Dipesh Patel has done what most people dream of doing but few actually do: Quit their day job to start their own business. He scratched that insatiable itch to successfully launch his technology consulting firm, Solvegy. In this episode, he speaks about providing solutions for an industry the world relies on, the courage it took to get to where he is today, and why his favorite hashtag is #dosomething.
Cofounder of Kiva.org, the world’s first crowdfunded microlending website and the author of Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration From Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most With the Least.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Courage. The strength to carry on, the willingness to make yourself vulnerable in the face of potential loss, embarrassment, or hardship, the openness of challenge, and the love of meeting challenge head on. Courage is one of the building blocks of growth, and is at the core of success, and this podcast is an exploration of what courage looks like and feels like, what it means in our lives every day. Welcome to Points of Courage. My name is Jessica Jackley, and in 2005 I co-founded a non-profit, Kiva, the world’s first online person to person lending platform. What that means is, on Kiva, people around the world can lend $25 or more to an entrepreneur in need. We started out trying to raise just over $3,000 for a handful of entrepreneurs in Uganda, and truth be told we had no idea what we were doing, and very few people believed we could do it. But I was fueled by a drive to help the entrepreneurs that I had gotten to know there. People who, in the face of poverty and great need, were making a living as farmers and fishermen, seamstresses, goat herds, and really by doing whatever they could to make ends meet. Their courage inspired me, so much so that I found the courage to start an organization to help them. Ten years later, Kiva operates in 84 countries and has facilitated nearly $1 billion in loans on the site. And the experience of founding the organization has propelled me forward, launching several other ventures focused on promoting entrepreneurship. In this podcast, we’re going to meet entrepreneurs and hear new stories of strength, passion, and relentless drive. I’m excited to share with you stories of entrepreneurial spirit, and acts of courage, big and small, that can inspire us all. This podcast is brought to you by Hiscox Insurance. They specialize in customized insurance for small businesses of all sizes. You can learn more at Hiscox.com. That’s Hiscox.com. Hiscox, encourage courage. Today in the studio is an individual who has done what most people dream of doing, and very few people actually do: quit their day job and start their own business. Our guest felt that insatiable itch, that yearning to be his own boss, and he saw a problem that he thought he could solve, so he decided to actually do something about it. On top of that, he works in an incredibly high stress industry, one that we all rely on, day in and day out, to allow us to do the work that we do, but it’s an industry we only hear about when something goes wrong. Yes, I’m talking about IT, Information Technology. Our guest, Dipesh Patel, he is the guy who makes sure nothing goes wrong. Billion dollar companies come to him to set their IT strategies and solve their problems. One glitch, and thousands of people wouldn’t be able to do their jobs. And yet, he recently Tweeted that he believes that he has the best job in the world. Today, we are going to talk about what keeps him inspired every day, and why his favorite hashtag is #DoSomething. So Dipesh, welcome to Points of Courage.
DIPESH PATEL: Thanks for having me.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So technology consulting is one of those terms we hear a lot, but the meaning and practice is vague for a lot of people. Do you think you could walk us through—if you’re explaining it to my kids, what is tech consulting?
DIPESH PATEL: Whenever I tell people I work in tech consulting, a lot of people think I help people with their laptops and stuff. And I love technology, and I love toys, so I get a lot of those questions from my parents or my friends, and I’ll help them because I love helping people, but that’s not what we do. We help large enterprises leverage technology. So an example of a project could be—like the non-profit I told you about, their executive director, she came to me and said, “Dipesh, I’ve got a challenge. There’s not enough people that I can deploy to different jurisdictions to teach them how to change the cash bail problem in America,” right? And she said, “I’ve got this vision, I want to build something that’s an online learning community.” And her objective was to essentially make her team scalable, and not have to hire and fly people all over the country all of the time, using technology. Perfect. And as we started documenting all of the requirements, we found out that most of the stuff out there that she wanted to do, 80% of those things could be done with something we could buy or rent. And once we showed that to her, it was really powerful because she was like, “Oh, I don’t need that other 20%. I’m not willing to spend millions of dollars for that. Why would I do that?” And ultimately, it saved her a lot of money but she didn’t really care about that. I think it just built a lot of trust, because we told her something that no vendor would tell her, right?
