In the fall of 2009, software developer and manager Vikas Narula sat at his kitchen table with his wife, Priya, pouring out his heart about how frustrating and unfulfilling his corporate job had become. After more than a decade of 9-5 work, he had risen through the ranks to a director level position at Virtual Radiologic, a patient-care company serving 27,000 facilities. But he felt empty. The fact that he’d just had a huge disagreement with his boss made things even worse.
“I was miserable,” says Vikas, now 42. “My wife looked at me and said, ‘Just quit. We’ll figure something out.’ She knew I was not in a healthy place, and wanted to support me. But making a change was a risk. We had two young kids and a mortgage to pay.”
For three years, Vikas had been exploring an innovative business idea he’d discovered while attending an MBA program in Duke University’s distance education program. It was really just a hobby — a hobby that would become a company.
The idea centered around the concept of informal networks in the workplace. It explored how work often gets done in ways that are very different from what the traditional organizational chart might suggest. Vikas was intrigued, and studied it deeply. But when he started to search for software tools that would easily allow a manager to map those kinds of relationships and dynamics, he found none. So, working with a classmate, Vikas decided to build his own.
Thus Keyhubs was founded, a Minneapolis-based management software and consulting firm that Vikas has since grown steadily, and which serves clients that include Accenture, Medtronic, Thrivent Financial, Boston Scientific and Bremer Bank. Its fascinating business model has been covered in Forbes, Upstart Business Journal, and Twin Cities Business magazine.
Vikas, who graduated from both Maharishi School for the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE) and MUM, starts working with a new company by asking employees some nontraditional questions: Who do you hang out with? Who do you trust? Who do you rely on to get work done when you’re in a crunch?
That kind of information allows Keyhubs to uncover a company’s “hidden organization” — the informal network of relationships between workers which is how things truly get done.
“Our software takes that data and creates visual maps that show us what’s really going on,” says Vikas (see map, above). “We learn who the influencers are, what the actual team dynamics are, where the troublesome gaps and silos are. Once we uncover that, we can help managers deal with challenges more effectively.”
Entrepreneurship and spirituality may seem like an unlikely combination, but for Vikas the two are related. A graduate of MUM in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Vikas takes a deep view of his work in the business world.
“To me, entrepreneurship is more than about making money,” he says. “It’s really a spiritual journey, a journey of self-discovery and growth. MUM taught me that. MUM gave me a perspective on life that helped me see things beyond the material. It helped me understand what matters most.”
Vikas brought that level of perspective to a difficult time he went through in spring 2009, when he became gravely ill. “I had a taste of what it is like to be on your deathbed,” he says. He began to think about what was truly important in his life. He reflected on service work he’d done at MUM, including starting the student groups, Organization for a New Earth (ONE) and co-founding Eco-Jam, both aimed at increasing awareness of sustainability.
These experiences, along with his “deathbed” encounter, led him to start Neighborhood Forest, a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to school children every Earth Day. Since 2010, Neighborhood Forest has given away over 2,500 trees, involving more than 5,000 children in the Twin Cities area. His brother, Vivek Narula, runs the organization.
“So many things I’ve done in my life I can tie back to MUM and MSAE,” says Vikas. “All my successes I owe to the support, the knowledge and the community I found there. It’s where the seeds were planted in me to become an entrepreneur. MUM is the reason I have the confidence to do what I do now. I’m incredibly thankful.”