The Journey

Just out of College!

Just out of College!

 

Just out of my MBA in May/June this year, Chetna from Business World wanted me to to pour my story out, something beyond what I’d spoken to any media till then, and this was perhaps the first self – written story of LiL, something straight from the heart!

 

Of course it’s dated now, but it largely takes you through my journey from being a student to an entrepreneurial aspirant. Here’s the first publication on Business World.
“There are two kinds of people who know what they really want to do in life. One, geniuses or the rather lucky ones. The second set of people is fools who don’t really know but are deluding themselves that they do. You’re a normal person, you should allow yourself to make mistakes and learn. What’s the big deal if you do something and it doesn’t work out too well? Would it really matter so much a year or so later?”

If I were to pick my most important lessons from life at my B-school, one would probably be this remark from Prof. Jha, not inside the classroom but in a personal discussion in his office. It eased me out of the dilemma regarding ‘opting out of campus summer placements’. I OOPSed.

CAT 2005… a delightful interview with IIM-C… a fond farewell to four really amazing years of college life… a month at home… and a dreamy and lost pair of eyes landed at the resort-like campus of IIM Calcutta, Joka — as it’s called, in the summer of 2006. It wasn’t too long before I figured that I wasn’t alone in being unsure of what to expect and what I really wanted out of the MBA. There were other lost souls around. The maturing process, however, was rather fast, compared to the freewheeling careless times of college. Soon we were made to realise the importance and the centrality of placements in our life at IIM-C.

The entrepreneurial infection that had started with being a publicity coordinator for IIT’s eCell activities had led me into being fascinated with this interesting way of life. While I skipped placements at IIT, running towards setting up something of my own was a stronger drive than running away from a job.

Opting out of summer placements followed and career wise, life took a somewhat serious turn thereafter. It caused a little drift away from usual campus life as I didn’t get an inside view of one of the most important experiences of a B-school life – the grilling and draining placement process. It also made me an outlier in some ways, as I wasn’t part of the preparation, meeting seniors for practice interviews, iterations of the CV, etc. Involvement with the student eCell continued here as well and my exposure grew even further.
Academics, though not a cakewalk, weren’t particularly difficult either, if one wasn’t particularly competitive about the grades. I quite enjoyed the project work and presentations so it was a comfortable sail, thanks to some good friends.

On the entrepreneurship front, having impatiently discarded one idea after another for over a year, I got stuck with Lifeinlines – an idea of being able to record one’s life, originated in the head of a friend Harpreet, now running his own campus recruitment related startup – cocubes.com. Having been a fond diary writer since I was 15, and lately a hobby street photographer, I had personally been fond of capturing experiences and moments that touched me or made me think and sometimes just reacting to something and venting myself out.

It’s like I was in a fast journey now, there was so much I wanted to capture, perhaps share with some people, so many times I needed to express myself and lifeinlines eventually grew into the perfect answer to all these things.

Work on this venture started in full throttle soon after my internship. There were just three people, one in Delhi, one in Mumbai and I was working out of Kolkata. The fourth term of the MBA just whizzed by as I had kept myself overloaded with courses so that I could have more free time later on. The work gathered steam; development of prototype started, and along with also began the buzz words such as revenue models and marketing plans!

However, two months down the line, it was turning out to be difficult to keep the pace going due to other commitments. Eventually, I lost track with other two partners and LiL took a backseat for a month or so. However, the enthusiasm was still there and the fifth term was rather light as well.

While my summer ‘Oops’ had taken people by surprise, and my senior — also my mentor was aghast. But on the other hand, my friends generally appreciated and respected. Post summers, it had become a usual question if I was applying for the final placements or not. It was a while before I was certain enough to start telling people that I was opting out. Funny thing with start-ups is, you feel like a salesman every waking moment. Anyone asks you about what you are doing and you need to present the whole thing properly. It can get really taxing sometimes, but after a little practice, you start enjoying it.

