The Shorter Read:
I’m Navajeet (in Bengali, it means new victory); friends call me Nav. I’m a bit of what you would call an ABCD-FOB. I grew up in Texas, spent middle and high school in New Delhi, went to college in Philadelphia(UPENN), worked on Wall St. (New York City) and as of 2015 I moved back to India (New Delhi). Shortly after. I founded Lazy Eight — A vehicle to help and in turn learn from as many Indian brands as humanly possible. In 2019 I founded Khoob, where we aim to build and invest in interesting Indian companies.
I’m politically agnostic, prefer culture over religion, beer over green tea and love meeting people (regardless of race, sex, orientation, [fill]) with interesting stories/ideas which promote happiness for them/their’s, without costing the happiness of others.
The Longer Read:
In 1976, my father (a mechanical engineer out of BHU) decided to move to the US in search of the American dream. He moved to New York City from Varanasi, where him and his 10 siblings grew up rough, but happy — my grandfather made and distributed paneer (Indian cottage cheese). As of today my dad still can’t stand paneer.
Given the recession in the mid 70's, the initial years in the US were rough for my father. He lived with 14 other Indian immigrants in shared rooms at a hotel on 93rd st. in New York City. Finding a job was tough, especially for an engineer whose first language was not english. To make ends meet he applied for, and got a job as a security guard. The morning of his first day, he got a call from an Italian gentleman, named William as a Fabrication Estimator at a small engineering company. For both english didn’t matter, work did. My dad accepted the offer and the rest was history. A few of his roommates though were not so lucky, one of my dad’s roommates (an IIT Bombay graduate unf. committed suicide).
My father got married to my mother in 1980. By this time my father was an engineer with Bechtel (where he would be for the next 16 years). I was born in 1982, but unlike most US immigrant parents, my mother wanted to have me in India. I was born in Jabalpur, India and then when I was flight ready my folks moved me back to the US. As a part of Bechtel, my father worked on design, manufacturing and eventually project management for Nuclear Reactors. So for the next few years my dad hopped, skipped around (Virginia, Boston, Connecticut) and finally settled in Ft. Worth, Texas, where he was anchored at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant. Along with my younger brother, Ft. Worth became a key part of our early years. Growing up there, we learned to love the Dallas Cowboys, BBQ and adapting the drawl, “yaw’ll”.
“We are moving to India”- my dad. As a Bengali child you never question your father, otherwise: “Somebody gonna hurt real bad” :p
In the early 90s the Indian government decided to adopt a new framework for economic growth — Liberalisation, Privatization and Globalisation (LPG) — ie. opening up to global markets, corporates and technologies, and promoting private sector investments. By the mid-90s, my dad was starting to get a few interesting opportunities to work in India, one of them being a still early Larson & Tubro in New Delhi.
We moved back to Delhi in the peak summer of 1995. My father ended up accepting the offer to join L&T, with whom he would stay till his retirement in 2020, helping build the New Delhi Metro, New Delhi Airport (T3) and other infrastructure marvels here in Delhi.
I remember moving into our new house in Delhi, a simple 3 bedroom with a desert cooler (no air conditioning, my dad wanted all of us to acclimatise ourselves to this new reality). The following year or two was basically a trial by fire to see if my brother and I could make it. We were enrolled into a CBSE (local board) school (vs. the American / British School) — when in Rome…. I had to learn Hindi, Sanskrit, Math and Science to the level of a 7th grader here in India in 3 months (back in Ft. Worth, we had just gotten into long division). The first year was brutal, endless tuitions… but thanks to the patience of my parents, tutors and teachers we persevered. It took us about a year and half to settle in, after which we started enjoying our new home town.
For us, growing up here in Delhi was awesome. My brother and I got to celebrate all the American holidays we grew up with - Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving (Tandoori Turkey is awesome btw) but now also the plethora of Indian festivals. There was literally something we were celebrating every month, it was great. As the years went by, my brother and I fell in love with Delhi, cricket, Indian street food, Bollywood and yes, Butter Chicken.
