of the week!!
All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.
– Walt Disney
Stage 1: Origins
I hail from a small town called Nandipet, near the Nizamabad district of Andhra Pradesh. Growing up, I was always good at academics, even though I couldn’t afford the best of schools. The situation at home was never ideal. My father shifted through multiple jobs, trying to get food on the table. When he wasn’t busy at the farm, he was a driver. The way he led his life had a deep impact on me growing up. I don’t believe he ever knew how he was going to make enough money, but he always had sense of calm about him. He was the eternal optimist. He always believed that something would work out. I never believed in luck though; it was beacuse of how hard he worked that everything always did work out.
Once I became old enough to help, he shipped me off away from home. He wanted me to have nothing to do with what his life was. He told me this life is not for you, you have been born for bigger and better things. My education was a huge burden for my father, but he insisted. I don’t know how he knew things would work out, but he just believed it would. During these formative years of my life, I had the good fortune of finding people who were willing to take care of me financially. Their help did come at a cost, interference, lack of freedom and the strictest discipline, the ideal cocktail for beating the creativity out of you. However, the most important thing it taught me was the value of hard work.
During those times my father never wanted me to know about the suffering at home. A particular incident stands out. Once my father met with a major life threatening accident. I was told about it only after his recovery that was around one and half months after the incident. After seeing him in the hospital I was in tears and I asked my family why I hadn’t been informed. They said they didn’t want to me to lose focus. I was taken aback by their reply. From then on I decided that one day I’ll be the person that my father wanted me to be.
My father and I
I had a few rich, but slightly distant relatives. They paid for my education and I’m eternally grateful for their help. They wanted me to study in an IIT even though I wanted to be a doctor. Back then, I didn’t even know what the acronym stood for. The family had laid out a career path for me — Do an Undergrad at IIT, Get a Job, Earn Money.
Stage 2: IIT Gandhinagar — where things really changed
Amid much fanfare, I ended up being the first person from my village to crack the dreaded JEE and ended up in IIT Gandhinagar.
During my first week of college, I was petrified. Here I was, this scrawny kid who had never been allowed to see too much of the world. I spoke one language, Telugu, which was not the medium of instruction, and not even the medium of communication among my peers. I was fascinated by who I thought of as ‘aliens’ who spoke this language I had only seen in textbooks. I had even memorized some of it to pass my exams, but had no clue what it sounded like. I made it my mission in life to master this craft, because somehow I was enamored by these people and how they behaved.
I wasn’t too good at college, I never really understood how any of this helped me in life. I was more like the kid in a candy shop . There were so many things that I got to do that I had never done before. I tried my hands at dancing, singing, acting, marketing, research, politics and just about everything else. But what I really got stuck into was sports. During my upbringing playing had been just a way of slacking offthat I used to get punished for. But here were all these people who put on expensive shoes and prepared like they were going to war.
My team winning a football tournament
I did sit for placements; and for some reason the first company I applied to gave me a job. Everything was going according to the plan that people had decided for me. I had a job at a large multinational firm. What else could one ask for? But something was missing. I knew this was not something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.
This was not what my father had made all these sacrifices for.
I told my father that I was not happy with what I had got. Without any hesitation, he told me to do whatever I really wanted to do. He had faith that I would make the right choice
I remember having nothing to do after my placements. I wrote the names of all of the famous people that had inspired me and what they had achieved. I stared at the text written on my cupboard thinking “what if I am unable to fill the blank beside my name”. I used to walk from room to room, talking to my friends. I used to ask them what they had planned for their lives. I remember this one particular conversation. My friend, just like me, was frustrated. He said that he had a job offer, a masters admission, but none of it excited him. He mentioned in passing that he was thinking of starting a company.
Somewhere something snapped. This was it — a company of my own!
Let’s start a company, why not, what could possibly go wrong? It took me less than an hour to make up my mind. This is what I wanted to do. Would I be able to find someone else to take the plunge? I asked two more friends if they wanted to join in and in about 2 hours we had GridAnts. However, we did not have an answer to the next question: what was the company going to do? We knew it would do something that would impact a lot of people, but what? In true startup spirit we said – who cares, we are smart enough & we will figure that out. The one thing we knew based on our previous experiences and internships was that we were going to build software that was distributed and intelligent.
In hindsight this was probably not the smartest move I made 🙂 . But it definitely has to be the strangest display of this eternal optimism that has shaped my life.
The GridAnts founders
“The job paid 25 thousand rupees. We were excited with the start, but that’s also where all the problems began.”
