Sprinklr is a company with more than 550 employees, 650 customers and 12 offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia that develops and supports a social media software platform by the same name.
Ragy Thomas, its founder and chief executive, attributes much of his success to what he calls his “naive trust” in other people – something he said he learned in a Catholic boarding school in India, where he was born.
In an interview with the New York Times, Thomas recalled returning to India after several years of boyhood in Africa. “The boarding school was in the middle of nowhere on top of a hill. It was a Catholic school, and we woke up every morning and went to the chapel. They taught you about life, and it made me deeply spiritual. Not religious, but very spiritual. It also made me extremely naïve about what life can be.”
But if you think that’s a criticism, you’re way off base
Thomas explained that after he left the school for college, he found himself in an environment that he considered phony. Even though he confesses to becoming a “party animal,” he says he didn’t buy into the culture. ”You’re supposed to behave with friends a certain way, work a certain way, and you don’t let people into your trust circle. It’s OK to say a lie, and it’s OK to be looking out for yourself.”
But the perspective he had learned in the Catholic boarding school kept him from adopting that cynical, self-serving perspective. “Many of those things were lost on me, and that allows me to naïvely trust people,” he explains. “I just believe that there is goodness everywhere, and I still go through life that way. The hardest thing to learn is that even though you try to be helpful and grateful, a lot of people don’t live their lives that way.”
Even so, he believes that his inclination to trust people keeps him ahead of the pack.
“It is a strength because statistically, when you act that way with 100 people, you might get beaten up 80 times because of it. But then there will be some people who respond because you believed in them, and they start doing things that they didn’t think they were capable of doing.
“And those people just come through for you in a big way, and allow you to do big things. By embracing this approach and taking a statistical view of it, you always come out ahead,” he insists.
He likens the rewards he gets from trusting people to the reward system of venture capitalists. “You invest in 100 companies. Some of them die. With most of them, you’re lucky if you make your money back, and then you have 10 or 20 that make you a big winner.”
However, he says his trust persists only as long as people prove themselves trustworthy. “Another rule I follow is that you can fool me once, but once I’ve lost my trust in you, I very quickly keep that person out of my inner circle — in fact, out of my circle, period,” he explains.
“Over time, I have built enough of a reputation that people know that trying to appeal to my nobler sense will yield way more for them than they can ever negotiate,” he adds.
He also admits to having “a crazy fear of failure.” It is rooted in times he saw his family embarrassed, sometimes “based on wealth and social stature,” he says, “and it deeply hurt me to see my family have to go through that. Many of the rich people I had seen earlier in life were so arrogant that it gave me this massive desire to show them that I can be richer than them and still be nice.”
Coupled with “dogged persistence and the insane will and ability to chase” his dream, Thomas is determined to succeed on his own terms – including a commitment to continue “naively trusting” people as long as I don’t betray that trust.
He may not be the perfect leader, but he’s certainly on to something.