After crossing due hurdles, I joined Little Flower College in Hyderabad for my 11th/12th. The principal Brother John was an old mentor from my school days. Religiously met him on the first day. Brother John asked me what my goal in life was. I replied “I hope to join an IIT“. Like his characteristic cane, he whipped back saying “Every fool hopes to join an IIT … don’t hope … do it“. That jolt shook me all the way into an IIT two years later.
Having joined an IIT, it seemed like nirvana was here at last … so I enjoyed the open air theater, the late night canteens, the “gult” gossip clubs and Pink Floyds of that new found heaven. The first two semesters were a wash out … in grades. A visit back home brought me face to face with my mom again … and realized that even Indra reports to her. I proclaimed to my wing mates that I will “hope” to top the class, a congenital “fool” that I am. I over heard on another day one of my friends joking about my claims … and even “doing tapas upside down” won’t help me now. I love him now for that, because I topped (well, almost … except for some GOD like creatures like my friends Basava who can never be touched ever) in my third semester and graduated in the 8.8+ club.
Years later, I started a BPO company in India (iSeva) with a few friends. Among other things I ran technology. Just two years into the venture we got lucky to be short listed by a large credit card company in US looking to outsource. In the early days of the BPO boom if you had an office and already invested in a real telecom switch it was competitive advantage. Anyways, a team of 10-12 experts landed in our small offices. They split into 6-7 sub teams to probe each function of the company. Three of us posted ourselves strategically across various teams. We didn’t even have so many conference rooms … so we put them in offices for the torture sessions that followed. Within 15 minutes it was apparent that our experience ended there … yet they persisted out of decency for 2-3 hours. My colleagues and I braved their questions with all our creative genius. “Why do you have a Nokia Firewall in US and a CheckPoint in India?” one of them asked. We couldn’t say because two different people ordered those, so we said that is part of our “vendor risk mitigation strategy“. “Tell us how you expect to learn about the credit card business in the US?“, another quipped. Pat came our reply, “We trust our clients to teach us their business best“. One of my co-founders said “I feel like crying” in a bio-break. Of course we lost the deal miserably. But, we got a list of 150 questions that we needed to answer to learn in this business. We went on to re-design our networks & processes using those questions … to be of the most well designed and impressive ones to win us deals in future RFP sessions. We also bonded as a team and earned respect from our teams for being brave in leading the carnage from the front. I guess a larger deal that we won a year later, that is now 25-30% of the company’s revenues now would have gone this way if not for that miserable afternoon.
A couple of years later, I was running sales in the US. Having never sold anything, I applied myself to know it all. We got short listed by a large bank for an outsourcing RFP. I personally handled this lead from the first contact they made with us. A list of 30 came down to 15 after killing 2 trees and printing 300 pages of our proposals – we were on it. That came down to 5 after endless calls and meetings – we were on it. I was thinking of how Kapil brought us our only world cup. They now flew to India to meet the team for the proverbial site visit. I promptly reached there and prepped the teams. I was all over this one. Every slide, every sip of coffee and ever other sentence included my words of wisdom. We were still on when the list got cut down to three. This was a dream run, because the other two on the list were the classic 1,000 pound Gorillas of the business. More proposals, more meetings and more brilliance followed. We lost a close second. As I pieced this together over the next 9 months, including feedback from the client and some of my colleagues in the leadership team … I learned that my brilliance blew it. Being a large company looking to outsource, they were scared away by the dominance of one person’s performance in the whole show … casting shadows of doubt on rest of the team … who they felt will really be key to long term success. We needed that deal and I learned one of the harshest lessons of my life … it’s not always about me. Next time in a similar situation I stepped out to let the team on the ground present them selves best … it worked. (Being in the meeting and keeping quiet is something I haven’t learned as yet … so my friend Dave taught me the disappearing to get a cup of tea trick :))
So I thank all the clients, investors, potential employees, employees, colleagues, partners … who rejected me … you make me a better person.
Are you getting rejected enough as an entrepreneur? … if not, you are probably not trying hard enough.
Are you getting dejected by the rejections? … if yes, you are probably not learning enough.
… as some one said it best
… “Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment”