Rohit Sai Chetla founded the device management platform Warranty Me, raised seed funding in India in the middle of a pandemic, and turned down several acquisition proposals in order to grow his own company. To develop his leadership skills, he turned to Rice University’s Master of Engineering Management and Leadership (MEML) program.
“A program at the intersection of product management and engineering leadership is what I needed and what my company needed at that point,” said the MEML alumnus. Already a committed lifelong learner and avid reader, Chetla had been influenced by Rice alumnus and venture capitalist John Doerr’s book, “Speed & Scale.”
“The Doerr connection and Rice’s high ranking prompted me to join an information session led by Fred Higgs,” said Chetla. “Those slides and stories showed me exactly what I would be learning as a MEML student. The further I looked into it, the more interested I became--but I was already running a small company. Could I really become a full-time student while managing four employees?”
The 11-hour time difference between Houston and Hyderabad helped make his decision. Chetla was accepted into the MEML program, moved to Houston, and registered for all morning classes. Each day, he dove into homework immediately after class then switched gears. Starting in the early afternoon in Houston (about 9:30 p.m. in India), Chetla put in a full workday while his WarrantyMe employees were sleeping.
“I was already committed to becoming a better leader through a rigorous program of study, and my Rice lessons were immediately applicable to WarrantyMe,” said Chetla.
Learning to lead with MEML courses
“Early on, Professor Steve Gomez asked us what we thought leadership was and I responded it was all about psychology. He told us it was not just psychology, although there were good lessons there. Instead, we would learn to lead through empathy.
“I thought hard about that and looked at the kind of pressure I was putting on my employees, believing that was the right way to lead. But Steve gave me the ability to see it from my engineers’ viewpoint. I applied his lessons immediately, even changing my voice and how I spoke as I worked to become a better, more empathetic manager.”
He said Gomez and other MEML instructors brought a wealth of industry experience and anecdotes to their classes and shared product insights and perspectives that Chetla felt he would not have discovered on his own. In his final semester, he was ready to capitalize on all his lessons and experiences with the capstone project.
Developing a startup as capstone project
“I went to my professor, John Via, told him I’d been working on my own company for the last two years and asked if I could use it for my capstone,” said Chetla. His company, WarrantyMe, is a device management platform that allows its users to track the warranty of every electronic device they own and raise service requests with every brand with the tap of a button.
Chetla said, “John was really gracious and helped me shape WarrantyMe into a project that could meet the capstone requirements. One of the most important things I learned in that capstone project was how to really look at the future of my company while remaining grounded in the present.
“Just like Amazon began with books --even if they considered selling music CDs or other items in the future, they still had to focus on being excellent at selling books. So, keep your mind in the present even as you contemplate your future expansion.”
Chetla hopes to expand WarrantyMe to the United States by the end of the year but he’s remaining grounded in becoming excellent at warranty and repair management. It was his own dismal experience that provided inspiration for his company.
When his laptop failed, he spent several weeks tracking down a repair facility only to learn he needed an original invoice. Chetla returned with the invoice and was told the warranty had expired. Discovering his TV and phone warranties were about to expire, he rushed to find repair facilities for those devices which had begun experiencing performance issues.
“I began wondering why this was so complicated. Why couldn’t I do all this on my phone? Track the warranties, find the repair center, and sign up for a slot. And that is how WarrantyMe began,” he said.
Learn more about Rice University's Master of Engineering Management and Leadership program at our upcoming information sessions.