I'm ... I'm ...
(Lyrics from I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane)
This is the kind of thought that is running in my mind at the moment. All my belongings have been packed neatly and boxed in brand new cartons. Here I am ready to leave Manipal as my hometown and move to the start-up capital of India – Bangalore. This was to happen long back in January but I kept juggling between places. Now, it is finally time to say goodbye to Manipal, a place where I have spent nearly the last 6 years of my life (69 months to be precise).
Manipal has been the greatest learning turf in my life so far. While I will learn more at various stages of my life, these past years will help me shape my life towards something meaningful and enjoyable.
I came here as a kid wanting to become an engineer. At that point of time, I was fascinated by cars and designs. So, I chose mechanical and never regretted it much. I had super fun during the first one and half years. The first year was spent in bonding. Being in P section, attracted a lot of wrath of other section people due to the large mobs we used to move in. Infact, there was a joke which went like – If you see 20 – 25 people in a cluster, it is P section!’
But there was one disrupting moment in those 18 months which changed my life forever. In my 2nd semester, I attended this workshop by some random club named Akshay Urja Club (AUC) on Paper Presentations by Team Energia. They were the most successful team on campus in terms of technical paper and business plan presentation. It was inspiring. I wanted to do it too.
Lesson: There is a life changing moment hidden somewhere for all of us. At the time of occurrence, it does not give us that impression; it does so when you look back into the past.
First Year in Manipal
I along with four other friends of mine ended up joining the club as well. During my 3rd semester, I also presented my first ever technical paper during Techtatva’08. It went horribly. I had forgotten to make a powerpoint presentation and remembered it 2 hours before the event and ended up messing everything up.
Lesson: You could go ahead and give up on something if you have hit a roadblock. But then you would be a coward. To constantly keep fighting automatically brings in an entrepreneurial spirit in you which is a lesson for life.
I worked for the club selflessly. I never wanted anything back, just wanted to work and keep learning. I voiced my friends’ names when our seniors were selecting organizers for Techtatva’08 and still ended up working during the entire time without ever asking for anything.
Lesson: This is especially for the present Manipal batches. Please deserve before desiring something. And nothing happens in a day, you have to have the patience and perseverance.
I, along with a couple of my friends (Bales and Vaibhav), had previously written a Technical Paper on Sea Water Purification for Potable Water Extraction. We worked on it again and it was presented in IEEE TechWeekend 2009. We won the First Place there. But there was a catch there. I had two other friends who wanted to present with us (the team limit was 4 people per team). So, I asked Vaibhav and Bales to go ahead and present the previous paper as they had worked hard on it as well, while I formed another team, sat down to write a completely new one on Waste Management (Portable Toilets) to accommodate the other two friends. And the second paper ended up not creating even a stir. I gave up my 1st ever possible glory (unknowingly) but was happy that I was able to work with my friends.
Lesson: Winning is good, winning trust and goodwill is most important. Things might not go according to you everyday, but they will do so someday (you will find out soon about this)
We kept working at AUC and the club was doing well for itself. But we were not a muscle organization like a few other technical clubs. We were a small bunch, few 1st years knew about us. People chose everything else over working for us. It just did not feel right. Meanwhile, it was time for Techtatva’09 and I was still searching for my mojo in paper presentation. I was asked if I wished to be the Category Head for Energia (AUC’s) Category. I refused as I was taken into creating my own new event. A month before Techtatva, our club saw the biggest internal conflict that was fuelled by ego more than anything else. Our Faculty Advisor then, Mr. Sudhir C. V. intervened and offered everyone a very fair solution. It was not acceptable to a number of people and they left the club. We had to regroup and start working from scratch. We had earlier proposed one of our batch-mate as Category Head but when Mr. Sudhir C. V. offered to bring in a senior as the same (to avoid more trouble), my batch-mate just left. And we regrouped. With the senior (Anurag Sir) busy with placements, he asked me to attend the Category Head meetings and take the work ahead. I did as asked (for no credit at all but happy with the trust my seniors had in me) and there I got introduced to the Technical Secretary (Animesh bhaiya – bhaiya means elder brother in Hindi). He inspired me a lot to do things right. We would speak at length where he would talk about the complete management of the fest and I kept learning from him.
Lesson: Life will sometimes bring everything that you have worked for under threat but you have to have a clear conscience and keep moving ahead because the most rewarding moments follow soon.
