Sachin Dev Duggal is Co-founder of Shoto and SD Squared Labs. I enjoy speaking with entrepreneurs like Duggal. Why? Because Sachin has a macro-view of the world, an important skill to develop when you are trying to solve world problems.
Solving world problems not only requires a unique reframing of the issue, but it also needs support from individuals that are working on macro-issues. Finding a platform where Sachin could research solutions and consult magnets became the next stage of his development.
Duggal was fortunate to find what he needed at the World Economic Forum. At WEF Sachin took full advantage as he met with Bill Gates, and discussed ideas with Paul Jacobs.
As a result, of his experience at the World Economic Forum Duggal donates to various charities including Keep a Child Alive by Alicia Keys.
What problem are you looking to solve? How are you reframing that problem? How are you connecting with others that can help you?
Let’s read on how Sachin Dev Duggal tackles these challenges.
So Sachin, what’s your story?
I was born in London back in the day before broadband and studied in London. When I was 14 I managed to break my mother’s computer (T86 I think or 1x86) and under the nervousness of her wrath I read all day all week to get it fixed.
Eventually through early DOS programming I managed to get this back up and actually, got my first “fix”, something that would later become the key to anything tech I did.
The next year I wanted my own computer and built my own after much persuasion (I managed to narrowly avoid blowing it up), realizing that my PC cost was about 400 pounds less and so this was a great idea.
Long story short, I ended up building a PC business with my friends for the next couple of years, made more than enough money to pay for tennis lessons and candy and then went onwards to hosting.
Fast forward to December 2014, my final year of college, I rang up my best friend at 5am with an “I have an idea moment”, and went on to tell him how we would never have PCs again and that everything would be in the datacenter; and this began the start of Nivio, the world’s first desktop as a service company, one of the first providers of the cloud (infact we owned the trademark for Cloud in some countries!). This was my best friend and I’s first “startup” and so much of the journey I felt like a learner driver in a formula one car; just because we were designing the track.
We spent the first 3 years trying to get license from Microsoft, Adobe and others, we built hardware that brought the cost of the CPE down to 50% and a mini netbook (we called the “Cloudbook”) that ran linux (do you remember Meego?) and connected to Windows in the cloud.
9 years in, and just over $21m in investment we exited the company in 2012; to a larger extent not out of our free will but in hindsight; a decision that has set us up to the times to come.
I took 3 months off after we exited, did the 10 days silent meditation and I was ready to get back on the track.
In 2012 I went on a road trip to Yosemite with one of my dearest friends on his Birthday (Ken) and throughout the trip I noticed so many people taking photos and asking the question of how we would share them, it got me thinking, we can send man to the moon but we still can’t “see the photos” our friends take.
From then till then I have spent most of my time building product and understanding user behavior only to realize no-one wants to share photos, there is no dopamine in private sharing. The key however is delivering the “seeing” of photos your friends take, and the new version of Shoto is based just on this.
In parallel, I’ve also gone deeper into our software company, SD Squared and helped restructure it, grow it so that our wider aim of controlling our own destiny. We’ve built a technology business (both Cloud, Technology and Design) that has grown 300% year on year for 3 years (this year will be a $20m profitable turnover) and has become the cornerstone of how we invest; using 100% of our profits to invest in our own ideas and those of our credible entrepreneurs. This year we invested in 4 companies including two highly sought after YC companies.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
I make mistakes every day; the key to is making mistakes shows you’re always punching above your weight and that’s key. I’ve made some incredibly big mistakes many have been hiring the wrong people, raising the wrong investment and focusing too much on product not enough on growth.
But, to answer your question, I stopped listening to my heart once, and it cost me dearly. Truth be told, an entrepreneur should never ignore their gut or their heart; passion comes from there and your body has a way of telling you things subconsciously that your mind never realizes till it's too late.
My biggest question of faith cost me a lot of money, and the rest as they say is history. What I learned from it was never to question it again, to listen to your soul and actually, learned that I am able to achieve or pick myself up from whatever hurdle may come my way. And experiencing that is essential for any entrepreneur - it gives you heft.
Tell me about an accomplishment that shaped your career?
Being a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer was absolutely pivotal; meeting Bill Gates, discussing ideas with Paul Jacobs and meeting my nearest and dearest including my somewhat-adopted God-Father (Sanford Climan) and one of my dearest friends Jared Friedman.
More than the network and the shaping of conversation, the WEF provided a way of thinking about the world at large; thinking about making things better for everyone.
As a result, for every company we build jointly, my best friend and I have agreed to give 15% to charity including Keep a Child Alive by Alicia keys.
Tell me about the time you realized you had the power to do something meaningful?
When I was visiting a small underdeveloped area where we had pushed out the nivio cloudPC and given a couple to a village; watching kids use a Windows Computer for the first time was an absolute eye opener; it absolutely built the conviction that we as entrepreneurs, have the power to change the world. See how they touched a mouse, seeing how their eyes lit up was overwhelming.
The second was when we had our exit and that allowed our charity partner, Keep a Child Alive to also get some cash and ultimately benefit 1m children who have AIDs.
More than economics, the time to give to the things you believe in gives you the ability to do things that are meaningful, and more importantly human-like; sitting, talking, touching and helping people with your own time.
Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
When I was sat down, and pushed out of a company I spent so many years building (likely with an exit); I was mortified and couldn’t believe how I had been pushed, treated and how those who I thought were there for me suddenly switched. It was like having the wind taken out of your system.
I went back to London, went to a healer and then 10 days of meditation I re-found myself; and picked myself up and got back up on the horse to try again; this time, with my war wounds in check.
Solving complex problems often requires a re-framing the problem. So what is your process of re-framing the problem so it can be resolved?
I often ask two things, one what’s the problem we are trying to solve, the main reason is that often we are trying to solve different problems.
The second, is about trying to map everything back into something I learned at Stanford all thanks to BJ Fogg, that every behaviour created is created because of latent motivation, ability and a timely trigger (B=MAT) and motivation is something you cannot create but it has to be latent (like there is no motivation for private sharing but there is latent motivation to see the photos your friends take).