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Success story: from classes to entrepreneurship

First-hand experience from Omkar Pandharkame, founder of BHyve, “Applied social psychology” graduate. All our students are different: they come to study from different countries and different backgrounds. But there is something that unites them all - it's their enthusiasm and great ideas! Our graduate Omkar launched his own startup and right during his studies on the program he launched a platform in Russia, and now things are looking up for him. Omkar is a true expert when it comes to turning knowledge into practice. And today he visited us to share his experiences and impressions and tell us what role social psychology plays in his life.

E: Omkar, you have decided to enrol for the master’s program Applied Social Psychology in HSE in Moscow. How did you find out about the program, and why did you choose it? 

O: Well, Internet is the best source I actually know. And the reason why I chose it, because it has all the components of psychology, what I wanted to learn. Everything from cultural psychology to organizational and social psychology, with a little bit of economic psychology. That was my primary motivation, rather that exploring one particular domain I could know quite a bit about the different fields of psychology. 

E: The program was in Moscow. Have you been worried about any cultural differences before coming to Russia?

O: Yeah, definitely. I have lived across the world, and I used to work in the States before. And when you live in the United States, you hear a lot of interesting things about the Eastern Europe and Russia. And the more things I heard about Russia, the more fascinated I got about it.

On the personal level since I was a child I used to love reading about Russian history, all the way from Yaroslav the Wise to Gorbachev. As I had the opportunity to read, I realized that Russia would be a very good country to come and to learn, predominantly because a lot of my favorites psychologists belong to this country. I love Vygotsky, he is my favorite psychologist. Pavlov, if you consider him as a psychologist. So yeah, I wanted to come to the land of my favorite psychologists. 

E: Were your expectations about the quality of the knowledge concise comparing to reality?

O: Yes, I think the best part was that I came not from a research background, I came from commercial and business background. So over here I understood the meaning of academic rhythm and started understanding,.. oh, I’ll tell you a funny thing. 

You know, whenever we are in my team talking about something and we wanna brainstorm, and somebody ends up saying «Omkar, give me a couple of days I’ll research about it and then come back to you». And after that day I told all my team members not to use the word «research», because research is not what happening like this. 

That’s what I actually learned in the university, proper technics to conduct research, how important is a creation of new knowledge. So in this particular aspect my expectations were fully evaluated. 

E: You had been launching your own start up while studying, right? How did you manage to combine work, studying and social life? What was the secret? 

O: Oh, there was no secret. The social life the Moscow is amazing. This city has the speed, it has the vibrancy.

Launching a start up, you know, once you’re passioned about something, you don’t look at the time. The good part is that HSE has an incubator called the HSE Inc. and in my early days of my start  up that helped quite a bit. And the professors also fully supported me in all directions possible. 

I wrote my entire thesis on my start up. Start ups are always about solving a problem, so I married concept of organizational psychology to my start up and balancing wasn’t that difficult. For me it was like studying while working for my start up and vice versa.  

E:  Did the idea come up while studying or have you had it earlier?

O:   So I used to work as a corporate trainer before and one of the reasons to study psychology was to understand organization psychology better. 

I wanted to understand how people transfer knowledge to each other, what kind of culture a company needs to have, so that this knowledge can be transferred. We worked on a very exciting project Dodo pizza. I like that company, because it’s a tech company that sells pizza. And that was one of the major contributors for me to create my own start up. 

Certain experiences that I had over here, interacting with the professors and companies that did contribute to refining my idea into proper start up.

E: Where did you get the inspiration for the name of your company BHyve and what does it stand for you personally?

O:   Well, we call it BHyve and it’s a very inspiring concept.

In organizational psychology you have a concept called Hive Intelligence. It talks about how more people, when they come together, the intelligence becomes not linear. Eugenia and Omkar’s intelligence it’s not 1+1, but it is far more than two. My experience, when it collaborates with your experience and your knowledge, it can start getting more. So the same concept is BHyve. 

When you see how bees work together in a collaborative fashion and create honey, that’s the purpose of it, right? The way bees come together to create that Hive Intelligence, that was fascinating. And the idea was to create a technology, which can help every company operate like a bee hive. Which is collaborative, fast and always about sharing knowledge.  

E: According to your social media profile, you continue to learn. You went to some programs in Skolkovo. How do you assess the opportunities for business development in Russia?

O:   Because I was in Moscow, the best place to get your startup to, is Skolkovo. I was a part of International Residency program, where you get international startups to Russia. I applied over there and we got through, this is how things with Skolkovo started.

