E42: Jaspreet Bindra, Sr VP of Digital Transformation at Mahindra – Interview

July 21, 2016


Our guest for this interview is Jaspreet Bindra. Jaspreet is the Senior vice president of digital transformation at Mahindra, which is a massive company based in India. Mahindra sells many products and services including farm equipment, mobility tech, construction equipment and many other products and services.

What’s so interesting is that Jaspreet is in charge of infusing digital across their entire company. That sounds like a tall order.

Jaspreet has a very entrepreneurial background, and infuses that spirit throughout Mahindra. If you want to learn how to make your organization more nimble and entrepreneurial, listen to this interview.

Here are some other questions we talked about:

-How has working with startups helped your career, or given you new perspective?
-What’s an example of a project that you took from idea to launch?
-How is your innovation team a part of the process?
-What’s essential to create more of an entrepreneurial environment at a company?


David Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs. This is Dave Kruse from Madison, Wisconsin. And today our guest is Jaspreet Bindra. And Jaspreet is the Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation at Mahindra, which is a massive company based in India. Mahindra sells many products and services including farm equipment, mobility tech, construction equipment and many other products and services. So what’s interesting is that Jaspreet is in charge of infusing digital across their entire company, which to me sounds like a tall order and so how exactly is he doing this. So to do this Jaspreet has quite a background to make this happen, including roles at TATA and Microsoft and working with several start-ups. So I’m definitely excited to learn more about Jaspreet and Mahindra. So Jaspreet, thanks for coming on the show today.

Jaspreet Bindra: Thank you very much Dave. It’s great to be here.

David Kruse: And so let’s start off talking a little bit about your background, so that we can figure out, learn more about you and see how you came to your role at Mahindra.

Jaspreet Bindra: Okay, cool. Now thanks Dave. Look I spent a fairly long time working. It’s my 21st year and it’s been a mix of as you said corporate stuff, as well as ‎entrepreneurial stuff. And from a corporate view point I spent, I did my engineering, I’m a Clinical Engineer and done my MBA in India and then I worked for a while with TATA Group, which is India’s largest conglomerated, much bigger than the Mahindra Group. It does a bunch of things and I just came in as a – I just came in as a management trainee there and was there a total of about nine to 10 years, largely in telecom, but also in consumer goods, sales, marketing business, etcetera. But somewhere in the middle of that I left, I kind of ran away when the internet hit off in India for the first time and I was a part of a start-up. I was a third employee and the COO of tiny start-up called Baazee.com. It suddenly became well known when eBay bought us and then it became eBay India. So TATA Group, Baazee and then I spent a while with Microsoft, six or seven years consumer business. Another big start us called AskMe, which is like – think of it like a Yelp for India, much smaller though. And then for the last, little less than a year its be the Mahindra group and the reason I’m here is because I’ve had an experience both in the internet online world and business models within that, as well as traditional industry and so I had one leg in both places and as in the world we move towards digital business models, the Mahindra Group also wants to do that and so they kind of pulled me in. So that’s how I’m here.

David Kruse: Interesting, yes that’s a wonderful background for what you are doing now. And yes, clear perspectives from both the start-up world and from the larger corporations. So, how do you – well, first can you provide a brief overview on Mahindra. I gave a brief one, but maybe you can give a little deeper background.

Jaspreet Bindra: Okay, great. You kind of did a – when you introduced the Mahindra Group I think you were fairly sport on, except that the Mahindra Group is not one company, it’s a group of companies. It’s like a conglomerate. Think of it like GE which has a bunch has a bunch of companies and these companies are across 10 different large businesses. So as you said, mobility in this context means auto. So we are the largest SUV maker in this part of the world, then there is a lot of farm and farm equipment including tractors, and you see some of our tractors, smaller tractors in the US too. And then we are large in IT, with a large IT services firm and then a bunch of other stuff, hospitality, retail, bunch of stuff. And since it’s – and I operate at the conglomerate level, so I’m like the digital transformation guy. I’m the Chief Digital Officer for the conglomerate and so I kind of need to look at all the companies, but since you can’t do everything at the same time, what I’m trying to do is, we’ve kind of built a team of some start, three of four or five start digital people I think. I consider them better than me and we are kind of talking a few companies, say four or five companies to begin with and working with them to see that what would their – what should they look like if they were to digitize and then helping them move there. And so we are kind of going to take it company by company since each company is its own business. You can’t use the same formula for everyone and each company is its own – has its own board, sometimes listed, shapes its own destiny and they are the people who really do stuff, we are only there to help them. And so I kind of operate at the center, kind of help out the businesses as they chart their course towards the digital world and I’m doing it at a business by business basis rather than a group wide basis.

