Pradeep Khurana is the co-founder and managing director of ContinuServe, a company that offers professional services and outsourcing to help “mid-market and Fortune 2000 organizations improve service levels and reduce costs within their back-office operations through the implementation and delivery of shared services solutions.” The company also teams up with business leaders and CXOs to help them cut back on costs and put in place best practices in technology and finance. Among the company’s services are “advisory services, business process outsourcing” and “IT outsourcing.”
At ContinuServe, Pradeep Khurana works with a lot of private equity firms that want to streamline their processes while keeping costs down within their portfolio companies. ContinuServe has also developed a culture that enables its team of employees deliver “extremely high levels of customer service.” This culture has instilled the belief among the teams that their customers’ success would also translate to their own company’s success.
Prior to ContinuServe, Pradeep Khurana founded Surebridge, Inc., in 1996. The company paved the way for other companies that use software in the service industry. At Surebridge, Pradeep has worked as chairman, co-president, and co-CEO.
Likewise, Pradeep Khurana also belonged to the founding team of i-Cube, which is a systems integrated firm with headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and which has filed a successful IPO.
Pradeep Khurana graduated with distinction from the Harvard Business School, where he earned an MBA. He earned his BA from Wesleyan University.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Pradeep Khurana: I got started in entrepreneurship back in 1996 when I started one of the first Software as a Service companies (called an Application Service Provider back then). We were offering High-End ERP systems delivered to the middle-market over the internet. We had a great run and the business was eventually sold. One thing we learned from that experience was that the middle-market needed an integrated back office service that includes BOTH financial systems and the actual tedious work of processing all the transactions. So, back in 2003 myself and my business partner started ContinuServe to offer a comprehensive back office outsourcing solution for the middle-market.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Pradeep Khurana: We definitely had some challenging moments. Early on in the business, we had just signed on our first major client where we were handling running their back office financial system. There was a miscommunication between the client and one of our engineers regarding purging some data from their system to free up some storage space. That miscommunication led to critical production data being deleted. Although one could argue that it was the client who caused the problem, we did not want to focus on who was to blame. I think the main thing was that as soon as we realized what happened, he immediately communicated to the client in a transparent and constructive way. We were able to recover the data but there was a system downtime that was created. The client ultimately appreciated how we addressed the issue and they ended up becoming a significant client who we still work with 16 years later.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Pradeep Khurana: One funny story involved us traveling to India where we had set up an operational office to support our business. Whenever we traveled there, we would bring an extra laptop to leave there since the laptops available in India at the time were from an older generation. One of our employees is a very fair skinned Irish gentleman who turns red with embarrassment easily. Upon arriving in India he was stopped at the airport and asked by customs whether he was bringing anything extra in the country. Rather than just say no, he turned red with embarrassment because of the extra laptop he was carrying and the customs officer thought he was very ill and wanted to send him to the infirmary. The lesson was only assigning tasks to those that can handle them
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Continuous Improvement — A great organization must engage in continuous improvement. That must be part of its normal daily functioning (it needs to be as essential as breathing is for a human). We engage in something called Root Cause Analysis (RCA) which occurs whenever there is a major service issue. We try to understand what causes the problem and go several levels deep so as to not just correct a technical or procedural problem, but often get to a level that may hit on the type of people we are hiring, or how we train people.
- Long Term Thinking — This is about making decisions and thinking about their consequences at least a couple of years out. One manifestation of this is how we engage with new clients. Often a new client might want to start out with something large but that might be too risky. Although, in the short run, doing something big from the get-go might be great for short term revenue, it might not be what’s best for the client’s risk tolerance. So, we sometimes actually tell our clients to reduce the size of the initial commitment so we can put the proper prerequisites in place.
- One Firm — This is a philosophy that no matter what office you work at and no matter what geography, that we act as one firm, with consistency. This is exemplified by utilizing project teams with people from multiple locations but doing so in such an integrated fashion that everyone delivers a consistent work product.
- Transcendent Strategy — A strategy that focuses just on dominating a specific, narrow market or technology does not have the same legs as something that is universal and stands the test of time. I think to be a great company you must create a strategy that will allow you to be successful independent of changes in products, markets, etc.
- Customer/Client First — An approach that says ‘if your clients succeed, we succeed’ allows an organization to focus on what’s important to the customer. Technologies and methods can change and adjust over time if they are in support of giving the clients what they need. In our organization, our incentive systems are heavily tied to client focus and orientation more than they are to internal metrics.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Pradeep Khurana: I think in America (and this may be a trend in other capitalist countries) people have limited outlets to express themselves in non-monetary ways. There is less church-attendance, fewer people know their neighbors, less community engagement. I think that desire to connect and contribute can be addressed through work to some extent especially if that is part of a company’s mission.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Pradeep Khurana: I think reducing the ‘friction’ for the initial sale is critical. And often that means instead of having the client sign up for a large number of services or a large number of products out of the gate, it might be better from a competitive position to get them to sign up for something small, deliver a great service, and upsell them later.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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