The story of my life – Sandeep Gupta
Have you ever been treated unfairly? Have you ever been insulted in public? Can just one disturbing incident change your life forever in just 5 minutes?
The tussle: I come from a Delhi-based family of Civil Servants. My mother worked in the Ministry of External Affairs (English Literature background) and my father worked in the Ministry of Finance (Commerce background). Curiously enough, my family epitomized a very modern lifestyle coupled with an equally regressive outlook towards life—truckloads of ill-gotten money, luxury brands, foreign trips, club-memberships, insistence on the right knife & fork, impeccable social-standing, swank house (felt more like a prison), farmhouse-parties, an army of domestic servants, imported cars … the lot. All that life meant to them was ‘beating others’ in the social pecking-order. But they were stuck in a time-warp when it came to having different or unique opinions. They found even laughing at themselves scandalous. I am sure that, throughout their working lives, my parents never consciously thought about having a positive impact on even one person. They were just mouthpieces of the government and the society around them. I never found them having any original or fresh ideas. Among their peer group, meeting one person was the same as meeting all of them. No one had any fresh perspectives on life. Consequently, life was extremely boring during my early years. Perhaps this explains why (throughout my life) I have always craved the company of people who were unique in some way: passionate, rebellious, liberated, witty, iconoclastic, defiant, politically-incorrect, controversial, free-willed … the lot.I was always fascinated by the unknown because the known was really boring. I just wanted to break free from the prison. But the more I tried to speak to people, the more ‘stuck’ I found them.
The turning point of my life: I was born on 28th June, 1974. In my family, right from an early age, ‘reading’ and ‘speaking’ were encouraged. In 1984, when I was in my 5th Std., I got my first opportunity to speak on stage. It was for the school’s annual day. My parents were really excited. We (children) were to stage a small play based on a story of human, spirit, and tiger. I was chosen as the narrator as I had a clear voice. Our Arts (Drawing, Dramatics, and Fine Arts) teacher Mr. Satinder Bhatti prepared us for 2 weeks.
At about 40, Mr. Bhatti, a tall and slender man, had an impeccable sartorial elegance (looked quite like Navjot Singh Sidhu). He was a perfectionist. He would lose his temper even while dealing with ten-year-olds who didn’t even know what performing on stage actually meant. Oddly enough, I had been a victim of his slapping many times in the past. He put us through a grinding two-week practice. He relented only when he was doubly sure that there would be no screw-ups on stage. (?)
Finally the day arrived – 3rd Feb 1984 – the day I won’t ever forget all my life. We all reached backstage and were anxiously waiting. Ours was the third group. I tried to peek at the audience of more than 500 people from behind the stage. It looked huge – jam-packed with people – parents, teachers, the school principal, and the chief guest.
If you had been sitting in the audience, you would have witnessed something that you would have never forgotten all your life. At our turn, the compère announced: “Please welcome 5th C with their brilliant play.” The audience gave us kids a huge round of applause. As the narrator, I had to start.
I started: “Good afternoon to all of you.” Just at this very moment, there was a sound of an electrical fault: I heard a ‘booommm’ sound and saw some sparks on the background wall. Suddenly my mind was off the script. I blanked out. Completely! The entire auditorium went “SHHHHHHH!!!” And then the crowd went into a whispering mode.
Mr. Bhatti came up on stage, looked down at me with threatening gestures and blurted: “SPEAK!!!” Suddenly he snatched the mike from my hand and told the audience, “I apologize for this. We will start in just a minute.”
He started shouting: “SPEAK!!!! What are you waiting for?”
When I couldn’t recollect my lines, he started:
“It is useless to teach you. You can’t remember even four lines. My dog is better than you. He can learn in one shot.”
Suddenly, in front of 500+ people, he went into an overdrive of abuses in Hindi and Punjabi. I looked up, staring at him in disbelief.
Again he went: “Kya, ghoor kya raha hai?” He pushed me away and I fell on stage.
“Never come on stage in your lifetime. Zindagi mein bhool se bhi kabhi apna muh mat kholna.”
I had failed in my first-ever public appearance – in front of 500+ students, parents, teachers, and the chief guest.
But to me, failure didn’t mean anything. What got to me was the insult. He had insulted me in front of 500+ people.
I was ANGRY! And I was HURT!
The insult was so intense that all I wanted to do was prove Mr. Bhatti wrong. But, strangely, I was torn between two absolutely conflicting emotions: the intense desire to speak on stage again versus the fear of failing again. Except for my parents and BD (following his request, I am not at liberty to disclose the name of this gentleman), I barely remember speaking to anyone at all. For seven years, I didn’t go to school. Deep inside, the desire to prove Mr. Bhatti wrong still kept simmering from time to time but the FEAR kept on winning.
As they say, “everything happens for a reason” and “you can connect the dots only looking backwards” … today I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced such an incident early in life.
At that moment, the chief guest Mr. BD (coincidentally, he was a junior colleague / a friend of my father) stood up and went on stage. He said, “This was a barbaric treatment. Teachers are supposed to encourage students. I promise you Mr. Bhatti. I know this this boy and his family. This boy will come back and speak better than any of your students. I will train him personally and show you. From today, he is going to be my student.”
Seething within, Mr. Bhatti left the stage without saying anything.
My father went up to the principal furiously (he has always been hot-tempered) and shouted:
“Mujhe Bhatti chahiye!!! Abhi!!! Main uska sar fod doonga!!! Bhale hi mujhe jail ho jaaye!!!”
The principal went up on stage and apologized for the unfortunate incident. The event was called off.
I ran to my parents and all I kept on saying was: “I won’t ever go to school. Teachers are bad people.”
My exams were approaching. With great reluctance, I wrote the exams. During that time, BD came to our house frequently. He convinced my parents that I needed to divert my attention. My parents trusted BD blindly.
After the exams, once summer vacations started, BD took me to his place for 2 weeks. He took me to movies / superstores (Nanz) / libraries etc. He asked me to forget it all. I would promise: “YES. I won’t ever talk about it.” And after 10 minutes, I would again ask innocently: “Will Dad really kill Mr. Bhatti and go to jail?”
BD told me a story about how he had been ditched by his girlfriend and how he had spent many months of his life totally devastated. He had become totally negative, filled with hatred for the girl. Finally he read an article by Shakti Gawain, which had a line: “Nobody ever died of a snake-bite. People die of venom.” This statement had such a profound impact on him that he forgave the girl and, since that day, had achieved remarkable successes in life. He tried to explain the same to me. It was not Mr. Bhatti’s words but the hatred for the man that was killing me. He wanted me to read that article, so he took me to a library where he had spent many years reading and preparing some of his best works. He told me: “Whenever I am in Delhi, I spend at least 4 hours each day in this library.”
My parents thought that this phase would pass and that I would soon forget all about the incident. But I was clear: “I won’t go to school.” I liked BD’s company so much (ironically, he was 29 and I was 10) that I wanted to meet him daily. BD developed in me the habit of reading to obsessional levels. Every evening he would tell me the book I was supposed to read the next day, give me the summary of the book beforehand, and pique my curiosity to the level that I couldn’t wait to get started with the book. My driver would drop me off at the library at 11 am. Each day, I would read the book that BD had asked me to, and, when he would arrive in the evening, he would give me more wisdom about the same book. He would fill all the learning gaps and suggest the next book. Three months of summer vacation were spent like this.
One thing that no other person could have taught me: the ability to connect the dots. I will give you one example to explain how he gave me this ability. Initially just to divert my attention, BD took me to some movies, superstores, and libraries. During one such visit to Nanz Superstores in Greater Kailash–I, he picked up a Nestlé chocolate and this is how the conversation went:
BD: “What is this?”
Me: “A chocolate.”
BD: “Tell me more.”
Me: “Nestlé is quite yummy. My favorite.”
Me: “I don’t know.”
BD: “Read the wrapper fully. What do you find?”
BD: “I asked you something.”
BD: “Which country is it from?”
Me: “I am not sure.”
BD: “It is given on the wrapper?”
Me: “Oh yes! Switzerland.”
BD: “What do you know about Switzerland?”
Me: “Ya! You told me that Silsila (the movie that we had watched a few days ago) was shot there.”
BD: “(almost pulling his hair) What else do you know about it?”
BD: “Where is Switzerland?”
Me: “I don’t know. But I don’t think it is in India.”
BD: “It is in Western Europe.”
BD: (fuming) “I expect a question.”
Me: “What question?”
BD: (shouting) “I said, ‘Western Europe.’”
BD: “If I say ‘Western Europe’, how is it possible that the question ‘Western!? So there must be something called Eastern Europe, otherwise why give it the name ‘Western’? not come to your mind? Where is your focus?”
Me: “I never thought of it.”
BD: “There is a big division in the world these days because of this. You have to know this.”
BD: “This is not a physical division but an ideological division. The world is ideologically divided into two parts.”
Me: “What is ideological?”
BD: “Based on belief, thought, idea. Not based on borders. See! You live in the same house but you don’t like some things your parents say, right? So it is not a physical division, but an ideological one. Imagine you have a brother and a sister. If your sister supports your stand if your brother sides with your parents, it will not create any physical divide but an ideological one. The world calls it the Cold War.”
Me: “So who are the two sides here?”
