By Sandhya Ramachandran
Sagar Tandon lives in the cusp of the worlds of finance and social enterprise; not something you usually encounter. He is launching his fintech company shortly, but at the same time is leading a minimalistic life. Passionate about conscious living, he is also well aware of how money can create change. In short, Sagar treads the dichotomy of the world with aplomb. Since January, he has been living at our Tribe Theory property in Bangalore. Curious about his mantra of conscious capitalism, we connected with Sagar for an interview.
It all began when Sagar was in his eighth standard. His father introduced him to theoretical physics and spirituality and this interest continued through his college years. But a gnawing need to do more than research lead him to work with social sector organizations. This triggered the activist and feminist within, and Sagar started ‘Let’s stop sexism,’ an initiative to promote gender equality. Many branded him as “controversial” and he found very little support among his peers and professors alike. Lonely and egged by his father to explore social activism online, Sagar’s world opened to social entrepreneurship models and fellowships. Post-college, he became a part of Gray Matters Capital as an intrapreneur creating equitable and quality education. Soon, he helped to establish a 5-million-US dollar fund called edLABS within Gray Matters Capital to invest in social entrepreneurs spurred by the right intents to create a better society.
Conscious capitalism and life of minimalism
Always one to look at the holistic perspective, right from the investment to the impact, Sagar established the Humane Network to share his thoughts on how capital flowing into entrepreneurship when not channelized might disrupt the ecosystem in a negative way. “I began writing about how we should look at living a conscious life, on conscious capitalism, mental health, financial inclusion and various investment theses on driving the capital to the right entrepreneurs.”
With plastic pollution and climate change ringing the warning bells, Sagar feels each one of us should be more conscious about our actions. Not looking for perfection, Sagar is aiming to be a better human being and reduce the harm on this planet, the environment and society. “I began reading up about everything– gender equality, conscious capitalism, nature, animal rights, zero waste lifestyle, minimalism. I keep on adding -isms in my life,” he jokes.
He urges each one of us to always ask a question — “where does this come from?” This could help us identify if child labour goes into creating a product or is someone being underpaid. This is conscious capitalism, he reiterates. And on the other side, he says “This ensures entrepreneurs of these companies or startups create products which actually doesn’t harm the social fabric or environment or animals. I see a need for conscious capitalism from both the consumer and producer side. You can only reduce your impact but it can never be zero.” His philosophy — “least harm most good.” According to Sagar, minimalism keeps you aware of “what you consume, how you consume, how much you are consuming and why you are consuming.” So, this January, reducing his life to a couple of bags, he moved into Tribe Theory, Bangalore, to this effort.
With dreams of creating an inclusive world, Sagar hopes we can all extend our empathy circle to include environmental impact and social impact. “This is my long-term goal. I want to set up a small fund to actually invest in entrepreneurs working in the intersection of gender, income, animals, environment, food, nature and social fabric, and who have the right intent to create a right world,” he shares.
Sagar owes a lot of his success to his family and his mentors. “I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family. But my dad was very intellectually stimulated and made me very open-minded. My mom always pushes me to build something I am passionate about.”
Knowing he wanted to do something bigger than just another job and with a will to make the world a better place, Sagar sought out industry leaders and change-makers for inspiration. From former colleagues to world-class entrepreneurs, his list of mentors is long and diverse. This stems from his belief that one should connect with people more because you’re invested in knowing them than getting something from/out of them. “You should always on the lookout for good influence and mentors. But connect with them without any expectations. You cannot expect they would invest in you or you get to work with them. Have a good conversation with them; no strings attached. Surround yourself with positive people,” says Sagar.
He shares his own experience of how his volunteer work with Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Development labs lead him to meet Jona Repishti, Head of Scale-up fellows and MIT-D Labs who helped him find many opportunities and continues to be his mentor till date. “If somebody wants to be a good product manager, find good product managers. It’s not impossible to find them. A lot of people just want to have conversations and a lot of people on the top are very open to offering mentorships,” he adds.
Quitting his job and embarking on an entrepreneurial journey with ‘Sambhav,’ Sagar and his team hope to create financial services for next billion. “The idea is very simple. Most of the financial products and services which exist in the market are actually trying to serve a mid to high-income market. Our idea is to create solutions that are for the rest of the sections.”
The team is capturing alternate data through smartphone use to understand behaviour, do better risk-profiling and help customers save better. “Our fundamental belief is to be a friend for our customer, who we have named Radha. Can we be her friend and trust her, give that small loan so that she can pay the school fees? She can pay us back in 30 days and if she does that, we can increase her credit limit, reduce her interest and help her save better. We want to build her credit profile, create behaviour nudges and incentivize them to help her finances,” he summarizes the business model.
On being an entrepreneur
Sagar believes that the entrepreneurial journey is lonely and hard. More so, if you have other parallel issues to deal with. He feels many of the challenges of being an entrepreneur were further aggravated for him by the loss of his dad– his biggest supporter and inspiration– in 2016. “When I started out, I was very entrepreneurial. But losing my dad made me became a very risk-averse person. The last three-four months when I was planning to quit and start something was very tough for me. This was even worse because I kept about worrying about my mom and my finances,” he reveals.
A strong feminist, Sagar believes the startup world is still imbalanced. “The startup ecosystem needs to mature more. It needs to be more of an enabler ecosystem for women entrepreneurs,” he shares. Having said that, he also feels that entrepreneurs have a lot more freedom to move and build businesses anywhere. “We live in a world where the lines have blurred a lot. It doesn’t matter if we are sitting in Singapore and functioning as a business in India. We are definitely living in the space where a lot of business models can run from wherever you are, but we should be cognizant of what we are building as products and services,” he ends on a closing note ringing with his quintessential thoughtfulness.
Photos by Kishore Amruth.