CEL, A life changing phenomenon – PART1 (with my seniors)
As the electric train rocketed its way towards Hazrat Nizamuddin, I was sinking inside my jerk and hugging tight my back-pack to bring in extra-warmth to my chilled and sinking heart, with my half-closed eyes starring at the old Punjabi couple deep asleep in front of me and a teen aged guy reading a distorted Urdu paper under the dim yellow lamp. I took a deep breadth and started re-collecting the last few moments of my last day at Pilani. It was when I went to room no: 3210, where I otherwise go with a prepared agenda and all geared up to meet some of the best minds on-campus. Usually on opening the lock, my hands reach out to the light switch and then move to the only cushioned chair in front of the IBM Black vista – almost in a programmed fashion. This time things were quite different – no agenda, staggering my way through aimlessly across the dark corridors of FD3 facing the S-lawns, with a heavy heart I rammed the key into the lock for one last time. I didn’t search for the light switch, nor did I head for the computer desk – rather I pulled a chair near the window facing the Birla Museum and started gazing at the clear Pilani skies. What I saw were not stars, but –
It was someday on April 2003 after a heavy Tuesday dinner as usual, I was browsing through the KG notice board when I saw something different – it read “Calling interested people for the BITS Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (BCEL), who’d be responsible for creating this new club on-campus”. It was a time when I was leading a typical 2nd year student’s life – unfazed by literally anything in life, hanging out with girls and trying to cajole an impressive bunch of them, had no clue on what I’m going to do in life and so on. Luckily, I was scrupulous enough to keep myself away from alcohol and tobacco unlike some of my friends, and I’ve always felt proud of being a sober man. But I decided to do something worthwhile in attending this BCEL meeting scheduled at 3201, at a stage when I wasn’t even sure how to spell entrepreneurship and me being a tam-brahm underlines that fact! In half hours, I was sitting among some of the shred minds on-campus – all seniors discussing things which seemed well out-of-age and clearly beyond my plane of intelligence. I just gave a good affirmative nod after every person made a point (not sure if I really got that point ;)). I have heard stories of this newly elect girl prez of BITS-SU called Aditi Pany, but never did I get to know her in person. I don’t know if Aditi ever realized, little dino (as she addresses me – for Christ sake I don’t know how I resemble Dino, the little dinosaur to her eyes!) learnt so much from her, by just observing and listening. For the 1st time in life I saw so much passion, fire and spirit in the eyes, as Aditi briefed her plans for BCEL – I learnt how to speak and get people enthused to what you speak. During that 1st interaction, I met Jimit, Sasi, Susheel and Vinay and everyone were senior to me and speaking things way lot more mature than me.
Jimit, Sci, Aditi, Harsha, Me, Anupendra
Days rolled by and we hit-upon this guy called Harsha of CSD who joined our team – this person is the one who then went about changing the tread of my life itself. I still quote Harsha as my first and best mentor in my life. We didn’t do anything remarkable in the first 6 months – rather we just met every now and then and brainstormed and got ourselves acquainted with all the business lingoes and schools of thought, which were hitherto alien to a place like BITS Pilani. Those long nights we spent together trying to start something new on-campus was a learning of my lifetime. Harsha by then got into the habit of reading every other book on business/management that BITS procured for its library and he started educating us on how business is done across the world and what some of the greatest business leaders think! And we had this greatest Seller and Management Prodigy called Jimit Arora (Jimmy as we call him), who adds a B School dimension to our discussions. You don’t have to take organizational behavior, Fundamentals of Finance, Negotiation and other B School classes – we learnt all those dry text book concepts the hard way.
After a life transforming couple of months that ended my II-2, I headed for Bangalore for my 1st internship, when I actually felt the change in me – A Mallika Sherawat smooch in Quaish didn’t make my head turn, but a news clip that read “ A 23 year old MIT grad quits $ 200, 000 job for starting his own company” did! People around me said I was going nuts, but I cared a damn about their comments. I started talking things that no more interested my ex-wingies, friends and relatives – and that’s when Aashish Bhinde (one of our alumni advisors) told us “You could not have two wives and manage things. The ball is in your court. Make a decision – Go for the kill or Close shop!” in a marathon 7 hour discussion that ended with a coffee in ANC at 2AM (I still remember the perplexed looks of late nighters in ANC on seeing Aditi). Then those “I’ll risk death to do what I want” type dudes from St. Stephens Delhi came to meet us and we had some real enlightening stuff. I realized for the 1st time what the words fearless, perseverance, focus, guts and energy meant. Team CEL then went through a lot of highs and lows – we had all those hot sessions running to the early morning, Sci slamming the doors and leaving, Jimmy sending an email saying he quits, Harsha invading Arya’s house, Anto bullshitting SB Mishra almost on his face, Sushee-Vinay quitting and joining and quitting CEL, Aditi spending less time with us and more with her rural group, enthu-less faculty counting every paise we spend, printing dessert coupons for Zing which the Diro blatantly rejects, Harsha is faculty or student, Jimmy I’d miss you when Devika comes back to campus, Harsha giving un-ending treats, CSD = CEL Service Dept?, and so much, so much more happened. But what remained constant was my belief that this is all going to add up to a better
Pappu and SKY - the brainstorm spot!
Then with all the inputs from the team and alumni, we became a part of the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) and Wadhwani Foundation became our seed funders and I started seeing the bigger picture of an organization evolving out of the little CEL we started. People started talking of recruiting, creating processes, putting systems in place, feed back analysis, documenting, writing the B Plan, networking, fixing deliverables, assigning responsibilities and so on. I started growing in confidence with my meeting of every big entrepreneur who come to campus then and there (I candidly remember the some of video interviews I took with Vijay Rao, CEO Epicenter and Raju Reddy, CEO Sierra Atlantic and Mr. Anand Pillay, CEO CLIME). Harsha was with me all along, correcting and keeping my cool all the way – I can’t imagine a better leader than Harsha, I’m really fortunate to have worked with him for a good 2 years which the lesser fortunate juniors at CEL didn’t manage to get! Then came the couple of NEN working sessions in Bombay and Ahmedabad, where I got to meet some quality people from IIT B, IIM A, SP Jain and IBAB. Well those were glimpses of my life at CEL with my seniors and alumni. Frankly I haven’t done justice to my experience with them all, which I’d cherish for a life time by this small post of mine. But then, nobody would read a 100 page post on a blog – I promise to allot a Chapter for this in my book which I plan to write in another 5 years or so. I would come to all of you for help in re-collecting a lot of events – Hope to work with the sweetest gang again for my book! Thanks to you all, for all that you have done to me – please be in touch! Well the next post would be on CEL Part2 (with juniors and Harsha of course a common factor!).