It feels suffocating.
I belong to a middle-class family and have never seen ‘real’ poverty during my childhood. Yes, I had a Hercules bicycle. Yes, I was given good education. Yes, I would go to Disney Land once a year. Yes, my parents would take me on holidays. I had a TV video game and a huge collection of cartridges that my mom had bought for me when I scored good marks.
Then I entered college. My sister’s marriage was planned, my dad bought an apartment and had to pay my fees for engineering. All three events happened in quick succession and we were suddenly caught in debt.
Somehow, we got scammed and got ourselves chained into bank loans and then, poverty crept in. It all happened in such a rush that it felt as if I had to jump from an airplane without any preparation and learn to fly as I fell, or else, I’d be dead.
During a time span of 2 years (2008-2010), I had to fight poverty on my own.
Here is a crux of what happened:
- No money to pay college fees? Figure out a way to earn it all by yourself.
- No money to pay for daily transport? Walk.
- No money for entertainment, movies or parties? Ask your friends for a smoke.
- No money for anything except basic food.
- Worst of all, deal with the hassles of the bank. They would send ‘bouncers’ to my house to recover the EMI amount and I would have to guard my mom. I had to sell house furniture, gold, and what not.
I told my father that pursuing my education was not worth it given the crisis situation, and that I should take up a job and earn money for the family.
To this, my father said,
“Son, you can make money whenever you want to but you won’t be able to learn later. This is a difficult time, don’t worry. I myself could not study further and had to take up a job at 18 so that I could feed a family of 10 which included my brothers, sister, parents. I won’t let it happen with you. We will somehow manage through it; just do your thing.”
The year was 2008. My monthly expenses ranged between Rs. 900-1500 (including food). My engineering fees was Rs. 7000 per month; on the other hand, my family was fighting debt. In Lakhs. Each month, the debt would increase because of the education fee.
I was literally beaten and broken because I had no idea about how to generate money while I was still a student.
- I sat for interviews for a BPO. Rejected.
- I sat for interviews for part-time jobs. Rejected.
- Applied for a teaching job. Rejected.
Every door that I knocked on, I was turned away. Every relative/ friend I asked for money from, slammed the door on my face.
There was a point of time in my life when I had just Rs.10 in my pocket for emergency or just in case, I needed to make phone calls from a local telephone booth. I would walk on the streets for days because I didn’t have enough money to afford riding in a rickshaw. I would have to sustain on water when I was hungry and try to save as much as possible. I would work for hours in a data entry job and get paid Rs.1 for filling up forms. This way I earned Rs 80-100 a day. I saw my father giving up his scooter to save fuel costs. I saw my mom giving up attending family occasions. I saw my sister selling her jewelry. And I cried in the bathroom. Alone. For months.
When disaster comes, it comes with a battalion from all directions, all at once.
My girlfriend left me when I needed her the most. She said,
You yourself are in trouble and without a job. How will I present you in front of my family?”
I lost her. I loved her; she was the only thing that made me smile but I lost her. For money.
I had died many deaths in those two years but this was the hardest blow. Losing the love of your life because you don’t have enough money. I remember our last meeting. It was raining and we were standing below an asbestos shed, enjoying an alpenliebe as that was the only thing I could buy for her.
This was painful and I almost gave up on everything. Weird thoughts started hitting my mind.
Meanwhile, I got a public sector job which I did not like. I walked away. I was already broke, beaten and pushed to the corner but I chose to walk away. Somewhere inside my heart, I still had hope. I knew that this was a temporary bad phase and that ‘This too shall pass”. But I could not allow mediocrity to creep in. I had a dream and a temporary crisis was no excuse for giving up on my dreams and settling for mediocrity.
Here is the resignation letter (some portions have been blurred for privacy)
Crestfallen. Defeated, what were my options now?
Mission statement: Raise money as rapidly as possible and repay the debt.
- Government sector – This is a dead end.
- Private sector – No degree. No experience. No skills. Shitty resume. Bad idea.
- Part time jobs – Possible but not scalable as they are low paying. Won’t be able to scale rapidly.