A new wave of energy flowed into the project after Deepak Daftari, a Kolkata-based entrepreneur running an e-learning company and a head hunting, introduced me to Nirjhareswar Bannerjee, CEO of Apex Division, a Kolkata-based web development company, that became our technical partner to develop the concept and I managed to convince my mother to lend me the initial investment. Now, it was time for long discussion meetings, making sketches and flow diagrams while sitting in the class, taking opinions from wing mates on how a page should look like.

Exposed to what technology could do, and obsessed with simplifying access to this personal diary, we added the capability to accept inputs via e-mails, Gtalk, SMS, and a voice call system – the first of its kind in India, where you can just call a number to record your voice which will be posted to your Web account instantly. Early discussions with potential users made us add multiple layers of privacy and next came multiple media formats beyond text, so the colourful experiences could be recorded thus, in images, videos, audios or MMSs.

To be taken seriously, and to take myself seriously, I registered a private limited company and called it Onelife Knowledge Services. It’s an essentially experimental spirit that’s behind Onelife, a reminder that you only live once so you should do everything that you want to do in this one life, without being too afraid of making mistakes. You don’t want to look back and wish that you had attempted something you wanted to.

It has been quite a journey with Onelife. Though having been drawn towards this project, I was lost in a world of my own and missed out some pleasant parts of MBA life, including missing the adventure trips, parties and poker. I guess I enjoyed every bit of it nevertheless, and I’ve gotten a great deal from my MBA both in terms of the lessons learned and the amazing people I got to know among faculty as well as my colleagues.

As I had decided, we managed to take Lifeinlines.com live on the eve of my convocation! I had to have something to show when I stepped out of the institute with a degree. One great thing happened — Maninder, a senior from IIT, and in a job with ITC for 5 years, agreed to join Onelife full time.

The two years of MBA are described fondly by Jokaites as the best “daze” of our lives, perhaps rightly so. Time just whizzed by. For many, like me, coming without a work experience this is the first step out of college. Marching on with life, it’s been a couple of months now after convocation and while it did feel lonely outside the hostel, I’m now moving on and setting up a base close to my earlier campus, IITB.

I am still learning my lessons in communicating crisply, having goofed up chances to make a pitch to a variety of investors and other prominent people as part of eCell at IIMC. It’s a good thing to talk to a lot of people about your idea. It brings out your own lack of clarity and forces you to think harder. A starry eyed ambitious young mind simply wants to do everything he can see, tries to make a product that’s everything to everyone. Talking to people is a rather good teacher, even if ‘they’ don’t tell you anything. You learn just in the process of speaking up yourself, in verbalizing and crystallizing your thoughts. My learning curve has only begun.

It did feel queer for a while when I would see my friends with pre-placement offers offering them really handsome money, when I would meet my consultant friends travelling in chauffer-driven cars and staying in premium hotels. It did seem tempting for a while, the high-flying life, but it soon settled down.

My folks advised me that I should at least take up a job and have some experience before starting this venture. Of course, the social value of making those big bucks is always luring. However, beyond a point, when they realised that I was adamant, they were fairly supportive.

The way you tend to lose track of your own plans by looking at what is happening in the market is scary. You want to accomplish everything. Then you pause, wake up one fine morning and decide on something new altogether. It’s a roller coaster ride, one positive word from someone takes you high and another trivialising remark throws you off balance. The whole process in a way strengthens you. You end up having to confront your fears, letting belief ride over scepticism.

There’s some amount of randomness in the world and you have to accept it. It would take some amount of glossing over calculations and what seems obvious. Best part is, you know you’re probably being foolish in some ways. But you still continue on the same path. There’s a good chance that you’ll actually be proven wrong, which you need to be prepared for. I’m only on the starting of the path right now, remains to be seen what I prove to be.

