The Inevitable Rise of Nikhil Kothari
Tech is no stranger to young geniuses and their creations, but how are they formed?
When I first met Nikhil Kothari, I thought he seemed cocky. You don’t really see a lot of twenty something devs signing up to speak at a conference designed for middle-aged businessmen, let alone jump at the opportunity to deliver his second speech. “Kid’s a boy genius. You should interview him,” Rushabh whispered to me. The “boy” part turned out to be untrue, although the assumption could be forgiven. With his boyish good looks, you don’t expect him to be in his mid twenties, nor do you expect him to be in the process of building his third company. The cockiness suddenly made sense.
At 25, he interviews candidates in their thirties for roles he’s far too experienced for. “I started working at age 16, I think? My school fest needed an app and I needed an excuse to get out of class, so I volunteered, even though I didn’t know the first thing about building apps. Next thing I know, my dad’s sending the school emails, demanding to know why his son was up working till 3 in the morning everyday,” he says with a laugh.
It paid off though; the app was a huge success. It won him attention, accolades and his first freelance gig. A senior reached out to him offering to pay two thousand rupees for a website for her blog. “Again, I knew nothing about web dev, but what’s the worst that could happen? I can’t build the website and I don’t get paid? I’m okay with that.” But he did build the website and he did get paid and he’d just found his new mantra—what’s the worst that could happen?
Unlike most young entrepreneurs, Nikhil speaks with refreshing honesty. You’ll hear no woeful tales of struggle cross his lips. He even has the grace to acknowledge his privilege of his own accord. “I come from a fairly wealthy family—not crazy rich, but well-off—and most of the people I went to school with were even wealthier. Their families ran businesses and businesses needed websites and marketing and I provided all that. I did market research, I wrote copy, I designed posters and packaging, I made videos and, of course, built websites. Retrospectively, it wasn’t exactly great work, but I kept getting better with each project. And it didn’t hurt that I was supplementing my pocket money by more than 200% each month.” And that’s just in high school.
In college (where he’d meet everyone currently in his employ), he’d go to class by day, work on his freelance gigs by night and somehow also find the time to build whatever he wanted to make his life easier. Like the time he realized that getting off his bed to switch on the lights was far too much work and decided to build a home automation system instead. Or the time he built an app for his hostel to let students receive their packages without bothering their warden because he hated being woken up by the calls announcing their arrival. But by final year, he’d realized that he had too much on his plate and decided to make the obvious choice to drop his classes. He somehow managed to convince his college authorities to let him work at the research center associated with their university for the year instead, where his advisor introduced him to MedBuyer which offered him his first full-time job.
But what’s one job when you can have two? When childhood friend Kanishk Kanakia reached out to Nikhil with an idea to start an influencer marketing platform, Nikhil didn’t have to think twice (because what’s the worst that could happen?). He juggled his job at MedBuyer with their new venture, Opportune, for about two years before it got acquired, although he continued to act as a consultant for another year. In the meantime, he joined My Asset Buddy as its CTO where he worked for a year before Pied Piper-ing his team out to join his newest undertaking, The Commit Company.
Which begs the question—does Nikhil Kothari not need a break? A typical day in his life starts at ten, when he skips breakfast to start work, then takes a protein bar with a side of work for lunch, followed by a can of coke with a generous helping of work to sustain him till 8pm. He then has a snack and plays basketball for an hour or two before dinner, after which he stays up coding till 4am.
Surprisingly, The Commit Company follows the four-day workweek. And what does Nikhil do on his days off? “I code,” he says with a laugh, knowing where my line of questioning was about to lead. “Look, it’s not that I subscribe to hustle culture, in fact, I’m pretty against it. I just happen to be one of those lucky few who got a job doing what they love. You know those days when you’re in the flow and there’s nothing to interrupt you? My idea of a perfect day is just that—me, alone in a room, anywhere in the world, with any good laptop. That’s it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I love everything about my job, there are parts I hate, just like with any job. I might love the first time I solve a challenging problem, but the second time I implement it? Or the tenth? Or even worse, figuring out all the red tape that comes with setting up a new business? Torture.”
Why subject himself to all that hassle then? Why not just get a regular job that allows him to code? “Like I said, my parents are pretty well-off, but they still have jobs that require them to go to work everyday. They’re not just making money in their sleep. That’s what I want. I want to create the sort of wealth, for myself and my team, that would allow us to work on whatever we want. And we can’t do that with freelancing gigs or salaried jobs, we’d need to build a product.”
The Commit Company may only be 3 months old, but they’ve already got two in the pipeline. The first, Raven, an open source work messaging tool built to replace Slack, has already started winning acclaim. Built by Janhvi Patil and Aditya Patil under Nikhil’s guidance, Raven is part of the Frappe Incubator program and secured first place at FOSS Hack 3.0.
The second, Commit, after which the company was named, is composed of dev tooling built around Frappe Framework and ERPNext that would allow devs to analyze their database design, view and test their APIs and manage dependencies. Both products were built using the Frappe Framework(FF) which Nikhil stumbled upon while working on a project for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in college.
“I used to use Firebase, which I loved, but when I came across FF, I realized that I could build the sort of things that used to take me days in a matter of hours. I love how it’s no-code for people who don’t know how to code but low-code for those who want a little more out of it. When I was working on Opportune, I had to build a web app and a mobile app for the end users, as well as an admin panel for the team. The first two can be fun because it’s challenging, but it’s hard to muster up the motivation to work on the admin panel, especially when you know that none of the customers are ever going to see it. But FF gets rid of all of that. It sets up all the boring parts while letting me build all the fun stuff."
But with all his accomplishments, if you ask him what he’s most proud of, Nikhil doesn’t have to think twice. “Definitely my team. I don’t know if people are going to use Raven or Commit, but even if they don’t, we’ll be fine. I know that my team is just going to keep building great products. We’ll get there.” Perhaps what I mistook for cockiness was just some good old self-assuredness.