“Some move fast, hitting success in a matter of months after executing a brilliant idea. Others move slowly, spending decades of their lives perfecting their act.” – Mahesh Kulkarni, Managing Director, and Co-Founder of AFour Technologies
Mahesh Kulkarni, who is located in Pune and serves as the MD and co-founder of AFour Technologies, is responsible for leading the delivery, centre of excellence, and non-engineering functions at the company. Mahesh worked on many facets of 360-degree software product engineering while working with several software teams both inside and outside of India, in industries like retail, healthcare, and corporate governance, prior to co-founding AFour. MIA was given the opportunity to interview with him and we are letting the readers learn amazing stories from a seasoned entrepreneur himself!
What a pleasure it is to have you here today! Why don’t you start by giving us a little introduction of yourself and your background in business?
The pleasure is mine! I have been in the industry for over two decades, learning from every opportunity. After my bachelor’s in engineering from BITS Pilani, I worked as a Software Engineer at Tech lead in 1998. After that, I had consultant roles in companies like Vision Technology and Reflexis Systems over the next few years. For 4 years, I was a Technical Project Manager at Aztecsoft-Disha before co-founding AFour Technologies. Today, I serve as the Managing Director at AFour, where I am in charge of Delivery, the Center of Excellence, and Non-Engineering Functions. I am currently based out of our Pune Headquarters.
Can you briefly describe how you and your founder came up with the idea for the company?
Subodh and I noticed a gap in the market through our combined experience in the industry. We have a product engineering DNA and a reliability engineering pedigree, which were crucial in setting us a cut above the rest. With this software product engineering DNA, we build and maintain cutting-edge applications with intuitive user experiences that are also well-connected. AFour’s top-of-the-line Cloud Reliability Engineering practice ensures that the software systems we deliver are scalable, resilient, and secure and enables faster Cloud adoption and smoother migration of infrastructure and services to the Cloud. Our data analytics practice provides customers with actionable insights from unstructured data. We are a collective of specialists working together to solve problems and develop intelligent solutions in our industry.
How, in your opinion, has the demand for AFour Technologies changed over the pandemic?
The pandemic exacted a toll on particular areas like cybersecurity and cloud migration. Demand for services in digital engineering, reliability engineering, and cybersecurity testing has increased significantly over this period. Our software engineering services were specifically sought out by startups and unicorns in this industry to satisfy the demands of a quick digital transformation of their systems and infrastructure. Our mission is to enable our customers to build and maintain resilient, scalable, and secure software systems with high predictability and reliability using agile methodologies. We are in the best position to meet these requirements in these circumstances.
It’s not simple, running a business like AFour Technologies. How do you manage the stress you’ve experienced?
At AFour, we work on a wide variety of precise, impactful, and innovative solutions. The process of solving problems in our sector does cause some stress, especially when one is at the cutting edge of technology. To cope with the rapid pace of our industry, I try to take out some time for myself just to pause. Hitting pause in the tech industry is a challenge, but I have found that it is integral to a steady pace of work and even a work-life balance. Mixing fun with work is also a stress buster. For example, having a few meetings over lunch with the leaders, trekking, cycling, biking, and other outdoor events with the team are also great stress busters.
I bet there are some competitors for a company as big as AFour Technologies. Who are your competitors and how do you intend to keep up with them?
We have competitors at different levels, given our varied offerings. However, the industry is so vast and ever-expanding that there is room for many players to carve a niche for themselves according to their capabilities.
While we keep ourselves updated with trends and dynamics in our industry, I believe that the way to stay ahead of the curve is to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible. As a company, we keep trying to innovate in ways that would make user experiences smoother and better. Questions we ask ourselves to become more pointed towards what we can build to address future problems rather than going over milestones we have already achieved. In this way, I believe that AFour can stay on top of industry trends while holistically addressing our customers’ problems.
What was the hardest or most noteworthy challenge you overcame over your more than ten years in the industry?
The industry pace keeps easing on an ongoing basis. The ability to accept failures and learn from them is a big behavioural change that one needs to acquire. Earlier, I spent a considerable amount of time and energy thinking about failures. Now, I do objective root cause analysis and move on, and use the saved time and energy on other important activities.
What major trends do you believe are fueling the development of technology in this period of modernization?
In the wake of the pandemic, we have witnessed a paradigm shift in how technology is perceived. In the digital era, innovation will be driven by intelligence, insight, and interaction. Understanding and using Big Data in analytics and bots to predict future requirements has become essential to any innovation. The importance of data as a concept fueling the modern world cannot be understated.
Even today, data is the most critical resource on the planet. How effectively users adapt to your technology depends on their specific experience. In these cases, the UX/UI, analyzing unstructured or structured data and providing actionable insights, AI, and Machine Learning technologies become crucial. Cybersecurity fortification is increasingly gaining ground in the wake of so many cyber-attacks on companies and governments. Protecting customer and business data will require innovation, quick thinking, agility, and adaptation in the upcoming years.
At AFour, we strive (but are not limited to) to offer solutions for just this. We stay on top of our game and follow industry trends to give the best software product engineering solutions available in a market that is competitive and an industry that is constantly expanding. While building and maintaining modern applications with intuitive and connected user experiences – which is the need of the hour – we are already working with AI-ML and have succeeded with Big Data technologies. Businesses that understand the real risk posed by cyberattacks and wish to safeguard sensitive data from hackers are using our cybersecurity testing capabilities.
Any goals in 2022 that you would like to achieve?
This year, we anticipated a surge in the need for cybersecurity. So far, we have been proven right, with many prospects approaching us to fortify their security. We are also looking down the barrel of a year where people require cloud-based applications. Our goal as AFour Technologies is to become the most well-known player in these fields. Working on projects that allow us to fully utilize all our skills, across all areas of specialization, excites us and we look forward to working on more such hands-on projects in the rest of 2022.
You must have a few mentors who helped shape the person you are today. Who is the first person who springs to mind when you think about it?
It has been an incredible journey of around 25 years as an individual professional, and about 15 years as a co-founder of AFour Technologies. I have learned many things from various people such as family, friends/colleagues, managers, leads, customers, suppliers, team members, and interview candidates.
Some names worth mentioning here are Kiran Bhagwat, Abhay Joshi, Sanjay Jejurikar, Rajendra Deshmukh, Rahul Ingle, Shantanu Joshi, Abhijit Laghate, Abhijit Bhide, Abhijit Nadgonda, and Pradnya Kulkarni.
That’s fantastic! What advice do you have for aspiring young entrepreneurs who want to establish their own companies like you?
I believe young entrepreneurs today must have a deep understanding of the field they are entering. They must understand all the connected processes and procedures that go into making a successful business venture, apart from their flagship offerings. I have seen aspiring entrepreneurs that are excellent at their specific, technical job and have the best ideas around their product or service offerings but find it very hard to cope with the rigours of running a business. Apart from industry-specific knowledge, I would advise young founders and innovators to understand the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem as best as they can. This will help them to grow and scale much more quickly than others, simply because they would know their way around their business. Holistic knowledge and experience matter, apart from the much-needed expertise in their field.
How can we reach out to you, Mahesh?
You can reach out to me on LinkedIn by simply dropping a message, and I’ll be happy to connect!