I was a fresh computer science engineer with a job offer from a mid-sized IT services company. Aided by the low-hanging Y2K fruit, the Indian offshore development wave was just starting to form. Meanwhile in the US, the dot-com bubble was just building up. Bangalore, already touted as India's "Silicon Valley", was easily the place to be in India if you wanted to experience either of them first hand.
Instead, I walked away from it all and headed to Calcutta (it wasn't called Kolkata back then) for an MBA from one of India's top three business schools. Why?
I'll be frank enough to admit that working as a grunt software developer in an IT services company back then wasn't the most compelling of prospects. Plus, there was the popular notion that a management career was more lucrative and rewarding than a programming one.
There were people I knew who had completed not one, but two MBA programs - the first from India and the second from the US or Europe!
Two years later I had landed a prized job as a business analyst with a venture-funded "digital strategy and systems integration" firm. My annual salary was nearly four times the Rs.1,29,000 (around $2150 today) I'd been offered two years ago for the role of a trainee systems analyst, so the MBA certainly felt more lucrative.
Except, I was wrong.
Over a decade later the business world is being eaten by software and it's being eaten by mobile. Meanwhile software workers are fast elbowing out MBA bankers as the new global elite.
Meanwhile among cutting-edge companies, managers are increasingly being seen as legacy workers whose value is questionable at best.
Zappos has eliminated manager roles and calls itself a "holacracy". Medium has done so too. Valve, easily one of the coolest companies in the gaming industry, has no managers. And AngelList wants to turn each employee into a multi-skilled "1-man startup".
Hell, management guru Gary Hamel says "First, Let's Fire All The Managers" in the Harvard Business Review!
I'm now where I "saw myself" 10 years ago
One of the tropes of job interviews is the question, "So where do you see yourself 10 years from now?"
It's a question wannabe MBAs in India are trained to answer even before they've entered business school, usually through various interview preparation forums.
"In 10 years I want to be an entrepreneur," has been my answer during interviews for at least my last two jobs. The reasoning was vague at first - sure, who wouldn't like to be their own master. But as the years went by, I started becoming more involved with the specifics of my goal too.
The ideas came and went too. Big, hairy and unrealistic at first, then refined. At times I went further ahead, like registering the domain close.by sometime around 2006-07 to build a social discovery tool that would present everything - events, people, products, news - relative to the location of the user. (Think movies.close.by, friends.close.by, homes.close.by and so on). But I never did venture further, and sold the domain to someone a year or two later for around a thousand dollars.
The next closest I came to starting up was in 2011 when I did numerous late-night Skype conference calls with two of my MBA classmates. We brainstormed around a localized and commerce-heavy version of Pinterest for India. But the three of us had different backgrounds and ideas, so that petered off too.
Meanwhile as a journalist with Forbes India for nearly 6 years, I had written dozens of stories on entrepreneurs & businesses in mobile, e-commerce, government, Internet, education and media. At some point last year, I could no longer escape my own inevitable long-term goal.
So I resigned from Forbes India in December and from January 1st 2014 began what will hopefully be a life-long career as an entrepreneur.
Chasing Julia Roberts
If you've seen the Julia Roberts starrer "My Best Friend's Wedding", then you'll easily remember the scene when her best friend played by Rupert Everett explains her sad situation to her: "Who's chasing you? Nobody. Get it?"
Being an owner of a product can sometimes feel a bit like Julia Roberts. When you're a prospective customer, the world seems to be chasing you with discounts, reviews, offers and promises. But once you end up owning it, ever notice how the very same world utterly loses interest in you? As an owner, you're pretty much left to fend for yourself.
In over a couple dozen interviews I've conducted so far, the overwhelming majority of consumers admitted to have ownership experiences that ranged from indifferent to dissatisfied to frustrating.
Which is where PerkUp 1 comes in. We feel owners have been ignored in favour of new prospects and customers for far too long. PerkUp's goal is to make "ownership" as interesting, easy and rewarding an experience as buying.
I'd love to hear your take on this. Can there be a thing called "ownership experience"? How would you define it? How would you wish it were different?
Head over to perkup.in and sign up for our newsletter and to get on our "alpha" customer list. Or just drop me a note with your thoughts.
If you're interested in being on the other side of that page - building PerkUp that is - do email me or connect with me on LinkedIn.
1. PerkUp is a placeholder name for the service, for now, and there's a good chance the end product might be called something else.↩
2. Photo credits (as Ghost does not yet support image titles): Billy Joel concert (Anirudh Koul) and Lonely child: (Zhao)