in Art, Business, Podcast, Problem Solving

S1 E7 – Tirthak Saha

On modernizing the power grid infrastructure and making life choices that you are happy with.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tirthak.jpg

Tirthak Saha has a BS in Electrical Engineering from Drexel. He was selected by Forbes 30 under 30 for his work in electric grid modernization. He worked on Smart Grid projects at utility giant American Electric Power. One of his proposals won AEP’s Spark Tank Innovation Challenge and is now underway. The $1 billion investment will improve energy delivery across 9 states.

“Make life choices you are happy with.” Enjoy my conversation with Tirthak

Show Notes & Links

Transcript Follows

Madhav 0:07
Hello boys and girls, welcome to this episode of Seeking Sathya podcast where I interview entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, writers, athletes, scientists, doctors and more from eclectic fields, in the hopes that we can put aside their superhuman stature and learn from their human abilities like building powerful habits, being curious and afraid to try new things and much more. Today, my guest is Trithak Saha, Trithak worked as grid modernization engineer at American electric power. He was a space grand commission member at NASA. And in 2018, he was selected for Forbes 30 under 30 data. Thanks very much for taking the time. Welcome to the show.

Tirthak 0:46
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure. Awesome.

Madhav 0:51
I’m so excited to talk to you today. There’s so many things I want to cover, but really wanted to start out all the way back. Take us a little bit In the time machine, if you will.

So originally from Delhi. Yeah. Yeah, so I was born and brought up in in Delhi. Always been available in myself, but I kind of I’ve and this is like the story of my life where I feel like I’m from everywhere and nowhere because my parents are from West Bengal and my upbringing has had a strong Bengali influence in that regard. So my home was always kind of like a small Bengali oasis in the middle of

Tirthak 1:31
Punjabi and George Bailey. And I friends were from different regions, an equal percentage from the south of India, from the west from the east, from the north. So

it’s very easy for me to like, kind of pretend to be anyone when I went to hang out with my friends and parties and stuff. And I feel like my appearance is not typically anything from any region specifically, have been

Yeah, it’s Kind of like I could be anything

and that has that has held water even in international scenarios I’ve been confused for being Mexican Middle Eastern so on and so forth so so that’s it yeah yeah bingo the upbringing but in in the country

Madhav 2:20
cool. How was it growing up as a kid in Delhi Yeah, so good weather. Like I like to see the perspective of our state that growing up was he like the studio is a thing every subject kind of kid are always playing cricket on the grounds are very mystical or was the type like,

Tirthak 2:42
I was never, never, never a good student. I will maintain that in the DNA and I have the marks to prove it. So it’s not just like me being modest. I think I got 34 in math in my boards. So I think that conclusively proves that I’m not smart enough. You’re not as smart as you are. I looked at your profile on LinkedIn and I’m like,

I’m just going to own up to my,

my side of the story from the start. Um, no, I was never very, it wasn’t like I wasn’t a good student in, in the framework of academia that

Madhav 3:20
is the normal so called good student. That’s not you.

Tirthak 3:24
Yeah, yeah, I’m not a good student academically, but I am a good learner. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I, I was always interested in, you know, what’s happening beyond the classroom. And that kind of took away a lot of my focus from what’s happening inside the classroom and which, you know, you need you need a certain kind of focus to do well, in any kind of academia, not just in the Indian scenario. But yeah, so I never got really good grades or like I was never top of my class or anything like that. And if you will make sure you would have been very justified in not believing that would ever amount to anything. So yeah, it’s fun. It was fun though, because I think I made a very conscious choice. I knew what the cons of not being good academically and not having those marks on the paper or the stamps of approval would lead to in life, they would lead to some kinds of hardship. And that’s true. And I knew the cost and I was willing to pay it because I think as you can see, I’m sitting in my family library, right, we converted our living room into like this massive library. Because we have always been interested in learning as as a unit, as a family. I got that from my parents. So I, I feel like life is too short to, to not go out there and learn about anything and everything that you possibly can. So that’s what I focused on and I was willing to pay the consequences. So it was fun. It wasn’t bad.

Madhav 4:57
It wasn’t bad. I news I’m reminded of I think it was Richard grants and teacher and I remember reading it in his biography, like his teacher saying, you will either end up in jail or you become something.

And the funny thing is, he said, I actually did both.

Tirthak 5:17
Yeah, I can definitely relate to that.

I’ve had multiple encounters

where I’ve been caught on the wrong foot list.

And I was I was never unintelligent, but yeah, I was definitely getting into trouble a lot, you know, and definitely playing hooky from school. Yeah. No, actually, I’m very distracted and I still am. And I just, if I see something shiny, I have to follow it down the rabbit hole. I just, I get like physical reactions. If I don’t know something So I remember this one time, this is an actual story. This sounds so weird. But I was actually going to school. And I saw a shop that had some kind of a weird signage on top right. And I didn’t understand what it meant. And I just went in and I started talking to the shopkeeper. And we just started discussing his entire line of business using some kind of import export, and you understand what those terms mean. So I just spent the day talking to that person, and I forgot about school. And then yeah, I got one of those red penalty cards for not skipping school as well. You know, that’s what I’m that’s what I mean. I it’s worth it for me. Wow.

Madhav 6:41
Yeah, that’s, that’s really um, yeah. So you’re just following your curiosity and, you know, you’re learning. I mean, it’s just amazing. And you were like, a teenager or something at the time just,

Tirthak 6:55
I was. I think I was in as in green. Eight Wow. Well and and I can tell you with with certainty one thing that there’s a lot of 12 class people who graduate last week without knowing what important export is

still, you know?

Madhav 7:16
Yeah, absolutely. And this is really fun side of you learning learning about how you followed your curiosity. I mean, yeah, curiosity killed the cat, they say but you’re here and that’s it’s actually more fun you know, following curiosity and learning I think that’s the key thing you’re talking about, like learning it has always been

Tirthak 7:38
it’s funny that you bring that that saying up curiosity killed the cat because that’s actually not the full same. That’s half of the same the other half basically the gist of it says that but it made the cat’s life so much more satisfactory. So the meaning has actually changed over the ages if you follow that, you know, logical Yeah, so the name it was originally meant inspire curiosity not want people, you know?