BD gave me the most fascinating account of the entire history of the last 70 years (from 1914 to 1984), WW-I, WW-II, The League Of Nations, The Treaty of Versailles, Hitler’s rise to power, The Bipolar World, The Division of Germany, The Berlin Wall, The Cold War, The Formation of UN, Communism, Capitalism, The Russian Revolution, The Formation of China & Taiwan, The Formation of Israel, Arab-Israel conflict, the Iron Curtain, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Afghanistan Crisis, US versus USSR, the Arms Race, The Yom-Kippur War, The Oil Shocks of 1973 and 1979, OPEC and its role … PLUS … at least a hundred more such stories.
Which other teacher in the world can connect a Nestlé wrapper to such a fascinating account of World History?
Just to give you one more example of what a great mentor can do to you:
Another day, he picked up a Coca Cola bottle (it used to be an imported product then), he asked me similar questions.
BD: “What is this?”
Me: “Coca Cola! Should I read the bottle fully?”
Me: “Atlanta, GA. What’s GA?”
BD: “It is Georgia.”
Me: “Oh! The country near Russia you told me about?”
BD: “No! This Georgia is different.”
Me: “You mean there are two Georgias?”
BD: “YES! This one is in the US.”
Me: “How can two places have the same name? If I say, I am going to Georgia, how will you know which one?”
BD: (big grin on his face) “You have a lot to learn. OK! What else do you know about Coca Cola?”
Me: “It is good but thoda teekha hota hai.”
BD: “I mean the Coca Cola Company.”
Me: “I wonder know what they put in this drink.”
BD: “It is the biggest brand in the world.”
Me: “What is a brand?”
BD: “OK! If I ask you about butter, what comes to your mind?”
Me: “Amul. I love paranthas with it.”
BD: “Exacly! So Amul is a brand. It is a big brand because it comes to your mind first when you think of butter.”
Me: “So, ‘brand’ means ‘famous’?”
BD: Not exacly! But, in a way, you can say so.”
Me: “So Coca Cola is so famous?”
BD: “Yes! It is sold in more than 100 countries around the world, and the symbol of ‘Coca Cola’ is the most recognized word in the English Language. Even when Russia and America are enemies, Coca Cola is sold inside the Russian Parliament.” “That’s why the Coca Cola logo is considered the symbol of the victory of capitalism around the world.”
Me: “REALLY! How did it become so big?”
BD: “The power of Positioning.”
Then BD gave me the entire history of Coca Cola’s success. How a small pharmaceutical brand that used to contain cocaine earlier (started about a hundred years ago) went on to become a massive brand fascinated me no end. He told three things that amuse me even till date:
1. The fact that the design of the Coca Cola bottle was inspired by a woman’s skirt. Its 1930 campaign: “As you drink, it goes down.” was considered sheer genius.
2. The fact that there is nothing secret about the Coke formula but company has always publicized it so. It says that Coca Cola has a secret magic formula that is closed in two parts of Trust Bank’s locker in the US. The two top executives of the company know only half the formula each. That’s why they don’t travel together on the same plane. (All this is a myth created by the company).
3. The fact that how Coca Cola was made the official free drink of all American soldiers during the Second World War, an action that resulted in making the company truly global. It had to open bottling plants wherever the American army went, especially all over Europe, automatically making the brand truly global. He also told me about how American soldiers (who were the winners of the war) got a celebrity status in the US in the 1940s. As they drank Coke (because they had been addicted to this “free” drink); and as the people in the US wanted to emulate their war heroes, they also started drinking Coca Cola as a symbol of victory. This is how sugared water was positioned to become the number one brand in the world.
BD used to tell me dozens of such stories every day.
Why would you want to go to the boring school after such fascinating lessons?
Once July approached, my parents raised the issue of school again. And I threw the same lines: “No school! No teachers!” I held my ground. “Even if you kill me, I won’t go to school.”
BD explained to my parents: “Let him take his time. For the time being, enroll him in a school where attendance is not compulsory. Give me six months. I will fix the issue.”
Finally, my parents enrolled me in a school called Balwant Rai Mehta School at Masjid Moth in Greater Kailash–II. To them this was the biggest anticlimax – my elder sister studied in an International School and I was enrolled in this shady school, which didn’t even bother about attendance.
The strangest thing: BD secretly admired me for having stood my ground in front of my parents. To me, this was quite SHOCKING. He showed me two quotes from Vivekananda:
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life—think of it, dream of it, and live that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, and every part of your body be full of that idea and just leave every other idea alone. Consult your heart, not others, and then follow its dictates. Let it be so great, so strong, that there may be nothing else left in the mind; no place for anything else, no time for anything else. Whenever we attain a higher vision, the lower vision disappears of itself. This is the way to success.”
This quote sums up passion, focus, perseverance, excellence, vision, mission, purpose, and boldness.
“Each great work has to pass through three stages—ridicule, opposition, and then acceptance. Those who think ahead of their time are sure to be misunderstood. Have you got the will to surmount mountain-high obstructions? If the whole world stands against you—sword in hand—would you still dare to do what you think is right?”
This quote sums up REBELLION – fearlessness – the readiness to change the world.
As an example, he told me the story of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He asked me: “When that man (almost 200 years ago) could stand against the entire world for championing causes as rebellious as abolition of the Sati system, idol worship, child marriage, caste system etc., you can surely do exactly what your heart says is correct. Rebellion is the name of the game. Not going to school doesn’t mean a bad life. Face your parents (and the whole world) with the utmost rebellion if you think what you are doing is right. NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, always follow your heart.”
Nothing could have been more coincidental. Earlier in the same year, Apple had unveiled its most historic campaign – the Macintosh. BD showed me a recent issue of The Economist with the cover having pictures of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It read: “Will dropouts rule this world?”
He told me their stories in detail. While talking about Steve Jobs, he also drifted into the Objectivist approach to life. He spoke about Howard Roark in The Fountainhead and about Danny Taggart / John Galt in Atlas Shrugged. He also and shared the story of Any Rand (how she had moved from Russia to America and her entire philosophy). Finally I was convinced that formal education had nothing to do with high-stakes life-success.
He gave me a success formula to evaluate whatever I was to do in life later:
Passion: Are you insanely passionate about your work? Are you able to transmit your passion and positive energy to others?
Impact: Are you impacting people, lives, careers, businesses etc. in a big way? Are you creating immense value for the people / world? Are you impacting lives, careers, businesses, relationships directly?
Excellence: Are you the “best-in-their-world”? Are you in the top-one-percent (excellence) in your domain?
Money: Do you make satisfactory money?
The answer is a thumping NO for almost all of us.
Imagine what the world will be if the answer to all the questions above could be a huge YES!
I always wanted such a life for myself – at the intersection of all the four circles. From that day onwards, PASSION and REBELLION have been my watchwords for life.
Things settled a bit back home as my parents gradually calmed down. All this while, once a week, I had a personal tutor at home who would teach me the school subjects. Apparently I topped the school in the annual exam of 6th Std. (Imagine the level of the school! I scored 47% and still topped). This was my biggest bargaining counter with my parents. I finally told them: “I will write the exams but won’t go to school even in 7th Std.” Apparently, they had no choice but to reluctantly acquiesce.
One of the best things that happened: all the three people around me encouraged the habit of ‘reading’. And I took a fancy to it. In the absence of school (that would have gobbled up 8-10 hours of my each day receiving useless knowledge that makes no sense when it comes to success in life), I was receiving life-success lessons from a super-achiever-genius-maverick. At 30, BD epitomized success like nobody else. This Chief Economic Advisor to the Indian Government was extremely well-read, personified Howard Roark, was a maverick professor (and an author, and a brilliant speaker … and enjoyed many other accolades), and was a possible contender for the Nobel Prize in Economics.
I celebrated the fact that I didn’t have to go to school: I had enough time to just dig myself into books and read for hours on end. Practical life-success lessons from the most successful people in the world were handed out to me in the form of absolutely fascinating stories … ON A PLATTER! And thus started my life’s biggest love-affair – an affair with books – that still continues unabated till date. I relished every single book I read. I could read and understand these books because BD used to give me a complete backdrop and idea about the same before asking me to read any particular book.
The books / publications that left the biggest impression on me: The Harvard Business Review, The Economist, Pirates of the Valley, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Positioning, Cosmos, The Dragons of Eden, Future Shock, Power Shift, Third Wave, Bertrand Russell’s Philosophy Collection (35 books), and all the books by Tom Peters. Each of these books was absolutely elevating. I felt much more ‘enriched’ and ‘ready’ with the passage of each book.
As I read more and more complex stuff, I faced two problems: poor vocabulary and low reading speed through tough texts. I got so bugged by my poor vocabulary that I bought The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary and, in the next six months, remembered it almost fully with the proper usage of each word. My problem of vocabulary was solved, once and for all.
To fix the problem of slow comprehension, BD suggested me to have a basic idea about most of the basic human disciplines: business, economics, marketing, biology, history, evolution, paleontology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, literature, science & technology … the works. This was catch-22. To learn these disciplines, I had to comprehend tough texts fast. And to comprehend fast, I had to know these disciplines.
BD suggested a different approach. He enrolled me into India’s biggest video library. It contained a huge collection of documentaries on almost every subject on this planet. As per BD’s suggestion, I would rent one video-cassette per day and watch it fully. Also, he suggested watching all the foreign programs on TV. It took me a few years but I must say that I have never made a better investment in my life.
