$200 and a suitcase — Q&A w/ Ascender alumnus, Vivek Kulkarni

“Building a company is VERY hard. It seems like a losing battle most of the time. Unless you can get back up when you are knocked out, you will not be able to continue building the business.”

Curious about the Ascender experience and the realities of “startup life”? Learn more through a Q&A with Ascender alumnus and founder of ARIN TechnologiesVivek Kulkarni.

Vivek founded ARIN Technologies in 2014 which is currently in AlphaLab Gear. Arriving in the U.S. from India with $200 and a suitcase, Vivek has built a two-decade long career in software development, hardware, and IT, while picking up two graduate degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Q: As someone who hasn’t always been engaged in the startup space. Can you take us through your journey to founding ARIN Technologies?

A: I worked in the corporate world for 16 years and would like to think that I had a pretty steady and fast growth in my career over those years. My entire career had been in software development. At some point, I wanted to expand my horizon from software to hardware and so I started playing with the Raspberry Pi and started attaching sensors to it.

Pretty soon, I had a system that I could use to track my movement within my house using inertial sensors. Being able to build something in a field I had no experience in (educational or experiential) was pretty cool, so I kept at it as a hobby. Over time I realized that there could be a lot of applications of the technology I had built as a hobby and started exploring the opportunities. About a year into this exploration, I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool, since I thought it would be easy to build a product, find customers, and sell it to them and build a business! Thus, I started ARIN Technologies.

Q: If you were to describe your top three entrepreneurial qualities, what would they be and why?

A: Willingness to take feedback — No one knows everything, so learning from others who have been there helps shorten the path. Your ability to learn new areas of expertise is inherently about solving new problems. If a entrepreneur is unable to learn new things, they will not survive long enough to make progress.

Perseverance — Building a company is VERY hard. It seems like a losing battle most of the time. Unless you can get back up when you are knocked out, you will not be able to continue building the business. As one wise person said, “It takes 20 years to be an overnight success.”

Leadership — The ability to attract very smart people and convince them to work with you is essential. While I do not know what aspects of my personality has helped me build a team on no budget, it is one of the most important attributes any entrepreneur needs to succeed. One individual cannot build a company. You need a team!

Q: Can you offer us one or two “lessons learned” from your startup experience? What are some significant challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered?

A: Humility is a good thing. Going through a startup has been a very humbling experience for me. I have learned a lot in the two years I have been building my product and company. Building technology, convincing people that it provides value, assembling a team, and making it all work is a grind. The best approach is having self-awareness, and walking the fine line between believing in your product and understanding reality.

Reflection is important. The day to day grind can bring even the most optimistic people down. Take time to appreciate what you have accomplished. Our ability to look back and see what we have achieved as a team is both rewarding and motivating.

Q: How has the Ascender incubator experience impacted ARIN Technologies, as well as your individual growth as an entrepreneur and startup founder?

A: Ascender (then Thrill Mill) put their trust into an unknown person who (in retrospect) was very arrogant about his achievements in academia and in his career. I believe this initial trust from an entity is very important. This independent validation helps solidify the belief that you are on a path that others believe has some chance of success — assuming you are willing to put in the effort.

Of course, the personal growth in terms of leadership skills, financial reasoning, marketing, sales, connecting with people, etc. is an integral part in the growth of an entrepreneur and I am no different. Getting guidance from people who have ‘been there, done that’ is very valuable and helps with this growth.

Q: We hear a lot about the startup grind cliche — the one about laser focus, no sleep, and no life outside of the office. You named ARIN Technologies after your son, Arin. How have you handled the work/life balance of an entrepreneur?

A: So, ARIN literally stands for Applied Research in Inertial Navigation. I came up with this as a way to capture the essence of the startup and also to name the company after my son. This serves to remind me that my son comes first, family always comes first. There is no startup if the family is not willing to support you. Everyone needs a support structure, but the need is even greater with someone in the startup environment.

Personally, when I am with my wife and kid, I am with them. I try my best not to let our time be impinged by work. The work starts again once they are in bed! I simply could not have taken the first step in the startup journey if I did not have the support of my wife!

My final recommendation is: kiss work life balance good-bye! Stay disciplined, prioritize you life, and stick to the basics.

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Interested in joining Ascender? Apply HERE to be a part of our incubator program.