Right across the campus over here you will find the Indian embassy at Pokrovskiu boulevard. As the India is the land of startups, Indian embassy was very helpful in building my start up too. So it was just about building the right amount of social capital. 

E: Are you planning to develop your startup in Russia? Or are you planning to work with the markets in other countries?

O:   Well, the Moscow market is growing very well and I’m definitely interested in working with some clients over here. I like this new wave of Russian young working population. They are very collaborative, they are very fast. They know what they want. And more and more companies start working in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, even in Rostov and Tyumen. So, yes, I want to develop BHyve in Russia as well. 

My medium markets are South Asia and North America,  but because I spend so much time in Russia and because Russian economics is growing not as fast as South Asian market, it still has a lot of promise. 

E:  At the moment what is the thing that you are proud of about your company?

O:   You know, I like to open my laptop and to open one of my clients BHyve and to see how people are actually benefiting, how office policies are reducing in the workplace, how employee burnout is reducing while employee engagement is increasing, how people are becoming more helpful to each other.  People who didn’t know each other working withing the same company, now become the best friends, because they are knowing something from each other. 

When I see this kind of stories I think “okay, we built something that is changing people’s life”. And that is something to be proud of. 

E:  Can you say that the knowledge from the HSE program had the impact and helped you to build the company? 

O: Definitely.  I’ll tell you a couple of things. 

First, before we launched BHyve we developed a psychometric test for the employees. We analyzed the burnout, we analyzed the engagement, that was exactly what my thesis was about. So we determined the pre-BHyve scenario. Then we launched our technology and after 3 months we analyzed it again to check if we got the impact or not. Now if I gave it to somebody else to do, it would have costed me a lot of money.  So that was a wise idea to do it myself. 

And number two. I always start my pitch by saying that I’m organizational psychologist. And at the moment when I’m saying it, that is a certain level of assurance, the client guesses, like this person knows what he’s doing, this person can deliver what he’s promising. Because he has this knowledge, he’s not just an engineer or a tech guy. Client finds more confidence knowing that I’m organizational psychologist. 

E: So you look more reliable, right?

O: Yes, indeed.

E: Are you working with HSE graduates? Do you have them in your team?

O: I’m hiring, yes. Technology folks, organizational psychology folks. 

E: Do you work with the people from your program?

O: Yes, my best friend Yannis, he’s German. He helped me quite a bit with creating my psychometric test and he was very helpful. And the other people, they have been a great social capital. They are working in some great organizations, so they refer me to their companies. And it’s a social capital that is always welcome. 

E: So all this studying turned out to be a social capital for you?

O: Yes, it was pretty diverse. I have friends all the way from Nigeria to Holland, to US, Germany.

E:  Are you in touch with the students from the program?

O: Yes, mostly with Russians. Because I like getting invited to babushkas to have borsch.

E:  Is that the reason why you decide to stay in Russia?

O: Yes, I like borsch. I’ve put on 5 kilos on borsch.

E:  And pirozhki?

O: And pirozhki.

E:  What’s your favorite Russian food?

O: I really like solyanka and khleb. I never knew that if you dip khleb in solyanka it soaks the soup into the khleb. It’s fascinating. And I really like smetana. Fun fact, I worked in the smetana factory in Karelia and I liked it so much.

E:  Did you do anything related to organizational psychology in the smetana factory?

O: No, it was too much studying and it was a good way to have a mind break. And it was a good way to understand the Russian culture.

E:  So, you are really into the Russian culture as far as I see, right?

O: Ya lyublyu russkiy kultura, da. 

E:  Do you speak Russian?

O: Ochen plokho. I never learned Russian.  But the more I listened to people when they speak slowly I came to understand. It’s a beautiful language. 

I can confidently order in a restaurant until they start asking me questions in return.

E:  Looking back onto your studying, what kind of advice could you give to today's HSE students who are now at the same position as you were?

O: I think keep being open minded. Studying psychology is a very perspective journey. It helps you to understand yourself and your surroundings better.

Psychology is like a quicksand. It starts getting you inside really quickly, and it’s very easy to get distracted, because there are so many things, like clinical psychology, cultural psychology, in between there’s environmental psy and you wanted to be an environmental psychologist architect because the professor was excellent.

The advice is to marry yourself to one domain within a year, maybe at your second year, otherwise you will be learning a little of everything.

Everything that you learn is about behavior of people and it can be very powerful if you’re in business or dealing to people in social environment. 

E:  That’s very inspiring Omkar, as I’m on my first year and I agree that it’s very important to focus and  to put your efforts onto the one thing. I’m sure that students will find this conversation inspiring too. 

O: I’m glad as well and I hope that school continues to attract brilliant students.