Many of you may have come across Tilak Mehta in photos and videos with Bollywood celebrities and ministers, for sometime now. The 13-year-old boy from Mumbai left the country in awe when he launched his startup in 2018, Papers N Parcels, to ‘uberise’ courier services in the city. From planning the project to coordinating with the city dabbawalas, the class 8 student aimed to ease courier services in Mumbai while making a mark for himself. Recently, he was also acknowledged as the youngest entrepreneur by India Maritime Awards.
Express Parenting took the opportunity to interact with Tilak and his father Vishal Mehta, to know more about how the boy juggles business with academics, with the support of his family and school.
How did you come up with the idea of the startup?
Tilak: I was once stuck in a situation in which I was helpless. I had forgotten my books at Borivali at my uncle’s place, when I was in the seventh standard. I wanted those to be delivered the same day to my place since my exams were approaching. I couldn’t find any way to do that. Some delivery companies I got in touch with were charging Rs 250-300. This made me wonder how people who don’t have peons or drivers manage to get their stuff delivered within the city. So, I thought, why not have a company to facilitate same-day delivery of stuff within the city? When I was looking for delivery partners, I wanted somebody who was really experienced and cost-effective. And I could think of no one else but the dabbawalas. That’s how I started my company.
How did you parents react to the decision of starting a company at such a young age?
Tilak: When I started working on the project in 2017, I always had the support of my father and the core team. We used to work together to set up our operations and talk to service providers. My parents have been really supportive throughout the journey. My mother has always helped me with time management between academics, sports and business, and prioritising things. My parents also allowed me to travel with the dabbawalas for 15 days to understand the operations.
Vishal: For me, it was not a big deal that a 12-year-old had found a solution to a problem, but I worried if he would really be able to put it in action. I told him, ‘If you can make something out it, I will be proud of you.’ He has been very sincere about the project and what it entailed. We come from a business background, so such ideas are always welcome but Tilak actually went through the whole process to set up his company, from travelling in the luggage compartment to learning Marathi. It has been an educative journey.
You had to travel with the dabbawalas to understand the operations. Didn’t your parents raise questions about your safety?
Tilak: Not really, since they were quite open to the exposure it would give me and that’s what enabled me to get this company launched. I think most of the credit for my endeavour actually goes to them.
Vishal: Initially, when my son mentioned that he had to start travelling with dabbawalas, his mother was worried. But I said that he should definitely go. For the first two days, we sent one of our trustworthy persons with him. And then, he got very comfortable with dabbawalas and travelled with them.
Did it ever worry you and your parents that your business might impact your academics? How do you strike a balance between the two?
Tilak: I started the company, fortunately, during my vacations. That’s how I could invest more time in it. Now, I mostly visit the office on weekends. On other days, I am in touch with our team through conference calls. And if I get free time on weekdays after my studies, I drop in at the office.
The principal of my school, Garodia International Centre for Learning Mumbai, is really cooperative. I am allowed to take half-day leaves if I have any event to attend. If I miss out on any test, the school is kind enough to take a re-test.
Vishal: It is still an everyday challenge. Honestly, he has been able to manage his academics and business well. We have always told him that his education is the most important. At the same time, because he has already started a company, he cannot really compromise on that front either. We want him to be equally involved in sports as well. So far, he has been able to do all of it well; a lot of the credit goes to his school. Unless there is proper support from the system, it is not possible to manage everything. It’s possible that he may not perform well in a particular exam someday, but the kind of exposure and knowledge he is gaining now will help him a lot in life.
You feel the pressure when you do things you don’t like. I keep monitoring Tilak’s overall behaviour to see if he is doing things out of compulsion or passion. I can see that, at the moment, he definitely loves what he does.
For many parents, their child’s academic excellence is still the yardstick of success. And that’s why many children are discouraged from pursuing their non-academic dreams. How do you think that can affect a child?
Vishal: It is typical Indian mentality, where people only want to see one’s grades. Unless we give our kids the freedom to explore, they will never really be able to show their real potential. Who knew that at the age of 12, my son would spot a problem and come up with a solution? If we had discouraged him, he may have never come up with the idea. Parents need to support their kids to see what colour they can bring to their lives. If they are dedicated towards their dream, they should definitely be supported.