Today is Indian Independence Day, and so the idea of this post is to recap my experience over last 6 months when I gained my independence – moving from working for others to working for myself. It is a long story but I will try to keep it short. Anyone interested in the details behind the points should feel free to contact me. I hope this post nudges a few of you forward, in putting that last ounce of doubt away and become independentJ.
Even though there are many risks in being independent, they essentially boil down to 3 questions:
- Do I have enough saving to last 12 months without any earning?
- Do I believe passionately in the idea that I want to pursue?
- Will I learn more than my peers even when I fail in my ‘independence’ march?
If the answer to all these 3 questions is yes, you will be fine in your quest for independence, and you should just go for it. Preparing for this ‘independence’ is really about getting from ALL NO to ALL YES on these questions.
#1 was about understanding the cost of living in Delhi for 12 months for 4 of us, in a comfortable but non-affluent way. It was also about getting agreement from my wife and my extended family about the lifestyle we will have in India. 2 biggest cost bucket were rent and tuition fees.
#2 was tricky. Even though I knew I wanted to be in the area of career management, I hadn’t clearly articulated the business ideas in the space, so it was initially hard to honestly say to myself I was passionately believing in it. I had to spend lots of time writing out various business ideas, discuss with a few friends, create lots of PPTs and word documents to explain to myself what I will do when I go to India, before I could reach a stage where I could convince myself that this is worth taking a chance.
#3 required more clarity, which I got when I did #2. It was clear that whatever I try, it will always be with people. Also, I decided to focus on technology professionals and companies to start with to stay close to my domain. The skills I would learn would always be useful as a people’s manager in IT industry. This gave me the confidence that my learning will be applicable even when I had to come back to look for a job, and given that I would be working with IT companies and employees, I will always be abreast of the industry trends. This was enough for me to decide that the answer is yes for this question.
It was time to move to execution phase.
We left US on Feb 21st, 2012; I resigned from Microsoft and landed in Delhi, with no job, and a rough idea of a plan. Here is the plan I came up with:
- Spend first few months meeting as many people in my network of friends as possible
- Stay open for any kind of opportunities or conversations I am offered
- Try 3-4 ideas I had (and maybe ideas I didn’t have) and see which one sticks.
- After a few months, start closing this ‘open to everything’ phase and start getting deep into 1-2 promising areas
- Use 2012 as the time to experiment and learn what works and what doesn’t. Use 2013 to build upon the learning to create a business, or wrap up this experiment and come back to employment rat race.
One of the key pieces of the plan was also to pick a consulting/part-time assignment that gives some cash flow. For me, this was to get a visiting faculty position in one of the colleges nearby.
I started by meeting my close friends who had stayed in the region while I had travelled all around, and got to know their office network. Lots of meetings followed, and many interesting things were discussed. I was happy doing them because I was learning about so many interesting things, even though they weren’t very connected with each other (at least it wasn’t apparent that time). A few months down the line, one of these meetings happened to be with the founder of Sunstone Business School who is also IIT D alumni, and it resulted in a consulting assignment that I am doing right now. I think this was one of the most fortuitous thing that happened to me, and you can call it chance, but then my steps 1-2 were setting me for such a chance encounter to happen. Sunstone is great because it not only gives me a cash flow (albeit limited), it also lets me work with the same set of people I would have worked through my own business ideas. Such complementarity wasn’t planned of course, but it is good that it happened.
Similar ‘chance’ encounters resulted in couple other things I am involved with right now: I am helping a few friends to launch an online retail store, and helping another friend launch an Online Retail Knowledge Hub. These are helping me learn a lot about Indian e-commerce scene, and also leverage my passion of writing. And of course, I am spending time to create my online presence which will be launched on Sep 1!
It is remarkable how things seem to fall into place when you are open for everything! Currently, I do lots of fun things and I get to do what I like to do (working with people, discussing interesting problems, writing), and very happy. Of course, it also depends on perspective: if I calculate using salary I would have earned, I have lost about ~40K because I am not working; enough ground to be sad and scared J.
If I look back on last 6 months, here are a few lessons learned:
- Stay curious: Never say no to a meeting that sounds remotely interesting
- Spouse Support: Get your spouse’s blessing, otherwise you will fail miserably. I am doing absolutely minimum to help her raise 2 kids and manage the household and I keep meeting these random people at random hours, but she doesn’t show her displeasure one bit! This gives me the confidence to explore unchartered territories and be available to everyone.
- Keep family happy: Keep your family in loop, otherwise family pressure can disorient you – my parents stopped pushing me to get a ‘real job’ after I picked Sunstone engagement (even though it was only 25% of my time).
- Connecting Dots: . Even though random meetings are important to do, it is always good to process everything that is going on and see how they might make sense. I picked the 2 ecommerce gigs only because they were connected and leveraged my prior experience/strengths, otherwise it would have been hard to manage them effectively.
- Survival Skill #1: Be disciplined. It was extremely hard to stay at home and work on my stuff while kids are playing around and wanting to engage me. The way I learned to discipline myself was to set tight deadlines for myself and then make sure I meet them. This was hard initially, but once I had a tight (and real) deadline to meet (my web site developer screwed up at the last minute, and I had to build my site on my own!), and that created the momentum.
- Survival Skill #2: Multitasking. I used to think I am good at multitasking because I could handle multiple issues at workplace. When I started here, I realized it was much easier to multi-task when there was an underlying commonality across tasks (same company/group). Here, it was very hard to prioritize and multi-task: how do you prioritize a Sunstone student resume review against an ecommerce vendor RFP response review? I am now more comfortable multi-tasking across diverse areas of interests, and it is a great skill to possess.
Overall, I think this experience has been amazing so far. Even if this adventure doesn’t end in a success, my learning and experiences so far make this ‘unemployment’ worth every opportunity penny I might have lost!
Next 6 months are the key test of whether this will result in a some kind of success or not. Stay tuned for more updates on this front!