From flipping burgers to leading companies, success looks good on Karvika Thapa
CEO of KimbuTech, Chairperson of Simjung and Director of VS International College
From flipping burgers during her college days to leading a tech company, Karvika Thapa, Chief Executive Officer of KimbuTech, has come a long way. “Today, I feel proud to be leading a company and that too as a woman in the tech industry,” she candidly states. Besides KimbuTech, Thapa is also the Chairperson of Simjung, a business process outsourcing company and the Director of VS International College.
Having worked in a few Fortune 500 companies during her time in the United States, Thapa mentions no matter what business one opens or works for, the biggest asset required in business is ethics. “From how you run the business to how you treat your employees; ethics involves a whole gamut of aspects,” she says, adding that being ethical also means making your payments on time. In these four years of starting her own company, Thapa states that one of the major problems in Nepal is the constant delay in payments.
The market here is still evolving but it won’t be very long before it matures and once that happens, payments become the most important element in business, shares Thapa. “It may sound like a trivial issue for many but even delaying salaries to your employees hurts the image of the company,” she observes. Doing business has become very competitive and if one wants to survive the cut-throat competition you need to hire the best talent available but people will not be willing to join your organisation when salaries are not paid on time, she elaborates.
It is the small details she picked up during her time in various institutions in the US that Thapa says she has tried to incorporate into her companies. It was only after having completed her Bachelor’s in Business Information Systems from Kathmandu University did Thapa decide to pursue an MBA degree in the US. “During my graduation I was leading a project for Midas, developing educational CDs and it was then I realised that I needed to sharpen my knowledge and get a global outlook,” she reminisces.
Many assume that studying and working in the US is all hunky dory but it is a totally different experience, she relates. “As an international student we are allowed to work only within the university, so my first job was in the college cafeteria where I was flipping burgers and serving banquet dinners,” Thapa recalls. However, she adds even the smallest job teaches you the necessity to be perfect in what you are doing. Her next job was teaching statistics to the undergrad students and it was her first proper table job. She says, “I was teaching as well as working in the cafeteria because as an international student you have no choice other than to take up as many jobs as possible to support yourself.”
Her big break came when she was selected for an internship programme under the Vice President of the college. “From earning $6 an hour to $12 per hour would be quite an achievement taking into consideration the situation at that time but more than the monetary factor it was the prestige attached to the job that was more satisfying,” she recalls. Thapa adds it was for the first time in her college that an international student had been selected for the position. “A state college giving a full-time job to an international student was a strict no-no back then and this particular appointment instilled a lot of confidence in me,” she states, “It made me feel that I was ready for the big league.”
The internship at the college also opened her eyes to the ways colleges and universities are managed in the US. “The college was located in a small town in Michigan but the quality of education and infrastructure were par excellence,” she says. As the Director of VS International College at present, she shares she is trying to incorporate her past experiences so that VS can provide world-class education to its students.
Three-and-a-half years into the job and Thapa realised it was time to move on. “I wanted to be involved in the private sector as life had become a bit tedious and I wanted new challenges,” she shares. Private companies are constantly pushing you as they always have their eyes focused on profit margins, she states, adding that working for such firms is truly an exhilarating experience. Thapa states she then moved to Boston seeking opportunities and was lucky to have eventually worked for some of the best companies like Covidian and Boston Scientific which was her last assignment before moving back to Nepal permanently. “Every day when I am running my businesses here, I try to recall and apply the things I had learnt while working for such Fortune 500 companies,” she reveals, adding that it is the practice in those companies of looking at and analysing each small detail that still amazes her. “There literally is no room for error.”
“If I am successful today then a young girl in school might be watching and wanting to follow in my footsteps so I have to be careful in anything I do.”
Having worked in multinational companies, Thapa was enjoying a rather comfortable life in the US but as a person who loves taking on new challenges, she thought it would be worthwhile to return and start a venture in Nepal. “I would be uprooting myself from an already set life but the urge to come and try something new was too strong,” she shares. It was in 2017 that Thapa returned home with her family with a year’s savings so that she would have enough time to explore and start her own business. She divulges she had no concrete plan on what business she wanted to get into and the only thing she knew was that she would start something.
It was only after a year of research into the various possibilities, did she start KimbuTech. During her research, she mentions she visited many businesses and the one thing she found in common was the dearth of women in leadership positions. “It was worse in tech companies, and I hardly met a couple of software developers,” she says. This was also another source of motivation for her to get into information technology. One of the sad aspects of life, shares Thapa, is that everybody is looking for change not realising that one needs to first transform themselves if one wants to feel that change. “KimbuTech might not be a very large-scale company but we are a company that wants to bring about change in our own small ways,” she states.
