It’s been almost 19 years and I have never written about how I landed into my first business till now. I think I should write it down while remembering some key memories of the time. I was around 19 years old then, studying B.Sc. First Year in my hometown. It would be easy for me to talk about how passionate I was about doing the business but that would be a lie. Truth is, I started it out of necessity. I could do it because some dots were present at that time and I could connect them.
At that time, I was looking for ways to support my family, my ongoing degree education, and save for my post-graduation. Mere three-digit pension my mother used to receive was hardly covering the day-to-day expenses. To overcome this, I cancelled my admission to a reputed institution and decided to cut costs by continuing my studies in hometown. But cost-cutting was not enough.
Fortunately, the campus of my degree college and that of my earlier junior college where I completed my 12th was the same. During my 11-12th, somehow I earned local fame for a different way of thinking, learning, and also for my oratory skills. My batchmates and juniors used to call me ‘scientist’ while talking to each other. All of this had happened naturally and that wave was strong for a few more years and this proved really helpful to me.
So, I was in the B.Sc. First Year. Some of the 11th class students studying in the same campus knew me personally. They started to come to my home to ask their doubts. I have this habit where I first find out what the student knows, and then I go on building upon it in the best possible way. Genuinely saying, I had no formal training of all this, but Maybe, having read too many fiction/non-fiction books during schooldays has helped. So the word about my ability to explain concepts in a way that helps students understand better and also enjoy studies started spreading.
During the same time, the education department was vigilant and was taking strict action against salaried (government grant) teachers involved in paid coaching. So there was a chance that students would flock if a good teacher presents them with an option. This opportunity was not directly visible to me first but became clear to me as it worked in my favor. (Later when those teachers started their coaching, I could maintain the first spot till the time I was operational.)
So, I decided to start a coaching. I named it ‘Drishti Study Centre’. Drishti means Vision. My belief that the right vision will help you learn anything better was the reason behind name. I chose Chemistry as a subject. I decided to use a 150 sq ft room in our house, which was a small shed on government leased land. The area and the locality were not favorable yet within the first three days room was packed (25-30 students could seat). From the fourth day we were in a rented hall with a capacity of 80-90 students and by end of the week over 200 students had registered with advanced payment.
How could Drishti Study Centre grow so quickly? I think the answer lies in the dots I explained in the above paragraphs which somehow got connected. The support of well-wishers was obviously a very important factor too.
I remember counting the first bundle of cash, First color TV, first CD player, first Fridge, first owned plot, first Bike in our family coming with that venture. I could support my own education and some more family responsibilities. I remember eating sweets in a hotel every day for many consecutive days only because I could not when I earlier wanted to. Many foolish dreams and foolish ways of completing them!
With time, I had to get a PAN number and pay excise duty/tax. I Was not aware of any business terms and legalities. (I even don’t understand many of them till date, but I complied with them). Then in 2005, I had to plan for my M.Sc. I gradually closed the operation by carefully completing the syllabus for the last batch. Many of the students are still in touch and I am very proud to be part of their journey (though very small).
Though, my subjects in B.Sc. were Physics, Maths, and Electronics. I.e. my formal education in chemistry was of HSC level and I was about to teach Chemistry to HSC students. My students knew it yet trusted me with their learnings. Also, I didn’t consider it as my lacunae, instead, I think that it helped me to avoid information overload and I built the concepts bottom-up than top-down. along with that, While I was teaching Chemistry, I participated in most Chemistry competitions like quizzes, seminars, etc., and secured top ranks. It was helpful for me in two ways; increasing my chemistry knowledge and also establishing my authority in a subject.
Coming to the point, I don’t want to lie by saying I had a plan. I didn’t. Even when I went on to start multiple ventures after my M.Sc., I don’t think I had a plan. All I had was courage and the ability to adapt quickly. First I started teaching because I needed money. The next time, I left a good salaried job and started teaching for much less because students needed it. And then, I Went on to spend most of my time as an activist and social entrepreneur.
Until a few years back, the practices, the vocabulary, and the community of the entrepreneurial world were unknown to me. I have started from scratch multiple times and never thought of ROI in some of the ventures. I went on to do something because it needed to be done; sometimes for me, sometimes for friends, and sometimes for society. If there is a person with the problem and if its solution is not going to bring profits, will that never be solved? I feel we all can take up such problems. TCO has always been an important metric for me. Not ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ but ‘Total Cost of Overlooking’.
Today, I understand the sustainability of the solution and hence, how business is important. As I am deep diving into the role of Product Owner and understanding the systematic methods of creating value, I feel confident moving forward. With the new insights, I keep on visiting my journey so far, not to regret but to analyze what knowledge at what point would have helped me make better decisions. But when I think about my first business, I wouldn’t change any bit of it.
Toast to everyone’s first business!