services in 2005 and embraced student life again. He completed his MBA in finance from Wharton in 2007 and began working in consulting and private equity. After five years, Singh started CourseBrew, an innovative online learning platform providing interactive video-based learning, and in 2015, he set up ConceptOwl, an ed-tech startup. As per Crunchbase, it received a total funding of Rs.3.5 crore, while earning a revenue of Rs.2 crore in 2019.
While these moves could be considered bold and risky, Singh believes in never overestimating their impact on the choices he makes. “While my educational and professional qualifications meant I had a golden cushion to fall back on, I didn’t want to turn these into handcuffs,” he says. It certainly helped that he had financial support from his wife, an IAS officer. Still, quitting a stable job did not come without consequences. Singh recalls financial constraints forcing him to give up his plush Mumbai apartment and moving to a smaller place, and finally to Thiruvananthapuram.
HabitStrong, a new avatar of ConceptOwl, was formed in 2020, and it helps people enrich their lives by adding structure, self-discipline and routine. So far, he has managed to raise half million dollars from the Indian Angel Network and another half million dollars from other angel investors, with the company earning a revenue of over Rs.2 crore last year.
“Whatever you’re doing in life, don’t quit because it’s uncomfortable, but because it stops adding value to life. Don’t keep going because of what people think,” says Singh.