In an exclusive interview with Rajeev Saraf, Founder and CEO of Lepton Software, we delve into his journey and the varied range of professional experience under his belt. Today, Rajeev manages one of the leading location intelligence companies in India. Lepton is the oldest and the largest Google Maps premier partner in India and has been working closely with Google for 10+ years to integrate Maps technology into applications.
Revisiting Rajeev’s Educational Journey
“It felt very natural for me to go out and be an entrepreneur”
Rajeev graduated from IIT Kharagpur in 1989 with a B. Tech in Engineering, following which he pursued a Masters and a PhD in Engineering from Vanderbilt University. Upon his return after his PhD in 1994, Rajeev joined IIT Delhi as a senior research scientist and immersed himself in the academic world for the next three years.
During the interview, Rajeev reflected on how his family has always been in the business sector, which is why taking the initiative to enter the business field came very naturally to him. Familial support felt essential when it came to starting something of his own.
Starting Lepton Software
When he was in Vanderbilt, Rajeev revealed that a lot of the work he was doing revolved around transportation engineering. It required critical focus on networks and maps, and Rajeev was exposed to GIS and other mapping programs. “It looked exciting,” Rajeev says, recollecting the experience, “the way I was able to represent data and get insights.”
His interest in location analytics and map data bloomed when he returned in 1994 and worked with IIT Delhi. He worked with the institute to create GIS data for them, and from that moment, Rajeev started his journey to success. This was the foundation of how Lepton Software soon became an established company, working with major equipment vendors and operators. Currently, 80 percent of networks in India have been planned on the maps that Lepton provided.
Challenges Faced By Rajeev
Lepton’s breakthrough arrived with the distribution of cellular licenses around India
For Rajeev, the early days were challenging since there was not a lot of development and awareness in the field of Location Analytics and Map Data. Most of the challenges Rajeev faced were very specific to the industry as it was a fairly new area. “This domain is still a big challenge,” Rajeev adds. Although initially, nobody knew what GIS was and there were no maps available. There was a general lack of awareness in the public about GIS and location analytics that proved to be a barrier. However, Rajeev quickly pointed out that it didn’t last long, as their breakthrough came soon after when cellular licenses were distributed. “It was a ray of hope when we started working with telecom companies,” Rajeev says.
Rajeev emphasises on the initial difficulty of building a digital map due to the lack of content provided by the government at that time and the high expense in creating one. It had been a challenge trying to establish the need for a company like Lepton Software, and in the interview, he brought up the barrier with customers in India at the time. When he first introduced his company to the market, Indian consumers weren’t very keen of innovative ideas as they preferred something that was already there. The inclination towards their comfort zones created a major challenge for Rajeev and his company. He stresses on the importance of discussing the ideas before implementing. When asked about the challenges he faced while forming his initial team he says that while it’s easy to get people on board, it’s always a challenge to get good people. “It’s always challenging,” Rajeev says. “It will continue to be.”
Commenting on the way Lepton Software evolved from when he first started the company, Rajeev points out that a big change was how, after Google Maps was introduced, it gave people a platform to build applications. He compared it to the earlier days, the times when organisations wanted to do projects around maps but found it difficult due to the high costs. Google Maps made ideas and projects more accessible, and Rajeev stated that it compelled his company to evolve as well.
Rajeev Saraf’s Take On The Geo-Data Domain
As more and more businesses adopt geo-data into their projects, Rajeev agrees that it’s definitely a growing industry. He believes that every time a problem arises within the domain, there will be an equal set of opportunities. Due to the current pandemic, organizations are attempting to cut down costs in order to make up for the revenue losses, which indirectly impacts several other industries, including Rajeev’s.
“I’m happy with where we are,” Rajeev concludes. He has trust in his company’s position in the current Indian scenario, referring to the various respectable verticals his company operates.
Advice to Budding Entrepreneurs
With a professional background that spans decades, Rajeev offers valuable information for the younger generation
Rajeev provides clear advice to young entrepreneurs, saying that if you believe in something, then you should stick to it. There are always ups and downs that come with being an entrepreneur, but if you stick to your goal, something good will always come out.
He mentions that a lot of times, upcoming entrepreneurs try immersing themselves into multiple fields which results in divided attention. “I’ve seen that it doesn’t really create core capability,” Rajeev explains. “You’re not respected as a goal oriented entrepreneur.”
He advises against filling your plate with too many things, bringing in examples of companies that have excelled in one field compared to companies that have tried to scatter their resources everywhere. “You have to continuously keep upskilling yourself,” Rajeev points out. He suggests reading, attending webinars and listening to the talks of industry leaders will teach one far more than classes. Being updated on the technology around you is the key to growing as an entrepreneur.
Discussing the vast difference in work culture, he believes it’s easier for younger people who plan to start their companies. The world is more open minded and flexible. People are more supportive of entrepreneurs, and there is an abundance of platforms to showcase your products. He recommends using these cultural and technological changes to pursue your dreams and become an entrepreneur.
Rajeev provided excellent insight into his journey, along with discussing the challenges that could arise while starting a new business. His determination to follow his passion reflects strongly in where he has brought the company today.