Manuj Aggrawal is the founder of Tetranoodle Technologies focused on Technology consulting, Training, and mentoring startups. Manuj is also the podcast host of a very successful business podcast. Manuj started his career working in a factory at age 15. He was earning $2/day for 12 hours shifts - 6 days a week. From there he went on to become CTO in multiple companies. He also overcame decades of depression, anxiety, and pessimism - when Manuj found the path of spirituality and meditation. Through his journey, Manuj has mended relationships with decades of bitterness.
Manuj started his company in 2000 with a different name - Spider Communications – as a technology services company and had his first paying customers quickly from his network of contacts he made over the years. As 2008 was a tough year for many companies, Manu adjusted his company focus and additional streams of revenue.
Manuj wanted to differentiate by doing couple of things (1) getting uptodate on the latest technologies (ex: Blockchain, Machine Learning etc.) (2) Being very focused on the target markets which in his case is early stage startups.
Manuj made sure that his company filled the gaps between legacy technologies and latest technologies as companies struggled during that transition because of skillset gap etc.
Regarding his personal journey, Manuj got his first break when a training institute opened in his home town. During this time, Manuj also turned to spirituality to overcome depression and anxiety. He realized that having the proper mindset is an absolute must to overcome challenges and make the breakthrough.Manuj advice is to (1) Learn about marketing and sales early on (2) Focus on longer term in addition to short term challenges (3) Be agile and nimble to adjust quickly.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the agile entrepreneurial podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance, and possibilities. Today we have a guest who comes from the same background that I came from, technology background, so I'm very familiar with that area. So, without much ado, let me introduce you to a Manuj Aggrawal. Manuj Aggrawal is the founder Tetra noodle company and Tetra noodle provide startups with technology consulting services and ongoing education on relevant technical issues. In addition to Tetra noodle, Manuj also hosts a very successful podcast as well. Hey Manuj, welcome.
Manuj: Thank you so much. So excited to be with you on this show.
Ramesh: Thank you. Thank you. So, let's get started actually with a podcast, what's the name of the podcast and then I think it's been, you started this year, but I’ve been quite successful with the podcast.
Manuj: Yeah, it's called bootstrapping your dream. I launched it in February, and we had a slow start as any sort of new venture does. And I started sort of getting noticed around May time frame. And since then it's been picking up consistently. So right now, it's among the top 200 podcasts in USA.
Ramesh: Oh, congratulations Manuj. Excellent.
Manuj: Thank you. Thank you.
Ramesh: In the same year you have done that. It's a fantastic accomplishment. All right, let's talk a little bit about the Tetra noodle. What does Tetra noodle do?
Manuj: Well as you mentioned earlier, so I work with the, especially with the tech startup founders, entrepreneurs. Anybody who needs help with the technology or they're thinking of launching a startup because what happens is, as you may be well aware, building technology is not a very straight forward. You know, you need to think about building the technology in sync with your business plan, your outlook and, and the constraints that you have, meaning what kind of resources you have, what kind of funding you have. So, there are a lot of these intricate decisions yet that you need to make and people who are you know, new to this field, they obviously need help in making sure they give themselves the best chance of success. So, I help with that process. And along similar lines, I also help software engineers, tech engineers get trained on latest technologies. So, you know, there's a huge demand for things like blockchain, machine learning, devops, cloud computing. So, since I have worked with so many engineers, hired and interviewed many, many, in fact, in my carrier I’ve interviewed more than 5,000 engineers. So, I sort of understand where they are lacking the direction and where they need help. So that's why I started a training business about two years ago.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, with so much changing, the technology landscape is changing so much. I mean, how do you personally keep up with this changing landscape?
Manuj: I mean, the thing is like, you know, there is no way to know everything because as you said, like, you know, everything is changing so fast and new, better names are coming up so fast. So, it's a futile effort to be able to learn everything. So, I try to keep track of four or five key technologies out there coming up. And then obviously as the technology has become more popular, I start to learn a little bit more about it. And generally the way that it happens is like, you know, let's say blockchain becomes popular and within two or three years, some projects start of flow my way, which are related to that technology and that time, you know, through just this organic work stream, I tend to learn new technologies and try to find better ways of implementing them new innovations and things like that. So, it's just sort of natural progression because as the technologies become popular, they start to become integral of the projects you're working on. Hence you get up to speed with them organically.
