There isn’t much Nabin Hait has in common with the people of Kantadarja anymore. But then again, maybe he never did. Unlike most of his peers in the agrarian village in the heart of West Bengal, it was always stressed on him that his education was of the utmost importance. His father taught Bengali at the village school that Nabin went to for most of his school life. His uncle was a science graduate. His three sisters—all much older than him—married a doctor, an engineer and a teacher respectively. By the time he was sixteen, it was decided that Nabin was to complete his high school education in the town of Kolaghat where his sister lived. Then came college and along with it, his first taste of freedom.
Nabin was an IT student in the top university in his state right after the IT boom of the ‘90s, so he was never worried about his job prospects despite his questionable grades. But four years of revelry later, life gave him a rude shock. “I couldn’t manage to get a single job offer. Turns out, spending all day playing football with your friends is not a skill that translates into getting an IT job. And right when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my father had a cerebral haemorrhage and slipped into a coma. I moved back home and put my career on pause to look after him, but before I knew it, I had a two-year gap in my career.”
In 2006, Nabin moved to Bangalore in search of a job and finally secured one, only to have the offer revoked at the last minute. “Nothing else had worked, so I thought I’d put the job search on hold and try to get an MBA instead.” From as far back as he could remember, Nabin had been great at math. In a world without computers, he’d probably have been a mathematician, so it was no surprise that he aced CAT. But life decided to point him in a different direction when a relative invited him to stay with them in Mumbai.
The relative encouraged him to look for a job there and asked him to meet a friend of theirs who’d just started an IT company called Notes and Reports for advice. But when Nabin got to the Notes and Reports office, he was met with the company’s other founder, Rushabh Mehta, instead. “He had no idea why I’d come and just assumed that I was there to interview for a job, so he asked me to solve a few questions. I assumed he just wanted to know how good I was before doling out advice, so I solved them for him. Next thing I know, he’s asking me to start on Monday.”
Determined to not repeat his mistakes, Nabin started teaching himself everything he’d failed to learn in college for his job. In the meantime, Notes and Reports started shifting in name and nature. What started out as a service-based company that built CRUD applications on a framework of its own, turned into an ERP company when Rushabh decided to build an ERP system for his father’s business. The company also grew from 4 to 20 and back to 4 again in the early ‘10s and changed its name from Notes and Reports to iWebNotes before finally settling on Frappe.
The four that remained had clearly defined roles—Rushabh worked on the framework, Nabin on the ERP application now named ERPNext, Prakash Hodage handled accounts and admin and Umair Sayed did everything else. “I think 2011-15 were the golden years. We didn’t make much money, we often lost it in fact, but that’s when ERPNext really started taking shape. And in the years since, we’ve been enhancing it, and trying to figure out how to run a company without compromising on our ideals.”
By this point, I was starting to notice a pattern—every other question I had was met with an answer that had something to do with Frappe. “How could I not? It’s been such a huge part of my life. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked at or even wanted to work at in all these years. Through all the ups and downs, I’ve never considered leaving. If I’m being honest, it all had to do with Rushabh. Rushabh and my time at Frappe have shaped me so much as an individual. I’m no longer the cautious, wary person I was, I’ve grown into someone who’s open to experimenting and has their eye on the big picture.”
These days though, Nabin admits to feeling a bit unmoored. His swanky Senior VP job title might not betray it, but he’s in a bit of a crisis. For the initial half of his career, he was focused on building ERPNext, and then on mentoring the devs that worked on it, but the dev team moves smoothly without him having to grease its wheels now. Has he made himself obsolete? What do you do when your job is…over? Sit back and coast on the back of your success? Perhaps he would be needed more elsewhere, but where? All that’s left to do now is to experiment. Now a co-founder of Frappe, he helps close enterprise deals and is dusting off his coding shoes by trying to automate all the internal processes at the company.
He feels similarly unmoored when he reflects on his roots. “I didn’t think much about it back then, but growing up, I had such a strong sense of community. I grew up in a joint family of fifteen and every Saturday, we’d be joined by all our neighbours to watch the movie of the week on TV. But that’s all in the past. Now when I go back to my village, I feel like a fish out of water. I no longer speak their language.”
It’s not all bad though. Nabin beams with unbridled pride every time he mentions his family of four. “I have two sons, Sounak and Sayan, aged 8 and 6. The 8 year old spends all his free time learning calculus on YouTube while the 6 year old is the reigning chess champion at our house. I have to play at least one game with him everyday and more often than not, he kicks my ass”, Nabin says with a laugh. “I try to take them to all the places worth seeing in India whenever I get a chance. I want them to see as much of the world as they can. You know, I picked this field without ever even having used a computer in my life. I was the first engineering graduate in my village and probably the neighbouring ones too, and my only priority then was to get a good job. That isn’t going to be the case for my children. Children today have so much more access to information thanks to the internet than we ever did. I was at the Learner’s Collective which is this alternative school in Mumbai the other day and I was blown away by how sharp the children’s critical thinking skills were. They were asking the kind of questions adults my age do. It gives me so much hope to see how far we’ve come. Who knows, if I had the sort of resources they have, I might have been a mathematician after all.”