Pavan Tallapragada — HEC 2021 — Engineering Manager at Anaplan
“I want to use tech and processes to create impact at scale”
At 33, you already have an accomplished career in engineering. What led you to resume your studies in 2019 and get an executive master’s from HEC Paris?
My background is indeed engineering. I did my bachelor's in electronics engineering in my home country, India. I shifted to software engineering when I came to the USA for my master’s which I graduated from in 2010.
I started my career off as an individual contributor as a consultant in Boston. I moved to the SF Bay Area in 2012. Over my career so far, I was able to get experience working in different industries from publishing, airlines, e-commerce, and fin-tech.
I have been following my passion for investing and was involved with a couple of small start-ups in the past 5 years, from a restaurant business to a software startup. None exited successfully but this confirmed my attraction to entrepreneurship.
I know deep in my bones that I want to become an entrepreneur in the next decade.
To achieve this ambition, I knew I needed to acquire more skills but I didn’t have the time and resources to do a full-time MBA. The HEC Executive Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship was a natural choice to study with a like-minded community of people and to get a quality education from a renowned institution.
It must have been challenging to work a management job and study for your master’s, especially during a pandemic.
My program began in fall 2019 as my management job was becoming even more demanding.
Since the pandemic, my personal and work circumstances have made it even more challenging navigating the coursework and the project. As an engineering manager at Anaplan, I am building and scaling teams that work on cloud infrastructure. I first and foremost see my leadership role as serving the needs of the team.
More than ever, work-life balance has been on the top of my priorities, making sure my teammates are not pulling too long hours, getting drained, and risking burn-out.
That’s why on Fridays we have no meeting days and team members are encouraged to read up on new technologies, experiment with something interesting, or enhance the skills they want. This 20% of free time is actually when great things happen!
Remote work was challenging at first, and I missed seeing the team on a day-to-day basis but we have all now seem to have got a hang of it. Despite all the things going around, we have still managed to remain pretty efficient.
Do you already have ideas for your future entrepreneurial adventure?
I have a passion for the intersection of social impact and tech.
I grew up in India, which is still a developing country. My parents worked extremely hard to get me where I am today. All around me, I could witness that most of the population did not have access to basic amenities such as clean water, edible food, healthcare among other things.
In Silicon Valley, close to VCs, I understood that, in the meantime, so much money is poured into developing products and services with quick returns but that serve only an elite few.
Because of the cognizance of these two dynamics, I want to use tech and processes to create impact at scale, in the real world. I believe there is still a lot of innovation and fundraising possible to create true equal access to opportunities for everyone.
I have already dipped my toes in social impact projects: in 2015, when the Indian Prime Minister, Narenda Modi, visited Silicon Valley, I took part in the “Code for India” hackathon with a project that was using tech to define the best possible combination of fertilizers to help farmers optimize their yield.
More recently, as part of my master’s at HEC, I worked on a project around air sensors and air purifiers. I am asthmatic, and access to clean air for all means a lot to me, especially in the context of increased urbanization. The Indian cities I grew up in used to have a lot of greenery, and now they are concrete jungles with probably the worst air quality in the world.
Climate change is impacting the middle class and underprivileged communities disproportionately.
You’ve been in the Bay Area for almost a decade. What makes it so special to you?
The entrepreneurial community here is like nowhere else. This is where Google, and Uber, and Airbnb were born, just to name a few. Professionally you get a chance to experience how to scale organizations and also work with the brightest. I joined Anaplan pre-IPO and since then it has grown three-fold!
There are so many success stories but also a lot of stories of struggles to learn from.
It is also a great place to build friendships with like-minded people.
So many of us here are working on solving good problems with tech. Pre-covid, it was so thrilling to attend the many tech conferences, meetups, and hackathons in person.
And as an aspiring entrepreneur, the Bay Area is the prime spot to have access to VC’s.
This buoyant ecosystem has been a bit shaken by the pandemic though.
With easy access to knowledge online and access to VCs increasing across the US, many people are drawn to other less expensive cities. The cost of living here is truly insane. I believe that in 5 years’ time, Silicon Valley will still be here but there will be other innovation hubs in the US (Austin TX for example) and even in developing countries such as India and South Asia.
What advice can you share with the HEC community?
First, think big! It is easy to get caught up in the chatter and local political drama — especially with all that is constantly thrown at us by social media and the news industry — and to forget the big picture. There is something to learn from all the great visionaries and entrepreneurs around us, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk or Muhammad Yunus to Sridhar Vembu.
Second, stay grounded. Despite all that is going on around you and gets amplified by social media, stay attached to your family and prioritize your physical, emotional, and mental health over money.
A great thing to do in that respect is to give back and mentor someone.
Finally, where you are does not matter. In the current scheme of things, access to the internet is all that you need. If you think you need to be in the Bay Area to bootstrap the venture with bright capital and resources, wait till you have polished your idea and identify the contacts you need to meet before you move.