So, I created my own event called SWADES. I worked over a month to create a problem which could not be rigged. That is right, even if someone got the paper even earlier, you just could not find the right answer. In this event, you had to optimise the resources given to you, place buildings on a map and create a well balanced energy efficient city. To rig the event, you needed to create a virtual simulation of the map and test each and every of the 2000 grids placed on the map for optimized location of all the 6 buildings to be placed (this is something that was used on a smaller scale of accuracy while creating major games like RON, Caesar, etc.). The event was a roaring success getting over 400 participants in Round 1 and 40 moving to the next round. People even said that the event paper was tougher and more draining than writing CAT! I think the event might be still alive (not very sure though). But I was and am happy. I got more participants in an AUC event than ever before. People started knowing us.
Lesson: Excellence comes with genuine effort and belief. If your belief is small and lowly, your execution would suck to the core.
Organizing Various Events as part of Akshay Urja and Swades Event
Simultaneously, I re-wrote my Portable Toilet paper and it ended up winning the first place at an event called Engenius. There was also a business plan event called ‘None of Your Business’ but being a proud technical student, I had never participated in B-plan events before. I decided to shed my stupid ‘pride’ and presented a Plan (on which I had worked for over a year) on Burning Rice Husk to Create Electricity. It won the second place. At the same time, another team from India went to win Dell Social Innovation Challenge, MIT Ignite, GSVC and Darden Challenge working on a similar principle and then created this very, very successful start-up company called Husk Power Systems based out of Patna which has touched over 200,000 people giving electricity to people who are off the nation’s electricity grid.
Lesson: Life will not wait for you. I waited for over a year to present my idea on rice-husk based power-plants and I lost an opportunity that could have worked for me. For anything new and noble, there is no better time than now!
I had found my mojo. I went on to win the 2nd place at B-Plan event at IIT Kharagpur in February, 2010 with the Portable Toilets business plan. I had real data, I had material configuration sheets from China, I had data from Sulabh on users and I had spent more than 300 hours on the 3rd Floor of the Central Library (Main Library) where nobody goes today. Back then it was me or people who wanted to make out. I had even become friends with the Library folks because I worked with those dusty Technical Papers dating anywhere between a year old to 25 years old. The idea was also generating good interest and one of the Investors present wanted to fund the building of a prototype but it was too early for me to plunge into such deep research without having much time for it. I also ended up becoming the President of AUC which came as a big shocker to everyone and me too! I know it was not like being President of USA but yes, I was happy and really wanted to prove that it was not a mistake. I, with the guidance of our new faculty Advisor – Mr. Raghavendra Prabhu P (PRP Sir), went on to change the face of the organization. He was my mentor and a friend who taught me a great deal of things during my tenure as President.
Lesson: It is good to get a pleasant surprise once in a while but that also makes it necessary for you to justify the surprise that was bestowed upon you.
And then I decided, we would start a fest of our own at AUC. Bold and daunting for a club with just 100 members and a few thousand in cash but we will do it! So, SYNERGIA (Manipal’s 1st Renewable Energy Fest) was born and it was my baby. I had to ensure it survived. So, I spent the first 2 weeks of my winter vacation pitching to various companies for sponsorship for an event that did not even exist but it played well with a number of companies. I was honest. I did not tell them that they will get a 5 by 5 feet space on my banners, no! They are large companies that can buy the entire number of billboards between Manipal and Mangalore at the snap of a finger. I told them the money was for a good cause that would make people in our catchment region aware towards renewable energy and is CSR as well. I also promised to send them a complete report once the fest ended and they could even go through the books if they liked. I was able to impress people with my honesty. So, we had Alok Industries (India’s 2nd Largest Cloth Making Company with Rs 4000+ Crore turnover), State Bank of India, Pratibha Industries (a Rs 800+ Crore construction behemoth from Mumbai working on a number of Greenfield projects), Texas Instruments, Philips BOP and Maxx Flex (India’s largest Flex and Print company with 85% of all flex banners in India being imported by Maxx) as our sponsors. Then I rused back to Manipal alone to hand over the money to PRP Sir and get the plan sorted. I booked all the banners in MIT, got posters printed, booked rooms in NLH and got the entire MIT Management (Director Somnath Mishra, JD Radhakrishna Aithal, various Associate Directors and HODs) on board as well. PRP Sir and I worked as a team here and made sure to get the basics right for the fest to be held in February. Once our Management Team members and juniors were back, the work was distributed among all. They all did a very fine job.
Lesson: A Leader does not sit and boss around, a Leader leads from the front. You take any hit on your team on yourself and you share credit and success with everyone.