JESSICA JACKLEY: You don’t have to buy something.
DIPESH PATEL: And now we’re still engaged with that client, and they’re one of my favorites teams to do work with.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So tell me what you were doing before Solvegy existed, and how did you make that transition? I think a lot of people listening are going to be wondering, what does it look like? That moment where you find the courage to quit your day job and to pursue this idea, this dream that you have?
DIPESH PATEL: People often think there’s this moment that makes you say, “I’ve got to go start a business,” but when I started Solvegy, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t doing it just to have Dipesh Patel, Inc., or just to be a CEO. When we started I didn’t even give myself that title, because I think it’s silly, right? You’re one person, you’re not the CEO of anything.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So you were title-less for a while?
DIPESH PATEL: No, I had a title, I made it principal. It was not a fancy shmancy title, no CEO of anything. So I notice this gap in the market, I worked at Deloitte, I worked in North Highland, kind of strategy firms, and they were really good at doing strategy, technology strategy but strategy. And then I worked at a couple of regional consulting firms, they are better at building software, apps, website, dashboards. So they solve problems. So there were companies that did strategy that were really good, companies at solving problems that were really good, but none of them were really good at doing both of those things. You would have this handoff between the strategy firm and the firm that would implement something. And I was like, why can’t we have one company that does both of those things?
JESSICA JACKLEY: You saw the gap. Did you—how did you first see that gap with the initial customer?
DIPESH PATEL: They were dealing with a complex project, which—in the utility space, they have trucks that roll out in the field, and those trucks have to be rolled in a certain order, otherwise it is very inefficient. So this complex technology that runs that, so we helped them pick a piece of software that would run that process, and then we did some project management over the top. So we were there from the beginning through the implementation.
JESSICA JACKLEY: And you thought, “I can do this again and again for other organizations.”
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah, time and time again—we’re working with a non-profit right now, the Pre-Trial Justice Institute, one of my favorite non-profits in the world, because they’re making change in the cash bail system. And it’s cool, because we have a small piece in changing that mission, right? We have companies that we work with that are utilities and hospitality companies, but it’s really cool when it’s something that’s making an impact on the world.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So you make it sound very seamless, and very, quite frankly, easy to make that transition. Were there moments where you felt like you were nervous? You had to draw on this courage to take those steps forward, and let go of being on somebody else’s payroll?
DIPESH PATEL: I don’t think those went away. Today I wake up, and I’ve still got butterflies in my stomach. We’ve got like a real payroll right now, we have a line of credit where our house is on the line. You know, my wife wouldn’t be happy to hear all this stuff, but it is, it’s a fact. And it’s hard, doing your own business is not easy, there’s a reason not everybody does it. But if you have that vision, don’t talk about it, go and do something. Read a book, talk to people.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Tell us about that a little bit. Tell us a little bit about the #DoSomething.
DIPESH PATEL: I think it just comes from me waking up in the morning—I wake up every morning super excited about doing stuff. We should all wake up in the morning and be excited to do something, and I don’t know what that something is, everyone’s got their own something.
JESSICA JACKLEY: You just want that bias towards action.
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah, and sometimes that something for me is waking up and hanging out with Arian [?], right? My son, I wake up and—I know Zuckerberg posted this thing about the most important meeting of the day, and I have that meeting every day.
JESSICA JACKLEY: As you said, there are stresses that come with being an entrepreneur. I think, as a parent, those stresses can be magnified at times. Do you feel that weight of the responsibility of providing for another person, and protecting them, and taking care of them? Can you tell us how you get through those difficult, stressful moments. How do you kind of draw on your own courage, on your own strength?