Watching British comedies on TV was an extraordinary investment. Apart from humor, I learnt about global politics, the roots of the European crisis, investment banking, and a zillion other disciplines from ‘Yes Minister’, about the retail industry / customer service from ‘Are You Being Served / Fawlty Towers’, about WW-II and the last hundred years of world history from ‘Allo Allo’, about complete 360 degree shades of human psychology from ‘Porridge’ etc. Also, the documentaries proved extremely useful. For Instance, imagine watching a three-hour documentary on The Kalahari Desert. No geography or science book can match that learning. I ended up watching more than 500 documentaries on almost every subject in the world. THE BEST INVESTMENT OF MY LIFE! Reading became a cakewalk after this investment. My overdrive with books was catapulted into the highest orbit. Between 14 and 18 years of age, I read more than 200 books per year on almost all disciplines.
I loved BD’s reason for making ‘reading’ the ultimate hobby: I can’t still forget what he once told me when I asked “WHY READING?” BD’s answer: Someone who has written a good nonfiction book must have been a good reader himself / herself. Let’s say this person had read 100 good books before s/he planned to write one. Obviously s/he would have wanted to put his/her best learnings into the first book. So in effect, this person would have tried to give you the wisdom of at least a hundred great books in his / her book. So if you read one great book, you indirectly receive the wisdom of at least a hundred great books automatically. Since then, 'reading' has been my all-time-favorite hobby. It feels magical.
Getting into the mind of someone who has radically different perspectives on the world is sheer adrenaline, kick-starting my brain to connect disparate dots of information to make a symphonic meaning. Reading the work of someone who is more knowledgeable, more skillful, and more accomplished gives me ecstatic exhilaration. I can spend countless hours with GREAT books.
BUT … I couldn’t talk to anyone. It was not shyness. It was fear. The more I tried to speak, the more I would go deeper into my world of books / documentaries / TV / Writing.
My biggest blow came when, in 1990, BD left the country for a few years on an assignment. I felt devastated. It was like losing my parent. He was everything to me: friend, philosopher, guide, mentor, coach. The only guiding force in my life was gone.
In BD’s absence, my parents got some grip on my weird ways and asked me to go in for Engineering. I have no clue why I listened to them and complied. In 1991, I finished my XII, wrote the Engineering Entrance Test, and got through (in July 1991) without any extra preparation.
College was a complete disaster; it was as if I had come from a different planet. Prior to college, for seven long years, I had forgotten things such as classes, teachers, friends, teamwork, bullying, gossip … the lot. I found it very difficult to adjust.
I failed every single subject in my first semester (this must have been a record in the history of the college). As per the rules of the college, I was expelled for six months. Strangely, I felt really good and relieved. I thought I wouldn’t have to come to college, after all. One good thing did happen, though: I made friends with one of my classmates (Sarang) – my first breakthrough in seven years.
In January 1992, Sarang once called me over to his place. While we were chatting, I heard a huge debate going on in the other room. I got really fascinated and just walked into the other room. Sarang’s father and one of his friends were discussing the issue of oil prices. Both of them were professors at the best business school in Delhi.
IMAGINE … can your destiny change in a single moment? FOREVER!!
I have no clue as to what came over me in that moment.
While they were blaming liberalization (that the government had recently initiated in 1991) for the high cost of oil, I unwittingly said a legendary line: BLAME HITLER FOR THE HIGH PRICE OF OIL.
[This line … just one line … changed my destiny. Completely!!! Seven years spent with books and documentaries conspired together to change my destiny in a single moment.]
Turning to me, both of them reacted as if I had spoken Greek. Sarang’s dad (Prof. RM – like the other gentleman, this person also requested me not to share his name) said, “Sandeep, do you realize what you just said? Tumhari tabeeyat to theek hai? How is Hitler related to this mess that the Indian Government has created?”
And I explained the entire thing:
Hitler→Concentration Camps→Genocide→persecution of Jews→Jews fleeing to Jerusalem in millions→formation of the UN in 1945→formation of Israel in 1948→raw deal to the Palestinian Arabs→US / UN favor to Israel→Israel, the fighting nation→simultaneous fighting on five borders and winning→US direct support to Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973→Arabs angry→Oil Embargo to the Western world by OPEC (predominantly Arabs)→Oil Crisis→Oil Shock of 1973→prices increased to 6 times the base price within one year→no rollback on prices since then→the base changed from X to 6X … the entire humanity is still paying a huge price for Hitler’s atrocities.
These 2 gentlemen were completely engrossed, leaning on my each word with absolutely rapt attention. Once I finished, after a long silence, RM spoke: “Sandeep, I am amazed. Where did you learn all this? I am a B-School professor and I keep interacting with the smartest people in this country, but I haven’t ever heard anything as fascinating, not even remotely as fascinating, as this.” (Hinting to the other professor) “What do you think?”
The other professor said, “RM can be possibly excused because he is a professor of Marketing. But I teach Economics. And I must confess: I am feeling as if I know nothing about the subject. You should come to the college and share this with our students. I am serious. In 18 years of my teaching career, I am yet to hear a more interesting insight.”
Both of them wanted to know more about me. I told them about the books, documentaries, and my extreme interest in at least a dozen disciplines.
That day, I had a six-hour long discussion with two of the sharpest people in the city of Delhi. I spoke about almost all the disciplines I had been exposed to. To me, what I spoke wasn’t important. It wasn’t important that they were impressed. The only important thing was that I could speak for hours to two strangers. You may not be able to empathize here because you probably can’t imagine how big a victory this was for me. Seven and a half years of “clamming-up” and the pain that had accompanied that feeling all along the line … all the trauma … was suddenly gone. It was as if I had been released from a dark-prison cell after many years.
This was clearly my day – the happiest day of my life. But, as they say, happiness is not forever.
RM called me over the next day and asked me to address the students of his college.
Picture this for a second: You are reminded of the most horrendous past and are asked to re-live it!!!
I froze dead in my tracks! “NO!! Over my dead body! I can’t speak in public.” And he was puzzled. “WHY???” I told him the entire Mr. Bhatti episode. I told him that the mere mention of ‘speaking to a group’ completely ‘throws’ me.
He counseled me: “See, yesterday you spoke to 3 people (my friend Sarang was also sitting there). Could you have spoken if Sarang’s mother, your parents, and 2 more professors also had been present?” … I said, “Yes.” He convinced me that if I could speak to eight people, I could speak to eighty as well. He promised me: “I will make sure you will speak extremely effectively in front of the group. Even if it takes months of training, I am ready to train you personally.” He even called up my parents and told them the same. They couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
And thus started my training sessions! For the next two and a half months, every single day, I practiced and delivered as per RM’s instructions. He never made me feel like a junior student whom he was helping to tide over a problem. I felt more comfortable in his presence than in Sarang’s / BD’s / my parents’. This man had something magnetic about him. He could make me feel like an equal, like a million dollars. Apart from the training, we would discuss marketing, brands, positioning, and ad campaigns, as both of us were extremely interested in the whole idea of “positioning”. Almost daily he would say, “Kotler sucks”, and would get a chuckle from me. Imagine my saying to him on March 29th: “I think I am ready to go on stage.”
The stage was set. He had publicized me so much that everyone was looking forward to some gems of wisdom from this genius (?) child-prodigy (?). It was 2 PM on April 14th 1992. The audience was about 125 people (including my parents). I was the youngest person in the room. I was supposed to speak for 15-20 minutes. As I was introduced, I heard a deafening applause. As I had been trained, I started: “Imagine if the book Das Kapital had not been written, what would the world have been like? [This has been one of the classic McKinsey interview questions for decades.]” And, you won’t believe, just to encourage me, some professors responded: X, Y, Z would have happened. But the perspective I gave shook the students completely. I received applause after applause.
Now I know that initially they applauded just to encourage a 17 year old. But I am sure that after 15 minutes, their applauses turned genuine – they genuinely loved the content. The content was completely unheard of by them – breathtakingly fresh perspectives on current global economic, political, and military scenario, positioning, branding, psychology, triune model of the human brain, entrepreneurship and almost all that I had learnt in so many years. I was unstoppable. It was as if someone had opened the floodgates of an overflowing dam. I left the audience completely mesmerized by my content. My delivery was extremely raw but the content alone had the power to completely spellbind them. The 20-minute session went on for more than 200 minutes. They were lapping it up. And I was completely unstoppable. As the speech came to a close, RM asked the audience, “Should this boy come for more such sessions?” Everyone said, “YEEESSSSSS!!!” This was my moment of reckoning.
Till date, I don’t think I have had a happier day. Both my parents were jubilant. I hadn’t seen them this happy earlier. Their ‘worthless’ son had achieved something after all. My parents told RM: “you did the unthinkable. You should get an award.” And RM spoke a line that I have never been able to forget: “I have never reached for a trophy. I have always reached for a life.” During that conversation with my parents RM showed a card with three quotes. He said that all his life he had personified these three sentences:
1. “Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.”
2. “Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.”
3. “The most valuable gift you can offer someone is yourself.”
WHAT A PERSON! I wonder about these lines all the time.
Till date, I can’t seem to get over these lines. I have always applied these in all the businesses I have done.
