‘Experience Is The Best Teacher? They Were Slightly Wrong’

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Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

When you are short on time, you need an army rather than just weapons. I was 19, still pursuing my Bachelor’s, when I started trying my hand at entrepreneurship. Back then, I felt I had all the time in the world to fail, learn, and get back on my feet again. But now, I’m about to turn 26 and have no stable income. My sister has completed her post-graduation, and my dad would like to retire sometime soon and return to India from the Middle East. And by the way, dad still pays rent for me. I had to learn my lessons quick, as I had realised that time wasn’t a luxury I had. It’s said that experience is the best teacher, but I think they were slightly wrong. People with experience are.

My best lessons have been outside formal education. They’ve come from odd places, or when someone trusted me enough to be able to make sure I’d get something done, or when I was pushed to question what I’d been taught at school and college.

Being a business management student, we were taught the importance of return on investment, how processes were done, what the requirements for a project were. Our assignments focussed on that, including the one in our final year that stressed on the importance of what and how. But when I started attending startup community events like Pune Open Coffee Club, I met people who asked me why I was doing whatever I was doing. They made me question myself. I learnt to identify problems that people were facing and to solve them. It came in handy when I recently applied to TiE Bootcamp, a Mumbai-based startup incubator.

In my second year of college, I suddenly found myself heading the technical & creative team of the entrepreneurship cell and we were to come up with a website in four days. I had never built a website and team members who were my seniors were caught in ego battles. It seemed like an impossible task. I asked around, got some guidance, and had a website ready just in time for the e-cell’s second anniversary. I learnt that you don’t necessarily need prior experience to do something. It came handy when I started an online lifestyle magazine in my final year of college, and then an egg specialty restaurant right after college. People still ask me if I was ever a journalism or a hotel management student.

When I was a kid, back in Saudi Arabia, as part of a school assignment, we were required to interview one of our parents. My dad confessed he’d considered being an interior designer, if he hadn’t become a doctor. When our balcony was extended to add another room in the house, we were left with an odd window in the wall between the two rooms — dining and living. The contractor suggested bricking it up and cementing it. Instead, dad came up with a rather lovely showcase to replace the window. Had it been between any other two rooms, it would’ve looked out of place. I learnt context. It came handy when I started designing interfaces for the web and mobile.

These are just some of the examples and the common threads between all of them are the people with experience who’ve been part of my life. Ever since college, I’ve made sure to surround myself with the right people. While people are wary of sharing their ideas and at times even ask others to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they discuss what’s on their mind, I readily bounce my ideas off people. I scout them out. I ask for references. Call them mentors, call them advisors, call them friends — they come in all forms. I stay in touch, give them a call at odd hours; catch up with them for a coffee or a drink. I interact with them on social networks. I’m always looking to meet new people. There’s always more to learn.

Let’s get a drink when you’re in Pune?

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