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!
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.
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.