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Make money doing what you love
June 20, 2007
Answer this honestly: Do you work because you have to? Or because you want to? The majority of us would, reluctantly, have to plump for the former. However, an increasing number of Indians are finding the perfect balance on the work-life ratio concept by converting a passion into a paying proposition. It's not easy, but look at it this way - you don't need to work ever again.
All fun and games
Like Vishal Gondal, 30. Hooked onto computer games since a very early age, gaming became a full-blown obsession by the time he was in his teens. One day, when he was barely 20, he walked into the Pepsi corporate office in Mumbai and persuaded their head honcho to check out a game he had developed. It involved shooting down simulations of bitter competitor Coke's cola cans. "It was music to their ears," Gondal grins.
The young entrepreneur sold the game to Pepsi for Rs 60,000, and went on to create games for brand names like Colgate, Kellogg's and Hindustan Lever [Get Quote]. In 1999, the Kargil war prompted him and a handful of associates to come up with a computer game, where the objective was to shoot down enemy soldiers. The game, called I Love India, was a huge hit. He then launched Indiagames, now a 350-people company with offices in Mumbai, Beijing and Los Angeles and a 2006 turnover of $5 million.
Sounds like a fairy tale? The happy ending - not that the success story's over - perhaps had something to do with the founder's complete belief in his idea. "There was no real market research or business vision behind the venture," says Gondal. "I launched Indiagames simply because it was what I loved."
After the initial tunnel vision, though, the entrepreneur has shown exemplary business sense. After venture capitalists bought into the idea, funding Indiagames with Rs 3.5 crore (Rs 35 million), Gondal diversified into mobile game publishing, game distribution in India and online, on-demand gaming.
At the same time, Gondal retains his childlike enthusiasm for gaming. "From the very beginning, I believed that if you are passionate about your dream, the money would follow. Even today, I play all day at office and then play some more when I get home on my XBox and Nintendo game consoles."
The sound of Rock
If Gondal's family once despaired of a son who flunked his B.Com finals, people even today would find it incredible that the six-member Parikrama can make a living out of music that is not Bollywood. One of the biggest English rock band in India, however, prefers to call their occupation "a hobby that pays well".
Says bassist-turned-keyboardist Subir Malik, 36, who formed the band back in 1991: "We have dedicated our entire lives to rock music. I told the band in 1991 that this is one thing I would never compromise on. So even today, we do what we love - play rock and roll - and on our own terms."
Parikrama's first paid gig was at Father Agnels School, New Delhi, on Independence Day in 1991, for which they were promised Rs 500. "But the organisers really liked what we did and gave us Rs 500 each," says Malik. Since then, the band has only gotten bigger as rock music in India grew in popularity. Parikrama now earns around Rs 200,000 per concert and most band-members nurture music-related jobs to ensure they "don't turn into Indipop artistes for want of money". Guitarist Sonam Sherpa, for instance, runs the Parikrama School of Music in Delhi, while others have launched studios and artist management set-ups.
"The going is not as difficult now as it was during our initial years. Careers in rock music are more feasible now, with the genre winning the patronage of pub-owners and event-organisers," says Malik. "Today, there are a million bands and they're all playing good music. I have never seen so much talent in my entire career!"
So does running a band cost the earth? Surprisingly, no. The band's overheads are minimal since the organisers pick up the tab for most of the costs. And things will only get better, as Malik says: "We're going to celebrate our 16th anniversary in the UK. We have been invited by Rod Smallwood (rock group Iron Maiden's legendary manager) to play nine shows in the UK, including the 3-day Download Festival. After that, you can be sure we'll hike our fees."
But money isn't the only objective for hobby-hunters; pure altruism, too, can be a driving force. Take Sajid Peerbhoy, 62-year-old veteran of the advertising industry and a spiritual teacher. The man who started Speer Communications (later taken over by Ogilvy & Mather) in 1979 is today known as 'Karmajyoti' by his disciples.