One man deserved all the credit for the spectacle that I had achieved. What can I say? Why would anyone sacrifice three months of his own life to remove my fear of speaking? He had nothing to gain. Still he went out of his way to help me so much. I couldn’t have believed such a story if anyone else had told me the same. I would have discarded it as an OTT movie-script. On the one hand, there was Mr. Bhatti, who could spoil someone’s life in just five minutes, and on the other, there was Prof RM who could give the same person his life back. He also rekindled my Harvard-dream, something that had been forgotten after BD had left. “You deserve to go to Harvard”, said a proud RM. The impact of this man on my persona was indelible. I had even become extrovert.
That day, I decided to be a speaker: a trainer, a coach, a guide. My future was chosen in a moment. I didn’t know what to do or how to achieve my goal … nothing! But I had to impact lives. I had to touch lives. It felt as if this is what I had been sent to do on this planet.
In the meanwhile, Sarang (who was a regular in his second semester) told me that the HOD of our department had threatened that it was compulsory to attend his tuitions to pass irrespective of your preparedness levels. If you didn’t pay him, no matter how good you were, you would fail. If you paid him, you would pass, even if you were to leave the answer-book blank. You had to study only if you wanted to get great marks. In order to pass, you had to just pay him and forget about everything, including attendance. You didn’t have to go and attend his tuition classes, either. Talk about the fairness of the system!!
My second innings at college was sensational. As Sarang had publicized my speaking triumph, I was hailed as a celebrity among students. Apparently it seemed true that like-minded people somehow attract each other. I made four very close friends (Bhavna, the daughter of an extremely successful entrepreneur, Anil – army background, Rohit – US based NRI background, and Vikram – UK based NRI background) each of whom shared a common interest: extremely diverse reading. None of us ever attended a single class from semester 2nd to 8th semester.
For one year, all five of us did nothing except sit outside the classes daily and talk for hours on dozens of issues. Each discussion was a heated debate, with none of us ready to concede even an inch. Truly electric and edifying! On most days, the debates would continue well past college hours. Every day, we would go back with a feeling of having learnt something significant. Life couldn’t have been better.
In January 1993, something happened that once again changed the course of my life forever. My father had a colleague (an IAS Officer in the Ministry of Finance) who had always been an extremely honest civil servant throughout his career. My father and he were part of an assignment together. The entire operation reeked of extreme irregularities, malpractices, and corruption, and virtually everyone in the government was neck-deep in this morass. Somebody blew the whistle and the case came up for hearing in the Tribunal. The two officers were questioned. Despite knowing that his colleague was absolutely honest, my father sided with the government & the ministry, an action that de facto proved his colleague dishonest. My father sided with corruption as he too was neck-deep into all the wrong practices himself. This honest officer was found ‘guilty’ and was suspended from the Service. He couldn’t bear this stigma and hanged himself. At that time, the government virtually owned the media. The news was hushed and never caught any public attention. But this jolted me. COMPLETELY!
I developed an extremely strong antipathy towards this whole system that my parents were part of (painfully, my mother also sided with my father). I raised hell. Absolute hell! How could my father live in peace after what he had done? He had (virtually) murdered a colleague. It was never clear to me as to why such talented people as my parents had to resort to corruption. They could have chosen any career for themselves. They could surely have been honest and held their heads high. But to no avail. There were counter-arguments in the house trying to convince me: “You can’t be copybook-honest; honesty only brings you the sidelines. Honest people are crushed under the feet.”
This was completely unacceptable to me. It was unimaginable for me to live under the same roof. I was disgusted beyond redemption. I wrote a note and just left home.
Enter the real-world! From the silver-spoon, velvet-glove world to ‘the streets’ in a matter of hours! For the next one month, I lived with an old servant of ours, who had started driving an auto-rickshaw after leaving our house. He lived with all sorts of workers. I accompanied at least a dozen such people for various types of works. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing or where I was, but, out of a sense of loyalty, this servant of ours told my parents about my whereabouts despite my strong resistance. BUT I could easily ward off their sympathy. For the next one month, I did everything I could just to sustain myself. I waited tables, delivered pizzas, drove auto-rickshaws, ported trolleys (at the airport), and moved bricks at construction sites.
BUT I loved it all. Absolutely! During one such pizza delivery, as a kid opened the door, I saw XI Std. Physics and Mathematics books lying on the shoe-rack. I unwittingly rattled off the entire syllabus. The kid couldn’t believe his ears. He sighed: “Bhaiya, aapko yeh sab kaise aata hai?” and I said: “I am doing engineering.” He looked completely lost (he was preparing for engineering himself). He called his parents and told them the same. They asked me to come in and showed some curiosity. I told them my story. They were completely bowled over by my knowledge of English and Math. They asked me something completely unexpected: “Could you teach Varun (the son) Mathematics? We are anyway looking for a tutor. We can pay you Rs. 100 per hour (the standard rate for tutors in Delhi then).”HUNDRED RUPEES AN HOUR? I wasn’t making that much money even by working for the entire day. I immediately agreed. As per Varun, I did an extremely good job of teaching Math and he drummed up the news among all his friends. Soon I was teaching 12 of Varun’s friends in a group. Seeing this, a local coaching center hired me to teach Mathematics on a ‘50-50-sharing-basis’ to the students of XI / XII / Engineering Entrance Tests. This center had hundreds of students. Soon I was making up to Rs. 25,000 per month (which was more than my father’s official salary at that time).
BACK TO COLLEGE: All four of my friends were aiming to write the CAT and go to the IIMs. But I was smitten by Harvard. Strangely, till 1993, Harvard accepted candidates without work-experience. I prepared for the GMAT and wrote it in June 1994 and got a perfect 800. There was no counselor in Delhi. So I went to Mumbai to meet the most renowned studies-abroad consultant in India. This guy fumed looking at my ignorance. “What kind of a student are you? What homework have you done? Don’t you know that work-experience is compulsory for HBS? And you have written the GMAT and nurtured your HBS dream without knowing this basic fact? And you have even traveled to Mumbai to meet me? I am appalled at your abject ignorance of basic facts.” He sent me back with a truckload of fleas in my ear. I felt SHATTERED!!!
But whom could I have blamed except myself? I didn’t have a clue in the world as to what to do next? Sarang again took me to his place once. I met RM and he suggested me to consider the IIMs instead. In the meanwhile, Bhavna shared an incident from Shashi Tharoor’s life, detailing how he had spent a full year when he was 12. He made it a point to read one book a day and to finish exactly 365 books in a year. And he did finish 365 books. This was indeed inspirational. Bhavna and I decided to read one book each daily and discuss it in the evening. Both of us joined a library and finished 608 carefully chosen books (together) in 365 days. Although our target was 730 books combined, we still felt thrilled to have accumulated the knowledge / wisdom of 608 books in one year.
In the meanwhile, I also became receptive to the idea of the IIMs and the CAT. I joined a CAT Training institute for its test series. And I topped in three consecutive mock tests. In August 1995, the chairman of the company called me and offered me a very well-paying job. Because I wanted to get into training, I thought everything around me was conspiring to take me there. I immediately said YES!! The job gave me a 360-degree exposure to the functioning of a large Education Company. I never sat for any on-campus placement at college. I was clear: “When my ultimate goal is to become a trainer, why work in a company that is not into Education and Training?” I worked with this company till May 1996.
The experience came in extremely handy when I ran my own businesses. I was exposed to some of the most fascinating situations when I worked in Sales under our National Sales Head. On my first day in Sales, I faced a life-threatening situation (a man with a gun) but negotiated it really well. My first day at Sales turned out to be my best. I charged five times the normal price of the product from a man who brandished a gun in front of me. It was neat!
Once this company called Barry John (the leading ‘acting’ and ‘dramatics’ coach in India) to conduct a one-day training workshop for trainers. I got extremely fascinated by his entire approach and joined his school in Noida for a month-long training. And the results were spectacular. Barry even suggested me to try standup comedy (this, according to him, was the best solution to remove any inhibitions from anyone’s personality). I read a few books on standup comedy (Judy Carter’s book clearly stood out) and prepared my own content. I had already developed quite a few funny bones, thanks to my friend Anil (the wittiest person I have ever met). His sarcasm, wit, satire, insults, and puns were exemplary. KILLER!! Anil made me rehearse my first show, which was for just 15 minutes. It came out ‘ok’ but not great. He helped me tweak my content and delivery. Finally I thought of just diving in front of a live audience.
I volunteered to do my shows free-of-cost at the swankiest club in Delhi (as I had been a waiter here before, I used some contacts to get the entry). The who’s who of the city were part of this really posh place. I was allowed my first 15 minutes in October 1995. After getting a good feedback, I got to do the shows every Friday. I became quite popular during this time. I did 14 consecutive weekly shows spanning 3 months.
When I told RM about my standup comedy, he suggested something really unusual. He asked me to approach these successful people and just ask for 15 minutes of their time. He gave me the lines that I used with every such person.
