He shunned a seven-figure salary to become an entrepreneur
A Commerce graduate from St Xavier's College, Kolkata, mathematics was always Vineet Patawari's first love. Plus, he belonged to an entrepreneur family. His father operates a firm in Kolkata that deals with manufacturing and trading of garments. Vineet, the youngest in the family, clearly wasn't much interested in the family business.
After pursuing his CA (Chartered Accountant), Patawari says he wanted to study further. He appeared for the Common Admission Test and scored 99 percentile. Among the several calls he received, Patawari chose to pursue his MBA in finance from IIM-Indore in 2008.
After completing his MBA, Vineet had the option of choosing a seven-figure salaried job offer with J P Morgan or go back to Kolkata and join his family business. But then, Vineet was not convinced to take up either of them.
He had a different dream going for him. In November 2008 CAT became an online exam. He thought that this was just the right time when all the aspirants would switch to web-based learning and like every other visionary entrepreneur, he dreamt of optimising the situation and starting his venture.
While he was still at IIM-Indore, Vineet had started working on an online portal Fireup.co.in, his first entrepreneurial venture.
Fireup was conceptualised to serve as an online portal offering CAT preparation material to aspirants from different parts of the country on a single platform. Right from tips and strategies to mock tests and other useful material, the portal intended to serve as a platform where aspirants could self-train themselves for the exam from the comfort of their homes.
As easy as it sounds, things did not work out as planned. Vineet's partner, who had also invested in the project, was a computer engineer and had agreed to help him manage the coding and maintenance of the website. Since Vineet was a finance graduate and came from a non-technical background, he had to rely on his engineering partner to get the website up in shape. By the time, the website had kind of fired up, he had already lost a year.
That's when he learnt his first lesson -- there is a huge difference between starting a project and getting it operational. Although Vineet had successfully managed the former, he was a few miles away from seeing his dreams materialise.
His father had already invested a huge sum of money in this project and in the last one year, he had not made enough profits through the business so much to sustain on it. Meanwhile, he also got married in 2009, which further added to his share of responsibilities.
Although he was a visiting faculty at St Xavier's College where he trained students in management courses, it wasn't enough to sustain a family after marriage. He realised that he had to think of a fixed source of income; meaning, he had to start hunting for a job.
Vineet recalls those months as the most challenging and defining moments of his life.
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Image: Vineet Patawari
'I had to keep up my hopes as I had to start from scratch'
"When I sat down to write my CV and cover letter I realised that besides my summer internship experience of three months, I did not have sufficient work experience to back my qualifications. I mentioned my start-up experience, but I don't think it helped much."
It was then, says Vineet, he relied on the old-boy networking school and called up his IIM batchmates. Thankfully, he found them extremely helpful and co-operative towards him.
"I would browse almost every other job site and send out about 10 to 20 job applications every day. It was tiring and monotonous, but I could not afford to give up," says he.
Since he was based in Kolkata and initially was considering job offers within the city, he realised this constraint was not helping him get a better deal from recruiters. "The salary offered was nothing close to the placement offers I received a year back at IIM. A lot of things had changed for me in that one and a half year."
Vineet had to make a choice and take another risk of moving to a different city. Besides, he had received an offer to work with Irevna, a division of Crisil India Limited for their Chennai branch. The package too was better than what he was being offered in Kolkata. That helped him take a decision. "I did not think twice and immediately took up the offer and moved to Chennai to join them as a Research Analyst," shares Vineet.
Even when he moved to Chennai, the restless soul that he is, he would frequently visit his portal and find out what went wrong about it. He would come up with ideas about how he could bring it back in form.
During his one-year stint with Irevna, he keenly observed the functioning and management strategies in different departments. He also looked up similar sites that were available online and found out what had clicked about them. He was accumulating knowledge and resources from all areas.
"Although I loved working in Chennai, I could not take the entrepreneur out of me. I was constantly working and planning out ideas to revive my portal. I started realising my mistakes," he says.
In a few months, he attended an alumni reunion where he met Vivek Bajaj, another senior from his institute. During one of their conversations, Vivek Bajaj who operates Kredent Academy, an institute that trains students in capital market trading in Kolkata suggested that he join him and help him in developing business for the institute.
"I liked the idea and I felt it was the right time and opportunity for me to move back to Kolkata. When I joined Kredent Academy a year back, it was functioning in an unprofessional manner and demanded a good leader. So, I had to strategise and use my financial and analytical skills to come up with business ideas to improve the economic status."
"It took me about six months to implement the ideas. And I am glad Vivek gave me the independence to take decisions on behalf of the company and made me feel responsible. He always encouraged me to follow my dreams, so, I was motivated to start all over again," quips Vineet.
In September 2011, Vineet co-founded CareerSkills, a vocational training institute that trains students in various vocations and enables them to be job ready, a dream that he calls is an assimilation of several smaller dreams and aspirations put together.
"Since I have closely worked with the education sector, I realised that every industry today is looking at employing people who are skills-ready. And with CareerSkills, I am going to do just that. We are launching tie-ups with several corporate firms who will employ our graduates after the completion of the course."
CareerSkills first batch on accounting skills has already started with 25 students. The serial entrepreneur thinks it's a great achievement for a two- month old start-up. "It's certainly better than my first start up experience," he adds.
Meanwhile, he is working on developing short-term courses in retail and sales, English and basic IT and computer skills.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh
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'You will face failures, but you must bounce back'
What inspired you to start an online venture for CAT preparation in the first place?
While I was preparing for CAT in 2005, I always focussed on having a solid foundation. Every now and then I used to visit the basics of each topic for different sections of CAT.
I would also maintain a notebook to write down tricks, techniques, basics, fundamentals, and shortcuts for each topic. This process helped me accumulate very useful and time saving techniques for Quants, LR, DI and at times for English too. This structured approach helped me immensely in the preparation process and eventually to crack the exam as well.
The recorded knowledge also encouraged me to build a platform where I could help others too. This led to the birth of FireUp.co.in, my first venture – an online CAT preparation portal and subsequently QuickerMaths.com – For Vedic Mathematics and other quick mathematics methodologies.
What were your greatest learnings at IIM-Indore? What tips would you like to share with future aspirants?
I read a lot about life at a b-school before going to Indore. In my opinion, none of these articles were even close to the real life scenario at IIM Indore or for that matter any b-school.
A full time residential program like MBA with the immense academic rigour of an IIM and enormous scope to show your creativity and talent ignites your intellectual faculties and makes you ready for the cut-throat competition in the life ahead. However, the outcome totally depends on you.
You could end up being as dull post MBA as you were at the beginning that is if you choose to be. But life at the IIM will be full of highs and lows – you will have days of excitement and days of disappointment.
To have a fruitful stint at a b-school you need to be a self-starter, quicker learner and fun loving person. You have to be involved in as many events, competitions, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities as possible and at the same time you also have to balance them with your studies. That's where the key lies in.
How do you define success?
My favourite author Dale Carnegie says, "Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success"
If I were to talk about my own story, FireUp, my first venture was not a success story. The discouragement and dejection was unbearable. I had to take up a job after trying for one and half year. However, I had strong urge to come back. During the one year I spent in Chennai doing the job, every single day I was exploring new options and new opportunities.
How did you cope up with failures? What motivated you to start all over again?
Exposure to the world where opposites like cooperation and competition, frustration and exuberance, highs and lows of life co-exists in each moment was a life changing experience.
Would you like to share some life lessons for MBA aspirants and young readers?
I believe stepping outside of your comfort zone will put things into perspective from an angle you can't grasp now. Motivation comes in short bursts. You need to act while it's hot.
Initially, when people told me that one must gain some professional experience before becoming an entrepreneur, I did not understand what they meant, but today, I think I have realised it the hard way. So, I would say that if you have an idea or a dream, you cannot be emotional about it. You need to consider the economic viability of the project as well.
Kindly share some tips for young entrepreneurs.
Well, when you are entrepreneur, you must guard your dreams and passions very well. There will be numerous instances, which will influence you to bend your dreams, but you need to be determined about pursuing it.
You may fail in your initial attempts, but you must not just learn from your failures. You must learn to bounce back and have the courage to fight for your dream.
Do not get discouraged by what people tell you. Be prepared to take risks. There is no gain without risk. But do not expect immediate success; you need to be patient and be open to adapt to the demands of the situation.
Besides, I think you need to be conceptually clear about your idea of starting a venture and the idea has to be original and practical. Money will eventually follow.