Peerbhoy's spiritual awakening began after he met a Sufi spiritual guru in 1969. Though drawn instantly to Sufism, he had to keep it a secret since "other people could not know about it". The corporate life and Sufism, he says, just didn't mix.
For close to 30 years, Peerbhoy disguised his spiritual leanings with the trappings of the life of an advertising bigwig. Eleven years ago, however, he sold Speer to O&M and devoted himself and all his savings to helping individuals. At his ashram Nyasa in Alibaug, near Mumbai, he teaches meditation and self-awareness techniques to a corporate clientele and individual disciples.
Because the residential programme is entirely free of cost, Peerbhoy realised his savings would run out before his students would. But, so far, voluntary donations and corporate fees have taken care of
"But I've never had a fraction of a moment's doubt about my decision to quit advertising," says the ad guru-turned-soul guru. "People once mocked me, but my sense of fulfilment came from showing people a better way of life."
For Peerbhoy, the sense of 'giving back' far outweighs any monetary loss he might have made.
Food for thought
There's soul food and then there is, well, sinfully good food. As with Gondal or even Parikrama, money was never the motivation for Madhu Menon's decision to quit a seven-year career in IT for a leap into the unknown of the restauranting business.
"All I knew was that Bangalore, my base, needed a good, affordable Asian cuisine restaurant, and that I, as a chef, could deliver," says Menon, 31.
But the computer science graduate was also aware that the lack of professional training could be a huge handicap. "There was no way I could acquire the skills and knowledge required to run a restaurant in a short time. I think one of the best decisions I made was to hire an experienced and knowledgeable manager. After all, a good businessman must also be able to hire smart people."
Menon's timing was important as well. He launched Shiok Far-Eastern Cuisine while he was in his 20s, knowing that he would be able to take and bear higher risks at that point than at any later stage in life. "Though we never borrowed money from banks, we had a Rs 500,000 overdraft facility that we used frequently in the initial year-and-a-half," says the geek-turned-chef. "Now I'm about a year away from breaking even."
Walk the wild side
Maybe Menon's lack of entrepreneurial experience proved a handicap. But T.G. 'Tiger' Ramesh broke even in his new venture, Cicada Resorts, within a matter of months. After all, each entrepreneur has a different story.
The big idea struck Ramesh, 41, during a trip to Africa. "I realised that eco-tourism could help protect the environment in many ways. So, in May 2005, I left India's first remote IT infrastructure management company, which I had helped set up, to launch Cicada Resorts."
With $2 million from investors like Phaneesh Murthy of PM Ventures and H B Jairaj of the HRB Group, Ramesh set forth to involve the local community in resort operations on the banks of the Kabini river in the Nagarhole National Park, 220 km from Bangalore. Local involvement, he believes, will promote the local economy and reduce their dependence - and consequent pressure - on the forest.
With Cicada Resorts attracting 700 guests a month, Ramesh is dreaming of investing an additional $13 million on expansion. "Budgets aren't a problem. But adequate loss buffers are essential. A simple oversight can cost time and money a start-up can't afford," he points out. And the pay-off? "The biggest satisfaction is that I go on work to the forest instead of going on vacation."
There are two ways to have fun at what you do. One is to find something and derive pleasure from it. The other and, perhaps, easier option is to take something that gives you pleasure and commit your career to it. The really important thing is clarity of thought and the willingness to forgo the comfort of a monthly cheque.
Word of caution
Understand what kind of business you want to go in for. For example, if you are thinking of converting your love for cooking into a business, do you see yourself working part-time, perhaps by opening a catering service? Or, do you see yourself investing 18-hour days to build a large business, such as a chain of restaurants? It's important to consider your vision for life - not just business.
One works on hobbies because one loves to spend time at the endeavour, not because one is trying to meet a customer's needs. One needs to be careful to ensure that there is, indeed, a market for one's product.A good idea is to minimise investment while trying to determine whether other people like your services. Adjust your investment to match your success and your choice of lifestyle. In other words, don't judge whether your hobby is a good business simply by your own love for your endeavours - other people will have to love it for you have a business.