[This is a part of the series of articles on Failure. Do join us for The Fail Summit on September 29th]
Yesterday I met my friend Venkatesh Chandrasekaran, who is now heading R&D at Mahindra Satyam. For him, the job is just an aside. He is engaged in an ambitious Schools for India project. The project’s aim to build schools for rural India with Best in Class design and Best Infrastructure on BOT (build operate transfer) model. The program is entirely volunteer-driven. The first pilot project has come alive in Darbanga in Bihar. The second project is taking shape in Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu. For those of you who would think this is stupid, foolish, and idiotic to attempt something like this in rural India with no clear roadmap, you are mistaken. It’s that vision of shining villages and uplifting people in rural areas that drives Venkatesh. But the execution is not entirely on his shoulders. He transfers his vision to the various stakeholders who then drive the execution. If you thought this was something that worked, he also was instrumental in the Government of Tamil Nadu setting up Aerospace Park. He just tossed a compelling idea to the government and able officers carried forward the idea with their execution to come up with the Aero Park. What drives him? Passion to make a difference. The very notion of failure gets redefined in people driven by passion.
Venkatesh introduced me to Sridhar Lakshmanan, founder of ecologin, which is engaged in providing alternative tourism to various not very well known destinations in Tamil Nadu. They also offer a guided tour for a small group interested. Venkatesh told me Sridhar is a compulsive traveller with no plans. Supposing they decide to go to Srinagar, they would just go to Chennai Central and board a train. From there, the journey begins. They would get down at any place they decide to and find accommodation in schools or somewhere. Then decide to take a flight from there to Delhi and reach Srinagar. This happened to Venkatesh when he tagged along Lakshmanan. For Lakshmanan, it is just a translation of his experience into a company. What drives him? His own desire to explore and help other people get his experience. For people who follow their heart, failure is nonexistent. Because they would always endeavour to do things that make things work.
I had known Chandu Nair, who was founder of eScope Knowledge and just exited the company a year back, for over three years now. He is an active mentor, a jovial conversationalist, and an engaging speaker. He once told me about problems with his cofounders and others that almost brought his second venture on the brink of failure. He said, “We could have easily taken up jobs. But we didn’t do that.” I asked him what kept him going, to which he said, “I would call it stupidity. We don’t want to be known as failures to the outside world.” That drove him to start another business. His persistence paid off. His investors got multiple times returns. And Chandu Nair and another friend brought shares of the other two friends. They stayed alive in business to script a success story and eventually made a stellar exit.
The common link to succeeding for these kinds of entrepreneurs is passion. Passion is most misunderstood. Gurucharan Das said in a TiECON keynote that your work should absorb you to such extent that you forget yourself. What immerses you that you lose yourself in it is passion. What happens is that you always find a way out of difficult circumstances, however pressing they are. The outsiders look at it as a tremendous problem. But you blow it away without knowing you are withering a storm. Passion finds your heart and not your mind. The next time you use the word passion to describe an entrepreneur, just be careful. Passion is not persistence per se. It’s something beyond that.
Four friends joined together and met an investor. They convinced him to invest in their idea. The investor agreed and was seeing them progressing. After nine months, they come up and tell the investor that they are no longer interested in the business. The investor was furious but also curious. He asked why. They said, “We wanted to build this company and sell it to Google in a year. That didn’t happen. So we are quitting.” If your vision is to sell your company to Google, there is a fundamental problem with what you want to do. And never has Google sought companies that want to sell to them. This is a sure path to failure. There are many other ways of making money rather than building a business and selling it to Google.
What is common among entrepreneurs driven by passion is the notion of failure getting redefined or becoming nonexistent. They stay afloat not because they wanted to make money, sell to Google or have fun. They cling on because they are passionate about what they are doing. They literally live their passion. And the business will succeed and triumph any disaster.