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah, I think it’s all about managing risk. Everything you do, business wise, life wise, it’s all about managing risk. And my approach to most things is to be very conservative. The way we have set up our firm is very conservative, we’re not thinking short term, we’re thinking long term, the way we manage our finances as a firm, and personally, me and our family is very conservative. We don’t live well beyond our means.
JESSICA JACKLEY: It’s so huge that you’re sharing this, because I think it’s counterintuitive to what a lot of people think about entrepreneurship. They think, if you are an entrepreneur, you have taken a big risk. But you’re saying that within that choice you have found a lot of security, and a lot of success being slightly risk averse.
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah, the other thing about going out on your own, fear is the thing that stops everyone, right? I’m scared. And if you really believe in yourself, then you shouldn’t have fear, you can always go find a job.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So Dipesh, it sounds like you had sort of a magical childhood in terms of being exposed to technology, and having so much access to that through your dad and his work.
DIPESH PATEL: My father worked for Compaq computer, which most people have never heard of. He was able to get some of the cool toys home, so we had a computer when they were super expensive and no one had computers.
JESSICA JACKLEY: It also sounds like when you were in high school, there was another huge influence on you, an experience that you had that really changed the way that you saw yourself.
DIPESH PATEL: Like I told you, I was a big nerd, but I was in speech and debate, and I only did it because one of my good friends did it, and I was like, oh, it seems like something I should do. And it turned out I was actually pretty good at it. I was an introvert, so getting up and talking to people was not my thing, but I’m competitive. And this woman that was our coach taught us that the world is bigger than Alief, Texas. Because we’re kind of like, you know, urban kids and we’ve got to go [UNINTEL] Harvard. Can you imagine? Because I don’t know how I old I was, 15 or 16, I’ve got to go to Boston and hang out at Harvard on campus and walk around.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Incredible.
DIPESH PATEL: Incredible. Insane experience. And it turned out that I was able to almost talk to anybody after that.
JESSICA JACKLEY: It sounds like it taught you a few things. It gave you confidence that you hadn’t—
DIPESH PATEL: Absolutely.
JESSICA JACKLEY: In a way that you didn’t have it before.
DIPESH PATEL: Absolutely. If I hadn’t done that, I would not be sitting here talking to you right now. So if you do my—whatever, Meyers Brigg or Predictive Index, it shows me as an introvert, and I recognized very early on at Texas that in order to do anything and to be a leader, I had to do it through others, right? It couldn’t be just myself trying to do anything, and I think that lesson—came out as when I did a couple of different things with friends, founded a business fraternity there, I just started a small, little computer business with another friend of mine. And all of those different lessons that I learned from all of that stuff are things I still count on today.
JESSICA JACKLEY: My friend, Susan Cain, wrote a book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I think that’s the subtitle. She talks about how even though often being an introvert might be seen as some sort of weakness, is that actually it can be a great strength, a great asset, and a very powerful thing. So you’re saying that one of the things that led you to realizing your own life is that you needed other people around you to get certain things done. Can you talk about any other lessons that that has taught you, or any other truths that you feel like you have applied to have the success that you have had in your business?
DIPESH PATEL: You know, I think the biggest thing for us is just focusing on relationships, right? And not short term relationships, in the consulting world, public companies are driven by quarterly numbers, private companies put sales quotas on people. We don’t do any of that stuff, mainly because—I just say, if you help someone, then it will come back ten times.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Very true.
DIPESH PATEL: And a lot of people tell me—“Who can I help? I don’t know people. I don’t know a bunch of executives at big companies.” I’m like, “Do you have a door man? Do you go to the gym?” You can help anybody, it doesn’t matter.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So you’ve written a little bit about this on LinkedIn, on networking, or perhaps not networking. Can you tell us a little more about that?
DIPESH PATEL: I’m very impressed that you’re one of my six readers in LinkedIn.
JESSICA JACKLEY: I did my homework.
