It is hard to believe that it has been almost four-years since I left my last regular job and started this little gig. The story since has been one of many false starts, some promising starts and a whole lot of learning and frustration along the way. I quit my job at Network18 towards the fag end of 2008 in a lot of anger, anchored by the rather outlandish idea that, given a chance, I could do everything so much better. And this was to be my chance to do that and set everything right.
Four years down the road, I stand humbled and have become a less-angry and a much-happier person. I guess four-years is where most people give up the dream when they don’t get anywhere. For me, four-years is what it has taken to believe, without any doubt, that this is how I want to live the rest of my life. More importantly, four-years is what it has taken to for me to get a bit of a clue.
I still remember the early meetings with many who mattered in the industry and sitting across the table from them, trying to sell them something. I was not sure what exactly was it that I was trying to sell. It sounded grand, but it made no sense. My personal folders are still littered with product and service ideas, half-done code, architecture diagrams and other plans for world domination.
There were some promising starts too along the way, but they mostly fizzled out. Sometimes, for reasons that had everything to do with me, other times for reasons that had nothing to do with me. Thankfully, a couple of clients who I started with in 2008 stuck it out with me and kept me going. I mostly did technical work, writing well over 20K lines of code to manage a fairly complicated gated private social network. Somewhere along the way, I also managed to keep a few big WordPress MU installations going that were not full of cat pics, but were full of information that is still helping small nondescript organizations and locations around the country to have a digital foothold.
And to think that I am not even a programmer or a sysadmin.
Looking at it by the normal start-up metrics, my four years outside the corporate loop has been an utter failure. The total strength of my little company is well, one, which is me. I never launched a product. I never managed to raise any money. I have done some bit of useful work, but I have done nothing that would be deemed to have created any kind of an impact anywhere.
The truth is that in 2008 I thought I was the cat’s whiskers. As the years rolled on, I realized how little I knew. I could visualize and build out a product, but I knew nothing about running a business, marketing, pricing and a million other things. It is not that these things are incredibly difficult, much like how cycling or walking is pretty easy once you learn how to do it. It was that I did not realize that I did not know most of these things and made the mistake of assuming that being passionate would cover for all such shortcomings of mine.
I’ll be the first to admit that it has been a struggle at times. It is not easy to see your peers who stuck around in the normal corporate world climb up the ladders and do well while you meander along wondering if you should kick your tail back between your legs and sheepishly go back to that world. The temptation to do that was strong at least through most of last year.
On the other hand, these fours years have been the most fruitful of my life. I have travelled a lot (mostly not on work). I have had the time to sit and reflect on things personal and professional and work on myself. I am the healthiest I have ever been in a long time and pretty fit too. I can afford to sit back, take half of the day off and have a pretty flexible schedule, unlike how it would have been in the corporate world. I treasure that more than anything else and would never want to give it up if I can help it.
That said, I also feel that it is time to make a firm commitment and get started on something more substantial than doing just enough to keep going by myself. I have planned similar things many times, but always backed out and never followed it through. Most of this was because I was never sure, till now, about what I really wanted to do. Since I did not have that certainty myself, it did not feel right to pull anyone along on this ride, only to cut them loose a few weeks down the line.
So, I am ending the year letting go of the oldest clients I have had. I love what I created with them (including the warts and all), but I don’t feel that excited by pure-play techincal work anymore. I feel that I can contribute value elsewhere in the ecosystem, mostly in the strategic domain. It is going to be a hard one to crack. Nobody pays you, unless you happen to be a McKinsey, for strategy in India. But I don’t want to die wondering.
This, though, is my personal experience. I would not recommend either doing your own thing or staying in the corporate world. Each has its own benefits and the corresponding downsides attached to it. We all live different lives and realities and have to make choices with only one end in mind – to do exactly what makes us happy. Success, failure, riches and poverty will all come and go, but if you are not happy about what you’re doing in life, what you have with you won’t make an iota of a difference.
So, choose wisely, live well. You can’t go much wrong with that even when you have nothing with you.