Alumni Connect: ‘I have to focus on building an organisation, not just products,’ says CEO, Laiki Crackers
A weekly column that re-connects with Pune’s alumni to see how they are faring in their careers.pune Updated: Dec 08, 2017 16:06 IST
Pradeep Akkunoor is an alumnus of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology, Pune who graduated in 2003 in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering. He has since followed a somewhat unorthodox career path working in several non-engineering roles before becoming an entrepreneur. He is currently the founder - CEO of Laiki Crackers, a US-based rice cracker specialty brand.
Tell us about your educational background? How were you in academics- a bright student, average or below average?
I have an Engineering degree in Electronics and Telecommunication from the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT), Pune. While I was a bright student in my high school, I would say I was slightly above average in Engineering.
What happened after graduation?
I discovered during my Engineering studies that purely technical roles are not my calling. I searched for various options and got a break to work as a freelance journalist with a Pune newspaper and later as a technical writer with Pune-based American multi-national companies SunGard and SAS. Later, I started an entrepreneurial venture with a friend in Pune called Indiaforensic, which was the first in India to build a community of forensic and fraud investigation professionals. During early 2009, I left for Thailand and US to do my MBA studies.
You now have a company of your own and are selling rice crackers under the brand name Laiki in the US. How did that happen?
The move to the food industry happened during my MBA. I had worked on a business plan with my classmates and friends to bring a unique variety of organic black rice to the global market. This plan won several global awards and we also were given the opportunity to ring the closing bell at NASDAQ in New York City. At first I continued to work with my friends on marketing specialty rice, but later stuck out on my own when I felt there is more potential in value-added products than selling a specialty agriculture commodity. Laiki Crackers was launched in US in 2015 and within six months of launch, won the Oscars of the US food industry – the Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation (SOFI) Award – in the Crackers category. We have since then grown significantly each year and continue to remain on the growth path.
What about the highs and lows of your career so far?
The high in my career is the launch and subsequent success of Laiki Crackers – it was a steep learning curve but my education and diverse variety of career experiences helped me cope up with that. The lows, incidentally, was also in my entrepreneurial ‘career’ during the launching of Laiki, where we almost lost everything we had invested in the initial years prior to the success of the product.
What does the future look like?
The future is exciting and challenging, as now I have to focus on building an organisation and not just products. This requires a different set of skills that I am constantly learning. I am thankful and fortunate to have a great network of industry associates, friends, classmates, professors and mentors who guide me through this entrepreneurial career.