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah. So I just don’t like the word networking, it’s not a thing, it’s help somebody. You were talking about hashtags earlier, I always #SolvegyHelps, because we’re not in the game of going to drive a bunch of revenue. Sure, we have to make money and be profitable, we need a good balance of customers and employees, but we’re not focused on a short term thing. We’re focused on making change, and impacting the world. We work with some of the coolest non-profits in the world, and it’s not because Dipesh goes and sells this deal to some executive, right? It’s because our people go and help, it’s because I go and help.
JESSICA JACKLEY: What are some things that you sort of tell yourself? Do you have any mantras? Do you have any things that are kind of core values for yourself as a leader and/or the company?
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah, so our core values, we always say that we’re on a ride with our core values, right? We have four core values. So the first one is R, relationships. We want lifelong relationships, not just with our customers but with our employees. Our second core value is integrity, a lot of software companies will give you a kickback if you recommend their software, and I tell them all of the time, “That’s great. We’re not going to take the money, or if you give it to me I’m giving it straight to the customer.” Because we want to maintain that integrity, right? If we’re recommending software, and someone’s giving us a piece of the pie, which happens all of the time, we’re not unbiased then. Diversity is another, third core value, and that one is really important to me, because it’s not about skin color or sex, it’s just about, everyone has a story, and that different background that you have brings something to the table.
JESSICA JACKLEY: I think this is so huge.
DIPESH PATEL: I think when you take those different backgrounds and put them into a team, you can do anything.
JESSICA JACKLEY: What is E?
DIPESH PATEL: E is excellence. So whatever we do, do it well. My big thing is if you’re going to commit to doing something for our firm internally, or for a customer, do it. If you can’t do it, don’t commit.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right. But if you’re going to do it, do it with—
DIPESH PATEL: If you’re going to do it, do it 100%. Do it 100%.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Right. So Dipesh, when people think of tech they think of Silicon Valley and maybe New York. I am hopeful that they think LA too. But maybe they don’t think immediately of Washington, D.C. How are you trying to influence culture in D.C. so that it becomes more of a prominent tech hub?
DIPESH PATEL: It’s surprising Jessica, that people think of D.C. as this federal government thing—town. And it is, it’s got the largest buyer of professional services in the world hanging out there, which is cool, but—the tech community in D.C. is a growing vibrant culture. It’s surprising, there’s all kinds of little start-up incubators, there’s a lot of cool start-ups. A good friend of mine from Texas started a company called Good Shuffle, and I love helping people, so I helped him out every now and then with questions that they need. Another friend of mine’s got a company that’s focused on education and learning, they want to change the way that people learn to write and read. And I just like helping those kinds of companies. They’re all D.C. based, and they’re making change, and making an impact, and there have been some pretty significant tech companies that came out of the D.C. market. So they all tend to eventually move to Silicon Valley to get money and all that kind of stuff, but we’re trying to work on them not moving, right? Let’s incubate that talent there in D.C. and keep it going. So we’re working on it, there’s—OPower is a big company out there that Obama has kind of endorsed, and there’s a few others, a handful of others, and—we’ll get there. It will take time, but we’ll get there.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Well it sounds like one of the things that you’re doing to influence too is, again, back to your values, long term commitment, loyalty—you’re there. You’re there to stay and you’re going to serve as an example to other companies.
DIPESH PATEL: Absolutely.
JESSICA JACKLEY: To show that you can plant—plant yourself there and grow there. Dipesh, one thing that I’m really—I’m getting out of this conversation with you, that I really like, you have this confidence, and sort of this matter of fact, “Of course, of course it’s possible for anybody to decide to go be excellent at what they do, then start a venture of their own perhaps.” I think a lot of people don’t think that way, and even if it just seems very obvious and kind of intuitive to you, I’m sure there are still a lot of people in the firms, the big, powerful firms where you used to work, who would think it was crazy, or they would feel terrified at the idea of doing something on their own. How would you describe to them why it’s actually not that scary? What do you think holds people back? People like your colleagues at the other big firms where you’ve worked?