Besides other social hindrances that a woman has to face in Nepal to start a business the main hurdle, reveals Thapa, is the challenge to manage the money to get things going. “Without collateral, there seems to be no other way to avail funds, especially when you are a woman but every person you meet talks about how the startup culture is developing in the country,” she mentions. “The primary requisite for a startup is funds to give shape to ideas and when that is not available how can we promote startups and young entrepreneurs,” she questions.
Thapa reveals that while establishing KimbuTech, there was always this latent fear of running out of funds or not having enough to scale up. “Starting a business is a risky proposition because you are actually risking a lot of money and moreover for people like me, it could be a lifetime’s savings,” she elucidates. One could have the greatest of ideas and the biggest of motivations but at the end of the day, one has to have the required funds, she adds. “I was lucky though because immediately a day after I pitched my proposal, the KMC Group decided to invest in KimbuTech as angel investors,” she shares, adding this allowed her to focus more on the core aspects of the business without having to worry about money.
The reason why Thapa decided to start a tech company, she says, is not only because of her association with similar companies in the past but also to bridge the technological gap that exists between Nepal and other nations. Moreover, she says, she would be contributing to the country’s economy not only by paying taxes and employing people but also by bringing in foreign currency. “The narrative of the government has to change now and instead of just focusing on traditional industries it should start prioritising tech companies too because they can draw in a lot of dollars,” she shares. Besides, tech companies also do not have to keep importing raw materials repeatedly like other industries which further helps stop capital flight from the country.
About KimbuTech, Thapa mentions there are three models through which the company is operated with its core business being employee augmentation. “For instance, if a tech company in Israel needs five employees, they hire three from Nepal and the remaining two themselves,” she explains, “This is called employee augmentation which means people working in KimbuTech are actually working directly for the Israeli firm.” The other model that the company follows is developing products as per a client needs and requirements. The third model is providing IT services and support to companies based in other countries. Thapa says IT services and support is a big business which India, Bangladesh and the Philippines have been doing for a long time. Some time back it was also booming in Nepal but the constant energy crisis and political instability put a massive dent in such businesses and the country fell behind in this segment. “At one point of time we all had a friend or relative who used to work in a call centre but we do not hear of such centres these days,” she shares. By establishing SimJung, Thapa says, she is trying to revive the market for call centres. “We had to outbid companies from the Philippines to land this contract,” she mentions. At present, this business employs around 40 people and there are plans to further expand it. “This is a very small example that Nepal does have potential in the IT sector and all we need to do is build an ecosystem to support that growth.”
“The narrative of the government has to change now and instead of just focusing on traditional industries it should start prioritising tech companies too because they can draw in a lot of dollars.”
One of the reasons why her companies have been performing so well within a short span of time, she says, is the system she has developed of going back and working with the ecosystem. “We most often only focus on forward linkages but backward linkages are equally important, if not more,” she shares. The trend here is when a vendor delays any delivery, we only tend to shout at the concerned party for the delay and never try to find out the cause behind that delay, she says. “However, if we go back and help resolve the problem the vendor is facing in making the delivery then it creates a synergy for both parties.” Going back and working is so very important not only in business but also if one wants to make positive changes in the society, emphasises Thapa. “If I want to see more women leaders in the future, I need to revisit the education system, the practices being followed so that I can make necessary changes at the source itself,” she stresses.
Opening a business and sustaining it is a long journey in itself but the key is not giving up, says Thapa. “And at present just starting and operating a business does not suffice, you need to be in sync with the changes taking place in the society so that you can make meaningful contribution,” she adds. Not only does this provide inner satisfaction but also helps the business in the longer term. Many customers these days, she says, are educated and look at a company’s contribution to various things like society, environment and animal welfare among others before they become loyal to your brand.
“Yes, I am running a business to earn profits but that should not be my sole motive,” she shares. Along with leading a company comes a greater responsibility, she believes, because whenever you are in a leadership position, there are younger people who look up to you for motivation and inspiration. “For instance, if I am successful today then a young girl in school might be watching and wanting to follow in my footsteps so I have to be careful in anything I do,” she mentions.
For those wanting to start their own ventures she advises them to be ready to do anything and everything the work requires. “If there are times when you have to clean your office, do so,” she stresses. One of the bigger problems she has seen in the country is micromanaging. “As a boss you cannot be doing that or else you will lose track of the big picture so delegating authority is very important if you are looking for sustainable growth,” she states, “A team is very important and without one, I don’t think any organisation will succeed, even a family.” Teamwork basically means adding to each other’s strengths to achieve a common goal, she clarifies, “The synergy that is created in a team is very important.”
And for young entrepreneurs starting their own business, Thapa advises them to fail early if they have to. “When you fail early you get to know about your mistakes and learn from that experience,” she says.
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