Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The universe conspiring to help you succeed, with the right mentors

I have been wanting restart my writing for some time now - but it is turning out to be extremely difficult, with me being unable to compose anything longer than a tweet or a whatsapp message!

When an old friend Sunny Narang recently wrote to me saying that he needed a short write-up from me on the benefits I have received on mentoring, I wrote the following. My mentor Kannan however feels that this reads more like a vote-of-thanks speech! I guess so but this is what I wrote:

[originally published at https://rasainvestmentsgroup.com/pages/skillveri/ ]

Sabarinath on his journey with mentors :

Coming from a middle class family with both parents working as central govt employees, no one in my family has any prior experience in setting up or running an enterprise. And I certainly didn’t have the attributes one often reads about “successful” entrepreneurs in the Economic Times, fancy degrees from IIT/IIM, nor a business plan that potential investors are already salivating at, nor a back up plan if things were to go wrong, nor a large bank balance.

So when the opportunity came up to start what would go on to become Skillveri, even the idea of the product wasn’t mine, it was just a strong feeling that if at 29 I let this opportunity go by, I may never get to really start something ever. I have no qualms in admitting it was a blind leap of faith, in this friend/mentor of mine, Kannan, 16 years elder than me, despite him providing all kinds of disclaimers (a long list of things i shouldn’t expect him to do, but in reality he did most of them when required) and pitfalls of taking the plunge.

From then on, it’s been like the cliched “universe conspiring to make it happen”. Through contacts I’m able to set up a small yet inspired team of 5 people who’d willingly work full time on prototype development without getting paid, merely believing in the mission, and find more mentors on the way, almost just in time on several occasions, who are willing to lend or invest money sufficient to keep the ship afloat till the promised land is sighted.

Out of the six years of Skillveri’s existence, 4 years were in bootstrapped mode, which combined with my lack of depth in matters relating to finance, meant we ran out of money a few times, yet reached revenue stage quickly enough to make it a cash flow balancing right rope walk.

Throughout the journey, apart from Kannan, a lot of senior mentors have contributed significantly to making Skillveri a success, be it Shivkumar sir who gave us time, materials, men and money, right from the time Skillveri was just a few slides of ppt to the time it created sophisticated simulations for multiple skills, or Prof Jhunjhunwala , Prof Bhaskar and the incubation team at IIT Madras, Paul Basil and P R Ganapathy at Villgro, Stuthi who not just put up with me throughout the pre-revenue stage till we raised funding from Ankur capital and MSDF, but also loaned me money when my ability to return it was questionable; M M Murugappa sir sharing his wisdom on one on one sessions at IIT Madras, to Keshab beginning to help me handle HR challenges and ending up being a leadership coach, to Biji Kurien sir who came in to help with spray painting simulator but ending up helping in multiple ways (ahem, yes, loaning money yet again when ability to return was questionable). It’s difficult to actually list out the entire set of people from whom I’ve shamelessly taken support in this journey!

And Kannan of course lives up to the meaning of his name, becoming Krishna to the under-confident Arjuna in me.