Madhav 8:04
So yeah, that’s, I mean, that’s, and that is actually an interesting thing that sort of the world sort of beats people up on things that they believe in. And for good or bad majority of the world just wants to fit into the box and not take risks and not try things. And

Tirthak 8:22
just, you know, which is also fine. And this is something I’ve I’ve come to terms with, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to knock you. But there’s something I’ve just come to terms with in the last maybe two or three years. I used to kind of kind of like look at people who are not like me as if they were doing something wrong in life or, you know, lack ambition or something, but I’ve come to realize it’s not that it’s it’s your choice. Yeah. And if you’re following your choice, and if you’re willing to pay the consequences of that choice, because there are always consequences. Then it’s fine. Do whatever you know, makes you happy. There’s nothing wrong with either way. Life like I have, I’ve had to give up a lot of things. You know, there’s a lot of sacrifices me down the road, which other people have not. They’re happy with their lives. I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. And as long as you’re happy at the end of the day,

Madhav 9:12
that’s what matters. Yeah, absolutely. And then from from there, did you study all the way through college in Delhi? Or it looks like you’ve moved to OTP manipal?

Tirthak 9:24
Yeah, yeah. So I actually I started applying to go abroad. And before I even graduated class, well, I don’t know I always fancied going there because I felt like the education system, there was more hands on more practical in nature, and that would probably fit me better mindmeld of learning. So I wasn’t tempted to go there. And I had applied I got into a very large assortment of schools. But if you remember that time, there was the recession that that hit. And, you know, scholarships were being pulled back. And all of that happened. And in my first trial, actually first round, like right after I graduated, I didn’t even apply to any of the IDs or, you know, I had applied to the EU, but I didn’t get in because you know, 34 in math. So yeah, so I just decided to drop a year because I didn’t have the financial strength to just, you know, go for four years. And then I found this wonderful program at wondercon University, which is called, I guess, International Center for Applied Sciences, basically, a two plus two program where you do your media and then depending on your grades, you get to transfer out to do whatever you get accepted, basically. So yes, that cast

Madhav 10:45
is actually sort of like a joint venture sort of between manipal and then outside India universities. Yeah,

Tirthak 10:53
yeah. So there’s a there’s a list of partner universities as well, with whom they have no use. And partnerships and stuff like that. But also, because in India that the structure of the bachelor’s degree is quite different from the west, for example, the GPA point scale is different. We have a 10 point scale, we have a four point scale. So transferring credits and transferring the educational requirements becomes very hard. So what the I guess program was they had modeled it based on the west and they we had a 4.0 GPA system, the same classes, etc. So, when it came time to transfer out you didn’t you weren’t only limited to the mo you universities, you can practically apply anywhere in, in Australia, in the states in the UK. Anyway, that was more international. So yeah, it was a pretty good program and gave me a lot of choices. So just

Madhav 11:48
you know, there was a there was a big move for you going from Delhi to the Western God.

Tirthak 11:55
I actually, you know, a lot of people have asked me that, but Before that, I think in this was in class 11th, I had actually gone to Japan on a student exchange program. And that also happened because I just wanted to skip math class.

So a lot has happened because I’m bad at math in my life.

Madhav 12:15
So the lesson life lesson is a word master. You’ll get into some interesting things in life.

Tirthak 12:20
Yeah, I wasn’t I still remember this day I was in math class. And this announcement came through that certain XYZ organization at GM. They wanted to talk to people who want to apply for this student exchange program. Anyone who’s interested that in the principal’s office, I just got up and left. So I just went and talked to them. They said, fill in the application. I filled up the application. I went to Japan that’s basically done. So yeah, that So manipal was not the first time I had been by myself in a foreign environment. So I don’t think I ever had that kind of transitional phase where I missed home, something like that. But yeah, definitely a change. You know, but if again, it comes back to learning, right? If you if you’re interested in learning about anything and everything that life throws at you, then you just like, you’re happy with changes. You don’t you don’t feel a change. Right.

Madhav 13:15
So, yeah, and then I noticed, I think in one of the articles about you, you had some sort of painting competition done like as and you’d won something for like a President’s Award or something for that. What can you share something about that story? Or was it and why was it just again, okay. So, yeah, it’s a little embarrassing, but okay. Tell me more.

Tirthak 13:49
Okay, so so painting for me has always been my first love in life. So it’s just something I don’t really advertise. I don’t get People, it’s just my thing. You know, everyone has a thing. It’s just my thing. And yeah, in when I was in school, you know, just like every other kid I was pushing to like competitions and stuff. But when I was a teenager, I started developing my own, like, voice and resistance. And I could actually speak up to people like, No, I don’t want to go to competitions because this is for me. I don’t I don’t want to like, I don’t want to go to exhibitions or art competitions. So I stopped doing all of that. So I just painted and for myself, then in college, there’s this poster that said, there’s this painting competition and the, I think the prize money was like 1000 rupees, which at that time, was a lot for a broke college kid. Right? So, my friend, she kind of forced me to do blue and pink. And it was And I’m being as we go through this, this, this stock, this conversation, you realize that I am not a modest man. So when I say that, that was the worst painting I have ever made, I am telling you the 100% God honest truth.


Madhav 15:20
just kidding. I guess showing up is half the battle they say,

Tirthak 15:25
I guess I mean, that’s what, like if you if you don’t ask, you have 100% chance of not receiving if you ask you have a 50% chance I know. So I just went and I did something and I wanted the local level where where the prize money actually was, I got my thousand bucks. I was very happy and went away and forgot about it. So what happened was that painting got pushed to the next level, which was the district level at one day. This was all happening without me. So yeah, whenever the district level in the state level, then it went in one in the national level. And then yeah, I got a government award, the National Award for art or something. Somewhere over there. It’s like my eternal source of shame that I want anything on that piece of crap. Wow.

Madhav 16:14
Like you said, your first love is art and I’m trying to think of like, what made you get into art? Just curious. I mean, was it in your family or did you find it interesting because you could explore imagine things.