“Hello Sir / Ma’am, I am just starting out in my life. You are so successful. I request you to give me just 15 minutes of your time and tell me what I should do to become as successful as you?” I asked 62 people and all of them agreed. I could finally talk to 51 of them. I interviewed Entrepreneurs, Entertainers, Artists, Politicians, Bureaucrats, Authors, Sportspersons, Musicians … all sorts of successful people. My objective was to understand the “PSYCHOLOGY” of success and winning. One more thing happened as a result of interviewing these people: I could talk to any stranger in the world. I became a true extrovert. The learnings from these people proved more valuable than what the top 10 MBAs in the world combined could have taught me. Absolutely crucial life-success lessons were handed out to me on a platter.
One thing was common to all these people: PASSION. They were passionate to a fault about what they did. An irrational internal drive (“Junoon”) for what they chose to do was manifest in each of them. I discovered the following 7Ps formula (I call it “From Passion To Profits”) common to the success of these people:
Passion + Purpose → Power → Perspectives → Product → Positioning → Presenting →Profits
I learnt that any PASSION can be converted into a PROFITABLE venture. I got really enamored of this model. Till date, in all my 17 entrepreneurial ventures, this has been my guiding force – the most amazing success-formula that I have ever crystallized.
PASSION: Will you be so strongly driven about your idea that, even without money, you can do this for at least 3 years at a stretch? Will you be ready to do this on a chilly rainy morning at 3 AM, day after day, month after month, for three years? Will you have the requisite day-to-day drive to do all the accompanying tasks at hand? You have to have PASSION. Without fail! Without passion, don't even think of embarking on your success journey. You have to bring this to the table. Nobody can train you for this element (PASSION).
PURPOSE: Super-successful people have a purpose much larger than money / themselves. They change things; they impact other people to lead better lives. They truly make this world a much better place. Always ask yourself: WHY are you doing what you are doing? If the answer is only money or your own selfish satisfaction, you can't be a super-successful person.
Always ask: Is your solution going to be of immense value for people? It is going to impact their lives positively? Will it change their lives for the better?
POWER: Super-successful people have power over their lives and careers (freedom to choose passionate careers and people in their lives and money to change things about the world and create some positive impact). But more importantly, they have the power to change other people’s beliefs to create an extraordinary impact. It is not about having the power to blow the world by a nuclear weapon: it is about having the autonomy over 4T’s – Task, Time, Technique, and Team. If you want to do some great work, this component (Autonomy over 4T’s) is absolutely crucial. As per this logic of autonomy: only you should decide what you choose to do, only you should decide the time when you do whatever you love to do, only you should decide how you do your work, and only you should decide whom you work with.Imagine someone telling Picasso:
A. You must paint this sort of picture.
B. You must begin painting precisely at 8:45 A.M.
C. You must paint this way.
D. You must paint with the people we select to work with you.
Super-great work can’t happen if there are boundaries.
PERSPECTIVES: Super-successful people look at everything – the world, opportunities, risk, future, failures, dreams … absolutely differently. They are exceptionally different people because they have a different take on everything from the bottom 99 percent people. If you have an exceptionally amazing ability to connect various disparate pieces of information to make a symphony, a purposeful meaning, a constructive whole, a seamless story, and a BIG PICTURE, you are surely going to create an unprecedented success / impact. Your ability to quickly connect-the-dots makes you super-successful sooner … much sooner … than you can imagine.
PRODUCT: Super-successful people have something tangible to offer the world – a product, a service, an idea, a cause, a model, a concept – something tangible that changes things and people around them. Without a solid offering, you can’t become super-successful. In concrete terms, what is your offer?
Always ask yourself: Is my product a direct result of my purpose, passion, and prowess?
POSITIONING: Even if you have everything mentioned above, it will be all useless unless you are an absolute master of the craft called POSITIONING. It is the art of hijacking the minds of people to such an extent that you never have to sell your product, service, idea, or cause to anyone. People sell it to themselves. If you want everlasting success (absolutely guaranteed everlasting success), exist at only place: people's minds. And hijack only one thing: people’s minds. This is the most powerful idea for life. Without mastering the art of POSITIONING, nobody ever became super-successful. What is your one-word message? What is your one-line message? What is your one-paragraph message? How can you impact the minds of the prospect that, eventually, no sales, marketing, branding, or promotion is required? You must make sure that your positioning is a true reflection of your personality. It has to be heartfelt and sincere. No gimmicks at all!
POSITIONING is the difference between being able to charge Rs. 1000 for a product and Rs. 100,000 for the same product.
You also need the skill of PERSUASION: Super-successful people are masters of persuasion: convincing, negotiating, influencing, pitching, and selling their ideas extremely effectively. They know how to sell something with the customer’s best interest in mind. There is absolutely no other way of succeeding; you have to be able to convince people of your product, your abilities etc. without ever trying very hard.
YOU ALSO HAVE TO KNOW PERSUASIVE PITCHING. If you have only five minutes for converting a big-ticket situation in your favor, how will you go about it?
The final frontier ... if you want to be super-successful (let’s say, want to make a million dollars in the quickest possible fashion), you have to nail this:
PRESENTING: TOP-ONE-PERCENT people are masters of Speaking, Communicating, Presenting, and Storytelling to large audiences. When you take stage to talk about your idea, do you come across as sincere? Does your passion come through? Do you present with complete conviction? Do you have absolute mastery over your content? Do you have world-class presentation and storytelling skills to fire people up? Can you align people with your vision as you speak? Can you engage large audiences? Can you make people T.A.L.L. (Think, Act, Laugh, and Learn)? In short, can you sell from stage?
And then the most crucial element: PROFITS: All of the above attributes have to finally result in profits. If you have all of the aforementioned attributes but your books still read red, you are a f*cking dead duck [pardon my French here]. Think of it this way: How many so-called "great / big" companies (that are making losses) do you admire? The answer is: NONE. Let’s face it: if you don’t sell something for profit, you are most probably working for someone who does. There is no meaning of all this abracadabra unless you can convert all of the aforementioned attributes into PROFITS.
To make sure you always make profits, you need a PERMANENT POSITIONING MINDSET.
I often wonder: “How many people go through life in such kaleidoscopic colors by the age of 22?” For most people, life till 22 means school, college, classes, exams, studies, parties, gossip, relationships, sports, movies, music, dance, and finally a decent-paying job that they love to hate.
I wrote the CAT and made it to IIMA. I thought this would be an end to my roller-coaster life. But it wasn’t to be. Life had extremely exciting plans in store for me.
In the first week itself, I got extremely disenchanted with everything at IIMA – the place where not an iota of real entrepreneurship was ever talked about. And I wanted to run away.
Something inside me wanted to revolt. People told me that this was the stupidest idea that they had ever heard in their lives. I persisted amidst the cacophony of dissenting voices from friends, peers, seniors, faculty, administration etc.
I learnt one important lesson that day: The biggest battle in the world is the battle inside your own mind when you have to take a really BOLD decision.
What catalyzed my decision?
1. The wisdom gained from 51 successful people. Nothing that was taught in a two-year MBA at IIMA matched the success-lessons that I had learnt from these people.
2. At IIMA, for one day, you could sit in any of the second-year classroom sessions and decide your electives in advance. I sat in the ‘Entrepreneurship’ class that was offered as an elective in the second year. It was ATROCIOUS. Imagine a professor who had never seen the outside world (had never even worked for a company as an employee, let alone been an entrepreneur) teaching you the theoretical concepts about entrepreneurship! Could anything else be a worse learning experience?
3. I didn’t like anything – people, peers, faculty – nothing. I hated the idea of grades. For example, could the guy who topped the quiz / exam in Economics actually contribute to the Macroeconomic policy of the country better than the rest of the class could? I had a day-long discussion with him and he admitted to knowing nothing about the complexity of national policy-decisions. But he had the biggest tag to back it: IIMA’s Economics topper.
4. What was the point of a tag if it didn’t enable one to sell even a packet of Nirma better than the guy who had spent some time on the field selling it? If the purpose of life was to make mindless Spreadsheet(s) or PowerPoint(s), I didn’t want to be a part of the bandwagon. I wanted to impact people directly.
5. The quote: ‘‘Each great work has to pass through three stages—ridicule, opposition, and then acceptance. Those who think ahead of their time are sure to be misunderstood. Have you got the will to surmount mountain-high obstructions? If the whole world stands against you—sword in hand—would you still dare to do what you think is right?’’
Finally I did the unthinkable. I put up a formal application to leave the school. This was my moment of decision. As it is said:
IT IS IN YOUR MOMENTS OF DECISIONS THAT YOUR DESTINY IS SHAPED!!!
That day, for the first time, I could fully relate to this quote. My destiny indeed got shaped in this moment of decision. I was ecstatic that I could finally take such a bold decision.
For the next three years I ran my first entrepreneurial venture. I did really well … by every stretch of imagination. In less than 3 years, I trained 3357 students, produced scintillating results, shaped careers, impacted lives, and saved enough (despite my extremely wild spending habits in those days) to easily afford a 5-year career-break. At this juncture, I desperately wanted to travel the world.
For the record: After the first year in business, I did visit my old school in January 1997, gave the Principal a cheque of Rs. 100,000 as donation, and spoke on the school stage as a successful entrepreneur. Life had come full circle for me. After I told the Principal about the barbaric treatment at the hands of Mr. Bhatti, the Principal called Mr. Bhatti and introduced him to me and left the room. I told Mr. Bhatti the entire story of my life. He remembered the incidence perfectly well. He was profusely apologetic. I just said: “THANK YOU SIR! … Without your insult, I wouldn’t have been the person I am today.” That day, I felt a sense of unprecedented calm.
