Anu Acharya is the CEO of Hyderabad-based firm called Mapmygenome India Ltd. The 2013-established firm is a molecular diagnostics company that helps in gene testing and mapping and warns you how to take precautions on any diseases that this mapping may throw up. An IIT-Kharagpur alumnus who went on to get two post-graduate degrees in physics and MIS from the University of Illinois, Acharya talks about the journey of being an entrepreneur including failures and how a startup needs different skill sets.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
I graduated from IIT Kharagpur and then I went on to US to get a couple of masters from University of Illinois. I then decided at that point that I wanted to do something and so around the year 2000 I moved from Chicago to India and started a company. Over the next 12 years we built the company and today it has become one of the largest genomics services companies and then we asked: how do you build something for consumers? I think that’s where Mapmygenome came in and we built this from the scratch. Having 12-13 years of experience helped us. So far we have been able to launch a product which we call as Genomepatri like the Janam Patri.
How does Genomepatri help consumers?
Basically a consumer takes a swab test. We take that and send it back to them. You can do it online. We give a report of 100 pages and then we have genetic counselors who help you interpret this report - not only interpret this but then we tell them what will actually help them reduce risk. How do you lead a more healthy life; what are the steps that you can take?
How many people from India have sought such a service so far?
Mostly it is from India because we want to make an Indian product - more than 10000 people. Now we are doing Genomepatri at less than Rs 10000 and we have some tests that are now there for Rs 1000. Also some for Rs 1.2 lakhs for entire genome sequence.
What did you learn from the US culture? Did that help you on the road to having your own company?
I don’t know if it was US but I wanted to do that even before I left for the US. The good thing in US is the kind of people you meet, the kind of interaction that you have, that helps you in building the ideas that you come up with. We used to have lots of ideas and discussion and after several other ideas, finally we came up with one that we said we will do.
Were there failures too in the course of this journey?
Yes. We started off doing some very complex things. Bandwidth Baazar was one of the domain names we had registered and we had a very good set of people that we worked with... Then we looked at integration of voice and data and everything…anyways we had lots of good ideas but sometimes it’s just not ideas, you have to implement them also. We also did one with IT services. Ultimately we found an idea we really enjoyed.
How is it Map My Genome funded?
We have investors like Mr. Ratan Tata and others.
When you hire people how do you also send them for additional training?
We definitely do some skill training, soft skills. We are still too young but we will get there. A lot people who have come with us are from US, UK, and Australia. It does help as they are coming with slightly different exposure.
Are salaries also an issue with a startup?
It depends on their backgrounds, we do have some ranges. We so far have 35. We keep adding.
What kind of management background helps a startup?
We don’t hire people specifically who are “management, management” but there are MBAs. One of things is that some of the schools are not doing a very good job in the domain, but also on the actual leadership. So what we feel is that some people are intrinsically good or bad. It doesn’t matter whether they have a degree or not. Then we can do other courses. We encourage people to do online courses. We have found some very good people from ISB for instance but not so suited for us. Some people are naturally talented at working with a startup – it’s a very different culture vs. working with a large company where you have a lot of people and you are job is mostly managing them. In a startup you are mostly inspiring people to get things done. You may yourself not know how to get things done.
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