Lakshmi Pratury’s office in Indiranagar is in the process of winding down for the day when she appears, her face breaking out into the big, characteristic grin that can make even strangers feel like old friends. It is this ability, perhaps, which lies at the heart of Pratury's work. The founder of Ixoraa Media, which runs the INK conference, Pratury’s quest lies in creating an ecosystem that drives innovation. “It’s about bringing people to the right place at the right time,” she remarks, during her interview with Deccan Chronicle before the start of the Road to GES. The conference, which is taking place in Hyderabad this weekend as a run-up to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, is a collaboration with T-Hub and Niti AAYOG, bringing the creators of cutting edge technology together with entrepreneurs, incubators and policy makers. The buzzword this year is ‘blockchain’, an open source architecture created by a group of people known only by the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. Simply put, it is an incorruptible digital ledger that eliminates the need for human intervention - and banks - in economic transactions. “I can’t tell you much about it,” Pratury admits, laughing, “But I can put you in touch with people who might!” She talks to Darshana Ramdev about being a “collector of people,” and the importance of redefining success in a world that exploitation has brought to the brink of collapse
You call yourself a “career collector of people” — elaborate? Why is this important?
That’s how I describe myself! Nothing gives me a greater sense of pleasure or purpose than collecting people and bringing them together. The solutions to most of our world’s problems lie in connecting with the right person at the right time. A great idea might never see the light of day because its timing was off, or the right customer hasn't seen it. Life is a matchmaking opportunity between talents, ideas and people. If we can play a little role, if one person says “I am what I am because I met this person,” that’s enormously satisfying.
You’re a technology person, how did your philosophy evolve?
I spent many years at Intel, although even then, I handled very unusual projects, cutting edge technologies — things that people can't even imagine. We had relationships with game developers, film people, script writers, programmers and software developers working out of garages. That’s what excited me. I have seen how the company progressed through these unusual alliances.
Another inspiration, one that I discuss in all my interviews, is my father. I have seen him meet with different kinds of people and connecting them. If our driver’s daughter needed a job, he would go to the right person and wait there for hours. As a child, I would say, “What are you getting out of this?” Over time, I have come to understand. There is, somehow, in this world, there's a power that works in mysterious ways. If you can do something without expecting in return — this is very difficult to do.
What was your breakthrough moment? And have there been moments of weakness for you in terms of not expecting anything in return?
I fall into that trap all the time! There are times when I do feel I warrant thanks but I do talk myself about it. Growing up, I saw someone do this with absolutely no selfish motive. With dad, anything that came up, there was a solution. Someone he helped 20 years ago would resurface and say, “Doctor saab, let me help you.”
One instance comes to mind. I was about 14 years old and stranded on a railway platform - I think I had lost my ticket. Anyway, it was 2 am, before the age of cellphones and anything could have happened to me had the train left. That's when I heard someone call out to me from the window of a first class compartment: "Are you so and so's daughter?" he asked. Turns out, he knew my father and before I knew it, I was completing the rest of my journey in first-class comfort!
And still, you say you don't believe in altruism...
No, I don’t. I don’t think we do anything selflessly. We do it because it makes us feel good. If you meet someone and they need something and you make that happen, well, it's an adrenalin rush. We all do things because it makes us feel good. That stands even with charity, which is an act of self preservation. When we do good, we do it because it is for ourselves. Remembering this is important.
You believe in the need to redefine success...
If business goes the way of the industrial revolution and everything boils down shareholder value, where will that leave us? That has led us to contaminate our world and nobody will pay for this except us. Success is a balance of contentment and ambition. The latter drives progress and innovation, so but how do we balance the two? The right answer, I think, lies somewhere in between. You need a measure of ambition and the desire to see if it translates into wealth. At the same time, you don't want to be driven just by this wealth — are you being fair to the people around you?
This is a systemic change - and a large one. How do we go about it, in your opinion?
We’re so caught up with the idea of putting people in boxes that we have forgotten how to listen. There is a gap between the young innovator and the large corporate and the sweet spot for me is somewhere in the middle How do we bring these entities together to drive innovation? Corporations want to make a change but don't know how.
Tell us about the Road to GES.
We do the annual INK conference every year and India is hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The government wanted a group of events leading up to the actual summit, which is only two days and can't cover the scope of innovation in India. We’re partnering with T-Hub, which is the largest incubator in India and Niti AAYOG, to host the road to GES. The idea is to showcase the technology and processes that could help us leap frog into the future, blockchain being one of them.