What I learned in the last few months I worked on SaleRaja?

Right from August 2007, when we started SaleRaja, it has been like a baby for me. It was something on which we had great hope. SaleRaja was supposed to be our way out of normal day-to-day jobs. I never thought I would have to work for any other company again at that time, and we even got a promising response in the beginning. But soon, the growth in terms of traffic and registrations began to steady out and it was clear that we would need a lot more funding and resources to scale it up to the next level.

With the recession in 2008-09 and considering our background (having only technical skills and no financial, marketing and sales skills), we struggled to get any funding. There was one remote chance of funding or a tie-up but unfortunately we blew that up. Also, my partners decided to part ways because of impending personal issues like marriage and finances, and there I was, running SaleRaja alone in Dec 2008. I got together with one more guy in the beginning of 2009, then with another girl for sales for 3-4 months, at the same time myself managing my day job at Jivox and coding for SaleRaja in the mornings and evenings.

It was around September 2009 that I was alone again (it didn’t work out as expected with the other two). I was still working day in and day out, doing coding as well as sales calls, but it was beginning to take its strain on me. I was no longer enjoying what I was doing, was getting tired and fatigued easily, and my energy levels started to dip for the first time in many years. The 16 hour work days which used to pass like a breeze started to seem like a self-imposed torture. This continued from September to December 2009. It was during these last few months of 2009 that I started to ponder on questions like –

  • Is this really what I want to be doing?
  • Why am I not enjoying this work now if I used to love it so much earlier?
  • Where am I headed if I continue this way?
  • Is there any other view or picture which I am missing here?
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” - Wayne Dyer

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” - Wayne Dyer

I had jumped into SaleRaja at the age of 23. I also had blind faith in the idea that doing business is not possible after marriage, so this was THE time for me. And I had so much faith in mine and my friend’s abilities that failure never looked an option. I think I got so caught up in these predetermined notions that I tried harder, harder and harder but was unwilling to see the big picture, the picture that there might be something missing from our skill sets, the picture that business can even happen later on in life too, and that these last 2.5 years have taught me a lot even if they have not been as expected.

So what I learned from this experience is that sometimes we get so caught up in our day to day existence that we seldom take time to step back from our daily activities to reflect and observe our life as a whole. It is like we are so much busy in reaching the destination that we don’t even have time to stop for fuel. When we are stressed by situations, we start taking our decisions also in that emotional state. It’s strange how one bad incident can take us off track and get us going in the opposite direction instead. Only if we remember to look things in perspective of our whole life.

Taking time to stop every once in a while and gather our senses is also very important. We have to be calm and make sure we don’t panic. No matter how busy we get, we should always keep some time (a few hours or a whole day) to sit quietly and introspect that we are going in the right direction or not. It will allow us to focus on what we already have rather than what we don’t. Then we can go about calmly making new plans and vision for the future. In this quiet time we can ponder on long term questions like –

  • What all resources do I have now, and what all do I need?
  • What have been the past successes and failures, and lessons from them?
  • What skills, qualities, talents I need and how can I get them?
  • How can I more effectively use what I have right now to get the best results?

Gaining perspective also allows us to be patient and conserve our energies for future riches rather than wasting it on frustrations. It can also prevent us from making a big and costly mistake. Many times we just have to wait before the tide turns in our favor and we can start running again. Sometimes, perspective also makes us aware that we are not going in the right direction, and we might need to take a step or two back before starting again. Like in my case, I realized I didn’t have the resources and skills to pursue SaleRaja. Also, my egoistic view that business can’t happen later in life was getting in the way of making better decisions. It was then I decided to step back and take a break from entrepreneurship, work on to plugging my skill gaps, and then get back to entrepreneurship later on. It was a tough decision back then considering the work I had put on SaleRaja for the last 2.5 years, but necessary, as Steve Jobs remarked in his famous commencement speech, “It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it.”

I am glad I took this time to introspect, and today, 20 months after that decision, I can say I am on the right track, plugging my gaps and will soon be ready to jump into the entrepreneur world once again.

Six years of professional career – A quick recap

18 July 2011. Yes, that’s today. It marks six years of my professional career. In a nutshell, ever since joining InfoEdge at their Noida office six years back, I have been programming to create websites. But it has been a lot more than that. I have made some amazing friends during these six years with whom I have shared some unforgettable moments, learned a lot about coding, business and life from the people I have interacted with and situations I faced. A lot have changed since that hot and sweaty day of 18 Jul 2005 (which I still remember very vividly).