David Kruse: Interesting. And can you share – Is there one example of a business that you are helping and how do you decide to help that business and then kind of what’s your thought process to start working with them and introducing the potential ideas.

Jaspreet Bindra: Sure. So digital is a big world, right and it means everything. Its like – what is digital, it’s like what is life kind of question.

David Kruse: Yes, that’s true.

Jaspreet Bindra: It can mean anything. Some people think its social media, and some people think it’s about Google and online stuff and some people think it’s about a website or an app, but digital goes much beyond that. Everything that we talked about is actually about – is only the satisfaction of the customer experience, but below that you need to digitize processes, digital product sometimes need to be placed. But the core of digital transformation is in really about two things; it’s about new business models. So think of Uber for example. Guys who make cars and Uber satisfy the same needs of mobility. But Uber does it without, with a very differ business module. And so a lot of different business models are very different from conventional business models. It’s also about people and building capability in organizations, and it’s also about a digital mindset and so it’s a lot of work. It’s just not kind of going and saying that, look, we’ll have a better looking website or we’ll have a mobile app and we are kind of done. And there are several examples, Dave to your question. We have a company called Mahindra Holidays. It’s the largest time share resort vacation rental company outside the US. And they have a bunch of resorts all over India and a few parts of the world and they kind of rent them out to people, customers. And so it’s a profitable business, it’s doing great. They have a great management, they have a great business. But then we all know that as we go forward there is the BNB’s of the world and check which are kind of coming in and would disrupt that business. And so the CEO and the team there has kind of taken up itself as to how to transform themselves and we are creating a – creating a mobile story, an app which tomorrow would do many things. It would unlock the doors of a resort when a customer has it. It’s something which is always with the customer and therefore builds a high degree of customer engagement, massive content when a person is going from their house to the resort, it kind of tells you the way, it tells you if there is some interesting stuff on the side. It tells you – integrate therefore with Google Maps etcetera, so a whole bunch of things to kind of make the experience both physical and digital. And also a great example in tractors, but I will say that a little later perhaps because I don’t want to make this too long, but if you ask me I will tell you.

David Kruse: Okay not – I was curious. I mean those are actually two good examples, because I was curious. That’s more of a – the first one is more of a traditional digital, but I was curious what kind of an internet of things perspectives are you doing anything with tractors.

Jaspreet Bindra: Yes, so we are, though what I was going to tell you was not as much as about IOT. But okay, yes sure, I mean if you are in the automobile business, if you are in the mobility business of any kind, whether in the farm or in a city, etcetera, you cannot escape the IOT wave in a sense. And similarly, I mean any physical asset you know. So yes sure, we are experimenting like the rest of the world is and like the rest of the companies are. We are also experimenting – what we are trying to do, however is in a much more Indian context, where to the conventional driver less cars, etcetera, what can work in the west cannot necessarily work in India, because just the traffic system and the road systems are so chaotic and so different, and so we are kind of trying to make that. We have a large research center in the southern part of country and we are kind of trying to do that. But the tractor example is very interesting, and for example just to kind of spend a minute on this, you know India has a lot of farmers; we have about 25 million farmers but we have only 5 million tractors in this country. So one farmer in five has a tractor and then when you look at the farmers who have tractors, only about 10% of a tractor is used. A tractor is only used 10% of the time. So 90% of the time it just sits there and so there is an idle asset and there is demand and so you know therefore it’s the kind of environmental right to kind of create something like an Uber for tractors through an app or a call center people – framers can just rent tractors which are out there and so we’ve kind of done that. We’ve started a small company which we call Tringo. It’s a very non-Mahindra name and it’s for all tractors, not only Mahindra tractors, it’s for all tractors and so – you know because a tractor is sitting there for 90% of the time and there are farmers who want it. So why can’t we kind of digital enable that to happen. So that’s a kind of a business model innovation, which you get all very excited by and the tractor team has done a great job there. So yes, that’s another example.

