At the recently concluded Global Social innovators Forum 2009, City News had the privilege to catch up with one of the key attendees of the event, Suhas Gopinath.
Suhas has earned the unique distinction of being the world’s youngest CEO; he started his software company at age 14 and has since become one of the most remarkable success stories of teenage entrepreneurship.
Today, he’s 23 and runs a world-class business with over 600 employees. His company Globals Inc had, like every great technology company worth its salt, a very humble beginning. Suhas started it out in an Internet café that he worked part-time at, in his neighborhood in the IT city of Bangalore, India. As Indian laws did not permit him to start a company, he was forced to register the company at San Jose, California in 2000. At age of 16 when most other teenagers are busy with things like studies, friends and games, Suhas was already recognized as the world’s youngest CEO by global media including BBC, Washington Times and the Limca Book of Records.
Today, Globals Inc operates worldwide, with representation in at least 11 countries and clients numbering over 200 across the globe. With its average employee age being 25 years, this young software company seems positioned to pull off the next big corporate success story.
City News: At the age of 16, you were recognized as the world’s youngest entrepreneur. What has been your motivation?
Suhas Gopinath: I have always wanted to be my own boss, with my personal philosophy being: if your work is beneficial to the organization you work for, then why not do it for your own organization? One of the other motivations for me has been to create a platform for the young dropouts and unemployed youth to develop their talents, and to give them employment opportunities in the technology sector. In other words, I just don’t want to create only an enterprise but a social enterprise that is profitable but also gives back to society. There is nothing more satisfying than having the ability to provide employment opportunities to deserving, young people.
SG: Initially when I was setting up the company I told my parents that I was involved in a hobby club and that it was just something that I was doing in my spare time. Later on when my parents discovered about my company they were concerned about how it would impact my future and were keen that I continue my education. In India, a good education is perceived as pivotal to one’s success — and, in many cases, helpful in finding a suitable partner for marriage. But my parents have, on the whole, been a great support to my dreams. The values they have instilled in me have helped me in my business as well. It’s very important for parents to encourage their children especially if they have the entrepreneurial spirit in them.
CN: What are the three important things that you think have made you successful?
SG: One: despite of all the success and the media attention I have received, there has not been any significant change in my lifestyle. I have learned to live modestly. In fact, when, as a company, we hit our first US$500,000 revenue, I was still taking pocket money from my dad. Success can go to your head — hence it’s important to stay humble and grounded.
Two: I believe that my parents have instilled a good set of values in me. These have stood me good stead all this while.
Three: The teamwork that we as an organization have managed to achieve has brought us success. I don’t treat my team as employees but as a family striving toward a collective goal.
CN: It’s been said that your dream is to build a business empire like Bill Gates. Have you met him and how was the experience?
SG: Yes, Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft Corporation) was one of my inspirations in setting up Globals Inc. I had opportunity to meet Bill Gates when he visited Bangalore, and the first thing that he told me was: “I need to be afraid of you as you have aspirations to be like me.” I was amazed to find Mr Gates to be very humble, modest and very approachable as a person. I always look up to him as a role model and how he has made Microsoft an unforgettable success story. I want the same for my company Globals Inc.
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CN: Along with your business success, you seem to have availed yourself to rally for social causes. For example, you have volunteered as a brand ambassador for PETA. What’s been your motivation there?
SG: I have always been very socially aware and responsible. When I was in 10th grade and just setting up my company, me and my friends did a lot of community work in our neighborhood. Many times we helped the community clear the garbage to bring about awareness in the neighborhood about keeping the roads and environment clean. As a teenager, my first passion was to be a vet, but with the start of my business I dropped that career option. Hence, joining PETA is my way of contributing to society and releasing my passion for animals. Also, I am always closely associated with advising the World Bank on various projects they are conducting in Africa, in the areas of education and employment for the young.
CN: Where do you see yourself and your business five years and 10 years from now?
SG: I would like to create an environment for growth within my organization, and as a young CEO I would not like to be a roadblock to other youngsters that work for me. I plan to take a sabbatical in the future and come back as chairman of Globals Inc, hence creating opportunities for others to hold the CEO position. Then I can focus on looking for new business opportunities. For Globals Inc, we have plans to be listed in the stock market, and we would like to now focus on specific product solutions in areas of education and the Internet.
CN: Do you have a message for young entrepreneurs who want to be like you?
SG: Yes. Be adventurous in life and be willing to take risks. Take every opportunity to meet new people, operate in new circumstances and get out of your comfort zone. Though I have made many sacrifices to reach this point, the joy of providing employment to hundreds of talented youth has made it a worthwhile journey for me so far.
Related story: GSIF 2009: Walking The Talk To Change The World