Moving Around

Continued from: As a Teenager

I don’t know how I spent the last two years of my Engineering. All I can remember is that it was hectic. We had a semester scheme – meaning we had to take about 8-9 exams at the end of every six months.

Each semester would be something like this

Month 1 – Getting acquainted with the topics, teachers and simply getting settled

Month 2 – First Test

Month 3 – Second Test

Month 4 – Third Test (in case we didn’t get good marks in the first two tests) and finishing up all the labs and submissions

Month 5 – Final exams

Month 6 – Break and Final Exam Results

There was really no time to relax. Add some extra-curricular activities, movies etc. and you really don’t have time to relax.

My First Taste of Entrepreneurship

I know my logic was flawed. But at that time I didn’t realize that it was flawed. The moment I finished my engineering, I got together with two of my close friends to start a company. It was a software training company. Long story short – the company folded fast before we realized what was really happening.

It was a good lesson to learn but a hard one to digest at that time. I thought I was smart but that was in the domain of writing. What I didn’t realize (then) was that an expertise in one domain (writing) could not easily be transferred to another domain (entrepreneurship)

After my failed attempt at starting a company, I decided to not take any more risks and started looking for employment.

My (Accidental) Second Taste of Entrepreneurship

In 1992 I took up a full-time job as a consultant with a financial software company, in their wholesale banking division. My core responsibility as a team member in the Foreign Exchange and Money Markets division (FX and MM) was to customize FX and MM programs to meet client needs. This was my first real full time job and it was exciting in that sense. In the eighteen months I spent at this company, my attempts to create a difference in the organization were insufficient, and I left in search of better, “ideal” places that would receive my “impact creating” resume with open arms.

In early 1994, I had a breakthrough. There was this CEO of a Malaysian conglomerate who had managed to look into time, and had realized that IT was going to be one sizeable weapon of strategic advantage he could wield in his market. I was given an opportunity to work for this company as a business analyst, analyzing basic needs and translating them into technology solutions. I was excited about the “promotion” and the opportunity to work in a foreign country. Fate, though, had other plans in store for me. I landed in Malaysia to find that the company ran only two software programs for its entire operations: Wordstar and Lotus 123. Two more programmers who were hired for the new company had already reported in. I spent the next two weeks talking with people throughout the company. I listened to people explain their needs, and then I created a shortlist of opportunities where new technology could fill these needs. When I met with the CEO three weeks later, I was still under the impression that there was to be someone to manage the organization, not knowing that the CEO had no one in mind. Curiosity got the better of me, and I ventured to ask about the plans for the subsidiary. My CEO retorted that it was up to me to have a plan, rather than ask him for it. I suppose it was a defining moment in my life.

I realized that asking the right questions were as important, and perhaps even more important than finding the right answers. I spent the next two months educating myself about the business of computing, technology management, and business process reengineering. I presented a two year plan to the CEO, who simply said, “I like it.” I was made the General Manager for the division. The next two years were truly a test, since I had to work and learn simultaneously. What I learned I could apply almost instantly—how much better could an education get? Granted, I was not an expert, but I had the full support of an entire company to innovate and take risks. The two year project was extremely successful. Several Malaysian newspapers wrote articles about how we used technology to gain a competitive advantage in our business. I was also invited to share this story as a speaker at two international conferences in Singapore and Malaysia.

A Taste of Singapore and the trigger to move to the Valley

After my two-year stint in Malaysia, Kavitha and I moved to Singapore in 1996. Loved the place and the job. I was managing a project for Standard Chartered Bank. It was a mega project that would have users from three different countries – Singapore, Malaysia and HongKong. The job involved a reasonable amount of travel but I totally enjoyed every bit of it.

Somewhere in 1997, one of my ex-colleagues visited our home. He was traveling from Sydney and on his way to Bangalore he stopped over at Singapore probably for some last minute shopping. Over dinner, he talked about a lot of things and finally told me – “Rajesh, you are a creative person and may be you should consider moving to the Silicon Valley. That would be good for you.”

Now, I will say something that will totally prove to you that I can be a clueless idiot. I asked him – “OK. I am interested to know more. But where is this Silicon Valley?”

My friend was stunned to realize that I had no clue where Silicon Valley was. Long story short – over the next few months, I learned a lot about Silicon Valley and we (Kavitha and I) moved to Silicon Valley in April 1997. That was the start of an exciting journey.

The Turning Point

Although I had managed to build a company (subsidiary) and also managed to lead a large distributed team, I was told that everyone comes to United States as a Programmer. So I came here as a Programmer.

Like every other programmer that was hired for the job, I went through training of several new sotware applications and most of them were related to Customer Relationship Management (CRM.) The next step for me was to wait for a customer project. Meanwhile, I was engaged in doing some “in-house” project. I think that “in-house” project was cooked up mostly to keep people like me busy. I was few weeks into this and was sort of getting worried as nobody was talking about a new project coming up soon.

One day, my Boss told me that there was an opportunity to work at Hewlett Packard but it was not supposed to be a software implementation project but a documentation project. Most of my friends ran away from the scene quoting one or the other reason as they didn’t want to spend their time documenting something. They wanted to “work” on the software project not document what was done.

I thought about the opporutnity for a few minutes and realized that it would be better for me to work on “something” rather than wait for “something” to happen. So I took up that challenge. This one decision would shape a number of things in my life in the coming years.

The project was just not a documentation project. It was a project to create a cookbook for the global rollout of a CRM initiative. I was supposed to interact with all the teams (there were more than 100 members in the team) and create a framework for successfully rolling out the CRM project. It was way more fun than anyone would ever imagine. I got educated (on the job) on a multi-million dollar CRM implementation and I could ask anything and everything from any of the teams there. It was just an exhilirating experience of learning.

In six weeks or so I created a 100 page cookbook (with a 12-page executive summary) for the Global CRM rollout at HP. It seems like that was WAY more than what the stakeholders of the project were expecting. Everyone was delighted and I got meetings with every senior person on the team including the project sponsors. Without my knowledge, I had made a big impression with one of our biggest clients.

That turned out to be my turning point from being a Programmer to instantly being a Project/Program Manager – leading and managing projects.

Over the next three years, I managed large CRM and eCommerce projects in US and Europe, built large teams of Professional Services Consultants and helped with sales and business development.

Flirting with startup ideas

Over the last three years (while I was busy building Professional Services teams) I had tried my hands with several startup ideas. Most of those initiatives went to the “startup idea graveyards” sooner than later. I don’t remember all of them. Here are a few:

OnePassword: The problem we identified was that people can’t remember all the usernames and passwords for the various sites they belong to. This site would be a launchpad for all the sites. We got several meetings with the VCs but could not explain how we will finally make money.

Today we have OpenID, FacebookConnect, FriendConnect etc.

OnlineSouvenirs: It’s difficult to carry all the souvenirs from a tourist location. So this site will help you order them from the web. This one went dead very quickly. The idea was dumb enough and I have not seen anyone attempt this even today (luckily)

eSeva: We thought that apartment complexes still don’t use the web for logging service calls and managing them. So offer apartment complexes a simple SaaS based service offering customized for apartment complexes. I think we even got a few apartment complexes willing to try our software. The idea didn’t leave the garage.

Finally, somewhere in 2000 there was a hit. I don’t know it was a good idea or an idea that “hit” me but something happened. For the professional services group that I was managing, we were hiring hundreds of people and found that there is a breakdown in the process of hiring quality technology professionals. And we thought we could introduce an elegant solution.

So, the company “Certified Talent, Inc” was born.

Getting the “timing” wrong (Big time)

There were five co-founders for Certified Talent, Inc. I won’t go into all the details but just to say that as we started finalizing our offer of providing “certified” talent, the dot-com bubble was bursting and things were unraveling at a pretty good speed. Everything was going insane and nobody was hiring anyone from any recruiter and we were trying to tell companies that they should hire only “certified” talent.

The “timing” of our venture couldn’t have been more wrong.

Continued at “The Real Education