ONCE UPON A TIME

What Rahul Yadav’s friends from IIT Bombay have to say about him

Quartz india
Quartz india

In 2011, Rahul Yadav did what’s considered nearly unthinkable in India’s staid world of academic overachievers: He dropped out of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).

Neither the opportunity to study at one of India’s elite engineering schools nor the lure of a lucrative career afterwards was enough to keep Yadav at IIT Bombay.

Instead, he left to start Housing.com, a real-estate portal that’s attracted over $110 million in funding since 2012.

Now, he’s been ousted from the company that he helped build. On July 1, the board of Housing “released” the 26-year-old as its CEO. “The Housing Board, unanimously agreed to bring Yadav’s tenure to a close, with reference to his behaviour towards investors, ecosystem and the media,” the company said in a statement.

And while Yadav’s unceremonious exit hasn’t surprised many in India’s startup scene, the Housing.com co-founder—who is a serial entrepreneur and built Exambaba.com, an online archive of IIT Bombay question papers while in engineering school—still has a loyal fan following in some circles.

Through IIT Bombay’s Entrepreneurship Cell, Quartz reached out to a few of Yadav’s former batch mates and friends from the institute’s Hostel 8 where Yadav lived.

Here’s what they had to say:

‘Rahul is an artist’

Abhishek Kejriwal, co-founder at Zyloon.com—a marketplace of professional stylists and beauticianslived in the same hostel as Yadav for almost two years:

All 24 of us in the wing admired Rahul’s innovative thinking.

This one time we ordered pizzas, which, according to that food joint, are free of cost if not delivered within 30 minutes. But, we the juniors, paid the money despite the late delivery, because the delivery man was ignorant (of the scheme), and he was insisting, “Dena padega paisa (You’ve got to pay).”

When Rahul found out that we paid, he called up the manager. But the manager said, “No, if we have got the money, we have got the money. We won’t return (it).”

The next day, Rahul found a kind of loophole on the pizza joint’s website, and he decided to hack it. He managed to enter the database and accessed some names and contact details of 20-30 customers. Actually, most of them were IITians who would order from there all the time, but the manager freaked out when Rahul called him up and told him this.

The manager then issued some Rs2,000-3,000 worth complimentary coupons.

So, the way he deals with people, and with situations, is very different. No one can override this guy. At least, I didn’t see it happening in the two years we were together in the wing.

For instance, when he decided to launch Exambaba.com while he was still at IIT Bombay, at least a hundred people must have told him that “boss, point hi nai hai (boss, there’s no point).” He wanted to publish previous years’ exam papers with their solutions, but executing this was very, very difficult. How do you find these papers, and then their solutions?

But he executed it within a span of a month, because he is very creative. At the same time, he was a very PR-kind of guy, so somehow he would know which guys can help. So, he would think, let’s catch hold of these guys and then those guys would catch hold of more guys, and so forth.

He thinks very differently, too. At IIT Bombay, he never thought about jobs, or six-figure salaries, or how to get elected to a position of responsibility at IIT Bombay (because that helps to get employment at the end of the final year).

He would go after ideas. He thinks in a very creative way—like an artist.

The stature of Housing.com is what it is today because of him. So, I don’t know why the relation between the investors and him went otherwise. Obviously, he is a guy who wants freedom because he thinks like an artist. If you don’t give him freedom, then he would not be at his maximum potential.

He doesn’t care about investors or his money.

‘His arrogance crosses the limit sometimes’

Pranil Bafna, CEO and co-founder at IndiaReads.com—an online book-rental servicealso lived in the same hostel as Yadav. Bafna and Yadav tried to launch a company together, too.

Rahul always wanted to create that big company—be it Exambaba, or Recharge 123, or Housing.com.

Apart from these that actually got off the ground, Rahul and I worked on another business plan with a senior at IIT Bombay for some four to five odd months. We called it MCoupon. It was into processing payments for mobile wallets.

