From the get-go, the conversation between Siddharth Sood and Gaurav Dublish has the undertone of a casual college campus chat. This is because the co-founders of Wildcraft — the Bengaluru-based firm specialising in adventure gear — have been friends for almost two decades right from their early days at the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) in Mumbai. The co-founders work in an informal environment in their meticulously designed office. The avid readers that they are, a simple book rack separates their workspaces. Interestingly, it was a book that Sood gifted Dublish with a small note written in it for him that marked the beginning of their successful business journey. The MBA graduates formally took over the operations of Wildcraft in 2007 after its original set of founders left the company to pursue their personal interests. They were already helping Wildcraft through what they called ‘armchair entrepreneurship’ since the beginning of 2000. In 2007, Sood quit his job at GE in Singapore while Dublish resigned from Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai to sink their teeth completely into the company. The homegrown sports and adventure company is now present in around 550 cities across the country and is aiming to clock a revenue of around Rs.400 crore this year.
How did the two of you meet?
Sood: We met in college. We were in the same batch at NMIMS in Mumbai; we pursued our MBA together. Then, Gaurav majored in marketing while I went into finance. I think the first memory that we have of meeting each other was probably in the hostel.
Dublish: We got to know each other better during the summer break because we were one of the few students to have stayed back at the hostel.
What was your first impression of each other?
Sood: I am from Shimla and he belongs to Meerut. When the two of us got talking, we realised that we were small-city guys who were thrust into the hustle and bustle of a mega city like Mumbai. That became a point of connection.
Dublish: I got an impression that he was studious. It was either to do with the fact that he came from an ICSE background or because of his choice of books. He was always reading.
How would you describe each other?
Sood: He is very dependable and I know that I can close my eyes and honour any decision that he takes. There is an immense amount of trust that I have in Gaurav and I think that is very important if you have to start a business like this together.
Dublish: Siddharth is very sharp. I can thrive on ambiguity; he wants clarity. It always led to contrasting points of view on a every single thing. He is a man of few words, but is very sharp and quick.
What were some of the projects you worked on when you were in college? Are there any interesting experiences you had when you were working on those?
Sood: Somewhere in the second year (of college), in 1999, both of us knew we wanted to be entrepreneurs. We went out and spoke to random people about entrepreneurship. Someone suggested agro processing would be the thing to do; so, we packed our bags and went to Himachal Pradesh.
Dublish: We also did some research on a computer institute to open a franchise. Nothing came of it though.
Sood: When we were in college, there was this interesting ritual where we never missed the 11pm show during the weekend at Sterling Cinemas in Mumbai . The last local (train) back to Vile Parle used to be close to 1:30am. The true test of whether we liked the movie or not, was if we managed to catch the last local. If the movie wasn’t good, we left midway to catch the last local. If the movie was good, we let the local go and roam at Marine Drive till three or four in the morning and then catch the first local.
Do you have a favourite hangout place? What do you do to unwind?
Sood: Both of us enjoy reading — that’s how we relax. We usually hang out at places that are close to office. Two years ago, our office was based in Uttarahalli and there was an only restaurant there called Masala where we went occasionally. Now, we go to Brewsky or Starbucks. We also travel together often.
What is your idea of a great business partner? Does he fit the bill?
Sood: If you can create a solid trust partnership and be able take the punches without letting ego get in between, then you can build a great business.
Dublish: I think complementary skill sets are important. I think a great business partner is somebody who can add value to you. If my partner can’t add value to me, I won’t be keen.
What’s he like to work with?
Sood: Argumentative! Gaurav will find a way around any argument. If he is not getting his way, he will try everything under the sun to make sure he doesn’t leave an impression that has given up on the argument. He creates enough ambiguity in the discussion to continue the argument. He is also very headstrong.
Dublish: Siddharth is very quick and decisive. He is also very stubborn, albeit in a good way.
What’s the one thing that he hasn’t stopped pulling your leg about?
Dublish: Whenever we have a discussion with our teams, I like to think that I am soft-spoken and likeable. Somehow, he finds a way to point out that it’s not always the case and that they [team] don’t feel the same way!
Sood: He makes sure that almost everyone knows that he’s older than me because he always pass off as being younger. (laughs)
How has he influenced you personally and professionally?
Sood: There are so many things that I have picked up from him. For example, I think he manages teams better because of his clarity of thought. If you ask the team, they will say that Gaurav and Siddharth are always talking in raised voices.
Dublish: Before we started working together, I thought I had reasonably good data interpretation skills. But, he has been consistently better in terms of how to interpret volumes of data. That’s a skill that I have learnt from him. He has an eye for technology. That’s something I look up to him for.
Recall the worst conflicts or arguments that you have had. How did you resolve it?
Sood: I don’t think we have ever fought that way. If you ask the team, they will say that Gaurav and Siddharth are talking in a high pitch. We argue, discuss and let the team move on. He’s my senior, so he is nice to me. (smiles)
Dublish: We have ensured that both of us don’t become much of a ‘Yes man’ deliberately. Otherwise it gets very uni-dimensional. Secondly, we have ensured that in the business, one will seek opportunities and the other will manage it.
How do you resolve professional conflicts generally?
Sood: I think, sometimes it gets resolved by putting our points of view across. Most of the times, the argument is resolved depending on who is more headstrong in the argument. And because you trust the person completely and have the same purpose in life, you say, ‘What is the worst that will happen? Let’s do it!’ We agree to disagree on most matters.
Dublish: He typically pushes resolution; I typically push escalation.
How you know the other person is extremely upset or angry? How do you react during such times?
Sood: He will tell me that he is upset. When he seems upset, I take him to Brewsky for a beer.
Dublish: When he is upset, he will speak to me without looking at me.
What’s the one thing you admire about him the most?
Sood: He can keep his cool in an argument, irrespective of how it escalates. In some of those scenarios, I would just completely switch off saying that I can’t take it anymore. His ability to co-relate two things together is also something that I really admire.
Dublish: Siddharth has this ability to pick up an option among many options — I have always admired that.
If you could steal one thing from him — what would it be and why?
Sood: I would steal some of his books. I have done it in the past; I will probably steal a few more.
Dublish: I would steal his fondness for detail.
Is there something that he has introduced you to and that’s a constant in your life now?
Sood: Gaurav has introduced me to a lot of authors like JRR Tolkien and Bill Bryson. Also, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have started drinking beer.
Dublish: Siddharth likes wine. I started enjoying it because of him.
What’s the one thing you’d want to change about him?
Sood: I don’t know.
Dublish: I am very nice...
Sood: Stop being so nice!
Dublish: Stop being so obstinate!
Sood: If I change the things that I don’t like about him, then its no longer fun.
Gaurav: For example, sometimes he comes across as being obstinate. But it is a good thing because if he wasn’t, then I would take forever to decide!
What’s the most memorable milestone that you achieved together?
Sood: Without doubt, it has to be Wildcraft! All the milestones are linked to Wildcraft. We started as a two-member team; we have grown to a 2,000-member team today. That’s a milestone we have achieved together.
Dublish: I remember our first milestone! We had decided to move out of Bengaluru and were wondering how we will manage. We upgraded our technology; we moved to our first ERP system. In those years, we couldn’t even think of stepping out of Bengaluru. It was not about revenue; it was about unshackling ourselves.
Sood: Looking back, one of our milestones was deciding to start Wildcraft. We were in our corporate careers and living overseas. We met in Delhi and were sitting in a bar. I gave him a book titled ‘Pour Your Heart into It’ by Howard Schultz and wrote on it ‘Now or never.’ That was when we came together.