Ramesh: That's great Manuj. Looks like you have a natural curiosity towards the technology. I mean, this topics, otherwise it's very difficult if you're just trying to learn for the sake of learning. It never you know, goes anywhere unless you have, you know, passionate you know you're curious about these technologies.
Manuj: Yeah, for sure. Yeah.
Ramesh: Hey, now, let's start walking back towards your journey, entrepreneurial journey. So, you started, when did you start tetra noodle?
Manuj: Well, I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, so I started the company back in 2000 and it was an entirely different name. Back then it was called spider communications. But that name was, they did now, like people didn't really understand what they were doing, what I was doing. So, I changed it to Tetra noodle. Now it's, it's again, you know, the name is again, kind of funky, people don't understand, but I just, there's a story behind it.
Ramesh: So, what's the story? Let's get to the story.
Manuj: Sure. I mean you know, when I was trying to think of a different name, I was sitting down with a few friends in a restaurant called noodle box. And so, you know, we used to go there quite often. And you know, I was thinking about it sort of a catchy name and a noodle box obviously didn't sound right. So, with the box, you know, obviously the box has four corners and that's how I sort of adapted that name into Tetra noodle.
Ramesh: Hey, that's pretty cool. I like it. I mean that kind of stories always resonated very well. All right, so you have a 20 plus years background and then you started in 2000, I mean, almost 20 years ago. But what were you doing before you started the company?
Manuj: Basically, you know, I was a software engineer and employee for about a couple of years before that. And you know, those were the wild days that if you remember the dot com, boom and bust. So, I went through, you know my own adventures with a couple of companies. One company I joined, they were like a predecessor to Amazon, so they were building like an online mall. So, it went, you know, from zero to like hundreds of millions of dollars in value overnight and then collapsed within six, seven months after that. So, what I determined after two or three similar experience, I was, you know, I taught I should just open my own consulting company and work with the multiple founders, multiple entrepreneurs so that I can help them simultaneously rather than relying on a job or relying on the company to basically take me where I wanted to go.
Ramesh: Okay. I mean, I could relate to a lot of things that you are saying Manuj. So how was, how were the first year, so you decided to start your company after working for a few years in the industry and 2000 or so and then that were either the glory days or with you know the bust todays as you said, depending on where you are. So how was it at the time and you started, I mean, did you have a paying customer right away.
Manuj: Oh, I mean, through my couple of years of experience in North America, I had made of you know, small connections not a huge network at that time. Obviously, you know, LinkedIn didn't exist and all that. So, through that small network I got some work initially and then slowly expanded from there, you know, through word of mouth, referrals and things like that.
Ramesh: Excellent. So then when did you actually feel that, okay, now we are in a form ground. I mean, I can continue doing this at what stage? As opposed to, man, this is a struggle, maybe I should go back to a, you know, salary job or something like that.
Manuj: Can you repeat that question?
Ramesh: Yeah, yeah. So, it's like you started in 2000. There must have been a stage where you said, okay, now it's good. Now my business is set. I can continue growing. So, was there a stage that you get that you are on a firm ground here?
Manuj: Yeah, I mean, you know, business is always, as you know, like it's always a continuous flow of, you know, it's never ending process, right? So, you continue to grow, and some periods are slower than others. For example, 2008 was, you know, a little bit of a challenging year and 2009 so slowly started to pick up. So, you know, it's always a changing landscape. And so, you have to adapt your business, you have to adapt yourselves, you have to adapt the tactics you're using. So, you know, you just learn new ways of doing things, new ways to reach our customers, new type of customers. As I mentioned, like, you know, the training opportunity came along, and I saw it and then I started this another division of the same company three years ago. So, it's always, you know, you're always looking for new opportunities and if it works out well, then you continue, otherwise you'll try something else.
Ramesh: Hey, that's good Manuj. I mean, are there any specific things that you could talk about as an education to the listeners here. Things that you have done in this journey that really helped you. Like either a pricing adjustment or a business focus adjustment or a customer target or different niche that you targeted as a geography, any of those things, how did you tweak your model or how did you pivot to you know, to really grow your business?
