At age 28, Anand Deshpande was living a techie’s Silicon Valley dream working as a tech engineer for Hewlett Packard in Palo Alto when he began thinking of his options: “Either you return to India now or you settle down in the United States and a buy a boat.” Deshpande decided to pack up and head back to his native India. Pooling together $21,000 from his savings and loans from his dad and friends, he set up Persistent Systems, a database venture in Pune.
Today, Persistent is a $566 million (revenue) tech company known for digital engineering, data and artificial intelligence. Close to 80% of its annual revenue is from the U.S., with the balance divided between Europe and India. Deshpande’s initial five-person team is now a 14,000-strong workforce drawn from 45 nationalities. For the fiscal year ended March 2021, the company reported a 13% uptick in revenue to $566 million and a 38% surge in net profit to $62 million.
Shares of Persistent are up 149% this year, enough to put Deshpande, 59, into the billionaire ranks for the first time. His 30% stake is worth slightly over $1 billion .
Deshpande calls his new billionaire status as “notional” but adds that “for a techie geek like me, who should have been a professor somewhere, I guess this was the result of being in the right place at the right time.”
When he returned from the U.S. in 1990, a software tech park was being set up in Pune and he secured a spot there. He named his venture “Persistent” to denote the technical term for data systems. “I wanted to live in India but I also didn’t want to compromise my resume,” he explains. “I wanted to do the same cutting edge things in India that were being done in the United States.”
The name also denoted the one quality that Deshpande had to have—persistence—because, as he recalls, the initial decade was slow. “We were also very selective about what we did,” he says.
In 2000, Intel Capital invested $1 million for a 3.5% stake in his company. Five years later, he raised $20 million from Norwest Venture and Gabriel Venture Partners. In 2010, he listed the company after which there was no looking back. Since then, Persistent has notched a compounded annual growth rate of 14.6% in revenue and 13.2% in earnings.
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Deshpande, who stepped down as CEO in 2019, is still the chairman and managing director but is now focussed on identifying next-gen technologies and promoting entrepreneurship within the organization. A self-confessed geek—who loves reading biographies and tech books–he enjoys mentoring young entrepreneurs.
“He was one of the first guys in the industry who came forward to share his learnings on how to grow revenues,” says Avinash Raghava, a founding volunteer for Saasboomi, a community of software-as-a-service founders and product developers, who has known him for two decades.
Raghava says that very early on Deshpande would do full-day workshops on how tech companies can breach the 500 million rupees revenue mark. “He’s always been willing to help other entrepreneurs.”
Teaching and sharing is the essence of Deshpande’s philanthropic work through the deASRA Foundation, which he set up in 2015 with his wife Sonali, who chairs it. The foundation is aimed at creating a mass entrepreneurship movement to convert job seekers into job creators. It provides a whole host of services from helping with writing business plans to developing growth strategies.
These activities earned Deshpande a spot on Forbes Asia’s “Heroes of Philanthropy” list in 2018. He’s currently working with NITI Aayog–a government think tank on a women’s entrepreneurship portal