Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Roads Not To Be Taken

I have almost always been entrepreneurial, pursuing new ideas if not new businesses in my working life. As I reflect on a life of research and writing, I know it is important for me to be a change agent: This is something beyond mere observation and even beyond the grandness of discovery, this is about doing something to make life better generally. I have engaged with everything I do everyday with that spirit.

My recent plans to develop a platform for global learning and teaching is indeed in line with my character. It is suitably grand, difficult to do, long term and, I shall claim, life-changing. It is not the easiest thing I could have picked, but I never pick the easy things. And, I am about to make it more difficult than it should be.

Here is how: I now have a few choices about how to fund this business. However, I am trying to draw from life's lessons, and despite the fact that I don't have many alternatives, I am deciding to say no to the easiest offer that I have on the table. It feels crazy, because I have worked on this thing for three years, hit the brick wall a number of times, and this time, after a long time, I am feeling close. But I am inclined to walk away from the deal.

It is a hard decision to make, and for all the courage I show in writing this post, I haven't fully mastered this yet. To be honest, this is only an admission of how divided I am. Yet, I know, as the workday starts, I must turn up and announce my decision, and I know now what I am going to say. It is just that I really want to do this thing in life, and it is not worth doing badly. I am no perfectionist, but I have messed up too many times in my life to know that something worth doing isn't worth trying badly.

It may seem I am becoming a purist of some sort, but I shall claim not to be. I have been studying the business models pursued by For-Profit education and have this feeling that, so far, we have got it wrong. A different kind of thinking, a different vision, is needed to build a successful educational institution, and the industry is so far replete with quick-money thinking, and few investors have the notion of value. And, unless the business model is clear, it is hard for a business to be sustainable and long term.

In the current case, I have an offer but I suspect it was made for wrong reasons. We have got this offer not because the investor in question sees the opportunity, or would want to create the global network that we wanted to create, but thinks that this can lock me into a collateral commitment that he intends me to carry out. Indeed, I am not commitment-shy, as people who have worked with me will vouch, but I think this is not the right reason one should invest in my dream project. Indeed, I am flattered, but not sure in my mind that with this kind of investment, one can get anywhere with the project. Hence, I am inclined to turn it down.

I was indeed naive to pursue this discussion in the first place. I did, because it seemed easy. Painless, in a way, and least disruptive: I could smoothly transition into a new life. It was about being quick too, being fast, may even become first to market. Also, I have already invested quite a sum of money and effort into this project, and I could start getting some payback without waiting. In a way, I almost succumb to the charm of ease.

But as I go through the process and know that the team the investor has put together has no idea about the business of education, much less of the business of technology, and want to get a quick and easy way to retaining me on to another project in exchange of investing into this one, I have realized my mistakes. Indeed, I have now reached my judgement and will now call off the negotiations. This effectively means that I shelve the project for some time to return to this only later, and I have some explaining to do to the other directors of the start-up, but I am sure we carry similar values and attitudes and this will not be hard.

In summary, this is a day of saying no. One of my big problems in life was that I was bad at this before, but I have learned from my mistakes. I have tried to take quick and easy options, roads more frequently traveled by, and failed to reach the destinations. I shall try it differently this time.

1 comment:

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

Your courage and your conviction are inspiring, Supriyo. At a time when I am facing similar dilemmas of whether I should dilute my creative vision and go with opportunities that present themselves or hang on till I am able to do what my heart tells me to do, this post has come as an affirmation of my beliefs. Congratulations and thanks for traveling this road so that others may find courage to do the same.

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