Tirthak 16:32
I don’t I you know, I can’t really honestly answer that question because I don’t know. Because I sort of say I picked up my brushes before I was even before I even remember right like, I don’t have memories from that time. So it was like two years old playing with crayons drawing on the house walls, picking up brushes. Yeah, so I don’t really remember exactly what my parents keep telling me stories of like hello when you used to do this and that, but I don’t really remember consciously doing Anything but yes my family definitely has had a large influence on my wanting to do that. I’m not that any of them are artists, but it’s like we have that then does my regular vch so and you know people used to come over to my house to my dad is a teacher and he had colleagues some of whom are teachers who would come over and I would just like I guess I would just invite from the atmosphere I don’t think it was a conscious choice.

Madhav 17:31
So got it got it. And since you brought it up just briefly touching on your influence your your parents influence on you. Your dad was a teacher. And what can you share a little bit about? Like, what

they are like, like what influence they had on you.

Tirthak 17:50
Sure. Yeah. I mean, massive, huge.

I, I maintain this and I will maintain this to get gum that anything and everything good in me is from them. And everything bad has been picked up by myself. Yours Truly. But yeah, so I think one I just to summarize it to make it concise. I think the one thing that really shows who they are, is that they’ve never asked me or told me or directed me to do anything in life. They just showed me. So for example, my mom and dad, they would come back from from their respective offices from work, and we didn’t have a TV in the house still, I guess I was in class 11 A because, you know, it wasn’t the environment. So they would come back from work and they would read books, right? As they didn’t ask me to read books, I was free to do whatever I wanted. Right? But when I was growing up and he sees his mom and dad who at that point that is the his ideas right like this, okay, this is what it does. Do this is what I want to mimic in life from a psychology point of view as well. You see that and you start mimicking that behavior and soon united part of it. So I guess show don’t tell. Goodness. I think that’s that’s the greatest thing that they’ve ever done because I’m pretty sure if they had asked me to do X, Y or Z I’m, I am that arrogant bullheaded person that I would have gone the opposite way.

Madhav 19:28
So yeah. Yeah, that’s a great, great. Listen. I mean show don’t tell. I think it’s pretty tempting and easy to sort of tell people what to do not necessarily. Do. I mean, walk the walk, talk the talk.

Tirthak Saha 19:42

Madhav 19:44
But you learn more from observing what people are actually doing. Yeah, exactly. People are saying, Yeah, very interesting. And then just switching gears a little bit. So you’ve been to manipal. We’re doing your undergrad. You moved to us to do your undergrad continue continue this two year program there, I believe.

Tirthak Saha 20:09
Yeah. That was two years.

Madhav 20:11
Yeah. God last two years of your undergrad and to you were at Drexel University Philadelphia. I think just to fast forward a little bit, you sort of took some passion or some interest in this whole electric grid modernization, right a little bit about that. I definitely don’t want to get too nerdy but love to understand like, what made you go in that direction?

Tirthak 20:42
Yeah. So it’s, it’s kind of like a long story. Like you said, it’s an evolution rather than like a decision made in one point of time. But I guess this starts in 2012. They were I don’t know if you remember if you were in India, or if you read about it, but they were like Massive rolling blackouts in northern India and it was like one of the worst the world had seen in quite some time. And, you know, I didn’t like I said, I didn’t grow up in the best financial situation. And that’s nothing to be hidden. I’ve always maintained who I am. It’s shaped a lot of me. But yeah, it does when you’re growing up in that environment. And you you you learn that there are some things that we as citizens of various countries, we have come to accept that they are luxuries, while they really should not be. We are willing to pay a premium for services that really should not be paid premiums for it because they are in this modern day and age they are as as much of a necessity as as air and water. So so you know, we had some losses during during that period and that kind of push me towards the Okay, what’s happening? What how, why is this still a thing? in this century? How can it be done better is is this something that can be done better? Or are people just doing their best because you know, you have to go in with open, like, maybe Yeah, people are trying their best maybe there are some situations that can be solved. I don’t believe that in any case, but you still have to go in with open mind. And I found that there will massive room for improvement. And so that’s how I started investigating this arena. And then I went to the States. And then I got invited to do a research a student research project with with NASA’s Pennsylvania space Crime Commission. And I got trapped by the, you know, the, the, the glory and the luxury of that Dang. So I started doing some energy research in Space Systems Thinking that would be my career, and will be great. But then, you know, a year, year and a half later, I kind of like I remember why I started on this path. So I, for my first job, I actually started, I went back and I started applying to utility companies. And I got selected to run the grid modernization program at one of the largest utilities in the States, the operational out of the Midwest and bit of the South, and definitely big. And at that point, they were they had just started the investigation into how to modernize the electric grid. Because again, you have to understand that the electric grid, and again, not to get too nerdy, but it’s one of the most amazing pieces of engineering that the world has seen, but it was created at a time and it hasn’t been updated since almost 100 years. It was created a time when the needs of the population were very different from the needs today. It hasn’t evolved with the needs of the consumers and the psychology of the consumers. So nowadays, systems are breaking, as one would expect, and it’s not living up to the demand. So it needs to be modernized. It needs to be rethought for the next century. And with that comes a whole host of other sub domain problems like climate change, renewable energy, electric vehicles, how do you incorporate all of this into that? rethinking? So that’s kind of what I did for about two years. So

Madhav 24:29
yeah, got it. And that I think that was a launching pad to you getting into more of like, doing more research in that area. You’re part of some AP spark cognition contest or something like that as well. Probably if I’m not mistaken.