Manuj: Well there are two things I will say here. One is you know which you touched upon earlier as well. I always tried to stay on the cutting edge of the technology. So, you know, not like, you know, as soon as the beta comes out, I started to incorporate it, but I sort of watch it and as the technology grows and its popularity increases, then I try to get myself into those technologies because, you know everybody wants to incorporate the latest technology. So, you know, blockchain right now is huge. Machine learning, AI is huge. Cloud, I mean, when it was new it was really growing really fast. I mean, even right now, cloud is up there. Devops, these types of skills are, you know, everybody wants to incorporate them and not a lot of people know how to implement these in an effective way. So, I try to level a, you know live by that paradigm, like basically try to understand new technologies and because all these technologies become popular for reason and they bring in new benefits, new ways of doing things. So, when we can incorporate these into our products and services, they become better. So that's one aspect. The second aspect is as you said, like getting focused on the target market. So, I work with early stage startups or maybe up to series A startups. Because they are the ones who need the most help in getting to the stage of getting funding or getting a product out or you know sometimes what has happened is they have built some technology, but you know, the team they hired earlier, it was not really with the experience, so they need some expert help in sort of sort out the technology or figure out what is going wrong. So those types of issues are you know, very common these days in the startup world. And I try to work with those founders.
Ramesh: Excellent. Hey so my observation is this in the technology area, especially with the latest technologies, so there is a natural curiosity to learn. So that means that there's a skillset gap. So that training kind of stuff, definitely there's a decent opportunity. But if you go into many of these large companies, I think you're focused on startups, but large companies when you actually go for implementation and actually technology projects, many of them, I mean all these companies are still working on legacy software. Like they are not working on latest stuff. So, there is a lot of opportunity for no legacy skillset, but from a training and knowledge perspective, opportunity for the latest technologies. Do you see this dichotomy when you go out in the industry?
Manuj: You see a lot of the legacy technology, again, you know, it is there for a reason. Either the technology is already mature. And that's why the legacy systems are there. And if it's not broken, then there is no need to fix it. But in many cases, if they have adopted a legacy technology, it's because of lack of skills or knowledge. And that's where, you know, they may run into issues where that technology cannot scale properly or cannot you know, they are bound by the limitations of the technology and they cannot implement certain use cases. So that's where, you know, when they get stuck, when they contact me, I can say, okay, you know, what you have done is awesome. Let's salvage what we can. But these are the components where we can incorporate these new technologies and take your system to the next level. Right.
Ramesh: Excellent Manuj, that is very good insight.
Manuj: Yeah. So, you know that lack of skill and experience can be filled in by somebody like myself or you know, other people who have experience with startups and technology. So that's one way to sort of address this situation. Again, as I touched upon training and experience is the key. Like if people understand the technology, then obviously they want to, they want to incorporate it, take advantage of the new features and all that, but if not, then you know, they do what they can with the skills that they have, and which is okay as well. As long as it serves their needs and their business.
Ramesh: Okay. Excellent. Hey Manuj, now let me switch to a little bit about your personal story. I mean, I found it very interesting when I you know read some of your blogs and some of the, you know, episodes and all that stuff. You are a man of diverse talents and experiences, right? So okay, let me start with one specific. You really climbed up the ladder through your expedience. You started actually working on a factory at the age of 15. So, my question, that is not a typical background. Why did you have to do that? You know, so what's the background? What's going on?
Manuj: I mean the thing is like, you know, growing up in India, in a small town and they're not, I mean, this is, we're talking about like 20, 25 years ago, right. Even today, small towns anyway, I mean, it doesn't even matter like India or any other country. Small towns don't have a huge opportunity. They don't have educational institutions. And because of the lack of opportunities you have to basically do what you can. And that's what I had to do. And along the, along the way, you know, I tried to educate myself. I tried to, you know, understand how the world works and try to leverage whatever skills I had, which was basically my education, my knowledge. And I mean, I worked my way from there.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, I mean, was there an inflection point? Was there something that really kind of a navigated your career like upward? Was there, like, for example, in my case, when I moved from a similar background as yours, when I moved to Bombay, that is where things took off. Were there things like that in your background?
