Sunday, September 23, 2012

Breakpoint: Making The Transition

I have finally left the college I was working for, after two and half years, and now setting myself up again for a new venture. My life hasn't changed much yet - I shall go out Monday morning and turn up in office - but next Friday being my last day in this job, I am not doing anything significant anymore. The last week is always awkward, a time to say goodbye and to write emails, to take stock and to look at all the relationships and think which ones are worth preserving, all the while preparing to start something new.

As always, I am looking forward to the next phase now. That is surely going to be exciting, though in no sense restful. It comes in good time. Two and half years back, when I took this job, I was tired of travelling and wanted to have a stable life. However, now having done this for a while, I am now tired of the predictable trains and the usual office work. Still, I feel happy about what I have achieved, a complete turnaround in delivery efficacy and value systems within the college; but I am bored too, as most of the ideas I came up with during the period was never implemented (except one, that of setting up a funded learning business from scratch, with relative success).

What I am planning to do next is not anything new or novel, but something I have been pursuing for last few years and have talked about many a times: I am trying to set up a global e-school, with the objective of training a new generation of business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators, captains of the brave new world of our century. However, this isn't about creating any elite institution for the socially privileged, though: For me, having come from a distant country and disparate background myself, this isn't about privilege or preparation, but hard work and hunger for success. What we are working to create is an institution which will democratize opportunities, no matter where they started from, to, borrowing Steve Jobs' words, 'make a dent in the universe'.

However, I am aware I am signing up for a life of start-up, and lots of things are indeed uncertain: That indeed is the fun. This means going through a phase of keeping my head down and taking one day at a time, learning on the fly but remaining steadfast on the objective, taking opportunities while remaining anchored to the core value proposition. I am all set to live this life all over again.

Again, because I have done this before, once: Incidentally, that happened on a 23rd September, of 1998, when I, alongside three colleagues, walked out of secure and predictable life of a large company and tried to get our own Internet training start-up going. Being much younger and less experienced, I did make a number of mistakes then: We did not really sit down and worked out among ourselves our priorities. As it turned out, we were trying to pursue different things: I was after a cutting edge Internet Training and Certification company serving the technology sector, while one of my colleagues wanted to set up a chain of study centres in schools and yet others were looking at networks of franchise centres. We thought we could pursue all these things concurrently: That, indeed, was the fun of a start-up, but became its undoing in the end.

This time, therefore, I have chosen to build a team ahead of taking the plunge. Having worked with the same set of people for a number of years, and through difficult times, I am clear that our values are totally aligned. We have spoken so much about the idea, ever since 2009, that we have imagined, debated and agreed most of the key issues involved. We have been in an investment raising process for the last few months, when we were trying to raise the money for our former employer: We were bolting on the plan we had on top of the existing platform which we thought would benefit everyone around the table. However, it transpired that our views about the future, of the sector and the business, were very different, and it is good that we came to that conclusion sooner than getting ourselves into a more longer term commitment. However, this was great shadow practise of sorts: We have been pitching our ideas to a range of investors, and going through this process allowed us insights into what the investors are looking for and an idea what the market dynamics will be.

Finally, someone asked me whether I feel sad. In a strange way, I do. I am fond of many people I worked with and wish I could work with them longer. I have put in a lot of effort to craft a turn-around in the college, and regret that I couldn't bring it to a conclusive commercial success. Leaving means leaving behind a number of relationships, memories and possibilities. However, I feel free too: My work context was not great for new ideas and innovation. Whatever I had to achieve needed politics, which I am rather crap at, and everything took twice as much longer to get done even if the need was urgent and the matter was critical. Now I feel I can do things as the opportunities emerge. I would like to preserve this million-dollar feeling for as long as I continue to work.

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"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

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Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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