Tirthak 24:49
Yeah, yeah. They had an internal competition. And it was pretty massive and the project idea that my boss and I entered together With a couple other people, we had a dean Hakim’s idea I went through to the finals is nice. And the thing with with competitions is that it’s not about the praise or the glory of winning the competition or losing the competition or anything like that. It’s about validation. When you’re when your goal is to implement certain solutions. It’s a very good testing ground. Is there product market fit, you know, is are people willing to listen to your idea, then you’re probably on the right track. No idea is great at the first try, but you know, it’s your boss nation. So

Madhav 25:36
yeah, until Actually, that’s a nice segue into like, your initial vision for this project. was what was it like grid modernization? That That sounds pretty daunting. I mean, like, What was this? I mean, how do you envision or how did you envision changing 100 year old industry

Tirthak Saha 26:00
I mean,

Tirthak 26:01
kind of hit the nail on the head they like, I think, I think that’s I was just answering this question for the first three months to four months of my job. Because so you have to understand I had when I got this job, I’m a 24 year old kid who just got on out of college. I know nothing about me. Right? So I so I’ve always maintained that, you know, at least one third of my job, which, which is the part I love was actually getting to know about stuff. And that’s as simply as I can put it, you know, just talking to people in the industry who are doing projects in the city. Now, we’ve done projects in the city, you know, internationally leading people is researching, you know, all the r&d that goes into figuring out a plan for a massive company going forward for the 10 year plan, right? It’s not just like one year you you mess up and then you can get fixed the next It’s not, it’s a Daniel plan. So you have to be spot on with everything. So a major part of that was learning that that was the first step. And then, you know, we use segment it into sizable chunks, where you, you look at the major problems. And one thing that I would like to see here is that the electric grid is kind of like a living organism in the way behaves. So every geography is very different. It has its own set of particular problems, you know, for example, if you go to Alabama, and you try to use drones, do monitor your transmission lines, they will get shot down. It does not happen. Just a point of observation, no government to do each their own. But so yeah, so, you know, it’s actually not just technology. It’s also a mix of people, geographies, and the technology. when it all comes together to have you have certain set of problems. So I was looking at some of the regions in the Midwest, which I had responsibility for, and I looked at their particular problems, and then I categorize them. Okay, these three problems may be solved by putting sensors on power lines, these three problems might be solved by increasing battery storage, you know, helping renewables, and so on and so forth. So you categorize them, you, you, you try to like wrap your head around this massive problem. And then, you know, the third phase is obviously, finding good vendor vendors and technologies, which can actually support the implementation part of it. So sorry, there’s a mosquito. So, yeah, so those are basically the three phases that I went through in this job.

Madhav 28:50
And this is all part of being an employee at American electric power. So that is very interesting. I mean, is that typical Have, I would have imagined that this industry is like this dinosaur sort of thing. But talking about is like very innovative, very entrepreneurial.

Tirthak 29:10
Yeah. Yeah. No, it is. And I think I lucked into again, a lot of my life has been just dumb luck. So I think a lot of it was just being at the right place at the right time to miss the preparation. Yeah. Right. Yeah, the company was looking to start a program like this, they were looking for a non traditional person, not from the industry to kind of lead the charge on this coming with a fresh mindset and you’re not be bogged down by some of the industry thought processes that existed. So my boss specifically made this position for me where I reported directly to him and then everyone upwards in upper management. This is obviously not the case for any young engineer walking in and so I’m hugely indebted to my boss. He’s one of my best friends now. You know, we shoot the shake a lot of the day, we we reminisce about the good old days where we just ain’t like days and days and you know, just whiteboarding stuff out. Because this was so nebulous to start with that, you know, both of us were figuring out what needs to be done. Every day was different coming into the office, you know, so yeah, it was one part luck. One part, a lot of hard work. Definitely. But yeah,

Madhav 30:29
the other brief that I saw on Forbes 30, under 30, was that the spark cognition award or something is a blurb. I’m not sure how much of that is, has influenced you getting selected to the 30 under 30. But that must have been just the tip of the iceberg. But just a quick one on that we won’t talk too much about the 30 and 30. I think it’s a great milestone and I’m sure like You mentioned the you know, it’s an overnight success that took 30 years or whatever. But what has changed for you? Before and after the Forbes? How are you different than have you actually taken something away from that has changed your life in any way?

Tirthak 31:22
Yeah, I get a lot more Instagram friend requests

and Facebook messages. But apart from that, no, no, I’m just kidding, obviously, um, I think in one word, it’s it’s access. You know? So So the 30 under 30 title and keep the short because I’m not too fond of talking about that, because it’s not it’s, I like talking about things I’ve done. I don’t like talking about things that were given to me. While I’m definitely honored by the award. It’s not something I did. You know, it’s just nice to have but So, in short, I think, an Honor Award like that, which is well known across the world, what it does it, it opens up doors and gives you access that you might previously not have had, which is the best thing you can give anyone who’s working towards anything, right? It it gives you sort of validation and external unbiased third party validation that okay, this guy may be right or wrong in what he’s doing, but he’s definitely worth listening to. So when I walk into rooms, you know, at least I get that 15 minutes of being listened to. And I i’ve always maintained You know, I’m wrong about 90% of the time. Right. And that’s me being modest. I’m wrong about 90% of the time, but the 10% of the time. When I am, it’s usually what listening. So, you know, and given the whole age factor, which is which is a problematic, you know, notion that people all across the world have, regardless of country or politics or whatever, if they see a young person and the first instinct is like, Oh, you need more experience. Come back when you have like 30 more years and find that is that wholesome value in its own. That’s not true for everything and everywhere. There’s a lot of young people I you know, I will say this completely. Honestly, I am not even comparable to some of the young people I’ve met on this list or otherwise, through my journey. They’re 16 years old. No, you know, there’s a 16 year old girl who has, I don’t know, like five patents. So stuff like that, right? Like so I’m definitely a pro listening to young people and I don’t mean myself, but if me walking towards that, in me getting this validation shows other young people that okay, you know, if you work hard, you can be listened to. If that is possible, then that is definitely a worthy worthy award for me.