I sold my center to the franchisee of another CAT-Training company and, in turn, got a handsome golden-handshake for giving the franchisee a competition-free market and an extremely booming center from day-one.
In the meanwhile, I got addicted to INVESTING. The thrill of the stock-market was just insane; it made me a true adrenaline-junkie. I did well on numerous occasions, but lost all the money when I once traded in oil derivatives. ALL THE MONEY WAS GONE in a single day.
I had to earn to see out even the next month. After a lot of effort, In April 1999, through some referral, I managed to get a job (I happened to join the dotcom bandwagon). I joined Britannica.com as Chief Content Officer for its India Operations. I excelled in my work from day one. My reading habits of more than a decade paid off handsomely. I won seven excellence awards in seven months. I shot through the ranks and was shifted to London. Though I was probably earning much more than I could have dreamt of in any job, I still felt a void within. I just wanted to travel the world. One day, as part of compulsory training offered by the company, I attended a two-day conference – The Future Of Emerging Markets – at London Business School. This event changed the course of my life once again.
A part of me wanted to leave immediately but somehow I wasn’t fully sure. My boss made every attempt to retain me, to the extent of tripling my salary and offering me a stake in the company + ESOP. As he ratcheted up the stakes, the decision to leave got tougher and tougher. Although I had realized that I wasn’t meant to work for a company or a boss ever in my life, somehow this decision wasn’t easy for me. I discussed this with a friend and she called me an idiot to even contemplate refusing the offer my boss had made. I even cried that day – my first in more than a decide. Next day, the same friend called me up and said: “You are so smitten by the new idea that nothing will be able to keep you at your present company. No matter how hard your boss tries to retain you and whatever salary he offers, just go for your dream. Because YOUR DREAM IS NOT FOR SALE.”
F*CK!!! What a profound statement this was! This one line meant the world to me. Quitting was painless after this. The next day, I QUIT, without feeling an iota of fear, guilt, or remorse. I quit Britannica in June 2000 and came back to India. I got really hooked to the idea of Emerging Markets. I could mix business with travel. I took a formal online course in Emerging Markets and just loved the excitement this field had to offer. I started my second entrepreneurial venture. In the next four years, I got to travel to more than 40 countries spanning 5 continents.
One of my biggest failures: I completely misread a person – failed to understand her completely. Love and loss!
The problem was that whenever I met a person, I would somehow convey (implicitly or explicitly) that I was not interested in knowing his / her past, especially the messy / sad / sloppy details. Whenever I met people, life was all about laughter, fun, and wit. I never shared my past, either. This habit culminated into a perfect copybook instance of “love and loss”.
When I started working on emerging markets, my first assignment was with a UK-based Lifestyle Company that wanted to foray into emerging markets, especially Asian markets. The assignment was challenging and I loved every moment of it. I needed to hire someone who would have worked in lifestyle, fashion, retail, and marketing. In September 2000, through some referral, I hired a partner Kanika. She was extremely rebellious, feisty, and passionate … my perfect match. We worked together on some of the most wonderful projects and traveled the world on our assignments. We planned a vacation together in Hawaii if we were to crack 1 crore in 3 months. She worked endless hours making presentations, plans, pitches and the whole gamut of consulting shenanigans. 24x7, life was absolute fun; we just worked hard and partied harder. I handled the content and she handled the operations.
We clicked like a house on fire. She became my most intimate partner. Soon it turned into an intense relationship. She gave her 100% to both her work and relationship. Our conversations were always intelligent, funny, and witty. We would sit together and talk in puns for hours; it was so much fun – so much fun – that the darker side never surfaced.
We went to the US to crack a deal with an online content management company that was looking to develop channel partners in India and other Asian markets, and decided to move straight to Hawaii after the deal. While we were staying at the Ritz-Carlton, one day, during a conversation, she asked me, “I barely know about your childhood.” And I told her the story of my failure on stage and the entire trauma that I had undergone for seven long years. And I just happened to say, “You can’t imagine what I went through.” This one statement changed everything.
She started crying. She told me that I had no idea of what she had gone through. She revealed that she had had a really bad past. As a youngster, she had been abused by some men in her family.
This is one thing I can’t stand … no matter what! Such people should be lynched and hanged in public.
The next few weeks were extremely traumatic.
The next day, I pacified her, left her at the hotel, and went to meet the client. When I came back, I found that she had slit her wrist at three places and had to be hospitalized. For the first time, I saw so much blood – white bed-sheet completely bloodstained. I reached the hospital and found that she had gone into acute depression. You would have heard the doctor say: “Sandeep, this is a vital blow. She ain’t getting fine soon.”
I was devastated. I really cursed myself for never tapping into her world. For a few days, I couldn’t sleep even a wink. After a couple of days, when she regained her senses, she told me that she had always been receiving psychiatric treatment, had had a history of chronic drug (substance) abuse since the age of 16, and had a very tough relationship with her family.
For the first time in life, I felt helpless. Nothing worked for about 20 days. She was under acute depression. In the meanwhile, I made the final presentation to the client, and I bombed miserably. We lost the client at that very moment. In such a state, traveling back home wasn’t possible. She could go violent anytime. And her violent phases were extremely ugly. So much so that she could pick up a knife and kill herself or anyone in front of her.
Because I couldn’t sleep much, one night I watched Anthony Robbins’ infomercial. He claimed to cure depression in just 5 minutes. I had heard all great things about Tony Robbins and I found that this could be the best hope for an otherwise miserable life.
This caught my fancy. He was going to do his next event in Florida after seven days.
So if you had been with me, you would have been sitting in the front row (reserved for the victims and their attendants) at the Orange County Convention Center in Florida.
Robbins is a great guy. Just superb! He breaks your pattern. If you have been sad, he would ask you about the time when you were happy. If you are suffering from a disease, he would ask the time when you felt the healthiest in your life. At about 12:30, he called her out.
So she is on the stage in front of 5000 people. And Robbins asks her: “what makes you so unhappy?”
She starts crying, re-living her horrendous past.
And I am feeling miserable. I am cursing myself to have come here. And suddenly Robbins breaks her pattern.
He asks: “have you ever had an explosive orgasm?”
She goes “haaan … ???” with a strangely quizzical look on her face.
That’s a change of state. She goes from depression to a different state that is not depression any more.
She says “yes.”
Robbins asks, “Could you describe how it felt? Could you re-live that experience?”
She is like: “I can’t do that.” So he asks 5000 people in the room, “Can she tell us about her experience?” And everyone goes “YAAYYYY.”
And she starts telling the entire peaking experience in “When-Harry-Met-Sally” style. And I am wondering, “What’s happening?”
And she became all fine. In a matter of five minutes, he changed her life. That evening, I saw my partner back to life, absolutely springing back to the FIESTY Kanika that I had known. It was as if every bad experience had been deleted from her memory.
Next day, Robbins asked: “what would you dare to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Whoa! What a profound statement!
I couldn’t sleep that night. I remembered a similar statement Jim Collins asks in his book Good to Great: 20/10 – “If you have 20 million dollars in the bank and just 10 years to live, what would you dare to do? Do that NOW.”
Looking at Robbins, I thought: “look at the positive impact you can have by being a Professional Speaker. You can change lives.” I decided: “I will change people’s lives. Even if I can change one life, it will be worth the effort.” I decided to be a professional speaker and make people more knowledgeable, entrepreneurial, and BOLD.” I have always been indebted to the most impactful person I have ever seen in my life – TONY ROBBINS.
And I was not alone. Tony left such an impact on Kanika that even she wanted to be a Professional Speaker and help people. We were both smitten by just one thing: Professional Speaking – to the extent that we decided to foray full-time into this new passion of ours. We just needed to wrap up a few assignments in India. She didn’t want me to wait to start. So we decided that I would stay in the US to get trained on Professional Speaking while she would handle the company in India for a few months to wrap up all the unfinished work as soon as possible. Every day we would exchange messages / calls just to talk about one thing: speaking and impacting people.
I started to look for avenues to get into professional speaking in the US. After a huge effort, I got one speaking engagement (in the US), which I screwed up royally! And I needed help.
I found out (by extensive research) that Patricia Fripp was the best Professional Speaking coach in the world.
I called her and said, “Ms. Fripp, I would like to be coached by you.”
She asked, “Are you sure?”
I said, “Yes! I have done my research, AND you are the absolute best.”
She asked, “Do you know how much I charge?”
I said, “It doesn’t matter.”
She said, “It is a good attitude. That will be $14,000 per day.”
(“I am pretty happy with the skills I have.”)
So many times we see the price of doing something but we don’t see the cost of not doing it.
She said, “Perhaps you are not ready yet.”
I asked, “Could you evaluate one of my speeches and accordingly tell me how much training I will need?”
I thought, “She would find me okay and I would need to change me a bit here and there.”
I sent her the video. And she called me, “Sandeep, I have gone through your video, AND … Darling! You need me. If money is a concern, come and join one of my workshops that charges $4000.”
So I spent $4000 attending her single-day workshop in Vegas. And I realized that I knew nothing – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – about Professional Speaking.
That day I learnt a very important lesson in life: Although I was good, I couldn’t be complacent with what I had – learning never stops. I was not even one percent compared to her. What got me here won’t get me there.