David Kruse: So how does that idea come about? Like does – has your team come up with the idea or is the tractor group saying hey, what do you guys think of this and how do you implement it?

Jaspreet Bindra: You know the fun part is that most – you know the people who are doing the business, they know the business best and the fun part – for example, my team would never ever know that you know there are soo many tractors and there are unutilized soo many – unutilized 90%. It’s the tractor team knows and they’ve got young people, great people and they have come up with the idea in this case and in many cases and our job has been then to help them you know, kind of help them make it happen. So I must say that 90% of the time it’s big businesses and the companies which come up with the idea. At best what we would do is to help them think sometimes, okay and then obviously have them implement, that’s the core part of our job. But in this case it’s the tractor business which came up with the idea.

David Kruse: Got you. And as far as implementation, does that mean actually building the app, but then also marketing it and branding it or what part would you be a – how do you help with the implementation?

Jaspreet Bindra: Oh yes, yes, yes, everything. So look, those guys know how to build tractors, they don’t know how to build apps, okay.

David Kruse: Right, right.

Jaspreet Bindra: And you know so our job is to kind of work with them and you know kind of we work as a kind of a combined team and sometimes there are capabilities in house, but most times we have to go out. We got to get the right partner with the right developers, the right UI, UX guys and you know kind of build the app and not only the app. The app is just a front end. You know there is a whole back end system that needs to be build, CRM data etcetera. And look, Indian farmers are not like US farmers. I mean Indian farmers are smaller, smaller land holdings, they are much poorer, far less educated, they don’t have – I mean very few of them have smartphones. So you cannot expect that you know you build an app and every farmer is going to buy a phone and start using an app, it isn’t going to happen that way and so an app is part of the story. You also need to enable this whole business through a phone number, a toll free number and a call center in essence and you get a – sometimes have to put some physical stuff on the ground also, so that people understand what is this. So kind of you have to localize it and not only think that since Uber was successful, they have apps and lets also build only apps. No, you got to go beyond that and so there is some of that stuff and building all of this together and then the branding, the old stuff while its being own written does it – we’re kind of with them all the way.

David Kruse: Got you, okay. And who is in charge of a – I mean I’m just curious. I mean it’s a very interesting model you have and who is in charge of operating this; like let’s say the…

Jaspreet Bindra: Oh! That’s in fact I missed that point Dave and that’s the great point. Look, this is a very distant business model, right, and if you kind of keep it within the large company, it will be difficult to kind of run this, because it runs in such a different manner. The processes, the policies, the people who are going to make tractors and sell tractors are different in a sense from the people who do renting of tractors in this case okay and they will need to be digital people. Obviously there will need to be good tractor people also, but it’s sort of a – so we kind of created this as a completely separate incorporated company. It operates like a start-up and the tractors part of Mahindra has given it “seed money” of some million dollars, whatever it is. And then you know – so it’s a separate company, separate board and I sit on the board. There are people from the tractor business. We have got an independent director. We completely run it separately. They will be – they will run it out of a different remise and then actually as they grow after that subsidy way they got to go out and raise money, much like a start-up.

David Kruse: Interesting.

Jaspreet Bindra: So it’s a very start-up model.

David Kruse: Yes, yes. You sound the quite entrepreneur on that. That’s a smart way to do it. A lot of companies are hesitant.

Jaspreet Bindra: Yes, and that is what the – David, actually this is one of the three out of four such companies which have started in the last six months, so I’m just giving you an example of what we’re doing.