Madhav 34:16
Yep, yep, absolutely. And that’s Yeah. What I’m hearing is that like your sort of horizon of people and organizations and other things that sort of opened up because of being on this on this list, but it’s, again, what you do with it, obviously is, is up to you and, and definitely looks like you’ve made some tremendous use of that. In terms of like going from that research mode of modernizing read as part of a p was the next step that like you actually try to commercialize it, did you you and your boss Like,

Tirthak 35:01
no, no, no. So that was completely different from right. So yeah, I just after two years, I kind of felt like so I had a friend who he and I actually landed upon an idea that we were working nights on, you know, just like just like a thing we had in our heads like, he came with one half of a solution. I came in the other half and then we were just like, we would come back from work and just stay up all night just, you know, talking about it. And that’s, that’s how we make good things start right. Yeah. So. So then it just developed to a point where we were like, Man, this is too important. If it is right, then it is too important to not to try to fail at so we wanted to fail at it. That was always the intent wasn’t to make a million dollars overnight are way too old and have been to week one. do believe in that. So yeah, so my problem was, and as I’m sure you will know, the visa system in the States, it only allows you to have one job at a time. Which is a rant for another another time. But yeah, it’s it’s kind of messed up the results from that. So I had to make a decision at the time, I could either stay at my AP job which was comfortable, cushy, and at that point, you know, the Forbes thing and Spock dang thing I was doing well for myself. I was on fast track for, you know, whatever is up there in the upper floors. So it could have been could have been a great career could have been a safe career. Because again, you know, I was being taken care of my family at that point. So financially, that was a risk as well leaving a cushy job and starting a startup for everything that I could have done. Yeah. I took the most recent option so, but again, like I said, the idea was too good to not to try to fail at so I just left my job. I started my company, my friend as co founders. And yeah, that’s that drunk.

Madhav 37:14
Is that realistic? Okay, God. And what was the initial the germ of an idea? They’re gorgeous though.

Tirthak 37:21
Yeah, we actually just met through mutual friends, Michael Monday night, and the mutual interest was. So you remember I said that in 2012, I started looking at how we can better things on the other. And one of those things that I was pursuing in my own personal time since 2012 was increasing our capability for you know, storing cleaner fuels and energy storage. And hydrogen is is more of an energy II carrier than anything else. I you know, it does a great food but it is actually an energy gave you and so that was One of the things I’ve been looking at, and I realized that, you know, some of the problems were in the manufacturing gene and the supply chain, which is why I could not compete with traditional fuels, fossil fuels, etc. Plus, it was being produced from dirty sources like natural gas producers 95% of the world’s hydrogen consumption. So, you know, anything, anything you need from a dirty fuel is dirty for you. So, um, so that so he came in with a solution, I came in with one half of the solution. And so we just, we actually landed upon a way to make the hydrogen in a very clean, very efficient, very cost efficient way. And we wanted to try that out. So

Madhav 38:40
and you you built a team around this or and how did you go about getting people excited about this and finding that initial customers partner, Greg, right.

Tirthak 38:51
So So I’ve said this before in some of the interview, I can’t really remember where but we would love to That we didn’t need to actually find good people for this because I guess like when you’re doing something good that a lot of people are passionate about, they find you. And, you know, a lot of the best employees that we had. I don’t like calling them employees because we never had that structure. It’s sort of everyone’s just doing their job, right? Like, I have a job, my cmo, Annie, she has a job to do, etc, etc. So, you know, it’s not an employer employee relationship, but a lot of people that we worked with, they just found us, you know, through mutual contacts, or this and that and something like, Hey, I heard about you guys, I saw some of your interviews. I’m really excited about what you’re doing. Can we get on a phone call? And then that person becomes x, y, z in the company, you know, so it’s very like that in in a startup, I guess. And that’s one of the things I really like you, you find people find you if you’re doing something that they like, and they want to help so and as far as And as I guess a lot of things had to be done from our end because the industry wasn’t and I don’t think it still isn’t quite ready to to put the put its money where its mouth is, to put it mildly. So yeah, a lot of work in went into that a lot of conversation six month conversations, you know, just getting on the phone every day calling people up understanding their problems and trying to show them that our solution is the best way to to kind of overcome the problems that they’re having. And even people who are excited about it sometimes. You know, and that’s that’s how the corporate world works. Right? So they’re very hesitant to put money on something that’s untested. Yeah. Part of the ethos that we had when we were building out this deck was that if if it isn’t made for the more unfortunate classes of people, then it is not revolutionary. Yeah, so good design and good technology should be made for anyone and everyone, there should be an option for them. It shouldn’t be optional this. So the way we designed our tech, it actually helps run small clusters of micro micro grids, which are excellent deployments for rural places, villages and small towns and cities. And the thing itself is powered from from trash, aluminum that’s collected from the environment that has gone outside the economy chain, and actually creating an incentive for people to bring that back in. So you know, we see so many, so much waste. And so this kind of tackles both of them the waste problem and the energy generation problems with energy from waste. And I think that’s a perfect slice of application that goes into some of the areas that some of the problems that I faced myself, and I’ve read about ever since in Sub Saharan Africa. Indian villages in parts of China, and so on, so forth. So

Madhav 42:06
cool. And so far everything seems hunky dory. I mean, just curious if there were things where you felt like you, you’re insane and just understanding if there was some dark moments just along the way.

Tirthak 42:24
It’s Richard, I stopped 90% of this journey is dark. And this is a joke that I make with with my friends. And I guess it’s appropriate here is that, you know, when I get invited to present talks and stuff, let’s say like I was I was invited to speak at a few IITs last year. And I keep thinking when I’m on the stage, I look at the audience and I look at the bright shiny happy faces, right, like

excited to go out into the world and here

Yeah, and I I’m thinking while I’m presenting my talk, and I’m thinking, What if I went off script right now? And I really told them what really goes on 90% of the days, because what I talk about in interviews and podcasts and wherever, it’s it’s just 10% Yeah, you know, so 90% of the days is just getting your hair out. I’ve lost weight. I’ve spat out blood in the shower, after having a needy putting out the fires session across the country in the States. So yeah, it’s a lot of late nights, it’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and you know, it starts affecting people you love. And that’s always the hardest part because you they would never say anything, but, you know, you don’t want them to make to be pulled into the sacrifice. It’s fine as long as you you go a day without eating and you go a day without sleeping. But you When you have to send money home, and you’re bootstrapping a company, and you’re not pulling a salary for yourself, and it’s a savings, so you can’t send anything home, and you know, you open that Skype window, and you talk to them Saturday morning, and you’re like, sitting there in shame this like, Oh my god, what have I done? Right? So? Yeah, um, well, it’s been it’s been it’s been a tough journey. And it always is anyone who’s ever doing a startup, right. will agree with this. It’s it’s definitely not fun.

Madhav 44:34
Yeah, yeah.

What tips or any tools tactics you’ve used during those dark times, I mean, that sort of keep you going.

Tirthak 44:46
Yeah, I mean, so this is this is kind of like a post mortem analysis of, you know, after the fact, because I was definitely not wise enough to do this. But this is one way that you can deal with this is Have good people around you and open to them. You know, because because of my childhood or the journey that I’ve been on, I pretty much always been sort of like a closed off independent person, you know, like I do it I lead with you and so you but you literally cannot do everything yourself. So find good people have them around in your life and and trust them you know sometimes you as a founder you get into the mentality where like, Oh, I got to do this and I got to do this and I got to do that because I want quality checks on everything right here and it’s this is my baby. I want everything to be perfect. Sometimes things don’t need to be perfect. That’s that’s sad too. And sometimes if you give it to someone else, they might actually do it better than you because you’re not the best everything.

Madhav SBSS 45:52
Yeah, that’s a that’s a rude awakening. But yeah,

Tirthak 45:56
yeah, but uh, you know everything about everything, but that’s That’s not how it’s supposed to be right? So you’re hiring a chief marketing officer. You should not. If you’re hiring the right person, then you should not know marketing better than right.

Madhav 46:12
Like, like Steve Jobs, I think that we we hire people, so that they’ll tell us what to do not we tell them what to do.

Tirthak 46:21
Exactly. Yeah. And it’s kind of it sounds like a simple thing. But like, think about anything you’ve done in your life that you are passionate about, like, it may just be like a school project. You want it to dot the i’s and cross the T’s yourself. You want it to choose the kind of paper you’re writing on yourself, you know, because you wanted it to be perfect. And that just gets amplified 10 times hundred times when you’re running a company where people are affected by your work. So I guess one good way of relieving the stress is to delegate it is to trust people. It is to open up to family and friends. And yeah, I wish I had done it would

Madhav 47:02
Was Were there any people like, issues with having the building the trust? I mean, were there anything that you learned there in terms of trusting people delegating?

Tirthak 47:17
Yeah, definitely, um, I can think of a few instances within the company itself internally and also externally in my own personal life, but internally in the company, you know, there were issues where I felt like, again, this is a post mortem analysis where things did not end well. And I felt like I kept I kept thinking, I still keep thinking what I could have done differently. And, you know, sometimes you have to accept that sometimes it’s not you. Yeah, sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes, people are just meant to go different ways. People are just unwilling to see your point of view. And as a founder and This is just advice to anyone who’s wanting to start a company. Everyone, including yourself, and your opinions are expendable. As compared to the end goal, set the end goal for the day for the week for the month for the year for the company. And then if your opinion is good for the angle, then stick to it. If you come across an opinion from someone who’s even if they’re being rude, or arrogant, or whatever, if their opinion is right for the company in the long run, except that say you’re sorry, you’re wrong. But anyone in everyone in the company is expendable. As long as the goal is being achieved, including yourself. And I guess the best founders are those who can make the judgment call between those two. Like whose opinion is expendable?

Madhav 48:59
Yeah, yeah. Doesn’t matter who is right. As long as you get to the right goal. Yeah, who gets the credit is not that important? Yeah.

Tirthak 49:07
Yeah. And sometimes, you know, other people won’t want to see it that way. Sometimes we do come in with an ego because they have been successful in their life. So when you’re a 2526 year old, trying to like, you know, wrangly, 35 year old, ultra successful person, then yeah, you know, tensions do flare up. And at that point, you do have to make a call. And sometimes it gets ugly. So yeah, lots of there’s lots of situations in every startup, similar stories that you hear everywhere.

Madhav 49:37
Yeah. Hey, wonderful. Thanks for sharing that. I think it’s very important to surround yourself with the people delegate trust. And yeah, and when when you go through some time, like you said, Yeah, sometimes. Yeah, the way you want to, but just move on. In terms of

like, do you do

Tirthak 50:01
extremely nice to St. Pete people go extremely noisy them, they become too self sacrificing or they become too, you know, harsh, and you have to find the balance. But yeah, go ahead.

Madhav 50:11
No, I was gonna ask you like, do you have any such routines were like, that helps you think and like clearly, like sort of maybe running or maybe i don’t know i mean things that sort of clear your mind up and when situations like that where you’re asking yourself am I being egoistic here or am I actually looking out for the company?

Tirthak 50:34
Right? Well, I don’t think I have anything like a set routine or thing that I do. It’s, it’s because again, you know, that your life becomes so unpredictable. You don’t know where you will be in that moment and situation, right? Like you might just have walked out of a client meeting and your head spinning. really depends on where you’re at, whether in your house or somewhere else or family dinner whatever can happen in any situation so just I think one thing that works best for me is isolation. Just I just remove myself from from people or whatever and I just like go find a quiet spot by myself I maybe have a cup of coffee, just listen to music or do something that doesn’t remind me of that situation because I feel like better subconscious thinker garden conscious in these situations because I’m not good with emotions. And I tend to mess with your decision making so I have to get rid of that first so I have to replace it with another set of emotions first. So maybe I listened to some some music or just sure what something a YouTube videos and I just take myself out of that situation and replace it with something else, and then come back to it. Cool.

Madhav 51:52
Yeah, I think that’s a good tip. I mean, just to get yourself out of that.

Tirthak 52:02
bismil failure rate in doing

Madhav 52:08
good, I’m going to quickly jump on. I want to check with you if you had a few minutes to go.

Madhav SBSS 52:14
Sure. Sure. Yes, thank you.