Kanika was completely fine for quite some time. We would exchange mails / calls multiple times each day and nurture our Professional Speaking dream.
I had no clue how this happened, but she took to drugs again and developed meningitis, which claimed her life.
I had no clue of any of these ghastly developments. I couldn’t get through to her for many days. Her phone was always unreachable. I didn’t know any of her family members / acquaintances. This made me almost delirious. I had absolutely no idea as to what was going on. I called my clients and office assistant but nobody seemed to care. Frantically, I packed my stuff and boarded the next flight to India. STILL, nobody seemed to have a freakin’ clue.
I kept dialing her number like a mad man but to no avail. After 12 days, someone picked up. It was her elder brother. It emerged that she was no more. And he told the entire story.
“One day, she ended up having a massive argument with dad and completely lost control. She went back to the same mess that had almost finished her life: drugs. She overdid it and developed severe meningitis. Within 12 hours, she was no more.”
You could have knocked me down with a feather! I was blank. The whole world had been slammed shut on me.
The next few months were really hard. Eventually I could somehow reconcile to the inevitable loss but one thing kept on haunting me and I needed some answers. Even after six months, I couldn’t get over WHY she did what she did. This question intrigued me no end. Why do we behave so irrationally? Why do we do things that make no sense? Why can we not control our behavior? Why can we not behave rationally?
I read almost everything about human behavior but almost all of it seemed like completephychobabble – totally unconvincing. Just one book made some sense. It was the only book that talked about the role of the human brain / evolution in human behavior. Finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel, lots of it. As I surfed / read more on Brain Science, Evolutionary Neurobiology, Cognitive Sciences, Triune Model of the brain … the works … everything started to make complete sense. The concept of Triune Model of the brain is so powerful and intriguing that it leaves you completely ‘fulfilled’ with all the answers. I had finally gotten all my answers. And I was raring to share this with the world.
My professional speaking career couldn’t take off abroad. But in India, I started speaking regularly to large groups (500-1000 people). My perspectives were so rebellious that I always ended up knocking down deeply-entrenched beliefs and impacting people for a massive change in their lives. This went on for four years across India.
One such assignment took me to Bangalore. What I saw there simply took my breath away. At a startup festival (the place was absolutely buzzing with energy with thousands of wannabe startup junkies receiving success-lessons from already-successful entrepreneurs), I heard someone talking about Marketing and Sales. It was the worst session I had ever attended in my entire life. I was supposed to address the same group later in the day on the idea of Solopreneurship (nobody except for me had ever spoken of it in India).
But after hearing the previous speaker, I couldn’t resist changing my topic at the last moment. I spoke about how conventional marketing was dead and how Mr. Kotler made absolutely no sense. I spoke about the real decision-maker in the human body: the old brain / the reptilian brain. I gave them an absolutely earth-shattering perspective about Positioning, Marketing, Sales, and Branding. The basis of this whole idea was rooted in brain-science. People got absolutely enamored of me. It related so much to people and their businesses that I had a record 700+ people staying up until the wee hours in the morning to speak to me. I had found my mojo. I shifted to Bangalore and became a Corporate Storyteller.
Prior to this, life had involved so much travel for me that I wanted a break from my travels. Meanwhile, a startup client of mine asked me my story over lunch. As I talked about it, the story of ‘how-my-Harvard-dream-was-shattered’ came up. And she was really intrigued. She was herself planning to write the GMAT and apply to top B-schools. I also told her about my prior experience in CAT and GRE training. She suggested opening a GMAT / MBA Admissions training center. She convinced me that I could impact many people in Bangalore by making their dream of an Ivy-League education come true. It sounded exciting. As I wanted a break from my travels, this seemed to be a good career option. Before I decided to take the plunge, I wrote the GMAT myself (on 23rd November 2007) and got a 770 score (this was without even a minute of preparation). Later I applied to Harvard with this score and I made it. J
Life had come full circle. But my charm of an MBA had been completely lost.
I started training for the GMAT and, in a matter of just three months, my popularity reached stratospheric levels (I was the only GMAT trainer in India who had an official 99th percentile score report to showcase). I trained a record number of students with absolutely spectacular, gravity-defying results. I made 99th percentile (760-800 range) scores common lingo in India. So much so that when my students got a 750, they felt awful and wanted to retake the test.
Whenever I met my GMAT clients, almost always I heard a sob-story about how their jobs sucked, how they wanted to break free, and how they hated their bosses. I really thought I could help here.
I launched a course called ‘Life Without A Boss’. In this course, in just 24 hours, I could give them all the tools to become a successful Solopreneur. And the title connected so much with people that the course went viral. If I taught 1500 people for the GMAT in a year, 15,000 people wanted to attend this course in the first month. This was MADNESS personified. Hundreds of people quit their cushy (but lousy) jobs to live a life of their dreams. AND I loved to change people’s lives. DIRECTLY! AND I loved speaking on stage. I could be on stage 24*7. It was as if I was only meant to be on stage.
This was the whole pitch of “Life Without A Boss” Program: Imagine a life (for yourself) in which:
1. You are INSANELY PASSIONATE about your work, have all the FUN in the world doing it, and LOVE every moment of it.
2. You are in the top 1% pool in the world at whatever you do (your specific domain).
3. You get extraordinary RECOGNITION for the work you do. You have the feeling of OWNERSHIP for your work and an exceptional sense of BELONGING.
4. You can TALK extremely effectively on ALMOST ANY TOPIC IN THE WORLD because you have the requisite KNOWLEDGE, multi-disciplinary perspectives, and world-class communication skills to OWN THE STAGE.
5. You create a positive IMPACT on people’s lives on a daily basis.
6. You earn absolutely satisfactory amount of MONEY and have loads of time to ENJOY that money.
7. You enjoy an enviable monetary, professional, personal, and intellectual GROWTH every month, every quarter, every year.
8. You take your own decisions without seeking anyone’s approval or giving any kind of justifications / explanations to anyone at all.
9. You are incredibly bold, fiercely independent, and breathtakingly liberated. The society or the people around you (family, friends etc.) don’t influence any (mind you, ANY) of your decisions.
10. You don’t have to do things; you choose to do them.
In essence, imagine being a Solopreneur.
You are a solopreneur if:
· You are an IMPACT-Expert in a particular niche and sell your Expertise through Professional Speaking, Writing (Authoring), Training, Consulting, Mentoring, or Coaching.
· If you offer offer "live (in person)" or "video" or "web-enabled" solutions that have the power to impact or change the lives, businesses, relationships, or careers of your clients significantly.
· You live your life without a boss. As a solopreneur, you live the dream of
· NO BOSS
· NO TEAM
· Significant IMPACT on people, lives, businesses, careers, relationships
· Freedom to choose your work
· Complete autonomy over your time
· Fame and Prestige because of your expertise
· A disproportionately huge income
· You no longer have to exchange your time for money. You may be vacationing anywhere in the world but your products will travel and keep making money for you.
BUT … You have to fire your boss first. You have to live your Life Without A Boss.
Then in 2012, when I was running only 2 programs: ‘GMAT’ and ‘Life Without A Boss’, I happened to meet
Life took an unimaginable turn once again.
I met Reety in April 2012 when she contacted me to attend my GMAT classes. In the preliminary discussion with her, it emerged that she had a very different understanding of the world, business, life, and existence in general.
Just to give you an example, she could answer each of the 20 most incisive questions that my ex-students at Harvard / Stanford / Kellogg / Wharton / MIT etc. had faced in their McKinsey / BCG / Bain / Booz / AT Kearney etc. interviews over the years. These are insanely difficult questions as you can’t answer them just by knowing some facts; you need an extremely sophisticated understanding of the world as an intermeshed reality to be able to answer even one such question. And a bad / wrong answer can kill your dream of working with firms such as McKinsey. Before this, no student had ever been able to answer even one out of these 20 questions satisfactorily (enough to be able to impress me). This is the ultimate test of your being able to “connect-the-dots” between seemingly disparate pieces of information. She had absolutely killer perspectives about the world, life, existence, marketing, storytelling etc.
In an hour-long discussion with Reety, I concluded that she would be wasting herself doing an MBA (spending the rest of her life in corporate-settings among thousands of executives doing mindless Spreadsheets and PowerPoints). It was surely not warranted given her immense ability to bring about a serious change in companies, people, lives, and careers across the board. Our knowledge and perspectives, if channeled properly and if turned into a tangible solution (product) for the world, had the power to change something about this world in a big way. A significant IMPACT!
I expressed to her exactly what I felt: she was meant for a much bigger calling. Wasting herself doing an MBA would have been an absolutely unworthy use of her talents.
I asked her to join me and she immediately agreed (took less than 30 seconds to say YES). We decided to package our life-learnings and world-changing perspectives into some tangible offerings for the world.
What we found common between us:
· Our knowledge and perspectives about the world
· Our attitude towards how to life should be led (especially by women)
· Our idea about Brain Science in Marketing … the most kickass idea for a lifetime. Except Reety, I haven’t ever met anyone with even the slightest idea of this topic.
· Our absolutely brilliant approach to viewing everything in the world from a selling / storytelling lens
· Passion, Rebellion, Wit, Puns, and Insanity. We are madness personified.