Now that we are older I have had the chance to ask my dad why the move in 1995? His response: 1). He wanted us to know and appreciate where we were from and get a cross cultural experience. 2). He had a calling to come back and contribute to India.
In 2001, I was fortunate enough to get accepted into the University of Pennsylvania. After spending 6 years in Delhi, I was now heading to the city of brotherly love. At UPENN I completed a 5 year program majoring in Computer Engineering and Economics. After interning at Microsoft in Redmond (tech) and Merrill Lynch in Hopewell (finance), I decided to go with the finance route and joined GCA (then called Perseus Group) as one of their first Investment Banking Analysts in their New York Office. My industry focus was Digital Media M&A and Private Capital.
The Wall St. life was different, very different. I went from making $10/hr setting up faculty computers at UPENN to something significantly more. From a college campus to the heart of the city that never sleeps. Initially it was overwhelming, but with time I got used to my insane work hours (18–20 hours a day) and Manhattan. I instantly fell in love with the city, and still believe it’s the best city in the world.
In 2008 the markets crashed and I was laid off in 2009. It was a weird feeling, it was the first time I experienced the result of something macro that wasn’t directly in my hands. As an investing banking analyst, typically the path here would be to go get an MBA and then jump back into Finance (Banking, PE, etc) or move into Consulting. I decided instead to use the $250k (the typical MBA cost) to go and explore something new.
In college one of my favourite classes was Engineering Entrepreneurship, taught by Dr. Thomas Cassel. The class and program got me hooked to entrepreneurship. So much so that I built my first company while in college with my roommates called My Campus Post. It was an e-commerce portal for college students, .edu email powered similar to then nascent Facebook.
After getting laid off, I started spending more time in the New York startup scene. My co-founders of My Campus Post in college were now in the process of building what would become Venmo in New York. A group of us would get together and occasionally “jam” on ideas.
New York City during this time was exciting within the tech startup scene. It was during this time the term “Silicon Alley” got popular. I started hanging out more with early stage tech entrepreneurs. The NY Tech Meetup was at it’s infancy during this time (I designed and built their first website *yay plug) and was a great place to meet other tech entrepreneurs. This scene was far away from the banking / Wall St. world. Suits were replaced with t-shirts and flip flops (yup exactly like now they show it on Social Network). Fancy clubs were replaced with tech meetups. I was digging this vibe and decided I wanted to be a part of this.
Over the next 6 years (what I call my MBA) I spent time going back and forth between New York, Dallas and Delhi while working on nearly a dozen startups with friends. For this post I won’t jump into each startup, I’ll aim to cover each startup in future posts; what we did, why it worked / didn’t work and what we learned. For now I’ll keep it visual with a few pictures over these amazing 6 years.
2012–2015 was an interesting time in the Indian tech eco-system. It reminded me of New York in 2006–2009. There was this luring new energy around early stage tech Indian startups and hackers. Mobile phone penetration was starting to begin, access to internet was spreading and a few interesting early stage companies were starting to emerge (eg. Flipkart, Snapdeal, etc). I knew with time, as smart phones get cheaper and the internet more pervasive, India would become a serious needle mover in the global tech scene. I wanted to be a part of this and felt the previous 6 years gave me enough experience on how to build a startup. But was I confident enough to understand the problems of the average Indian ? It’s societal problems? Identify Indian market opportunities? Although I spent middle and high school in India — I was too “Coconut”, I was still too foreign. Over the previous 6 years my trips to India were more as a “guest” and not a resident. To better understand the fundamentals, I needed to immerse myself into India, fully.
In late 2014 I took the call to sell my house in Dallas and move back to India. In 2015 I founded Lazy Eight. A vehicle to help and in turn learn from as many Indian brands as humanly possible. In 2019 I founded Khoob — where we build and invest in interesting Indian companies.
These days I’ve been spending more time on Khoob, more on the companies we are building and have invested in in future posts.