If I look back and try to recap the last six years, I can break them down into six very specific sections / phases / periods which can be associated with some really significant events in my career. Read below to know about these six phases –

First Steps – July 2005 to July 2006

The first year of my professional life was as good as it gets. I did a lot of hard work in office, and made some really good friends. Everyday during these times was so much fun and unforgettable. The leg-pulling, late night parties, the fights, and the do-not-care attitude of some 7-8 of us colleagues made it one of my best years ever. Coding till late in the night, learning new technologies and putting them to innovative use was an added advantage to the fun we were having everyday in office.

Ok, I hope you can sense the 'fun' being part of this team

Ok, I hope you can sense the 'fun' being part of this team

Cloudy Days – Aug 2006 to Aug 2007

The fist disappointment came after a year of work, and it made things bad with a very good friend of mine. The group was divided into two, and both sides tried to irritate the other group as much as possible with their sarcastic comments and mannerisms in office. Although it was all friendly rivalry with no serious hard feelings, it did get tense at times. But as all clouds have a silver lining, Sukip and SaleRaja were born during this period out of the happenings in office. It was not a pleasant year for me in office, but a very important one. And by the end of the year, I patched up with this friend of mine and we were back to normal, fun filled days.

The 99acres team of 2008, at Mashobra

The 99acres team of 2008, at Mashobra

Finding the real me? – Sep 2007 to Oct 2008

If I have to choose one year as the most defining in the last six, it will be this one. It made me discover traits of my personality which I didn’t knew even existed. Managing SaleRaja and leading a team of 14 people, ensuring the co-existence of both work and fun, made me face challenges and respond to them in a way that was to shape my personality. Made another group of great friends during this time, learnt a lot about leadership, and also cleared a lot of pre-conceptions about people and life in general during this time. This phase ended with me making one of the toughest decisions of my life, to leave InfoEdge and the team (and fun) I had for SaleRaja.

My farewell from InfoEdge in Oct 2008, a very emotional moment

My farewell from InfoEdge in Oct 2008, a very emotional moment

SaleRaja – Nov 2008 to Dec 2009

Over to Bangalore. Fully focussed on SaleRaja, I started doing everything, from sales calls to marketing to coding with an aim of making it big with SaleRaja. We worked hard, then harder, and then even harder to squeeze the most out of our time. My days have been 14-16 hour long for some time, but it started to become taxing and tiring by the end of this phase. In Dec 2009 decided it was time to move on, again one of the tough decisions I had to take. But these 14 months in Bangalore taught me a lot about business and life as I was exposed to many startups and the eco-system surrounding startups. Again, I made a lot of good friends and met a lot of good hearted and inspiring people.

The Jivox team in Bangalore

The Jivox team in Bangalore

LOST – Jan 2010 to Jul 2010

There are times when everything was going so well and you take some tough decisions which didn’t work out as well as expected. You left the good for the better but are left with nothing instead. These are the times when you start asking questions like, “Why did this happen?”, “Why did I take that decision?” or “What is happening?”… Let me tell you what is happening.. LIFE IS HAPPENING… Yes… Everything was going well.. and then Life Happened… This phase of my career was a time of doubt, but also of introspection. It made me look for answers to some really tough questions within myself, and it was during this phase that I started reading and writing regularly, which helped me a lot and is a regular practice now.

Rediscovery – Aug 2010 to present

The last year has been an uncertain, uncomfortable and a bumpy journey. But this journey has taken me through peaks and sights that are unforgettable. I have faced fear right in the eye and done things regularly which I was afraid of earlier, and regularly at that. And needless to say, I have grown as an individual the most in this last year, and done some crazy stuff which I could not have dreamt of a few years earlier. I am having the best time of my life now, where every day seems better than the previous one, where I enjoy every day of the week be it a Monday or Friday and I am doing so much that my days feel like having 36 hours 😉

In reflection, whatever has happened in the last six years has made me what I am today. All the good stuff was certainly memorable, but all the not so good times were also blessings in disguise. The sooner we realize that the cloudy days are as much a part of life as the sunny ones, we can stop getting hurt from life’s beatings and instead use them to grow stronger and wiser. In the future too, I hope to be strong enough to get hammered, because I know I will get hammered into new and interesting shapes.

How letting go of SaleRaja could be one of my best decisions ever?

