My mistakes & learnings building two startups, case studies of successful founders, and exciting side projects. Delivered in your inbox each Wednesday.
We as humans like to listen to stories. We enjoy them and unconsciously imbibe pieces from them into our lives.
In my mails to you, I try to do the same - tell you a story. In response, over the past couple of weeks, some of you had questions around how my entrepreneurial journey began. What motivated me to start something of my own? How did I know the time was right?
Well, instead of making it sound like an interview, I thought it would be better to tell you another story. My story. Of chasing happiness and leaving a 100,000-pound job to pursue entrepreneurship.
I completed my engineering from BITS Pilani. And as any good engineering student does, I found a job that wasn't even remotely related to my education - an analyst at an Investment Bank.
I settled down into the role fairly quickly. Excel became second nature and I learnt to hate powerpoint like everyone else. I picked up "valuation models", wrote research reports and pitch books on mergers & acquisitions and other topics like shareholder activism <big words alert>.
Yes, with zero experience, I now knew the worth of companies that had been around for more than my entire lifetime. Oh, numbers are dangerous; combine them with the weapon called excel, and suddenly you can find answers to anything with 100% conviction. Rumour has it that God resides in excel.
But I digress.
Then one day, I was informed that I deserved a stint at London. Sure, we used to work late in the Indian office too, but this was another beast. Days began at 9am and just mapped their own path. Staying till late in the night was the right thing to do. "Late" was redefined each day by my peers and me. 1am/ 2am/ 3am/ night-outs - we wore these things like badges of honour.
130-hour weeks passed by and then a couple of months. I just started to find the entire experience stifling. I was doing work that I found no value in. With colleagues whom I didn't relate to. In a city which seemed friendless. But I continued to pour myself into work till finally I felt extremely empty.
The experience was an absolute eye-opener for me. It made me recognise the set of robotic motions my life had become and helped me identify the only priority in life - happiness. Now, just to test my resolve and my belief in this, I was presented with not 1, not 2, but 3 offers to join the London team. Any of these jobs would fetch me a 100,000 pounds a year.
My mind was super clear - this was not something I wanted to be a part of, no matter the amount of money thrown at me. Don't get me wrong, I come from a middle-class Indian family. So it isn't like I had a bed of cash which I slept on that gave me the comfort to take this decision. It was just that I was brought up in a way where money was an enabler, never a want. It had aligned my lifestyle such that I didn't need much to live comfortably.
However, friends around me started singing caution tales. "Karthik, this is career suicide. In 4-5 years, your friends (read 'us') would have gone way past you in their careers. Then you'll look back at this decision and regret it." Written in quotes, but ya, sort of a paraphrased version of what a lot of friends told me.
With a smile I listened to it all. It didn't matter where my friends were or would be in their careers. I knew one thing for sure - I wouldn't be happy if I continued to work in that job and that was all I needed to make the decision. Sorry J.P. Morgan, no more blood-sucking hours from me.
At around the same time I had given the CAT - an MBA entrance exam for Indian colleges - and had gotten through. I thought that an MBA might give me the time to decide what move I wanted to make next. And boy did it deliver for me instantly!
When I went to college, what I saw was an absolute circus. My classmates were already getting ready to battle it out for the internship placements. And this wasn't their fault alone - the system was set up to give importance only to placements. Everything else - learning, making friends, finding what you actually enjoy and want to do in your career - was secondary.
Here I was, once again, with people who were ready to commit their lives to something, without actually considering if it was right for them. I had lived that life and I didn't want any part of it. I promptly opted out of the placements and decided that now was the time for me to actually start something of my own and define the kind of life I want to lead.
People tell tales of how their startup idea found them. How building startups was always the only thing they wanted to do in life. In all honesty, that wasn't the case for me. It's just that entrepreneurship is the only way of life that gives me happiness.
It is work that I have chosen and I love doing. People I love to work with. No competition on any random structures placed by external parties. Just logical goals that make sense for my startup and are worth fighting for.
Could I have been richer if I had taken the job at London? Or through placements at the MBA college? Hell yeah! I certainly don't want to sound philosophical here, but just posing the simplest question - aren't we doing all of this to be happy? Why chase something (money/career/<insert other materialistic things>) that could then maybe deliver happiness, rather than directly chasing happiness today.
So to finally answer the question in the long-winded manner I tend to, I decided to start-up because I realised it makes me happy. Today. Not at a future mythological time. And I have made this promise to myself, that the day even entrepreneurship doesn't bring happiness to me, it would be time to move on from it too.
So if you are struggling with any decision, especially career-wise, maybe that's the question to ask - what's going to give you the maximum happiness today. It might sound like I am trivialising things, but frankly, I have found that more often than not, it leads to the best outcomes.
So, does this story prompt some kind of change? At least a few thoughts?