Neeraj Sinha, CTO ScoutMyTrip on Why He Chose a Startup over an MNC?

One ought to wonder why someone working at a prestigious company, with an excellent remuneration and an experience worth mentioning, would QUIT all of it for a job at a startup. Well, there often comes a time when a high pay and prestige no longer grant the satisfaction that one yearns for. It happens when dreams and aspirations buried deep within the soul can no longer remain subdued.

Neeraj Sinha shares his transition from a Service Delivery Manager to becoming the CTO of ScoutMyTrip.

The Journey
“After working for around 14 years with the same organisation, at a big position with a good fat paycheck, why did I decide to quit my job to work with ScoutMyTrip? Was it midlife crisis, identity crisis, 7 year itch (or the double of it!)? I often questioned myself as to what the reason was for me to quit a lucrative career and jump the bandwagon of Startups. There were enough and more reasons, but in heart of hearts I knew that travel meant more to me than anyone ever understood”. - Neeraj

Neeraj Sinha, CTO ScoutMyTrip

Being the youngest kid of a railway officer, travelling, courtesy of his dad's nature of work, was an integral aspect of his childhood and teenage. It meant spending 3-4 days of hopping in and out of trains to reach somewhere in Southern India every year for 15-20 days. The only thing he remembers vividly from his early years is getting bashed up by his father at a bus stand in Mysore for he was leaning towards the road on the railing.

He further adds, “While everyone in the family opted for a Government Job as per the convention, this was where I couldn’t agree with everyone and chose a different path altogether. Dad being an honest man with whatever he does, I've seen the financial struggle. Even though he used to get an official car to travel to work, he was hardly left with money during mid-month to replace those torn shoes. This made me realize that a private sector would at least appreciate my hard work and pay for what I do than not give me my due! And thus began my journey.”

That first stint

While he started working in 1997 with odd jobs like EDP Operator (those days, it used to be a big thing), he also pursued his MCA from IGNOU. Distance education meant no campus access. This coupled with the great economic slow-down at the time meant that securing a good job was no less than an obstacle. There was light at the end of the tunnel in the form of building a skill set that was hard to ignore. The experience from working as a freelancer along with stints at small companies complemented his skills and fetched him the job which was a dream for him at the time. He joined Sopra Steria, then known as Xansa, as a software engineer in 2002.

Neeraj says, “Work was good, and I kept up with the habit of toiling thrice the usual, always asking for work and volunteering for responsibilities of senior roles. Within 6 years, I ended up with a role in Delivery Management (formal designation followed) and by 2009, I was handling a department independently, looking after delivery, forecasts, P&L etc. The number of teams and designations kept growing and by the time I realized, I had already spent over 13 years in the same organisation!”

Life in a cubicle

As the typical IT guy in India, his day to day routine in office was not so uncommon. This is what his day typically looked like:

  • That feeling of wanting to punch the boss early in the morning.
  • Taking note of current activities.
  • Number crunching sessions the seniors had asked for.
  • Meeting/talking to clients.
  • Ad-hoc reports preparation.
  • Power-point presentation.
  • Toiling through the minimum working hours before he could head home.
  • Wanting to punch the boss once more.
  • Chit-chat with team members and other colleagues (this he enjoyed the most).
  • Planning for the next set of tasks

The thrill of weaving magic through writing code, creating applications used by the masses attracted him towards the IT sector in the first place. But the euphoria soon waned away and travel was the only way to seek respite. People in his organisation knew about his passion for travelling and exploring.

The hidden explorer

“Travel has been my passion and association with Devil On Wheels has further boosted it like anything. Technology is the only thing I know to make a living now. I had always dreamt of living a quaint life, away from all the hullabaloo of the cities and the 9-5 jobs. Since the time I had read the book ‘One Straw Revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), I had this urge of getting into farming and trying out methodologies that can ease the way people indulge in farming practices, reducing the labour and costs involved and thereby reducing the prices.”

Neeraj wasn’t exactly born in a family of Zamindars (though his ancestors at some point were influential land owners). So, the only way for him to get into farming was to purchase land on his own. Now with a job such as his, no matter how plum the salary you receive, building a treasure chest for indulging beyond your necessities requires sacrifice and time. That was the case with Neeraj. When Dheeraj Sharma (a very close friend and the brain behind Devil On Wheels) pinged him to see if he was interested in a startup in the travel niche to work on technology, he did not think twice. It was a win-win situation; he loved technology and travel . In addition, it was the opportunity to build that ever-elusive wealth and fulfill his intention of purchasing land.

One fine day he just put in his papers, served the notice period, and immediately left for Ladakh by car after his last working day with Sopra Steria. Leaving the NCR region after spending about 20 years there and  moving to a new location for working full time with ScoutMyTrip – The Ultimate Road Trip Planner was the beginning of a new journey. In about 3 years, ScoutMyTrip has raced ahead in the right direction, growing at an unprecedented pace. From being bootstrapped to becoming profitable and moving towards the vision it started with, ‘Whenever you think of Travel, think of ScoutMyTrip - the one stop solution for everything travel' the venture has come a long way. A lot of recognition has also followed! From being chosen as one of the top 20 Travel-Tech Startups by FICCI in 2017, to being selected as the Only Travel Startup by Maharashtra Government as part of #MahaStartupWeek 2019, this is just a preview of the laurels it has received with many more to come!

Life has changed a lot since then. Neeraj thoroughly enjoys his workplace, gleefully wading through the challenges that a startup faces.

Let us look at the changes that followed in Neeraj’s words:

  1. No more boss, so no more punching in the face feeling (not even punching the mirror feeling!) 😉
  2. More work/life balance. Yes, I can always attend my daughter's "all important" PTM and go to office at 1500 hrs in the day, and no one cribs to clock a certain number of hours.
  3. Even being present in office is not necessary as long as things are going as per the plan - and I swear, things are ahead of plan.
  4. No non-sense mindless data crunching. With lot of transparency introduced in the way we work, there is no need to create hypothetical projections and forecasts. Information is available for everyone in the organisation to see.
  5. Getting to meet successful people, understanding their thought process and getting inspired is a daily process now.
  6. Mindless spends and impulsive buying behaviour is now controlled. Initial days of course are financially stressful, but they teach you a lot of life-lessons!
  7. Travel is now a perk of working!
  8. I get to code! 🙂

He concludes saying, “All’s well, that ends well” and swells with pride as he looks back at the decision of joining ScoutMyTrip.

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