Jay Vijayan is founder and CEO of Tekion, a software platform for auto-makers and dealerships that was valued at a billion dollars recently. Vijayan built Tekion with a lot of learnings from Tesla, where he served as Chief Information Officer for four years, working closely with CEO Elon Musk. He spoke with M. Sriram about his relationship with Musk, work culture, and more.
What are your biggest learnings from Tesla?
It was mainly about disrupting a market that hasn’t been disrupted for several decades. There are personal career-level learnings on how to hire well, how to solve a problem at lightning speed, faster than light even. In fact Tekion is named after Tachyon, which means faster than light. Because that’s how we moved — how do you make the chain from Research and Development (R&D) to prototype to real product to production in the fastest way possible. Hiring global teams — I’m very proud that the platform I built at Tesla is the one still being used and scaled. And that includes the teams. The key people I hired are still running Tesla’s systems.
From an industry perspective, it helped me see the massive gap in the industry. Compared to what Tesla was doing, there was a huge gap with 99 percent of the market, which is my opportunity, and led to starting Tekion.
And what have your biggest learnings from Musk been?
He’s a visionary, and there’s a lot to learn from how he laid down a blueprint and then executed it. When I first spoke to him in 2010, he laid out all his plans, and I thought it was a great plan, very ambitious. When I joined, I could see all his plans unfolding and everything he told me back then come to life. That helped me make a blueprint at Tekion.
It is also about having that unwavering vision, and going after it, whatever it takes, and be convinced that it is worth it. During my entrepreneurship journey, many people said many things: “You’re trying to do too much,” “You’re going to run out of money,” etc. It’s finally your vision, so be convinced and have the grit and execution to get there.
Did you learn about company culture and hiring from Tesla? For all its success, Tesla has seen many senior people leave, which some attribute to a fast-paced, mercurial and unstable culture?
See, it is fast paced at Tekion as well, but people are our assets and we go to extra lengths to take care of our people, from being in touch to even wealth distribution. Despite being a young company, we did a stock buyback and people who have been there less than two years have made money. Even at Tesla, as long as I was there, my vertical, the CIO team, had the highest retention. It took a lot of effort. And we work hard to continue that as much as we can.
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When you left Tesla, was it hard to break it to Musk? Given that you were a vital cog in the wheel?
It was actually a very nice experience for me. What I have seen about Elon is that if he feels someone has contributed to his vision, and has taken that forward, it creates a good relationship. The first six months were toughest for me to understand, and get to know of some impossible targets. But once I achieved something that no one had been able to, then the trust between Elon and me was very strong. He would, of course, throw crazy targets all the time, but it’s in the best interest of the company and was a very good experience for me.
When I left, it was actually after a break. I hadn’t made up my mind yet, and I took a break after nine years. In a nice way, he did expect me to stay. He was waiting to hear from me, and when I came back and said I want to start this cloud SaaS ERP company, he smiled and said: “Good luck. I did think that if you left, this is what you would do next.” He’s a really smart guy (Vijayan smiles).
Do you think Tesla should expand into India? Is it on their radar?
See, it’s finally about the economics making sense, but Elon did tweet that he’s coming to India in the next one year. The tax rates, import duties, whether you manufacture domestically or assemble parts, it all varies. The product, even though they’re bringing down prices, is still pretty expensive. India certainly buys expensive cars but it’s a small percentage right? There’s certainly some appetite, but for mass expansion the price may have to come down further.Looking to raise the first round of funding for your startup? Moneycontrol, in partnership with Inflection Point Ventures brings you Pitch Right. Apply here to get funded by marquee investors: https://forms.gle/y4a7ohs4A56LKAkB7. Hurry! Deadline for entries is November 8, 2020.