Story of a Self-Proclaimed Opportunist
Rudra Pandey is responsible for two of the largest IT companies in Nepal, and now plans to build the largest computer institute in Nepal. But before all this, he was a boy from a small village in Nepal.
“I have a good life today–I get to work in the US, and come to Nepal several times a year,” says Rudra Pandey, sharing one of the perks of being the chairman executive of DeerWalk Inc. Pandey travels three times a year between his company’s head office in Massachusetts, USA, and its Nepali subsidiary, DeerWalk Services, in Kathmandu. His team of software engineers based in Kathmandu develop risk-management tools that decipher huge amount of data for health institutions in the US, which are sold through the sales team based in the US.
Deerwalk Inc was built by Pandey in 2010, after quitting his job as the chief operating officer at Verisk Health, a US-based company. At Verisk, he was managing a team of 400 people from the technology and the operations department for a handsome salary. But the company he was working for wasn’t the company that he built. Verisk Health was formed by Verisk Analytics after the acquisition of D2Hawkeye, the company Rudra Pandey and Chris Kryder had built in 2001. Despite the security provided by his new role as an employee of the new company, it wasn’t enough for Pandey. D2Hawkeye, now a subsidiary of Verisk Health, still had its primary development team in Kathmandu, called D2Hawkey Services. However, his own goals to grow that part of the company was not shared by the new parent company. Left with not much power to change things, he decided to start a new company all over again.
Pandey made a few changes and adopted more-flexible and less-expensive systems—open-source software and cloud-computing platforms, and came up with new competitive packages. The new softwares helped Pandey establish a brand new company in an industry with already several existing players, one of which he himself helped build.
Within the premises of DeerWalk Services in Sifal, Kathmandu, there is also a computer science college, DeerWalk Institute of Technology (DWIT) which Pandey initiated in 2011. The institute fits right into the needs of Rudra’s company. His growing company that is constantly in need of talented new developers, now has a perfect source. At the same time, having an IT company within the college premises, the students have the opportunity to experience working for an international IT company, as they are pursueing their degree.
Within a short time, DeerWalk has grown to become the second largest IT company in Nepal, after Verisk. The computer institute has ninety students enrolled with eight faculty members. His goals for the institute is as ambitious as any he has undertaken, if not more. He envisions creating world-class graduates from DWIT, ones who are at par with graduates from any part of the world. “I wish to take DWIT to the stature of MIT and IIT,” says Rudra. And when asked, “What motivates you to towards these goals?”, the fifty year old entrepreneur replies, “What do you think a man from a small village in Nepal is motivated by?…Money of course. If someone asked me,‘what would you rather be, rich or poor?’, of course I would say rich. Nobody wants to be poor.”
Pandey was born and raised in a lower-middle class family in Kanakot, a village 20km north-west from Kathmandu, and had lost his father at an age of four. He was raised by his grandfather—Kamala Pati Pandey, a village astrologer, whose influences and teachings, he says,were instrumental in his success. He shares this in one his blogs: ‘He always reminded me – “Do not worry about other people’s business. You do your Karma first. Talking does not matter, actions do. So prove yourself by your actions; keep your word and never lie.”
He also claims to have been a sharp kid and maybe his grandfather’s favorite grandchild; and for those reasons he was sent to Kathmandu to study. He spent twelve years of his childhood in Kathmandu, which he says were not easy for him—having to live away from his mother and grandfather, and having to change schools several times, because of constant financial hardship. Despite the difficulties Rudra did excel in school. He finished the School Leaving Certificate examination from Padmodaya School and his intermediate degree in science from Trichandra College.
Securing an exceptional result, Rudra was granted a scholarship to study in Pakistan, where he would get his undergraduate degree in electronics engineering from Mehran University. After completing the degree, Rudra came back to Nepal and made several attempts at secured employment. “I have always been an opportunist. Before becoming an entrepreneur I have never had a stable job. I used to quit my job as soon as I came across a better opportunity,” says Pandey without reservation. He changed jobs a number of times after his undergraduate studies—in almost none of which he stayed for more than six months. He worked for Nepal Telecom for one and a half month, Royal National Academy of Science and Technology (RONAST) for four months, and a few more organizations for brief stints. The longest he had spent in an organization was for a year and a half in a World Bank funded Irrigation Department’s project.
