I don’t see how I would have become an entrepreneur if I had never been to the US. The reason I say this is because when I was in India, my life was goal-oriented and I was closely following a check list which most Indians have. The checklist includes topping all classes, getting a high percentage to get admission into one of the top engineering colleges, then after graduation moving to the US. That was success.
That’s all I had dreamt of while in India. My life was really disciplined, with set time allotted to studying and then to playing cricket. There was no room for anything else. The best part was I was checking things off the list very easily. In 2001, I graduated from BITS, was offered a job at Oracle and moved to the US. I was successful! I was really happy for the first few months because I was living my dream. But US, the way it is gives a lot of free time. There was a great work-life balance, but I didn’t know what to do with my free time.
That set me thinking, if I was indeed living my dream, why was I dissatisfied? I figured then that I didn’t check things off MY checklist. I had checked things off a checklist handed to me by the society I came from which thought of successful as having a secure money source. I don’t grudge it, because it also made me disciplined, but I realized that I really didn’t know what I wanted. I was answering some basic questions on my passions and interests. This drew me to the arts.
I had always admired art and artists, but I never attempted them when I was in India as there was no time for them. In the US, I ventured into volunteering for theatre and became part of an Indian theatre group which performed not only in California but also in different parts of India. I learnt to act, sing and dance, in fact, I also performed a few steps of Bharatanatyam on stage as part of our production! I had never imagined I would dance on stage!
This opened my mind to several possibilities that exist in this universe and lay the foundation for my company, but of course I didn’t know it then. Theatre taught me a lesson that I couldn’t have learnt elsewhere – it taught me to respect individual expertise and give room to individual creative expression. That was how all the plays came together; all the experts collaborated to give life to a stage creation within set parameters. I realized the power of bringing together several creative minds, something I practice till date.
I also dabbled in making short films and started learning Carnatic music, which I never attempted while staying in South India for a major part of my life! I found that I had become more of an India living outside India, whereas while I was in India the goal was to be in the US! I had found my flow by then; I enrolled in animation and screenwriting courses and trained my creative thoughts. I enjoyed animation along with music theatre and films. I also had my Oracle job, but the journey had by now become confusing because I couldn’t figure where all this was leading. I desired to combine technology with creativity, but I didn’t know the way then.
Then I moved to Singapore for an MBA. I got totally involved in the one-year program and completely forgot about the newfound love of art. After graduation I started applying for jobs in the animation Industry. I focused on being hired as a product manager in some of the well-known companies. Unfortunately or fortunately for me, the economy had crashed then and most companies had a hiring freeze. That set me thinking about the dream that I had harboured while in the US.
Incidentally, during my MBA we had played simulation games to understand organizational behaviour. I remembered the empowerment I felt when I played those games. The games helped me instantly understand the consequences of my decisions. They showed my failings and gave me several chances to improve, while teaching me all about organizational behaviour. That gave birth to Knolskape. I knew that nothing could be better than learning by watching the consequences of one’s actions.
It was incubated at INSEAD in Singapore, with most of the top MBA colleges as our clients. Soon we expanded to India to assist a lot of big companies in leadership and training, sales and marketing, finance and accounting, technology management, and programming. I didn’t know in 2001 that my dabbling into the arts would lead to the idea of experiential learning!
It changed me deep inside as a person where I started looking at life as more than a checklist, as more than an achievement game. It made life about moments and enjoying the newness in similar situations, like our simulation games. Now that I am back in India, it is quite easy for me lose myself in its pace, but having learnt by experience once, I do not take my environment for granted. I appreciate all that I never saw before while I was raised in India. I cannot say if I would have had the same journey if I had chosen to stay in India in 2001, but I know that I would have it no other way if I had to choose again.