“When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.”
― Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)
Mid 2008 and my first job hunt wasn’t going too well. I had just decided not to run that final MBA lap of my academic race. Instead, I’d focus my efforts on gathering some much needed work experience. After all, before stepping into high school, I’d made a promise to myself that I’d get started with entrepreneurship when I turned 30. Seemed a good idea at the time, and looked even better as time went on. And so began step one – get a great job.
I’d intently scour the web for opportunities and end up applying to every silicon valley co. with an office in India. While also wading through interviews my father had lined up flipping through his rolodex. Didn’t take me too long to figure out that my desire to blend marketing qualifications with self-taught tech skills wasn’t the stuff typical job descriptions were made of. But, my 30th birthday was barely a few years away and the calendar seemed to be skipping whole weeks.
Meanwhile, Obama had just won the 2008 Presidential elections and as I cheerfully watched his acceptance speech live on CNN, I set yet another personal goal – I’ve got to find my dream job before President-elect Obama took charge of his own at the Oval Office. President Obama probably doesn’t realize how close our race really was – and how close he came to winning it.
Over dinner one evening, my father mentioned that I’d probably be hearing from Anand Mahurkar, a colleague of his from Datamatics. Anand, my father told me, had relocated to Boston few years back and was planning to start his own business – and, quite unlike my father, he added – ‘since you like marketing, there probably isn’t a better mentor you could have than Anand.’ I’d learn more about Anand in the following days – his work ethic, dedication, his meteoric ascent at Datamatics and more. Finally on a lazy Friday evening, the kind you can only have when you’re unemployed and living with your parents, Anand called me on the home phone.
April 2009, and I’d receive a formal letter of appointment to join Findability Sciences India as Executive, Marketing & Research. I was tasked with engaging opportunities for ‘Findability’ in the Indian & US markets. Over the past many months since our call, I’d been learning the ropes from Anand and Rob Matthews. Rob, to whom I’d report, is in my book the most brilliant business development guru and mentor. Between him and Anand, I’d pick up marketing and business development skills that I couldn’t have ever dreamt of picking-up at any b-school’s new fangled MBA program.
The findability idea had excited me since Anand first hinted on it during our maiden call. Connecting structured and unstructured content to reveal insights, so users can actively ‘find’ information they need intuitively. The possibilities were endless, and as we’d soon realize, it would give us the early mover advantage when Big Data captured the imagination of the global market in the years to come.
Over the next few years, I worked closely as part of the leadership team at FS as we went through each startup phase – from an incubator at Hubli, Karnataka, to the fully geared development hub at Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Working with clients across the globe, we helped solve innumerable challenges for higher-ed, nonprofits, publishing, retail, banking, utilities and more. I was enjoying every moment. But when my 29th Birthday came and went, I’d try to visualize the goal I’d set for myself a long time ago.
At a dinner hosted by Anand in Boston, I got to meet Anand’s cousin and Advertising industry torchbearer, Ravi Deshpande. Ravi had just recently shaken the industry with his announcement to step-down from his role as Chairman and Chief Creative Officer at one of India’s most prestigious agencies. Rumors and speculations about his plans were running wild in the press. And yet here I was listening to him lay-out his careful plans to build a new creative agency – one that integrates the strengths of technology (Findability Sciences, Boston), Creative Design (Seenk, Paris) and Talent (Ecole Intuit Lab, Paris, Mumbai & Aix-en-Provence) – and find great talent to craft a new agency that would become ‘Whyness.’
I wasn’t even remotely prepared for what I was offered next, Anand suggested I join Ravi on his journey to form and grow Whyness as it’s Director of Big Data. It was strange really, I knew my deadline was just a few months away, and here I was being presented the opportunity to be part of another groundbreaking startup. In the blink of an eye, I had jumped in and was sailing with each foot firmly planted in both Findability Sciences and Whyness. Challenging? Yes. Unsteady? Never.
In just a few months Ravi and his new team at Whyness set the track ablaze winning creative assignments from iconic brands worldwide. The creative insights our team at Whyness presented to brands left little room for speculation. With Whyness leading the charge, and with close support from FS, Seenk & Ecole Intuit Lab – success was inevitable. I was thrilled to be able to bring my technology, creative and marketing insights into pitch meetings and brainstorming sessions. But, that persistent tugging feeling I’d been feeling in my belly never really went away. Stay hungry, stay foolish?
It all came back to me on a long flight back to Mumbai from Paris with my wife, where I’d been collaborating with Seenk on Big Data ideas. I took a long sip of my drink and turned to talk with my wife – who’s been my faithful co-pilot and navigator for many tough journeys during our 10 years together. By the time our flight touched down in Mumbai, I was convinced I’d have to take the leap of faith now. Couldn’t wait for tomorrow, the temptation to stay was just too strong. So, I called my folks from the terminal and shared my idea, and as they’ve done my whole life, I’d have their love and blessings. Drawing strength from my family, while leaning over the baggage cart, waiting at the carousel, I’d draft the hardest email I’ve written so far – announcing my decision to step out of the FS+Whyness fold, an email I titled – ”Turning a new chapter.”
That was December 2013 and after helping with the transition, I stepped out FS & Whyness in April this year. Now, I’m ready to keep a very old promise I’d made to my 16 year old self. Wish me luck.