It was December 2009, and although I was still working on SaleRaja, it was now more as a burden than for interest. I was stumbling in the timelines for feature changes that I had set myself, my enthusiasm was low and I was unsure about what the future had in store for me and SaleRaja. Finally, after managing SaleRaja alone for the whole of 2009, I decided to let it go and focus on my career through a job. That means I was soon looking for a job when at one time I thought that I would not have to find another job ever. My motivation levels were at an all-time low, and I was confused and unsure about what next?

But I decided to take a break from entrepreneurship, focus on my career through a normal job, and come back to entrepreneurship some years later. It was not an easy decision, and it took me around six months of consideration to finally stop running SaleRaja as a business. Looking back now, 16 months after that decision, I can laugh over those uncertain times and say that it might be one of the best decisions I ever took. The first few months were tough, as I was confused, low on confidence and struggling to find a direction in life. But after that, and till now, the going has been wonderful. I have done things in the last one year that I never thought I could, and would do, ever. I am listing below everything for which I am really grateful in this past year.

Started sumit4all.com
I had always been good at writing, but used my writing skills only when writing letters, emails, or when somebody asked my help with it. Hence, in January 2010, I started sumit4all.com as a blog where I would write about different things I feel about, my experiences, my life, etc. I could only do so because I was free and there were no SaleRaja deadlines to follow. It was not easy at first, and I was not able to write more than one post per week. Writing was like a pain in the ass and I had to put in a lot of concentration, patience and effort to research about a topic and write an article. But slowly and steadily, I started enjoying writing and I am writing around 15 articles every month now. Many of my articles have been well received and been shared a lot through social media like facebook, twitter, etc. Now I have plans of writing and getting a book published in 5 years.

Reading Books
I started reading books during the last few months of 2009 when I was struggling with SaleRaja, but I made it regular only after Jan 2010. I started reading two books every month and have been following this practice till now. I have read autobiographies, self help books, and a few business and fiction books too. These books have allowed me to take a peek into the stories of so many men and women, and the perspective of life I got after that have been amazing. I have a small, but good library now and have a lot of books in my to-read list.

A screenshot from SaleRaja.com

A screenshot from SaleRaja.com

Landmark Education
Right after SaleRaja, I was looking for some kind of education to fill in the gaps in my skills which I had found during my stint with SaleRaja. I looked at MBA options, some short time courses done by IIMs and other B-schools, but nothing interested me. I started finding groups online related to business, entrepreneurship and started meeting like minded people in Bangalore, but that also didn’t sustain. Then I enrolled myself in the various programs of Landmark Education since July 2010, and am continuing this education even now. This could not have come at a better time for me. It has helped me get my confidence to a new level and clear a lot of doubts about life. Also, I met a lot of people through Landmark Education who are very successful and leading wonderful lives, providing inspiration and support. I can without doubt say this last seven-eight months of Landmark has been the best education of my life. It is ironical how we keep studying about specific skills / courses but never study anything about life and living in general.

Joined Yahoo
Yahoo, Google and a few more are the dream companies of many people. I was open to both startups and big companies when I started looking for a job again, and found myself in Yahoo in March 2010. Having spent the last one year here, it has given me my first experience of working in a multinational company. Dealing with different people and teams from Singapore, Brazil, Europe and US over the last year has given me much needed exposure about how work happens across continents, cultures and languages. In the future too, I am sure there is a lot I can gain from Yahoo and working here.

Waste Management Activities
In September 2010, I got intrigued by the idea of waste management and thought of a business idea around it. Since starting a new business was out of question, I got involved in waste management related activities in Bangalore to know more about its details. I took an initiative to implement waste management in apartments starting November 2011 and have got a decent response from that. I have met a lot of people who are already working in this area and am totally amazed by their energy levels. They have been a great inspiration about how to to live life responsibly. It also gave me the confidence to take new initiatives in any area, irrespective of my skills and knowledge in that area.

Dandi March 2
In March 2011, I got a chance to organize an anti-corruption walk in Bangalore. In less than three weeks, I put together a team and on 26 March, over 400 people walked over 11km under 4 hours to make this walk a huge success. These three weeks were one of the best of my life, with all my learnings in the past year put to test. I got confidence like never before after this event, and the Anna Hazare magic caught the attention of the whole nation soon after that. It was during this time only that some articles written by me attracted huge traffic from google as people searched for anti-corruption keywords on the internet. The success of this walk is the reason nothing seems impossible now to me.