Madhav 52:18
Just a close on this and just want to jump on where you’re at right now. Where? What’s the sort of like the utopian moonshot view of trellises? What do you think like if it all worked out as you planned? What would you see the world? Well,

Tirthak 52:34
the aim was always to start with the decarbonisation of, of the industrial hydrogen usage industry, and the merchant hydrogen industry. So the ideal utopian moonshot view would be that would only providing those clean hydrogen production solutions to a lot of the large industries who’ve been polluting through manufacturing or using hydrogen that’s made from natural gas. And that was always the first stage target. But yeah, I mean, I really could not tell you because we don’t we don’t i don’t think that we I don’t think I’m 50 years into the future and I definitely do not think in a utopian manner. And that’s a mistake that way. I’m a weird mixture I’m I’m a pessimist with high and lofty goals. So it doesn’t it’s very weird being in my head sometimes. But yeah, and right now, like, like I’ve told you, outside of this chat is I’ve kind of taken a break from from now, because I had to move back to India, and why I wasn’t looking for anything. I just wanted to take a break. I actually met some really, really cool people and they are running this startup, they have been for some years now, I think five years, called atlin. And anyone listening to this, please do give them a check out. Because imagine me after running two years of an energy startup in the US why Trump is president? Oh, my company here, and they roped me in to come work with them. So it did that interesting. The stuff that they’re doing. It’s amazing. I really think like, I’ve kind of found the next big thing in my life right now. With with that, and the work that we’re doing. And the thing with data and as you personally also must, must realize, because you’re somewhat from that line as well, is that data is massive. It is the next big oil. Yeah, so and most of the problems that remain in data is how humans interact with data. It’s the human connection problem. And that’s one of the biggest problems that that we are solving at atlin. So it’s it’s definitely very exciting. I’ve been there for a month, and it’s a

Madhav 55:11
little bit

Tirthak 55:12
new and, and I am I’m just up at night, just thinking about how to how to help them, you know, get to the next big stage, how to get this out to the world. And what really, really excites me is that every single person I met in that company isn’t my kind of nerd. I was talking about at the beginning of the interview, like people who like to learning. Yeah, sometimes without an objective, sometimes without a goal, sometimes not for a paycheck already for

Madhav 55:39
learning sake. Yeah,

Tirthak 55:41
yeah. And every single one, I keep asking Varun, who’s one of the co founders of this company, good friend. Now, and he and I sometimes like we take flights together and I remember asking you want to play? How did you manage that? I couldn’t do it in my starter. How do you manage To get every single person and there’s like 70 people in this company, and how do you manage to get every single one? Who is so amazing and like the same kind of, you know, nerdy and intelligent and smart. And, and it’s I guess it’s about building culture, right? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 56:20
Yeah. So that’s

Madhav 56:24
that’s your current, sort of, what part of your time you’re dedicated to atlin right now? Is it

Tirthak 56:31
so? So you know, it’s like, with a start up, it’s kind of like it there’s no timings Yeah, it’s 24 seven. Yeah. So I like doing Yeah, yeah.

Madhav 56:46
And if you had to summarize like, I mean, this probably the whole of the podcast and I’d love to you and have a cleanse folks on if possible love to have them. Like what is the You talked about, you know, data and human interaction with the data. And that seems to be like the high byte order vision for Auckland. And, and it’s not like specifically to energy or anything like that is data for any sort of ingrains race. How do you is that like, how do you collect? How do you use? How do you interpret all aspects of data? Is that?

Tirthak 57:24
Yeah, so so obviously without, you know, going into too much of depth here, it’s it’s basically so if you imagine so there’s, you know, what, what HubSpot has done

Madhav 57:36
for for inbound marketing? Yeah,

Tirthak 57:39
yeah, for inbound marketing, what GitHub has done for engineers, right? What they’ve done is created a home for all of these diverse personas who work with marketing to come to have an icon on their desktop or their phone. That’s a HubSpot. They say it’s a home for anyone and everyone who’s in marketing, they get done the same thing for engineering. Right? So what Athlon aims, you can’t really think of anything. That’s what data for entry and, you know, consumption processing and analysis and output of data using of anything. And this is how button sold me, he cracked me with it. Because he said that and I could, I could imagine it. I could like visually. Oh, yeah, you’re right. There’s nothing but you know, there’s there’s Excel on one hand and Tableau and Bobby and that those are output tools. And then on one hand, you have like these black boxes of like, Amazon, AWS and AWS s3, and this and that, and I can’t think of a single item or the icon on my desktop that that, you know, I can go in and I can be home, you know, in a sense, so it’s amazing. So I so Allen’s goal is to be that one icon on your desktop that says data home for data teams. So that’s how the he caught me. You can you what will get to me? So that’s Yeah, like I said, it’s not it’s not related to energy or sustainability specifically. But what I what I am thinking long term and as we are, is that this is something that benefits any and every industry right off which sustainability and energy is definitely a subset, right. Because like I’ve said this to burn and others as well, I could have definitely use something like this when I was working in the utility, like I said, the first three, four months, it was just all like trying to gather data with nothing. And no one knows where the leader is because no one has worked on organizing. So I have to like go around asking different departments this and that and, you know, trying to collect everything, put it in an orderly fashion and then use it. I could have definitely use this

Madhav 59:54
sort of really organizing in the data relevant for a particular problem. This example of you know, up trying to modernize the grid. I mean, imagine having a Yeah, imagine having a good hub for data sort of thing for them. Yeah. We bunch of time and actually got into solutions.

Tirthak 1:00:14
Exactly. Four months at least I know for me, I couldn’t say four months. And you know what romance means in an environment that so? Yeah, definitely interesting. So I’m definitely excited to be with them to join them see how far I can work with them. I was looking for a good vacation, but this is like, this is this is much better I would have I would have been crazy if I had nothing.

Madhav 1:00:41
Data data vacation. That’s cool. Yeah. And it’s like your your story of your life. I mean, you’re always attracted to not only the new shiny thing, but also following your curiosity and now where to get to and really,

Tirthak 1:00:56
what’s the worst that can happen? That’s right. Yeah. I mean, the worst that gonna happen here is that I’m not a value to them, or this turns out to be not just which does not seem to be the case. Either way, but it doesn’t work out doesn’t work out that’s fine. You know people waste months of their life on on tape talk about that in India, young people are swiping on Tinder and spending time school. I might as well do this was hard. your viewers who might also enjoy Facebook, but

Madhav 1:01:33
right now know this. There’s nothing wrong like you started out saying in the beginning, I mean, if that makes you happy, go all in. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 1:01:42
Yeah, right, right.