Manuj: See, what happened was you know there was I think 96 or 97, somewhere along those lines. So, a new computer Institute opened up in my town. So that was the first sort of you know, a professional training institution. It was a small institution, not like a, not like a very, very big Institute, but you may recognize the name app tech.
Ramesh: Yeah. Yes, I do. I do. I do know.
Manuj: Exactly. So the app tech institution, they opened up their center in my town and you know, after, after some struggles in terms of, you know, collecting the fee for the program, although they will enroll in a computer programming course and that sort of changed my life because, you know, I really found what I like to do. I just fell in love with the programming and I used to spend hours and hours of the whole day, whole weekend, just trying to get as much time on the machines and trying to program new cool things. So that's, that was the inflection point, I guess for me.
Ramesh: Oh, excellent. That's phenomenal in that area. And especially, I think when you're learning new things, you know, you don't get tired, you don't feel that you're looking for the next day. I could relate to that one. So Manuj, the other thing is like, you also, I mean, you're not just in the technology digital marketing, you transcend into hey mindset that, right. So, it's like a mindset training and spirituality. So then tell me a little bit about, tell us what's going on. Like how, how you did, I mean, why did you have to focus on mindset training and spirituality.
Manuj: Yeah, so you know growing up you know, going through the childhood that I had you know, which was quite challenging. What happens is, you know, you start to form certain beliefs, you start to pick up certain traits in your personality, in your psychology, which in many cases follows you to you know, until you are dead. So that's what happened sort of with me. You know, I had anxiety issues, I had depression, mild depression issues, pessimism, these types of things that obviously when you carry this burden around, on the surface, it may seem like, you know, you're doing really well. Your career is on track, but you know, you always have something in the back of your mind that something is missing. And that's when I started to sort of look around and see, okay, what is going on. I talked to some therapists and things like that and slowly try to understand, you know, how our psychology, our subconscious mind sort of controls the experience that we have in this world. Because if you look around it, it's basically a perception of our mind. There's is good and bad existing at the same time in this world. It depends on where we want to focus. And if you, if you're focused on the bad, you know, it always seems like the world is coming to the end. And that's when I discovered, you know, mindfulness, meditation, spirituality, it sort of calms your mind. It clarifies your vision and you're able to see things as they exist more clearly, and then you can actually shift your focus towards more positive things and hence bring in more happiness, more joy in your life. And even, you know, life is, life is full of challenges. So, I'm not saying the challenges go away, but you have more, more you know enthusiasm to deal with those challenges, more insights to solve problems more quickly.
Ramesh: Manuj I really appreciate you actually up and sharing your personal, these are not easy things to talk about. Yeah, so thank you for sharing that. I Appreciate that. So, then I mean, you transcended many of these areas and you built a company and you built for the 20 years right. So, as you've been building, right now sitting where you are, are there any things that you think you could have done differently looking back.
Manuj: In terms of business or personal development?
Ramesh: Both. Both. Yeah, you can touch both topics.
Manuj: Okay. Well for business you know being a technical person, I never sort of, you know, ventured into learning more about marketing and sales. So, I had this worldview that, you know, if you're really good and if you build something amazing, people will just start gravitating towards that. And it is a, it is truthful to certain extent, but now slowly I realized even if you have the best product or service in the world, it doesn't matter because people will not know or even if they know about it, they will not care because they really care about what is it in, what is there in it for them, right? So, you have to set, you have to get that message across and you have to spread awareness, market yourself. So, this realization of how important marketing is, how important your messaging is, how important sales is. It came way too late for me because, you know, I could have been much further ahead if I understood these earlier on in my career. Secondly, obviously on the mental health side and these things can be related because as I said, you know, it's hard to see things clearly when you're, when you have these mental clouds on your mind all the time. So as those clouds cleared away, I started realizing, okay, you know, these other things I need to look at. And so, you know, these are two things go hand in hand. So, I could have looked at my mental situation you know, situation earlier. And then rather than looking outside for answers, I could have looked inside earlier and then found those things much earlier.