DIPESH PATEL: It’s all fear, right? It’s all driven by external pressures. And a lot of times people internalize that, and they start living it, right? And you—you don’t want to live it, you want to do something. It’s just a matter of doing something, just get out there—
JESSICA JACKLEY: So you mentioned you really enjoy coaching and mentoring. What do you say to an employee when they are discouraged, or when they are feeling frustrated, or they are feeling fearful themselves about the future of the company or their own path? How do you help them tap into that courage?
DIPESH PATEL: I had a conversation today, in the morning, in the hotel room, with one of our employees that we made an offer to. He’s got some stuff that he needs to work on, but he’s a very smart, young man. Very analytical, very intelligent, and I told him, “We all have things to work on—“ He told me one time, he was like, “I’m never going to be the life of the party.” Because he sees me at—we go out to company happy hours or whatever, I try to talk to everyone, right? I’m like, “That’s not the thing. That’s not a thing, I’m an introvert, I do that because that’s what it takes to be successful, but you need others.” And I was telling him this, I was like, “What it’s going to take for you to be successful is you’ve got to change a little bit, right? You’ve got to figure out that you can’t do everything yourself, and if you need others you have to bring them along with you,” right? Not kicking and screaming, they’ve got to be excited about coming to do stuff with you, and on your team. And he—he kind of was like, “Well, I don’t know if I believe if I can do that.” And I’m like, “You know what? I do. Solvegy does. And I promise you, two years from now, you will more than we do. Right now you may not, but we’ll get you the confidence.” And our job is to enable that growth, and it’s hard, it’s not easy, right? Not all consulting firms do that, to that level, where they say—
JESSICA JACKLEY: Not all—not all people do that. I’m really touched by what you just said, that to be able to look somebody in the eye that you are just starting a relationship with here, and to be able to say, “I believe in you.” That’s huge. And I think it’s rare, sadly, in the world, so I think that’s a great example for people.
DIPESH PATEL: The other thing—my father in law always says this, he’s like, “Be nice. Be nice.” If you are thinking about something, or an issue, or processing something complicated and complex, be nice.
JESSICA JACKLEY: The art and the science of being nice.
DIPESH PATEL: Yeah, it’s lost.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Yeah. It sounds like you are mastering it.
DIPESH PATEL: I don’t know about that, I’m working on it. I don’t think I’m the master of anything yet, but we’ll get there.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Very humble. Humility—I’m just going to call it, another value of yours is humility. And you’ll never own up to it, because it’s—so at the very beginning, can you think back, what were people saying to you that encouraged you, and what were people saying to you that discouraged you? And how did you process all of that?
DIPESH PATEL: So I’ll start with the encouragement. So—Shethel’s [?] dad, my wife’s dad, he’s a serial entrepreneur, right? He had businesses in India doing civil engineering, and building airports, and hospitals, and all kinds of cool things. They moved to America, and he did more—I’ll call it blue collar businesses, right? He had hotels, and convenience stores, and that kind of stuff. But he always told me, he was like, “If you want to do this some day, some day will not come, do it now,” right? And he was like—one of the other big pieces of advice he tells me is, “Plan for the worst, and the worst will never happen.”
JESSICA JACKLEY: Very good advice, very sobering. What are the top three pieces of advice or wisdom you would want to share to somebody right on the fence, right on the cusp of perhaps starting their own thing? What would you share to encourage them, to sort of take that big step?
DIPESH PATEL: I think we talked about this earlier, I think don’t be scared. If you believe you’re good at what you do, don’t be scared.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Why? Why don’t be scared? I’m just going to push you, because I’m thinking of the naysayers, I’m thinking of the people that are afraid. It doesn’t always work to say, “Well, you shouldn’t be afraid,” right? So don’t be afraid of what? Don’t be afraid why?
DIPESH PATEL: I think don’t be afraid of failure. We don’t encourage failure enough. I always tell our people, I’m like, “I have no problem with you making mistakes, just don’t make the same mistake twice.” I think if you learn from each of your mistakes, you grow as a person, and we as a team, Solvegy, will grow as a firm. Now if we make the same mistakes twice, our clients are not going to be very happy, because—learning is one thing, but if you’re going to make mistakes, and the same ones over and over, that’s not good. So I think learning is a big thing, and failing, failing fast.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So don’t fear failure—every day. Learn something. What else—especially if they are battling with those fears of venturing out on their own, or lack of security, or—in a different way, kind of having to create their own structure.
DIPESH PATEL: I think I’ll go back to the whole plan for the worst and it won’t happen thing. Because if you plan for the worst you are essentially mitigating risk, and when you plan for that mitigation, you’ve nailed it, right? Because you know what the worst thing is that’s going to happen, and you have a plan, right? What’s going to happen? You know the worst thing that’s going to happen, you made the plan for what the worst is.
JESSICA JACKLEY: How do you—I think people are excited about mentorship a lot lately. How do you find a good mentor and create that relationship?
DIPESH PATEL: I think the best way is to find someone that you want to be in ten or 15 years. Who do you want to be in ten or 15 years?
JESSICA JACKLEY: That’s very concise and well put. Find somebody—at least qualities about them that you would like to have in ten or 15 years.
DIPESH PATEL: And not just professionally. Personally, professionally, socially, everything. Find someone that you want to be in ten years.
JESSICA JACKLEY: It’s a tall order, but I see what you’re saying.
DIPESH PATEL: It is. But once you find that person—be really nice to them.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Be really nice to them. So be nice—I feel like I’m getting the ten truths of—
DIPESH PATEL: Yep.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Yep. So who inspires you?
DIPESH PATEL: I’ll have to go with my son. When I wake up, and I take him out of the room, and it’s me and him time in the mornings, he inspires me. And he doesn’t know it right now, he has no idea what he’s doing, he’s mumbling, playing around, kicking his little jungle gym thing.
JESSICA JACKLEY: So he doesn’t make a powerful speech every morning necessarily? At eight weeks?
DIPESH PATEL: You know, he probably thinks it’s a powerful speech. I think it’s just mumbling. He smiles, or we think he smiles, the doctor said he can’t be smiling until twelve weeks, so theoretically he’s not allowed to smile now, but I think he’s smiling.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Of course he is. You are correct, the parent is right.
DIPESH PATEL: I hope so. So I think that—that inspires me, right? I’ve got this human being, and he’s amazing in every way possible, and—I have to teach him everything.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Yeah, no pressure.
DIPESH PATEL: I don’t want to teach him—forget business and travel, and—I just want to teach him to be nice, and to be a good human being. That’s all I want to teach him.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Yeah. I think you are off to a great start.
DIPESH PATEL: Hopefully.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Dipesh, thank you so much for coming and spending time with us today. It’s been a real honor to have you on the podcast.
DIPESH PATEL: Well thank you. I feel like I made a new friend.
JESSICA JACKLEY: You have made a new friend. I’m going to be cheering you on, and I look forward to seeing all of the growth that will happen in your life with your company, with your family, it’s a really exciting time.
DIPESH PATEL: Thank you.
JESSICA JACKLEY: Dipesh strikes me as somebody who wakes up every day knowing exactly what’s mission critical, knowing exactly what needs to get done, and doesn’t waste time on the stuff that doesn’t matter. He seems like he has his priorities so straight, so set, and that that really has made his business efficient and effective. Maybe we’ve been taught lately to really shout from the rooftops who we are, and why we’re great, and what we do, and—especially in the social entrepreneurship world, there’s this real glorification of that path, and that role, and—I’ve really come to admire the power of humility, and of just being focused on getting things done, as opposed to the brand, the—the name, trying to make yourself bigger. I think Dipesh has a humility that’s—that I am drawn, and that I think must be one of the many things that has led to his success. That’s it for this episode, I’m Jessica Jackley. Thank you for listening.