Travails of an MBA on an Entrepreneurial Journey

For the last 5 years or so it has indeed become a style statement to introduce yourself as the founder of a startup company. It’s like being ‘Sharmaji ka beta’ for the 1st time in your life. However, behind the glitter and glamour associated with the words there is plethora of struggles which we turn a blind eye to, almost always. We completely overlook the statistics of not more than 10% of the startups making it past the first year of founding – and perhaps rightfully so!

When I joined Great Lakes back in Apr 2009, the only goal in my mind was to make that coveted switch over from the run-of-the-mill IT job to the lucrative Investment Banking world (Even the Lehman Brothers fiasco did not deter me). Yet, I had no clue on how to go about it apart from majoring in Finance alongside registering for CFA. My CFA dreams however ended up to be a miserable failure and a waste of money, at least in my case.

If it is winter, can spring be far away? I got lucky and managed to bag a Wealth Management role with a boutique investment banking firm through campus, in-spite of my three and a half years pre-MBA stint in IT with GE and HP. I joined Wealth Advisors India as a research analyst and later made an internal switch to a sales role. The job profile entailed me to meet many HNIs and startup entrepreneurs who just raised seed – A / B / C series capital from VC and PE firms, and advise them on managing the money for cash management, short term and long term corporate treasury investment purposes.

It was perhaps the rub-off effect of meeting such dynamic young start up entrepreneurs, that sooner or later you sit up and think about starting up for yourselves! By early 2014, market place models were in vogue and Flipkart was already in news everywhere, raising equity capital from PE firms at sky rocketing valuations. I have always been passionate about education services and thus I too decided to take the plunge by mid 2014 – proudly announcing to my colleagues about my new startup – ‘MyCareerAllies – Making India employable, one career at a time’.

Everyone applauded; friends whom I have long lost touch with called up and started the conversation (sic) – ‘Kamal he yaar!’ – only to ask the B-Plan, Revenue models and investment details (if any). TVF Pitchers that released in the following few months, really up-ed the style quotient of running a startup. Within the first 6 months, reality slapped me hard on my face – I have not made a single Rupee yet. My savings for the 18 months dwindled significantly in just over 6 months due to overzealous marketing plans, promotions etc.

My bank balance kept coming down, while my cortisol levels kept going up….

I was almost succumbing to depression when I turned to internet for help. That is how I stumbled upon a Facebook post that mentioned about the “feel good” chemical serotonin, that the human body secretes during physical exercises. After a little bit of research, I decided to join a gym with the only intention of relieving the stress. I also joined a plethora or fitness communities and online discussion forums and made a few friends, who later turned out to be my current co-founders!

By Dec 2015, it was clear as a crystal that MyCareerAllies is not going anywhere! For any entrepreneur, their start up is like their kid; the effort and emotional investments one does in their baby is obviously HUGE! It is very difficult to let go of your idea even if it is not making any progress. That is why one important quality of an entrepreneur is to be cognizant of the market forces and be able to take that decision of letting go!

While MyCareerAllies was going nowhere, my family life took a very interesting turn – my wife was expecting!!! However, for me and Priya the initial euphoria fizzed out, when we woke up to the reality of managing the finances with the new responsibilities as a parent. I was back at the Naukri and Monsters of the world for a job and bagged a good break with HSBC London!

Within 4 weeks of quitting the startup stint, I had my HSBC Joining letter by Dec 15 – wanting me to join them by late Jan 2016 and also to fly to London in the subsequent month. My parents were ecstatic – finally hoping to don that hat of primordial ‘Sharmaji’ flaunting about their son. They were after all fed up advising their son and worried (rightfully so) in his decision to leave the job – or rather found it preposterous!

Entrepreneurship is a way of life.. it is about the determination to never give up on the dreams.. thanks to many startup events that I had attended in Bangalore – the song ‘I get knocked down’ by Chumbawamba was almost like my anthem! At the risk of sounding extremely dramatic let me tell you this – I heard this song being played on the TV and thought I should give a second chance to things. Call it an Amygdala Hijack, I immediately spoke with Priya about not taking up HSBC offer and emailed the HSBC HR politely declining the offer…honestly, I did not even think as to how broke I was financially!

MyCareerAllies which was a ‘Curated market place of industry professionals for career advice’ pivoted to a ‘Curated Market place of fitness professional for common man’. Back then, I was already helping a few people in one of the well known Facebook groups related to fitness, to launch as a private limited entity providing fitness services to the common man…from writing B-Plan to devising the platform architecture. It has been a roller coaster ride since then – today,  we are running ‘GetSetGo Fitness’ along with the Facebook friends whom I met online 2 years back!

The Facebook group for GetSetGo Fitness and the page www.getsetgo.fitness has already helped 1000s of individuals overcome their body image complex, lose fat, turn muscular and manage other health related ailments such as diabetes, cholesterol, PCOD. We have helped people like you and me embrace fitness as a lifestyle through proper nutrition and exercise plans. GetSetGo Fitness today also engages with corporates for their Employee Wellness programs.

Last month when an online magazine reached out to us for a cover, we got back thinking – are we successful as yet? That really depends on the definition of success. Financially, all of us are still hugely under paid compared to the plush corporate job we would have otherwise been on. We are yet to own our dream apartment, yet to buy our luxury car or yet to plan an exotic vacation to Europe. Personally, I still get those routine calls from SBI credit cards regarding the late payment reminder – every single month!

Honestly, it is very scary at times – I still dread the thought of not making it big in life. However, one thing that still keeps us going is the immense sense of gratification – in trying something for yourself and making a difference in people’s life by making it better.

When I look back, I thank my friends, associations and learnings at Greatlakes – our Dean Dr. Bala used to say – ‘Network is my Networth’. My biggest learning at Greatlakes has been the Never Give up attitude that it imbibed in me.

I’m not sure if I will succeed; but if I fail, I would have failed my way!

Image Credit: Greatlakes.edu

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