Rahul Narvekar, Founder and CEO of NDTV Ethic Retail Limited’s Indian Roots has had a life extraordinaire, a story befitting a Hindi movie screenplay with all the ingredients intact. Born in a small room in a chawl in Mumbai, Rahul’s father was an orphan who was raised in an orphanage and worked in a factory to support his family. He also did odd jobs so that he could provide simple “luxuries” to his family.They were the most well-off family in the chawl and were the owners of the solitary television in their chawl community. Rahul’s father ensured that despite their modest earnings, they never missed simple pleasures like a birthday celebration. The celebrations could not last long though. He lost his job due to factory lock-out. The following 10 to 12 years were a struggle with his father picking odd jobs to support his family and his mother sewing clothes for a living. Rahul’s parents ensured that his education was taken care of albeit not from a very fancy school called Sardarni Pratap Singh Janta Vidyalaya. Rahul was a topper all along and was into theatre, athletics, debates and was a voracious reader. He shares “I could not afford to buy Time and Fortune magazines in those days and would scurry the same from the "raddiwala’s” cache of magazines and books. These magazines were my source of inspiration and they gave me hope. I never stopped dreaming".
Rahul also took up many small jobs like that of a delivery boy, even working in a hospital as a ward boy in the night shift, taking tuition, selling crackers and “kandeel ” during diwali and even selling watermelons on a cart. These jobs did not let the dreamer in Rahul fade away. He kept reading and dreaming .
There were many hurdles Rahul faced while pursuing graduation and had to change colleges as he did not have money to pay the fees. He had to leave K.J.Somaiya College, Vidyavihar, Mumbai and subsequently joined K.C. College in the second year but there too he was not allowed to take the exam as he did not have enough attendance since he was working to support his college education. He finally completed graduation via correspondence from Mumbai University. Rahul also enrolled in a business entrepreneurship full time course from Burhani institute of Business Entrepreneurship. Rahul says “ I started working with TSN - teleshopping network, as a customer care officer in the evening shift from 6.30 p.m to 2.30 a.m to pay for my education. There I had the opportunity of watching Ronnie Screwvala at work and he was such an inspiration!”. Rahul’s college woes continued and he was thrown out of the entrepreneurship school for “questioning too much” and was designated “least likely to be an entrepreneur”. He shares “ However, I learnt a lot from the Bohra community as they are very hardworking and warm people. My classmates and friends from this community in college bought me food, kept me in their homes and gave me a lot of love and encouraged me to dream big. They were very very nice to a poor kid with no money”.
During his college days, Rahul set up his first venture which dealt in selling advertisements on cable . He then got together with 5 other friends to set up Asia’s first music channel - Channel Oxygen, in Mumbai in 1999. Though they managed to scale the operations, it could not sustain and eventually sunk. Rahul also participated in a screenplay competition held by Nimbus where he got selected from amongst 3000 competitors. He met Vinita Coelho who taught him screenplay and subsequently Rahul went on to write the screenplay along with her for Trikal serial on Home T.V where the dialogues were by Anurag and Abhinav Kashyap.
Rahul moved to Delhi as he and Pallavi were planning to tie the knot there as she was based there. After moving to Delhi, he worked for an agency. He then got married to Pallavi who went on to become one of the most popular RJs on Radio Mirchi, Delhi. Luck ran out quickly and he lost his job on the day of his wedding and had to abandon his honeymoon plans.
Days later, he started working and managing District Centre, Janakpuri in Delhi as a senior manager with an awesome boss, as Rahul describes Pranav Ansal, who encouraged his ideas and supported him. This helped Rahul prove his mettle and he quickly rose in his career. He also did an executive program from IIM Calcutta which widened his horizons and created newer avenues.
In the meanwhile his wife Pallavi who was one of the topmost RJs at the time delivered their son but soon after was diagnosed with Mysthania Gravis which caused her to lose her voice temporarily. It was a very difficult phase for them and Pallavi underwent a surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Rahul quit his job to be by her side. Rahul shares “ When Pallavi and I were rocking in our careers, we became "the” couple gracing Page 3 parties in Delhi but soon after Pallavi’s illness and me quitting the job, we became nobodies as we did not have the so-called “right brands” on our cards".
Pallavi made a miraculous recovery thanks to yoga and pranayam and went back on air and Radio Mirchi ran a huge campaign marking her return. They again became the “it” couple! Rahul then worked with DLF and co-founded fashionandyou.com in 2009 with Pearl Uppal but had to exit due to relapse of his wife’s illness.
When Pallavi was on her road to recovery, Rahul met NDTV who were to keen to start an online clothing portal to sell ethnic and designer wear all over the world. Rahul launched indianroots.com in 2013 for which they raised 5 million USD last year. The current valuation is 85 million USD! Indian Roots received the prestigious ‘Emerging Concept of the Year Award’ at the Star Retailer Awards 2014. IndianRoots.com showcases over 100 designers including Sabyasachi, Anita Dongre, Rohit Bal, Neeta Lulla, Pranavi Kapur, and Rajesh Pratap Singh and more than 700 brands on its online marketplace. India and USA are its biggest markets.
Rahul says of his fall and rise and many such falls and rises “ I just accepted the situation each time and started from scratch again with renewed vigour. Thanks to my upbringing, I have never shied away from hard work or being too worked up about so called designations or perceived profile - I can start from scratch again and again anytime … .No one can take away my education and my work experience ever and since I believe I am Ganesha’s favourite child, I will flourish - always ”. “ Life has been kind too and I have done plenty of stuff that I have enjoyed, met fabulous people and have had great experiences”. Rahul believes that he is destiny’s blessed child and adds “ When I look back at any so-called set-back in life, I have bounced back, many times stronger. I genuinely believe that I am "Anti-Fragile” - the more pressure there is on me, the stronger I become". “Life is a mixed bag and Pallavi’s illness is still a challenge but we are working at it together. Pallavi does CSR for Radio Mirchi and has won many awards for her work for blind people”.
Rahul enjoys a good book with jing-bang kinda Bollywood movie songs and loves to try out new cuisines. He aspires to learn driving, dancing, be fitter, laugh more often, make a movie and make a dent in the universe. He also aims to be a TED speaker one day. Rahul has spoken at many national and international fora including Harvard, IIM - A and IIM - C. He is now preparing for the Everest Base Camp with rigorous training sessions. Talking about the challenges he faces with regard to the upcoming camp, he says “ I have bad sleep apnea but I know it is always mind over matter. Also I am going to be travelling with a bunch of super achievers like Vishal and Harpreet Gondal - who will always carry the right things. Also Harpreet has this very Punjabi attitude to most issues and her favourite line is ” kuch khaa lo - theek ho jayega “ .. so I guess I will be gorging on great food, will surely get kicked on the butt by the team, my coaches and trainers!! But I know for sure that I will complete the trek with loads of pictures and memories as we will be passing through some of the world’s most spectacular mountain scenery. I am looking forward to the trek and want to make the most of what life has to offer as I believe that we have one life and I want to live it in its completeness”.
On his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Rahul shoots “ Be besharam (shameless) always - Ask. Ask. Ask” .