The surprising part was: she never could see these as possibilities. She was part of the regular corporate bandwagon in India and was seeking just another corporate-career post her MBA. WHAT A WASTE THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN! In the course of 8 years of working (till 2012) in Brand Management, Corporate Communications, Media Planning, Sales, Marketing, Event Management, Public Relations, Advertising etc., she never realized that she had the potential to change something about this world. Also, she lacked the requisite ability to convert her passion into a profitable venture.
On the contrary, I have always had an extraordinary belief that any passion can be converted into a flourishing business while helping the world in a big way. That’s why, my course “Your-First-Million-Dollars” is based on the model called “From Passion to Profits”. The basic premise of this course is: You come to me with a passion of yours. I will tell you how to turn that passion into a profitable business.
I asked her to drop her MBA plans and apply for another relevant course at Harvard University: The Masters’ Program in Mind, Brain, and Education:http://www.gse.harvard.edu/academics/masters/mbe/index.html.
And she bought into the idea.
[Just for the record, she did get through this program but later couldn’t join it because of a personal crisis.]
Before we could kick-start working on these super-exciting projects, Reety needed 2 months to wrap up her previous work commitments. After she quit, we co-created three absolutely world-changing products:
1. Know The World In 24 Hours
2. B.O.L.D. – Beware Of Lady Dynamites
How things can get nasty at times? As luck would have it, when these products were approaching their final shape, she hurt her leg really badly; so much so that she couldn't have stood and delivered these sessions at least for the next 12 months. But we had invested so much of ourselves that, no matter what, we wanted to see these products delivered to the world as soon as possible. We had planned to deliver these sessions together but when the inevitable happened, Reety persuaded me to launch these courses alone. And we had a massive response.
Know The World In 24 Hours: Has been attended by more than 10,000 participants since January 2013. My students at Harvard, Kellogg, MIT, Wharton, Booth, Columbia etc. have absolutely vouched for this course. Dozens of them have landed close to half-a-million-dollars-worth (approximately Rs. 3 crore) placements in some of the top consulting firms, thanks to this course. The impact was so massive that they started calling it the compulsory 24-hour MBA before the optional 24-month MBA. After attending this course, hundreds of participants went on to quit their cushy corporate jobs and create their own products / companies. In short, this course was IMPACT-PERSONIFIED.
Beware Of Lady Dynamites (B.O.L.D.): Has been attended by 3400 women since January 2013. More than 1000 women quit their well-established jobs and went on to live a life full of passion, impact, and loads of money. INSANE! The response to this program was so massive that a part of it was accepted into Harvard University’s curriculum.
Watch some of the testimonial videos of the two aforementioned courses:
· The most powerful idea for business, career, and personal life. I haven’t ever come across any other idea that can be both so fascinating and so impactful.
· Nobody who attends this 12-hour program once can remain the same. The impact will be severe. AND massive! Your entire worldview will change in a matter of just 12 hours. PERMANENTLY!
· You will never need to sell anything to anyone. People will sell your offerings to themselves.
· This is a multi-billion dollar idea. Literally! It will blow your minds forever.
N.E.U.R.O.-Seduction took my speaking career global, eventually. When I deliveredN.E.U.R.O.-Seduction in London and South Africa during June-August 2013, I was paid $10,000/hour by 2 of the Fortune 100 companies. Since then, I have been speaking frequently on global stages.
We were able to create more than $2mn in net profits in less than five months (January to May 2013). At this juncture, I jokingly said to her: “this is your first million dollars.” And, as I am a trainer at heart, I immediately thought: how wonderful it would be if we were to tell people how to make their first million dollars from scratch in less than 12 months! ANYBODY who is willing to go theSolopreneurship and Professional Speaking route can do this. Absolutely anybody!
And an impact-idea was born: Your First Million Dollars. We launched an absolutely unprecedented offering for the world: Millionaire Maker Seminar. It was offered in Bangalore as a 2-day workshop three times: each time the audience swelled to unprecedented numbers. Our first workshop attracted 600 participants (conducted at Satya Sai Auditorium, Bangalore), the second attracted 1200 participants (conducted at Jyoti Niwas College Auditorium, Bangalore), and the third attracted 2000 participants (conducted at Christ College Auditorium, Bangalore). The feedback has been through the roof.
Some moments of one such event are captured here:
The biggest accomplishment of “Millionaire Maker Seminar”: In less than 6 months, 86 participants have gone on to create at least a million dollars (completely from scratch AND with absolutely no investment). They have loads of free time, love what they do, travel around the world, and are impacting this world in a big way. All these people have turned Professional Speakers / Authors / Trainers / Consultants / Coaches / Mentors in some uniquely claimed topics. These people are having the dream-patch of their lives.
Watch people raving about this course and its impact here (the feedback was collected LIVE (on-the-spot) in one of the many such events conducted by us). This is insanity incarnate:
In the meanwhile, as I started speaking on International platforms regularly, what I saw took my breath away. I saw some of the Professional Speakers making $1mn in a single day. Here I was training people to make a million dollars in a year. And here I was: watching people making the same money in a day and impacting thousands of lives.
This is the space I wanted to be in. After spending more than Rs. 1 crore and after qualifying nine rounds of evaluations + a LIVE 90-minute speech in front of some of the best Professional Speakers in the world at the Public Speakers’ University London (I presented in front of more than 1000 globally-renowned Professional Speakers and my speech about my copyrighted model Tri-Summit-Storytelling System was evaluated as the best speech of the year), my efforts brought about some spectacular results.
I was awarded Ace Mentorship Certification at The Professional Speakers Academy (PSA) London – the biggest Professional Speaking Circuit in the world. I was also invited to become the resident Ace-Mentor at the same place (Pic 3 above shows me receiving the Ace Mentorship Certification).
This opened the floodgates of opportunities around the world. In fact, one of my mentees (Laura) went on to deliver a speech in the US and made $10,000 from a single speech. Imagine the deadly combo of Solopreneurship and Professional Speaking – the shortest route to a becoming a dollar millionaire. Soon, this can be a reality for you too.
In India, a lot of my students are regularly paid Rs. 1 LAKH per hour for Professional Speaking.
My Program Life Without A Boss … Expert Solopreneurship in action … had already made huge waves ever since I launched it in 2008. This time the response was even bigger as I could offer a completely revised version.
As a result, I launched my most prestigious and most ambitious offering ever: Jet-Set Speaker - Be The Millionaire Messenger. This program is the finishing piece to the entire jigsaw of making your-first-million-dollars.
The response to Jet-Set Speaker has been the best … breathtakingly incredible – among all my courses. More than 600 people have gone on record (on camera) saying that they had not received any education even one-hundredth as great as this … ever in their lives. But as this is an advanced program (the final frontier of being the real dollar-millionaire), this program is offered as an invitation-only course.
This is a guaranteed formula for making a million dollars in less than one year. Watch people raving about this course and its impact here:
Finally, once Reety got completely fit and fine, we refined this model and combined all the aforementioned offerings in a single model:
Your First Million Dollars – From Passion to Profits … seven steps to your first million-dollars.
We formally founded the company
More Money, More Time, More Impact
Break Free, Celebrate Yourself, Live Your Bliss
I have personally trained more than 25,000 people (since 2008) with this model and the results have been insanely spectacular.
My life’s current mission: I want to create more and more dollar millionaires in this world through Solopreneurship + Professional Speaking Model.
All this can be a reality for you as well. Think big. Take the plunge.
You can have a super-kickass, freaking-awesome, abso-fucking-lutely wonderful life.
What are you waiting for?
CUT To TODAY:
Every year, I spend an equivalent of eight months reading books, attending courses / events / webinars, meeting interesting people, traveling, and having scintillating conversations. LEARNING has never stopped. My life’s philosophy can be summarized in just two words: Student Always! I have been a Professional Speaker since 2003.
Having trained more than 50,000 working professionals across the country and abroad, my desire to impact people’s lives burns stronger than ever. Thousands of successful Solopreneurs in India owe their success to the value-education they received in the above-mentioned programs. In professional terms, I have had absolute bliss / fun in the last 18 years. The journey has been nothing short of ORGASMIC.
My lifelong belief: If you wish to have the combined thrill of bungee-jumping, mountain-climbing, paragliding, jungle-trekking, windsurfing, skiing, snowboarding, scuba-diving, boozing, doping, and wild partying, just become a Solopreneur … and, you’re sorted! As a Solopreneur, I have had the best roller-coaster joyride of my life. There hasn’t been even a single dull moment in my life in the last 18 years. A heady concoction of all the thrill elements—fun, adrenaline, rush, kick, joy, passion, insanity, obsession, and LOVE—is on offer every single moment.
To add to the thrill, every year I offer one completely unprecedented Program that has never been offered by anyone else anywhere in the world; this philosophy has been the single most crucial driving force in my life so far.
The journey has been OUTRAGEOUS FUN … PURE ORGASM!
What are you waiting for?
1. As Steve Jobs said: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle. “Keep looking. Don’t settle.” I think after 18 years of LOOKING, I have settled on “YOUR-FIRST-MILLION-DOLLARS.” Nothing else has ever given me more thrill. This is IMPACT PERSONIFIED.
2. My equation with my parents did mend a few years ago, though I have never lived with them since once I left home. They visit me sometimes. Things are quite peaceful now.