Madhav 1:01:46
Data. I think we’re towards the end of the interview. Just really enjoyed the conversation. Want to switch gears a little bit? Just a few quick questions to make it a little more fun.

Again, there’s a quick question, but you don’t have to answer them quickly.

I’m sure you get this question quite a lot. I try to make them interesting, but really, at the end of the day want to see what others can take away from it. And this is actually a heavy question started with a heavy question maybe? How are you helping people? And how do you think people can help you?

Tirthak 1:02:22
Um, I think I have a certain knack for doing things that other people probably don’t take up. And there is, there is a demand for for such services and such people were willing to take risks and who are willing to dive on that hill. And I feel like I can provide that service because of who I am because of my natural curiosity to follow the shiny objects and so on and so forth. I’m often willing to do that in life and to take those risks and see, you know, if this is the video, then I think the ultimate value that I can to this world is be the biggest failure then that ever has existed. So people at least know that from this body of feeling okay with this is what not to do. Something I think I can provide to people and how people can help me is just, I don’t know, just, I guess, reach out to me and talk to me, you know, because I like it. I love learning. So, if different people come and talk to me, they teach me Everyone teaches you something. So that’s, that’s how you can help me. I can’t predict what I get from different people. But it’d be great to learn from a bunch of people coming in and talking to me.

Madhav 1:03:36
So cool. And I know you said artists your true love.

Fair be fair to ask you. art or science.

Tirthak 1:03:49
I don’t think

Unknown Speaker 1:03:49
those two ideas No.

Tirthak 1:03:53
Yeah, they’re not. They’re not mutually exclusive. Because you know, like I said, one of the first projects that I did the one with NASA P sgc. That was me using the mathematics of origami to design solar panels that fold. So, you know, that and you you know this way better than I do. But like, the more you go towards the top of any field, you realize that everything is interconnected when you actually can create new value only if you interconnect different dots that seemingly are unrelated. So I don’t think those two are unrelated and I don’t think I have to choose.

Madhav 1:04:31

That’s a great answer. I really I go back to what Steve Jobs that said, I think, he said if we were 200 years ago, if we were all doing something we would probably be Monet’s and whoever I mean, it’s now we have computers and we’re creating art with computers. How, what if you have really enjoyed and learned a lot from any particular That you’ve gifted to people, or recommended to people. It doesn’t have to be a nonfiction or anything. It could be Rumi poetry for all we know,

Tirthak 1:05:12
where I don’t have an autobiography out

Madhav 1:05:17
of your modesty.

Tirthak 1:05:21
I really like and I know it’s very basic and it’s very mainstream, but it’s also a book that is very approachable to anyone and everyone basically. So pick up any of Malcolm Gladwell Gladwell books. I think they’re fantastic. Just to have a quickly to kind of spark your mind into thinking then there’s I forget it’s a long day, dude. It’s something like

Madhav SBSS 1:05:54
I get back to you. I last

Tirthak 1:05:58
Yeah, but it’s a Yeah, but it’s It is by someone named Johnson and it’s called the history of innovation. How play changed the world something. So I can’t it’s because it’s a long title. I can’t remember exactly. I mean, it’s one of my favorite books. It’s amazing. Definitely recommend that. But yeah, I can I can send you more perfect.

Madhav 1:06:17
Yeah, perfect. Perfect. And this this one is actually might take a couple of seconds if you want but maybe not. But imagine there’s a full moon that the whole world can see.

If you were to write something on it, what would you write?

Madhav SBSS 1:06:33
I am

Tirthak 1:06:41
okay, if I if I could write anything on it? Yeah,

Madhav 1:06:43
sure. Anything.

As long as it’s just just not something like I write my name on it or something like that. But anything that sort of like a message to the world sort of thing if you allow what you think is or what you believe in whatever Just do it kind of a thing.

Tirthak 1:07:03
Got it? Got it. Okay. So So okay, so the Okay, so there’s two things.

The first thing is that it’s a serious message that basically the question is a message for the world right? Yeah, that I want to give out to everyone. I mean, the answer to that is take your work seriously not yourself. That’s what I’ve always said. And I will always say that so that’s that done. But the way we phrase the question if the whole world could see the moon in that case, I would probably right yeah, sorry guys, the flat earth those who are right.

Madhav 1:07:41
say that

Tirthak 1:07:42
because if the entire world can see the moon rising

many bets.

Madhav 1:07:54
We all learned something new.

Awesome. And just the last question. And again, I’d love to open up if you had something in mind that I didn’t talk off. But if people wanted to help you talk to you, me too, what’s the best way to reach you?

Tirthak 1:08:15
You can reach me on LinkedIn. Again, I might not accept right away because I have like this long list of like thousands of people requesting me on LinkedIn, but I think LinkedIn or Instagram is a more personal way to get get in touch with me. These are the two primary social medias I’m on I don’t really use Facebook as much anymore.

And other than that,

if you’re interested in in, in my work, or from a more professional standpoint, definitely feel free to go check out adalind calm because that’s my current passion. So definitely comes help us with that. You know, we’re looking for great talented people. All all the time. We’re looking for people who want to work with us, so on and so forth. So yeah, do come check us out. I think you’ll like it.

Madhav 1:09:09
Perfect. Thanks to tacori appreciate your time. There’s a lot of things I wanted to touch on also in terms of your passions for creating this future is archives and what was behind that the story behind that. And then just explore some more of who this deck is. But hopefully we’ll get another chance to.

Thanks a lot to take. I really appreciate your time.

Tirthak Saha 1:09:35
Thank you so much.

Madhav 1:09:36
Please do send me that book. Yeah, you can and we’ll we’ll keep it connected on like,

Tirthak Saha 1:09:45
Yeah, absolutely. Sounds good. Thank you so much. Yeah.

Transcribed by

Write a Comment