Stage 3: The Startup and the Crash
No money, no idea, no experience, no help but we decided that we wanted to do this. We were now 21, legally adults. All of us collectively decided to stop taking money from our families. IIT Gandhinagar was generous enough to give us an office and internet. Four months later we were able to convince someone my co-founder knew to let us build software for them. The job paid 25 thousand rupees. We were excited with the start, but that’s also where all the problems began. To accept the money, we needed a bank account. For a bank account we needed a company, to establish a company we needed 1 lakh rupees! Wow this sucked – even if we got 25 thousand, we would be 75 thousand in debt. So begging and borrowing money from friends we did manage to scrape it all together. We figured we’ll find a way to pay them back.
The job paid 25 thousand rupees. We were excited with the start, but that’s also where all the problems began.
Things didn’t get any better after starting the company. We never had any money, but had a ton of debt. At one point we were so strapped for cash that we did not have money to pay for food. We would go to the mess, eat food and hide behind the people leaving, just so that nobody saw us. Two months of not paying for food- we were scared if they ever saw us, they would make us wash the dishes for a month.
At the same time there was a financial crisis at home. My family needed financial support and I was of no use. I felt guilty for quite some time. I couldn’t help my family. I couldn’t ask for any more money from my friends. I still kept going, knowing that something would work out. I rarely went home. I was too embarrassed to go home and face the question my family always had- “Did anything work out?”
A month later, something magically clicked and we managed to get a large contract and for a while things were looking up. We had found a product somebody wanted, they were willing to pay us well. We repaid all our debt. But there was just one problem, nobody else wanted it. We were in the wrong market. People were going crazy for the same technology in the United States, but there weren’t enough buyers in India. Though our financial troubles had temporarily been solved, our business was nowhere close to safe. Somehow there was always a sense of calm. We iterated through maybe 10 different ideas. Every time we met people we pitched them a different idea. Nobody including us was ever sure of what we were doing but somehow we were never worried, we knew we would come up with something. The thing that made us stick together as a team was our disregard for adversity. We could stare failure in the face and not blink.
Fast forward a few ideas, and a large amount of money spent. We were at cross roads again, we had hired some people and were trying to accelerate our progress. We had started burning a lot of money. We needed funding. We pitched to about 20 different investors, but nobody wanted to put money in us. Their logic was, you’re too ambitious, too young and inexperienced; such a business cannot be built from India, this is not Silicon Valley. An investor said nobody needs your product, it is worthless to build it. Another said that everybody knew that it was needed, and Google would build it before us.
Then came a meeting where we were sure something was going to work out. All the previous meetings had gone well. This was the final hurdle. Even here we were even told to stop wasting our time, and that nobody was going to give us the money we need.
We had another meeting immediately after. Nobody had gotten any sleep the previous two days preparing for the meetings. There was still this sense of calm that everything was going to work out (or maybe I just remember it that way). Maybe we were all shaking in our boots but nobody said anything. We walked into the meeting, and suddenly we had the money we wanted. This was a huge deal, and could turn our fortunes around. We had a deadline to reply to their offer. But there was a problem — we would have to give up twice as much equity as we had calculated. The terms were unfavorable, they had sensed our desperation. It was a difficult decision to make.
We ended up rejecting the offer. We felt that our work over 2 years was worth a lot more. Along the way, we lost a co-founder to family troubles and poor health. We didn’t have the time to talk to our friends. Our families rarely heard from us.
We had spent 2 years of our lives and had nothing to show for it at the end.
Here we were — three broke 24 year old kids, and we had rejected this offer. I still wonder how we we made that decision.
But our belief in ourselves finally paid off.
I can’t describe how and I can’t mention who but in the next few weeks there were 5 people who wanted to invest the entire amount we needed at terms favorable to us! We had the money and could now execute according to plan. What else would one ask for? Our optimism had definitely paid off.
Stage 4: What’s next?
We know what we are trying to do is audacious and there is a 99% probability that we will fail (seriously, who has built a billion dollar consumer internet company out of India?). Even then we have this sense of eternal optimism that things are going to work out. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. I just know it is.
My advice to young people is there is nothing stopping you from chasing your dreams. Wanting financial stability before chasing your dreams is ridiculous. I have heard so many people say that they will earn money for a few years and then do what they want. I think this thought process is wrong. How can you ever succeed if you are not passionate about what you do? I have not achieved anything yet; by no means am I successful. The only thing I have managed to do is chase my dream! I will continue to chase my dreams, till I achieve them.
This is not an endorsement saying it is okay to gamble your life. It does not advocate the fact that success comes easy; it is impossibly difficult to succeed if your goals are lofty enough. All it says is that irrespective of your circumstances, it is incredibly easy to try.
This is published already here, but I’ve read a few stories like this on Rodinhoods and wanted to share my experiences as well. I’m available to help out fellow community members at Email and on Twitter.
UPDATE ON JULY 12, 2016 ADDED BY EDITOR: