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It was the first day of the Online Business Builder international marketing conference, and I was the second speaker in line. While the other guest speakers had average public speaking experiences of five years each, my presence at the event was a culmination of three days of non-stop practice.
“Forget the crowd – they are not even here” winked Todd, the seasoned professional speaker ahead of me. As much as I wanted to believe him, I couldn’t ignore the butterflies in my stomach. It was hard to fathom savvy entrepreneurs from around the globe had paid $4,000 to gather in a huge ballroom in Miami to learn and draw inspiration from speakers like me.
I was raised in the small town of Haridwar or the ‘Holy City’ in Northern India. My father was a mechanical engineer and my mother a homemaker. While on the outside we appeared to be a traditional Indian family, the truth is we were far from it. Our house was always a constant buzz of innovation and creativity, which sparked my intellectual creativity and fueled in me a deep love for learning. At 12 years old, I created a windmill power plant model using recycled material, which brought me special recognition from the school headmaster during my school’s ‘Annual Day’ celebrations. At 16, on my father’s encouragement, I created a miniature AutoCAD software in MS-DOS to solve an engineering problem he was facing in his career. This invention later earned me the second prize at a national IEEE software competition. My smallest victories at school inevitably became celebrations at home; the trophies I earned growing up are still the most precious possessions my parents claim to have. Their personal sacrifices and tireless efforts in raising my brother and I inspired me to work hard from a young age and seek a better future for my family.
Outside of the rigors of my academic life, I spent countless summer holidays with my industrialist uncles and cousins, gaining first-hand experience in helping them run a wide range of businesses spanning pharmacies in rural areas to auto dealerships and power plant factories. My exposure to the thrill of running an enterprise and the pride associated with providing others with a livelihood instilled in me an early passion for entrepreneurship. I seized every opportunity possible to get involved with local businesses by participating in internships, part-time jobs, fundraisers and marketing campaigns to feed my curiosity for the world of business.
I also spent my summers attending national camps aimed at building leadership skills, which helped me circumvent the many opportunities for self-doubt that most of my teenager peers grappled with, and I became a trusted confidante to many. In high school, I was elected to be a “house captain” to more than 250 fellow students and chief editor of my school’s magazine. These early leadership positions helped me realize my gift for building relationships and coaching others – two key components of my current endeavor.
My academic and extra-curricular accolades landed me a spot at one of India’s premier engineering schools, where I pursued my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. Being my first time away from home, this experience presented me with an opportunity to develop my own sense of independence and resilience. Graduating at the top 5% of my class, I joined India’s largest software company.
Despite having a coveted job along with a top-class education to back me up, I constantly yearned for a better life and future for myself and my family that I was increasingly finding difficult to attain in India. My interest in innovation and research earned me a scholarship to the University of Colorado, Boulder where I pursued a Masters in Electrical Engineering.
Upon graduating from the program, I accepted a coveted engineering position at Seagate, where I spent the first and final 5 years of my Corporate America career, before branching out to pursue my long-standing passion for starting and running my own company. I still remember the day when I walked away from my life as an employee, and the mixed feelings of joy for my new found freedom on the one hand, and fear of the unknown territory that lay ahead of me, on the other.
The past three years as an entrepreneur have been a transformational journey for me. During these years, two of the greatest challenges I have had to overcome have been learning to single-handedly run multiple aspects of my two start-ups, and secondly, structuring each day by putting maximum time and effort in the highest leveraged activities to deliver fast and measurable results for my clients. During this time, I have attended over 36 international business and marketing conferences and interacted with over 300 entrepreneurs from 18 different countries. The vast education I have received from existing business leaders has helped me set a strong foundation for my two start-ups, both of which are highly successful today.
The most fulfilling part of this journey has been the tangible impact I have been able to have on the lives of my clients, students and employees. I have found tremendous personal satisfaction in having created 23 jobs in the US / India and having personally coached dozens of emerging entrepreneurs around the globe. My life as an entrepreneur has also afforded me the opportunity to pursue my long-time interest of world travel, allowing me to spend precious time with my cherished family.
As I stepped on to stage to a clapping audience, I opened my presentation with the following quote by Robert Frost. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.” As I look back at my life, I realize that while my transition from a small town in India to the US is not uncommon, the story of my journey from humble roots in Haridwar to a successful career as an entrepreneur in the U.S. is a source of inspiration to those who know me.