What Next?
Although I have gained a lot in the last one year, I very clearly see a long journey ahead with lots to learn and do. I am in the most calm and peaceful state of mind that I have ever been, and with confidence that I can take on anything now. It has not been all uphill too in the last year, and I have tasted some setbacks too, but I have surprised myself with how well I have handled myself during these breakdowns. I have taken the lessons from the mistakes I have committed without getting frustrated and upset, and moved on to newer things. For the remaining of 2011, I have atleast two more initiatives lined up in the social space, so watch out in the coming weeks for more updates 🙂

Update – Pick a Fight was born soon after I wrote this post

10 Things I am glad I had done (or do) in my life

Below are the 10 things that I had done, or do in my life which I am really glad for. I am not saying I am perfect at these things, but I am getting better every passing day, and that is what matters. Read on…

1. Accepting mistakes of others
We all are human beings, and we do make mistakes. As important it is to accept our own mistakes, it is also important to accept others mistakes too. Anybody who does not make a mistake does not exist at all. So it is only wise to see other’s mistakes as just natural and move on with life. It has made my life much more joyful and easy whenever I have not passed my judgement on someone due to a past mistake. And it has helped whenever I treat a person positively irrespective of past experiences. Do to others what you expect them to do with you!

2. Build and maintain self-discipline
Before trying to manage others or to make a difference in the world, it is very important that we are able to manage ourselves. Whether deciding how much (and what) to eat, how much to party, or when to get up in the morning are all acts of self-discipline. If you want to get up early in the morning, you can’t delay sleeping in the night. It is as simple as that. It just boils down to resisting the temptation of that late night show on TV, or a few drinks with friends which will run late into the night. No doubt socialising with friends is important, but sometimes you need to learn to say “NO” (which is not easy, believe me) to focus on other important things which you have decided. Either you don’t decide to do a task (like morning exercise), but if you do decide, then self-discipline decides whether you do it or not.

3. Started this blog
Putting your thoughts to pen and paper (or keyboard and laptop) has helped me a lot. We all are social creatures, and discuss about sports, politics, religion, etc whenever we meet or talk. By putting my thoughts / views in writing, I really know what my thoughts are, and others can also come up and comment / participate in the discussion, regardless of geographical limitations. Apart from this, my writing skills has improved, and now I have new dream. A Dream of Writing a Book someday.

4. Running SaleRaja for 2.5 years
Starting a business of your own can help see the world as it is, free from the illusions which we don’t know (or choose to ignore) in our lives. In my experience of over 2.5 years of running SaleRaja, which were not very successful in terms of revenues and profits, but the learnings have been immense. It has made me even more resolved to come back to entrepreneurship, but now better prepared. Anyways, I only have one life and I don’t take it too seriously. I don’t want to save anything for my next life and want to experience everything in this life itself!! So, anybody looking for fun and adventure, I would surely recommend starting a business of your own, at least once in your lifetime.

5. Learning French
For those who don’t know, I know a little bit of French. I learned it for 18 months at the L’AF Delhi, and totally by accident. But I got more than I expected. Interacting with people from different backgrounds made my outlook towards life much more mature. There were businessmen, students, police officers, housewives and professionals in my batch, all learning about French and France. And learning a language is a channel to discover new worlds and improve your life skills. Moreover, learning a new language is always a challenge, and challenges and I go together.

6. Reading Books
Having started reading books regularly only in Jan 2010 (after college), I can say it is changing my views and thoughts on a lot of things. I would like to put an hour of reading daily an activity as important it is to exercise daily. Reading a book (I mostly read self-help, autobiographies, and business books) is like viewing a life from somebody else’s eyes. It gives you a perspective about life and people from another person’s point of view. I am going to continue with this habit forever, and in some 3-4 years, I am going to have my own library with a good collection of books.

7. Making my own rules
Most of the people live their life according to what is the norm, what everybody else is doing. It is assumed that you need to follow the so called rules, or “conventions” to get what you desire, be it your job, family or whatever it you may be wanting. But I beg to differ. Who says that I have to do what everybody else does? Intact, if I know the outcome of a task I am doing, what is the fun in doing it. I only have one life and I don’t want to live it the way other people want me to. I might encounter some failures or setbacks along the way, but that be it. The fun of not knowing where you are going only can get you what you normally can’t get. That is why I studied computers too much during my school days that other subjects suffered. That is why I started SaleRaja… And read “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Ryand if you need more.