During his short job-spells, he was more inclined towards exploring his natural bent towards entrepreneurship. Rudra had teamed up with an ISc friend, Tika Upreity, to start a company called Comptronix. It did not work out. He reacquainted with an undergraduate friend, Binod Bhattarai, while working for the World Bank project. The two later quit their jobs and started a business together–GECS, a delearship for computer hardwares from HongKong and Taiwan. The networks that he built through GECS, would later come in handy when he builds D2Hawkeye with Chris Kryder.
However, GECS did not last that long either. Before the company could get anywhere, Rudra got the opportunity to study in the United States, for a PhD degree in economics from Northeastern University in Boston. “As soon as I got into America I started a company, which cost me $20 to register at the city office and the tax office,” says Pandey. During his early university years, he even worked in parking lots. However with the degree, Pandey later worked for some of the known financial institutions and healthcare organizations in the US, including the Bank of America.
And all this led to his meeting with Chris Kryder in 2000, a Boston based physician. Kryder would propose an idea that resonated with a particular need of the time—to improve efficiency in the health sector, amidst the growing elderly population in the US. At the same time, sophisticated risk-management tools were being developed for the financial sector, application of which could go beyond finance. To this idea, Rudra not only brought his expertise in information technology and risk assessment, but also a team of offshore programmers, based in Kathmandu, previously associated with him at GECS. His team members from GECS were not only his associates but also friends from his school and college years.
One of the friends from the ISc years and a future associate at DeerWalk is Surendra Adhikari, the current campus chief of DWIT. “Rudra was exceptionally hard working. Back in school, I remember him finish chapters that the teachers hadn’t even started,” says Adhikari, who was also involved in D2Hawkeye. Similar to Adhikari, Tika Upreity, Purshotam Pandey, Binod Bhattarai, Bishnu Chhetri, and Sharad Pokharel were some of the friends who were largely involved in the two companies.
“The best quality of Rudra I would have to say is that he never gives up. If he sets his mind on something, he will make it happen,” says Adhikari. According to Pandey’s blog on his childhood, during his intermediate degree program, he found it difficult to learn in the beginning, as the courses were taught in English. He made a resolve to improve his English, waking up early everyday to study the language. The following year he would complete his intermediate exams securing 72 per cent, a rarity in those days.
With the impact that education has had on his own life, Pandey is now working to have similar impact on the lives of other young students through his computer institute.“Today, Rudra is completely devoted to the college. Previously, all his efforts were concentrated towards making a great company, now I think his priorities have shifted. He has a lot of plans for the college,” says Adhikari.
Rudra’s take on education treads on a completely new path. The institute, unlike other computer science institutes in Nepal, gives much priority to studying English. “What is the use of being a good programmer if you can’t communicate. There are many programmers in Nepal who are as good as any in the world, but not being able to communicate fluently makes it hard for them to appear credible,” he says. At DWIT, the students have news groups, book clubs, a monthly magazine, an official blogsite and are encouraged to participate in public speaking programs.
Pandey spent the first two weeks of his last trip to Kathmandu at Vipasna centre in Budhanilkantha. He says, “I believe we need three things for a wholesome growth in todays time: one must understand computers, one must be able to communicate in English, and one must have the soundness of mind, which meditation helps achieve.” The curriculum at DWIT also includes natural and social sciences. Pandey has even made hikes a regular activity for both the students and the team members in DeerWalk Services.
Pandey is taking it on himself to make these individuals accomplished computer engineers so the institute can have a good precedence for future endeavours. “Currently, our investment on students is beyond what they are paying for. The company is paying for half of the costs,” says Pandey.
The entrepreneurial qualities, of which opportunism only happens to be one, has taken Rudra Pandey from a village in Nepal to building a US-based company that’s working on solutions for modern day problems. But he also plans to build a world-leading computer institute in Nepal; and this, he accepts, he isn’t doing for money. Rudra says, “it’s not about the money anymore, especially not DWIT. I think I’ve made enough for myself.”