David Kruse: Really, your busy.

[Cross Talk]

Jaspreet Bindra: Yes, we’re doing good.

David Kruse: How big is your team?

Jaspreet Bindra: Sorry?

David Kruse: How many people are on your team and what are some of the roles?

Jaspreet Bindra: My team? My team is very lien, right I’m sure. I’m still building up by team to be honest. It’s been seven months since I’ve been here and my entire team has been built up, but currently I have like five or six people and then maybe there will be a couple more people. So given that the group is 200,000 people, it’s a small team.

David Kruse: Sure. But sometimes the small teams are the more agile as long as they are talented, right and so…

Jaspreet Bindra: Oh! Yes, yes, yes and look Dave, we are a cost center, right. I mean I’m not producing any revenues. So the smaller the team and the lesser the cost to have, the more comfortable I am.

David Kruse: Yes, interesting. And so we got about three minutes left or so and I was curious. I mean you think a lot about digital and is there any over arching or new technology like augmented rally or machine learning that your working on or your interested in, is there something like that?

Jaspreet Bindra: Yes, yes. No, that’s kind of – this is where we’re going to achieve our time, but yes sure. Look, there are lots of interesting – there is artificial intelligence, there is machine learning, there is IOT, but the one that I am most excited about now and we are spending – I and we – a bunch of us are spending a whole lot of time on is this thing called Blockchain. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Blockchain.

David Kruse: Yes.

Jaspreet Bindra: Blockchain is the underlying technology behind bitcoin, but that’s just a very bad way to describe, but that’s how people mostly know it, okay and so we are kind of looking at a – I in fact a couple of weeks – earlier this month I was in the US. IN fact I was in New York and Boston and because there were this big Blockchain, global Blockchain conference happening in New York and we’re kind of looking at it very seriously to see that are there any applications given the growth or is there something new that we can do or companies that we can look at to partner with or acquire. But yes, we believe that this is one prudential technology which can again change the world like the Internet did and so that’s my big focus area from a technology, new technology view point.

David Kruse: Interesting. And can you share any ideas you have around the blockchain? How it could help Mahindra?

Jaspreet Bindra: Yes. You know I wish I had some very solid – one solid idea or two solid ideas, I don’t. It’s a bit like the user having this broadcast or this call in 1992 or ’93 and I would have told you Dave, there is this thing called the Internet and you would have said yeah, and what is that? And I would have said, you know there is email and you would have said yes, I know email, so that’s like bitcoin. So bitcoin is to the blockchain as email is to the internet. It’s the first killer in a sense and I’m in… You know there are a bunch of ideas. Most of them are in the financial world, remittances, peer to peer, all kinds of stuff. But then there are some very interesting non-financial world ideas. You know blockchains can be big enabler and disrupter for supply chain for example. There is a company actually in New Hampshire, close to where you are, which is actually using blockchain to disrupt Uber and saying that Uber is an intermediary; why don’t I get rid of the intermediary here also. And so there is a bunch of stuff and we’re kind of looking at all of them and you know focusing on financial services and supply chain and you know let’s see. I am still not come down to very specific solid business use cases, which we go big on.

David Kruse: I like that answer. And I mean even with your tractor app or the tractor returning application, I think you can do you know – starting to do contracts on the blockchain and this difference like…

Jaspreet Bindra: Smart contractor kind of.

David Kruse: Yes, yes. It can help with the application there.

Jaspreet Bindra: Yes, yes.

David Kruse: All right, well. I think we’ve come to the end here, but definitely I appreciate your time Jaspreet and its been fascinating to learn how you are infusing digital across Mahindra and you know I think it’s different in many ways in a lot of the companies in the United States. I think we are trying to get there, but you guys are quite entrepreneurial. So I really appreciate your time and sharing your thoughts.

Jaspreet Bindra: Thank you very much David. It’s been great talking to you. Thank you.

David Kruse: And thanks for everyone listening to another episode of Flyover Labs. I appreciate it and I’ll see you next time. Bye.

Jaspreet Bindra: Thank you. Thanks.