Ankur Gattani (23) is the founder and director of OneLife Knowledge Services, which runs the portal lifeinlines.com. Gattani opted out of the final placement at IIM-C in 2008 to start his own company.

OOPS! Yet Again, It is!

After a long period of individually answering people ki ‘Main Finals mein baith raha hoon kya?’, I guess it’s full and final, that it’s OOPS! yet again. I would’ve been thrown out by now I guess, if the place reps noticed that I didn’t submit any CVs for the process in the first place.

It comes now, since I’m COMPLETELY done with all curricular requirements of my diploma, including the last exam, the last class and the last assignment. Funny, I’m still in college, perhaps not yet ready to accept the change that stepping out of college life is going to be, for me!

An oops in undergrads, and then in summers, and now again at the finals, feels funny to have never really worked in a formal situation before and being still not willing to do it. Not that I have anything against jobs, or people who take them up, I somehow never fit that bill.

For this onelife, to experiment a little bit, I’ve given myself the position of Founder and CEO of Onelife Knowledge Services Pvt. Ltd. Fancy name na? So what are we to do with this?

We’ll run the portal called lifeinlines.com integrating multiple input mechanisms to make it simple for anyone to archive LiL moments from his/her life. A fast paced life, 2 years just whizzed by, as the best daze of our lives, but if you were to look back a few years later, would have some photos, videos, and memories that would grow more and more vague with time. Moving ahead in the corporate world, keeping in touch with others, and sometimes even with yourself, is going to turn difficult.

So at lifeinlines, as you live through the million LiL moments, you can express, capture and eternalize your ideas, thoughts, emotions, reactions, memories, pieces of wisdom….. your life as it turns out, using any channel as our website/an email/a gtalk messenger/SMS/MMS/a phone call and all this would build an archive of your life, complete with images, videos, voice narrations, other files and of course text. It comes with multiple privacy levels so you can keep things to yourself or share with whom you want to.

Call it your personal scribblepad, or a mini ‘Dear Diary’ or a Micro-blog. but it’s going to be a lot more than all of these put together.

Now, it’s meant to be a description of what I’m doing, not an advertisement,

Then we got to know that web 2.0 is falling short of content creators and observed that there’s so much knowledge disseminated in dialogues and speeches in so many situations, so we’re trying to build the tech and human interface to bring these two together. So what’ll happen is if you’re speaking at a location, you call our number from your cell phone, record your entire session and this would be archived on the web as an audio file.

We can also arrange for it to be transcribed, edited and published on the web, under your rights, for a share of the revenue it can generate. The aim is to bring high quality tacit knowlege to the public domain. A LOT of such knowledge lies in the minds of people and shall probably be lost forever, since most of them will never get down to blogging, or writing a book or too many articles for whatever reasons of his own. The long tail of demand for quality content on the web, should take care of the costs incurred in this exercise. And then, unlike usual one off interviews in traditional media, we can collect questions for these people on the web, and arrange for monthly telephonic interviews, getting all the questions answered, bringing out a little more of what’s lying unaccessed in the back of their minds.

That’s the internet and mobile side of it. With our personal interests and the observed gap in that space, Onelife would also provide basic level advisory to young startups – associating with legal, accounts, marketing, business planning, branding, strategy….. providing a one stop shop for startup requirements. And this isn’t going to cost a bomb, because we know startups can’t pay. If we feel excited about it and fall for your spirit and business, we might just work for a little equity!

It’s a funny time, at weird moments, you get ideas about making a visiting card with a photo, and at another times, getting laid back and going by the philosophy of Onelife, you define a company policy that the employees won’t work weekends. Might be a foolish idealistic thing for a startup to think, but well, now it’s Company Policy.

Though it might be comforting to know that I’ll be my own boss, it’s even more intimidating for a thoroughly indisciplined soul as me to have to define my own deadlines and stick to them.

But then, it’s a roller coaster.. if I’m to have fun at the highs, shall be prepared for the lows as well!

Cheers!

Wanderer