We caught up recently with Kaushik Mudda, co-founder of India based startup Ethereal Machines. Their chat touched on how participating as a Global Finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneurship World Cup helped him both as an individual and with his startup, how Ethereal has responded positively to the coronavirus pandemic and some inspiring advice for entrepreneurs around the world.
EWC team: Hi, Kaushik. Can you tell us about Ethereal Machines?
Kaushik Mudda: We’re a deep tech start up, using our expertise in subtractive and additive manufacturing techniques to create equipment for businesses which require precision equipment. Basically, we work on making this kind of equipment accessible to underserved parts of the market in India and across the world.
EWC team: What expectations did you have going into EWC last year?
Kaushik Mudda: I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All I knew was that there was a very young and energetic team that I had interacted with before, and they were quite professional. So, I just knew it was going to be something good, and that it was going to be a good experience for me personally and for the company as well.
EWC team: What were your expectations at the EWC Global Finals in Riyadh last year?
Kaushik Mudda: Riyadh was quite an eye opener for me, because I’d already interacted with the other folks from India who were going; and there were around three to five of us who went to Riyadh.
But what I never had done before in my life was interact with an entrepreneur from Latin America. I basically had no idea what happens in those parts of the world when it comes to entrepreneurship, how they think and the challenges they face.
So, the learning growth I’ve had from my experience in Riyadh is more than me pitching the company and talking about what we do. I think the learning that I’ve gleaned from other entrepreneurs’ understanding and how they think has been quite steep. That’s the reason why I’d say that EWC is a great platform.
EWC team: So, the informal interactions were as important as the formal mentoring?
Kaushik Mudda: That’s very true, because I missed out on the formal mentoring part of it. There was a pre-camp before Riyadh that I couldn’t make because I had some work.
So, most of my experience was just about interacting with people. I still remember a bunch of these entrepreneurs, and I remember one entrepreneur especially, who came from Africa, who said he learnt English just for this event so he could speak.
EWC team: That's incredible!
Kaushik Mudda: It is. When you see people who are motivated to those extents you start thinking what are you doing, why do you think you deserve a place next to a person who works so hard.
EWC team: Looking beyond last year's Global Finals, what impact has the EWC had on Ethereal Machines?
Kaushik Mudda: We’ve had a couple of good connects, one of the people who was a mentor, Steve. I’m in touch with him now and then.
He’s a person who has had experience with hardware and understands what the industry is about.
Regarding the community, I’m in touch with a couple of entrepreneurs to try and see where synergies can be found.
I was just on a call with Maurice, one of the entrepreneurs from Germany, and we were exchanging notes on the post-COVID-19 world - how things have affected him and how things have affected us.
So there’s been a lot of cross-border learning, which on the surface you might think is not necessary when you are in your early stage. But when you grow, you understand how important learnings from across the world are and how you can start realigning your business accordingly.
EWC team: You touched on COVID-19. Has the pandemic had any effect on your business?
Kaushik Mudda: Our regular business hasn’t seen much of a change, though I would say it’s about 70% of the volume that we were at previously. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had to lay anyone off.
What worked for us is that when India went through a lockdown, we started working with a bunch of doctors here in India and we’ve created a particular device, just for COVID-19: a particular splitter that helps augment ventilator capacities.
Now we are distributing them, free of cost, across the country and equipping different hospitals with these splitters, and that’s the result of the kind of expertise my team has built over the years so that we could quickly put together a device and help.
So that’s one way which COVID-19 has impacted, bringing the team closer towards a cause which can save lives.
EWC team: It would be great to get your view on some broader issues about entrepreneurship, such as what you find to be the most valuable takeaway from having a peer-to-peer network of founders in the EWC?
Kaushik Mudda: The most understated thing about entrepreneurship, which nobody prepares you for, is how lonely it can get as a founder and how difficult that path is, because the media usually only highlights the positives.
When you have a peer-to-peer network, you can talk to somebody and understand, check your notes if the other person is facing similar issues and how they’re tackling it.
There are a lot of these functions, which you can’t discuss with people: you can’t discuss how you hire; you can’t discuss if you have to go through a cost-cutting measure; how do you go about it; how do you think about cross-border trade; or how do I think about, say tomorrow, I want to open an office in Tokyo?
There are few people who would have done this, and it isn’t something you can start discussing with your teammates. So, a peer-to-peer network helps you sit and brainstorm, and you know you are not alone on that journey.
EWC team: What advice do you have for this year's EWC participants and for entrepreneurs in general?
Kaushik Mudda: The only advice I have for people who are applying for EWC, people who are starting up, people who are in the early stages of their venture, is just ask why? Why are you doing this?
This is a journey which in the initial days will see a lot more downs than ups, and if your ‘why’ is strong enough, you’ll have the resolve to overcome all of those downs.
And if your ‘why’ is clear, the EWC judges see it, the customers see it, everyone sees it and so you don’t have to worry about the other things.
So, ensure that whenever you’re pitching and whenever you go to work every day, why you’re doing it is very important.
If I were to draw a parallel — Why do I show up to work every day? It’s because I know that the machine I make, the machine that I sell, is something that earns bread and butter for my clients. My clients make a livelihood just by the virtue of owning my machine, and I know my work is translating to money in the bank.
So that’s the reason, that’s my ‘why’ and that’s why I want to be on top of my game all the time. I want to show up to work every day.
EWC team: Finally, what's your vision for Ethereal Machines going forward?
Kaushik Mudda: The more entrepreneurs we create, the happier we are. What we are doing to the machine tool industry, or to the precision tool industry, is similar to what SpaceX has done to the space tech industry. Boeing and Lockheed Martin were launching rockets before them, but today a smaller country can afford to send a satellite up there for its own purposes.
And that’s very similar to how we think at Ethereal - that every small-scale entrepreneur should not have to face hurdles and challenges in thinking about what he wants to build or create.
Basically, empower every engineer across the world to create whatever comes to her/his mind - that’s broadly our vision at Ethereal Machines.