8. Helping others
Helping other people, either those for whom I am responsible for, or somebody a total stranger, has always given me so much satisfaction that has never been matched by doing something for myself. I totally experienced a different kind of satisfaction (like I have never experienced before) when I was leading the 99acres team in Noida. It was a responsibility which I didn’t took seriously when I started, but it showed me shades of my character even I wasn’t aware of. Helping / Mentoring a new bunch of engineers right out of college changed me as a professional, and as a human being. I feel more connected with myself after that experience. I don’t think if there is a better feeling than knowing that somebody is smiling or sleeping peacefully because of you.

9. Moving to Bangalore
Bangalore has taught me a lot. In fact, I think moving to any new city will give some experiences and learning that can’t be attained otherwise. You get to interact with new people of different culture and language. A lot of my misconceptions of how things happen in life have cleared after moving to Bangalore. New places to travel and explore also add to your to-do list after relocating to a new city. In Bangalore, I have come to believe that honesty and integrity still exist in this world and you don’t have to be cruel or selfish to survive. It is often said that judge a society by how it treats its weaker sections. How the locals in Bangalore treat and respect women and elders is totally heart warming. I want to wander along the globe, moving to a new city every few years and keep on learning to be a better human being. Bangalore, your time is getting over soon 😉

10. Living in today
“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is because they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.” Most people are either worried about their past or the future, missing the present in the process. It is important to understand that we can’t change anything what has happened in the past. Neither can we second guess the future. At best, we can make a plan and work for the best outcome. But if it does not, it is wise to learn the lessons from failures and move on. Love life. Love yourself. Living for today while having fun and making everybody involved in your life happier is what should be our goal for the day. Watch the movie “The Groundhog Day” to realize how we should live our lives. We all have only 24 hours in a day, and it is important to make them count.

Friends as Business Partners

The 3 of us in school in 2001

The 3 of us during school in 2001

I am a big fan of quotes and one liners, but it took me experience to believe in the truth of this quote by John D. Rockefeller – “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship“. Now I can verify that. I started SaleRaja with 2 of my closest buddies from school whom I have known for over 10 years. It looked like a perfect match then, but I was to realize later that while it is important to have somebody trustworthy as your partner, friendships often carry other baggage which can create problems, particularly when the business is in trouble or growing well.

We ended up parting ways soon, as our vision for our personal future and the future for SaleRaja did not align. It was a perfect case of both sides being right but the situation being wrong. We were the right people in the wrong place. We did not share the same vision for the business. We always thought that since we were so good friends, we would always find a mutually agreeable path in case of conflicts.

We could not have been more wrong. There were times we ended up accepting what the other said as a “friendship compromise“, and not as a “business decision“. And then there were the tough times, when we decided to part ways. We are still friends, but it is, and will never be, the same. Now if I see friends who want to start a business together, I say to them that they have to be prepared for the fact that their friendship might not be the same in a couple of years time.

I think you need to friends with your partners to run a successful business. It is a necessary condition in my opinion, but not sufficient in itself. Having said that, there are always examples of friends running successful businesses. It is important to emphasize on the balance between business and friendship. Friends should always communicate in all matters, even if they feel that as friends, there can’t be a conflict between them. They should decide specific roles for themselves, see whether they compliment each other in the skills needed to run the business, and most importantly they should know when to switch on and off being friends and business partners.

What about me? Will I again start a business? Certainly YES 🙂 But will I start a business again with friends. I am not saying a complete NO here, but I will evaluate a lot more before jumping in this time. Some of the points where founding partners of any business needs to be aligned are –
• Do they share the same values and how do you expect them to play in day-to-day business activities?
• Do they share the same vision for the business?
• Are your work habits and work ethics in line to co-exist?
• How much money will you put into the business and how much do you expect to get out of it?
• What Roles will each of you play in the company? Who will be the CEO/Leader?
• What if one of you gets married and decide to move away?
• How will you treat your employees, customers, investors, etc?

There are certainly other question you need to ask apart from those listed above. But the most important question I would ask myself would be – Am I ready to accept the fact that this person might not be my friend in another couple of years? If the answer is NO, I will know what to do. In his book “The Greatness Guide”, Robin Sharma has rightly pointed out that at your funeral, you don’t see you business partners crying, it is your friends and family who will cry over your grave. A Point Well Made!!