- Business – Scalable but read mission statement again. No money in the first place. How do I start a business without money? Are you kidding me?
They say when you have hit your lowest point, you’re bound to make the greatest change. That is the point when you realize that you’ve nothing more to lose and then the animal within you comes out.
Solution: Start a business which does not require initial investment. But this model should be able to scale itself rapidly. In short, the rate of its scaling should be higher than the rate at which the loan scales. Also, there should be some kind of virality associated with it so that it spreads itself without me having to spread it.
Weapon: Internet and Time. Now let’s get some work done.
I made up a website with 700 INR. Heck, I did not have Rs. 700 to buy a domain name. I bought it on debt again. Here is a bill which is very close to my heart.(it says Rs 275 in debt)
I didn’t succeed in the first go. I had ZERO technical knowledge on how to build a website. But that was not going to stop me because I didn’t had any other option. My survival depended on this and I had to do it, come what may.
My first website didn’t pick up. Failed.
I made a second one. It didn’t work either.
I made a third website. Failed.
Devastated, I gave it a fourth try. Countless hours spent googling, coding, writing and building it. I remember those days when I used to lock myself in a balcony and google all day long. Days, nights, and weeks, I toiled like a madman. I forgot everything. I burned the midnight oil night after night. I crossed mountains of failures and I wrote, I wrote and I wrote. I suffered from Jaundice and lost 14-20 Kgs. That was the time when I realized what hard work meant.
First month, I made $1.29. Second month, I made $8. Third month I made $21.
And then some more.
And then some more.
And then some more.
When a wolf smells blood and flesh around, it becomes a dangerous beast. I had smelled my flesh and I jumped on my prey with all I’d got.
I generated $40,000 in two years. For the curious and those who doubt my story – I didn’t raise it from a single website, there were some small sites as well. Also, I did a good amount of freelancing. This was to ensure that I had multiple ways of generating money, should the main site crash. The site did suffer a major blow but by that time I had solidified my basement.
Here is a picture of my balcony where I used to work on my website and other things (yes a CRT monitor and a broken laptop which college authorities had gifted me)
I had not wanted to share the stats. But after some people requested for it, here goes the journey of the website.
Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.
I paid off the whole debt. Even saved a bit.
Today, I work at LinkedIn. It’s like a dream come true for me.
No, I am not an MBA. I am not an IITian either. Nor did I go to U.S. to get a degree from an Ivy league university. No, I did not get the job through campus placement. Neither did I make it through employee referral. I am just another average graduate from just another average engineering college. I just did one thing and did it well – put my heart and soul into what I really wanted to do.
(I am at the extreme left, red kurta and dhoti. Colleagues are overjoyed on cultural day. More pics here)
But the lessons I learned in those two years have helped me shape my character and be a better person. Those were the longest and the hardest 2 years I will never be able to forget. Also, the most worthwhile time of my life so far.
I don’t waste money now.
- No show off.
- Yearly vacations – Yes. Weekend parties – No.
- No costly gadgets.
- I don’t buy shit I don’t even need.
- I don’t buy ‘branded’ stuff just because every other clueless idiot is doing it. No. I don’t.
Lesson learned the hard way – Be grateful for what you have.
These days, my parents are looking for a bride for me. When the girl’s father asks for my salary, I smile and say, “I hope your daughter gets a wealthy guy. Because I know money matters. Every single rupee counts.”
When I return home in flight, a part of me cries. Not because I am spending money on traveling which can be done in train. I feel bad thinking someone on this planet needs this money to feed himself. And here I am, traveling in a jet to save time because I am short on leave.
Lesson: Be kind, for everyone out there is fighting a hard battle.
Here is sharing the first cheque I received for my website. This was that day when I cried the most. Whenever I am in trouble, I open my archive and see this cheque. This gives me all the strength that I need.
To the people who think this is a cooked up story to garner popularity, sympathy, upvotes or whatever:
Dude, I didn’t write it for you. Because I know you haven’t been through what I have been. Had you walked in my shoes, you wouldn’t have had doubts over my crying words. I have written this for that soul who is in trouble and needs inspiration. I know that soul is reading it and I know that soul will one day thank me for this. That is all.