Ramesh: Wow. So, this is excellent Manuj. So, towards the end of the podcast, a couple of topics I would like to address. One is, what are the latest, I mean, you've touched upon blockchain and other things, right? So, I mean, there is a lot of noise out there, right? So, there is artificial intelligence, machine learning, I mean, every day, right? So, but knowing what you know and sitting where you are, if I were a technology entrepreneur, like somebody either wanting to start a business and I want to refocus my company, what are the areas think people should spend the time, energy and money on?
Manuj: So, this I talk about you know, in many other social media posts and many other podcasts. So, when I look at, you know, what people need, they should start a founder’s entrepreneurs, really, they should have a little bit of a longer point of view. You know, they should look out five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. People, what will humanity need? Like, you know, what will a human race need in five years? What will be the critical resource? It's not going to be, it's not going to be social, another social media network. It's not going to be another way of marketing yourself. It's going to be more basic things like clean water, you know clean, healthy food. You know, air to breath. These types of things are going to be paramount as energy resources are vanishing and environment is getting affected. So, I think people should look at these bigger problems because, you know, if you are able to bring in a solution that can address these problems, these are global problems. I mean, you can obviously you don't make a huge difference in people's lives. At the same time the economic benefits could be humongous as compared to you know, things which people are focusing on these days. So, in my opinion, you know, people should focus more on that and get ahead of the curve because these problems are going to become critical, urgent in a few years' time. And then everybody will be racing towards that.
Ramesh: That's a very interesting viewpoint you have there Manuj. I didn't expect you to go there, but that's very relevant and I know with all the climate change discussions going on. I think some of the topics that, yeah, very important. So, the last question Manuj, I mean the agile entrepreneur philosophy and then what is targeted is having the aspiring entrepreneurs all the right tools and then mindset to quickly start the company, right as opposed to waiting forever to start the company. And then for entrepreneurs themselves, how can they go from stage one to stage two very quickly? So, what is the advice that you could give to these two classes of people. One is people who want to start the businesses and then secondly, people who have started the business, but now they want to really build a business for the long term.
Manuj: So, you rightly pointed out like, you know, the agile entrepreneur or the way to do in an agile fashion is just figuring out the next step and do it. Don't overanalyze things. You know, a lot of people, they get bogged down by analysis paralysis, you know, they look at all the possible outcomes and you know, that basically just clouds your judgment. And you know, maybe you get some clarity, but the time lost is a huge cost. So, in my opinion, you know, you just need enough information to be able to take the next step. And also, along the same lines, people tend to, you know, look at the entire sort of entire work stream, all the steps that need to take to accomplish a goal. Rather than that you should just focus on the next step and then once that is accomplished, then move onto the next step. So just take it you know, you have a grand vision, break it down into smaller chunks and try to take a bite size actions towards your grand vision. And along the way be flexible. Don't you know, if you're getting feedback from the market that you're not going in the right direction, then be ready to change direction based on that feedback. Because at the end of the day, whatever you're building is not for your own consumption, it's for your customer's consumption. So, if the customer is asking for something different, be ready to change direction. And that also helps because if you're taking bite-size actions, it's easier to change rather than changing the whole system and everything has been implemented and now the customer says, okay, you know, this is not what I wanted. And the third thing I will say is particularly startup founders, they tend to try to do everything themselves. So rather than trying to do that, I try to think about, okay, what do I need and who I can approach to help me to implement this? Because nobody is an expert at everything. Plus, you know, we only have limited time at our hands. So it's a good idea to get a team together, whether it's a, whether it's a permanent team, whether it's a team of vas, freelancers outsource, whatever it is, but try to delegate, try to get people who have experience and are much better at things that you may not understand, but you need to you need to get it done. For example, it could be copywriting, it could be graphics design. It could be you know, website, coding, whatever it is. So, don't try to do everything yourself and try to reach out to people and put a team together and execute step by step.
Ramesh: Excellent. I could not have said this any better. I mean, those are the three core principles of agile entrepreneurship. Thank you very Manuj. Manuj Thank you very much for coming on board.
Manuj: Thank you so much.
Ramesh: Yeah. Yeah. So really great discussion today.