In a conversation with Rajesh Yabaji, CEO and Co-Founder of BlackBuck, the entrepreneur discusses his passion for the chain and supply industry, being in the right place at the right time, and a unique business structure that propelled BlackBuck to impressive heights.
Rajesh graduated from IIT Kharagpur with a dual degree in 2010. He spent his college years gaining experience as a summer intern for the University of Nebraska in 2007, Rio Tinto Alcan, Germany in 2008, and Schindler India in 2009.
Rajesh Yabaji’s Early Life
Since his father was an army officer, Rajesh has fond childhood memories all over the country. He reveals that seeing his father “straightening” the other officers made him really “curious about that side of stuff.” Growing up as an army officer’s child, he always had a passion towards defence. A huge part of the way he works, his attitudes towards punctuality, has been stemmed in his childhood.
Talking about his educational and professional journey – his days at IIT Kharagpur and his summer internships, Rajesh says, “Those were the humbling moments. It was really great in the midst of such intellectual, talented people”. He added that he always wanted to get into a company where he could partake in management and operations. As a result, Rajesh sought out those kinds of internship.
BlackBuck’s Business Structure
“We are, as a culture, very on time. We respect consistency over ‘parts’ of brilliance.”Rajesh Yabaji
Rajesh Yabaji points out that, with the kind of industry they’re operating in, a board-room design planning would be useless unless it was first tried on the ground. He adds that a lot of what he does with the company was influenced by his childhood. As an example, he brought up the punctuality of their meetings. He has ensured that meetings at BlackBuck always start on time, saying “The least we can do is be consistent. It helps everybody plan well; do things well”. He admits that he’s often compulsive in how things are operated – making sure to mention that it’s not a bad thing – but it allows him to stay on track of how he wants things to play out, and what he wants as a final outcome. “Those aspects are important,” he adds.
Talking about BlackBuck being case studied at Harvard, Rajesh says it provided a good recognition for the company. He met Professor Shikhar Ghosh during a business trip to the US, and that Professor Ghosh had taken a keen interest in BlackBuck’s story. It was during the finalization of case study A, that Professor Ghosh discovered the possibility for another case study.
Case study B was more focused on how the structure of the company worked. Between the second and fourth year of the company, Rajesh Yabaji revealed that they changed the structure once every five-to-six months. Professor Ghosh was really curious about the changes. He wanted to understand how the structural changes worked, which is how case study B was added to the itinerary.
A big theory that BlackBuck practices is ‘structural chaos.’ While 60-70 percent of BlackBuck runs in a structured way, “the rest of the company is in structural chaos where we create chaotic environments for innovation and for it to take its own course”. Rajesh Yabaji recommends a book by Andrew Grove: “Only the Paranoid Survive,’ that articulates the concept and philosophy of structural chaos really well.
Discussing The Importance Of Funding
According to Rajesh Yabaji, when it comes to seeking funding, the abundance of capital in the market makes it fairly easier for companies to raise funding if they are doing good work. “I think having good capital helps you overcome a bit of a tough phase in the early journey,” Rajesh says. He stresses the importance of perfecting the business model, and how one should focus on solving problems. “You should keep raising money, till you’re clear that this is how the cash flow is going to be,” Rajesh says. “Always have money on your side.”
Being in the Right Place At The Right Time
“The more you keep moving on in life, you realize there are fewer rules to relate. The rules are wisdom which helps in various contexts, but wisdom becomes more qualified as you move forward. You need to tilt towards what you believe in.”Rajesh Yabaji
Rajesh Yabaji says that he fell in love with managing supply chains when he was in fifth year of his college. He was doing an internship for Schindler at the time. He fell in love with the field while working on a supply chain design project, and realized that this was something he wanted to do. After graduation, when he was working with ITC, Rajesh says that it was a case of “right place, right time,” when his boss selected him. It gave Rajesh an opportunity to work on a great supply chain project that transformed the supply chain of the business.
Meeting His Co-Founders
“Framework of luck is that it will strike when you don’t know, and you just have to be there.”Rajesh Yabaji
Rajesh revealed that during his time in ITC, he “was really striving for something to do”. He wanted to work with more people; wanted to do something great. Soon after, Rajesh’s boss assigned him new interns to work with. One of those interns was Chanakya, who is now one of the Co-Founders of BlackBuck. Rajesh described him as “a great soul”. He added that when they first met, there was a “phenomenal combination in terms of what he brought to the table”. It was around the same time that he also met Ramasubramanian. He worked as a consultant with Miebach Consulting and often worked with ITC. “I developed a great professional relationship with Subu”. Rajesh says, adding that there was a sense of mutual respect between them.
He first reached out to Chanakya and Ramasubramanian for the startup idea. “Both co-founders were from my industry. They also knew the main points,” Rajesh says. “That’s how three of us came together”. They shared the passion for really doing something. It was an added benefit that they knew how the supply chain industry operated. Rajesh pointed out that the Harvard case study was more about how the team came together. It revolved around how their work methods harmonize when the three of them are very different. “One is super sharp, one is super experienced, one is between everybody,” Rajesh elaborated. “One had two years experience, one had five, and one had seventeen.”
“The external environment needs to be supportive, and luck needs to strike,” Rajesh Yabaji says. He added that because both things happened, it allowed the three of them to harmonize.
Rajesh Yabaji’s Personal and Professional Transitions
Rajesh points out that the personal transition was more about the change in a sense of security. “If you’ve spoken to many people from ITC, you’d know about their clubs, the fun they have together as a community, the houses they live in,” Rajesh says. Shifting to a new startup, there’s a lot of economics and a lot of risks to take.
When it came to the professional transition, Rajesh expressed gratitude towards his boss. His boss always took him to important meetings in the company. “I saw how the board works, how the CEO works, how leaders interact with each other,” Rajesh says. “ITC is known for its high standards of corporate governance”. It proved to be a great learning experience for Rajesh. He said that the best part about learning came from knowing where to apply it.
Rajesh Yabaji provided an extremely insightful image of his company and his life. His take on being at the right place at the right time motivates budding entrepreneurs to make the most of their opportunities.
Watch the full interview conducted by Bhomesh Sharma, an initiative by KGP STAC (KGP Startup Connect) to help young entrepreneurs through the journey of experienced entrepreneurs from IIT Kharagpur.