It all started with misfires, failure and anger.
A few decades ago, my dad said, “I don’t see much future in you.” My school teacher told my mom, “Your son is weak in all subjects!” Thus begins the list of my failures.
I applied to the National School of Design. (I was a born painter). Failed again. Applied to Jamia Millia University and Rabindra Bharti University for studying Mass Communication. I successfully failed to get selected. The security guard at Mudra didn’t even allow me to get in with my CV. Trikaya Grey (now Grey Worldwide) liked my portfolio but rejected it as I did not hold any professional degree in design. A dozen internships misfired. I worked for 3 years in a design studio as an intern with only a promise of a payment. They stole my designs! I quit in anger. My Lady Luck had no intention of showing up. Misfires continued. But I was shameless and kept on exploring as many things as I could think of. In those days I couldn’t afford business magazines so I rented second-hand books from the stalls on the roadside. These were my sole source of inspiration. In one of these, I found contact details of 200 CEOs. To stand out among the plethora of CVs I was sure they were used to receiving, I sent them a coloured print out of my creative CV. It cost me a fortune in those days. None of them replied. I lost my self-confidence and hope. I found strength to try again though.
My first job
I somehow managed my first job as a designer-cum-visualizer. That gave me some hope. My second boss was kind enough to give me a job in marketing. I got promoted 6 times in 5 years in that company. I had found my path. But soon I realized, there were many gaps in my knowledge and that I was not future-ready. I began thinking about studying further. Landed at IIM Calcutta. The late Subroto Sengupta (ad man, author, academician, and ex-CEO of Clarion Advertising) was kind enough to let me into his brand management course at half the fee because I couldn’t afford food and residential fees in those years. I had thus found a teacher. This incident changed me, and my attitude towards everything forever.
My good, bad and the ugly bosses:
They say that damaged people are dangerous, they know they can survive.
I found more horrible bosses than good ones. I now think they were a blessing in disguise. They tried to break me and my self-confidence in unimaginable ways. But they didn’t realise it was burying me to kill me was futile. Because I was a seed. I’d like to think I still am.
I tried to move to Mumbai for the next 7 years. Successfully failed, but at last, got a chance to visit Mumbai for a month as a brand manager to study the market for a client fell in love with this city. I over-stayed here for 6 months and went back to Calcutta.
Life in a Metro
By that time, I had realized Mumbai was my place. Mumbai taught me three things.
- If you have a skill, you have a future.
- If you want a future, you have to sacrifice first.
- If you sacrifice, you win.
Mumbai took away many things.
My savings pushed me hard, cornered me, even took away my jobs along with recessions.
But Mumbai was kind too.
It gave me many great men who are still my mentors, well-wishers and friends. I once met Anurag Batra (Chaiman and Editor-in-Chief, Businessworld) in an elevator for four minutes. He gave me his business card. I texted him later and he replied too. I had found a mentor in him. I was then an obscure employee of a sinking company. He never treated me like that: instead, he started inviting me to all his marketing conferences.
Three things more I learnt in Mumbai:
- The industry stalwarts here are kind and approachable. One must know how to leverage the opportunities.
- Avoid transactional relationships here, and people will remember you.
- Never ask for help. Offer help instead. You gain respect faster.
Anger is good, and so are rejections and misfires. But you have to be a little shameless to ignore them.
At last out of anger, I formed my own company.
I had been working hard out of anger all of my life. In the end, I have created jobs for a dozen. Anger motivates you to keep moving forward.
Misfires build you. Never stop firing!