We were at the time still evaluating the proposal, and talking about what it would look like.

One thing you should know about Rahul is that he is very frank. There’s no hiding around the bush at any point in time. If something is not working for him, it’s not working for him. If it’s working for him, it’s working for him. There’s no grey area.

So, as a team, it was very easy to navigate. I could understand what he wanted to do, because he was very clear about it. Also, he was very passionate—and he infuses the same energy in everyone around him.

But then, he can be very instinctive, too. In comparison, I am more number-driven, so I would like to go back, check numbers, and evaluate and critically analyse the assumptions we had made, whether they were working or not. For him, his gut feeling was important.

We always disagreed when it came to this. Going back to numbers and any sort of critical analysis made him unhappy because you lose that speed.

This project never took off because Housing.com started building up; I got into other things; the senior from our team graduated and moved to the US… so the team sort of disintegrated.

This is the time when Rahul dropped out, too. To be honest, the barrier in terms of the assignments and courses left to finish the degree were very minimal. But then, he had gotten very serious about entrepreneurship. His inclination towards academics was anyway falling. And a metallurgy degree was not important to him. So it was not a surprise.

In college, we were friends first. So arrogance as a matter doesn’t come up. But as I said, he was frank definitely.

I feel it’s a personal choice how you want to run a company—and no style is absolutely right or wrong. Like, all of us entrepreneurs have different styles of working. But with Rahul, the level of arrogance sometimes crosses the limit. There are ways of dealing with issues politely, which I think is an easier and better way of going about things when you’re disagreeing with someone.

‘He was popular’

Faisal Ansari is a co-founder of Omnikart.com—an online end-to-end platform for all kinds of industrial supplies needs—was a couple of years junior to Yadav at IIT Bombay.

Rahul would usually talk very less. But politically, he could be very influential.

In his second year, the general secretary elections were on, and three or four candidates were battling it out. Now Rahul had a sort of disagreement with one of the candidates whom he was supporting. There was some conflict of interest, and so he quit supporting him and decided to back another candidate. A sophomore is typically not at all influential, but Rahul proved otherwise.

He collected all his batch mates and his juniors, and did all he could to make that other guy win. And he managed to do that. This was because he was very popular among all of them, and he had a very strong network. With seniors, too, he managed somehow to get their support.

When the other guy won the election, supporters lifted Yadav on their shoulders and cheered for him, instead of cheering for the winning candidate.

He is very smart, and so moving on from Housing.com, I am sure he has a better idea in mind.

‘He doesn’t give a shit’

Prateek Malviya—who until recently worked at a multinational in Qatar—was a year junior to Yadav and stayed in the same wing at Hostel 8.

Rahul was always either alone or with his two friends. The three of them had a gang, and the rest of us never bothered about them too much. It was probably so because Rahul was not at all good in academics, so we didn’t consider it useful to talk to him.

It was only later that we realised he was busy doing his own stuff. He created one website (Exambaba.com), and then another (Recharge 123), and then another (Housing.com). He wasn’t interested in the institute or the hostel. He would hardly come to the mess, and instead order in pizzas.

He was actually really ahead of our time. When all of us were looking for consulting jobs, or were deciding whether we should join a business school, or how to get a position of responsibility, he wasn’t concerned about all this.

He didn’t give a shit about what others were doing, or what others were saying about him. Not at all.

I remember this time during my sophomore year when we had introductory sessions with our seniors. Some 10-15 seniors would be sitting, and each sophomore would come in front of them. They would then ask him questions, and make them do various random things.

Most of them would ask very random questions, but Rahul had his own very different questions.

Through his questions, he would really try and know each person. He would try and get deeper into your personality, and was asking questions to really know more about you. Even if it wasn’t a direct question, he was checking your creativity, or your leadership quality, or just your confidence. He had that instinct to figure out the person.

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

Also read: Timeline: The rise and fall of Rahul Yadav, the bad boy of Indian startups

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