Synergia put AUC as one of the most known technical clubs of Manipal. It was very successful. We managed to organize the fest in just 60% of the money we got as sponsorship (huge thanks to PRP Sir for that). This was also the first time in MIT when the Sponsorship amount was more than the Fest budget. We had around 150 teams in the various college events, turnout of over 1000 people during the 2 days of informals and over 150 school kids for the school events. We increased membership to 400+ from 100. We had a good amount of cash in the Club Account. And for the 1st time, girls joined the club in good numbers! That was a feat for an organization that sort of looked like Bajrang Dal earlier. To prove it was successful, we had Synergia’11 the next year, Synergia’12 in 2012 and Synergia’13 this year.
Lesson: It is not people who create legacy, it is an organization that does. Do not propagate the person, build the brand!
Synergia - Learnt a lot while getting it done
In April, I came to know that even non-members can apply for IAESTE Internships during the latter rounds. On the insistence of my good friend, Gandhi, I applied for the same and got an offer from UK in the 5th Round. Not only had I got one of the best paying offers out of nowhere, I became a member of IAESTE after I got my offer. I could not get a better deal. And I got chosen to work on Biophotonics! It was nowhere in my domain (Mechanical) but I had to work with lasers and it was fascinating. I had huge help from Rathi and Neha (IAESTE IndiaMIT NS members and my friends) during this entire duration of application and preparation. I went to UK in July and came back in mid-August having spent just 6 weeks in Glasgow, UK but it was the best time of my life. I had a great learning relationship with Gale (my mentor who is one of the youngest RCUK Fellow with a Gates Foundation Grant), I made the most amazing friends and we are the best of friends even today. Over 60 people from 35 countries staying together was just amazing. Tobi, Mario, Katarina, Milos, Lars, Ines, Maria, Olja, Diego, Ernest and the list goes on and on. Infact, Lars visited me last year in Manipal. It also started a strong relationship with IAESTE IndiaMIT and it still continues today to a great extent. I also had many friends of friends (David, Nelin, Jovana, Kristine, Jana – may her soul rest in peace) come here to Manipal and learning experience got even better.
Lesson: The finest moments in life are unexpected but they need to be preserved well. Building relationships is an art and might need more giving than taking. Are you ready for it?
And once I was back, it was time for Techtatva’10. I was offered to become the Sponsorship Category Head but I was in no mood to work hard again. I wanted to win a major event. And it so happened that we were having a mega B-plan event during this TT called the Venture (thank you Sana and Allen – the Technical Secretaries of MIT in 2010). Also, a person who also owns a big thank you is Udit (by the way, congrats on getting engaged buddy!). Udit was the Category Head of the event and a mastermind of the same. So, I was back into action for the last time before I went on to finish college and get a job. During this while, I asked Abhash and Mikhil if they would like to team with me on my latest b-plan crusade and they were more than happy to come on board. And we created a very first draft of what ADD-on-GYAN is today! Yes, that was way back in September 2010. We slogged for 4 long days and won the event. That is right – 60k cash prize! And, while we were celebrating our victory on the last day of Techtatve’10, we read a poster that read ‘Provenance’ by the new Business Incubator of Manipal – MUTBI.
Lesson: The ‘Let us do it one last time’ is a great asset. It makes you create invaluable things without even knowing
The prize was good in Provenance so we participated. We went on to finish 5th because few of the judges did not believe that the concept could work with the exception of Mr. M Chandrasekaran (Shekar Sir) and Dr. Manohara Pai. And this was historic. We became the 1st ever student-run startup of Manipal. The company became the precursor to the huge entrepreneurship buzz in Manipal and I am happy we could inspire so many people.
Shekar Sir went on with helping us setup our pilot and start the company as the Chief Advisor of ADD-on-GYAN and Dr. Pai (as CEO of MUTBI and Board Observer) helped us at every step in making ADD-on-GYAN the epitome of entrepreneurship in Manipal.
So, we got started with the process on 24th December 2010 and finally got incubated on 20th January, 2011. Mikhil decided to go after stocks which he loves most, and Abhash and I started the company. And, as we created our 1st team with 6 members (Sonali was one of them as well), we won more laurels at IIT Kanpur in February and Next Big Idea at IIM Bangalore. We ran the company with Rs 150,000 from January to November 2011 that was generously invested by my parents. At the same time, we also inducted Sonali as a part of our founding team as we found a true spirited smart-working entrepreneur in her. Our seed fund was granted in November and we kept growing as an organization in terms of R&D and quality of work. We won more laurels at NIT Surathkal, EDGEx Manipal, Global Achievers Award among others. In February 2012, Abhash left his place in the team but that was no result of any feud. He left as he believed he was not contributing enough to the start-up and we are good friends even today while he evangelises for and pitches Gyan Lab at various forums, helps us in our hiring process and in demos at schools as well.
Lesson: Life is more about understanding and adjusting. I have an amazing rapport with Abhash and Sonali (the two co-founders) and I value it more than anything else.
I got to meet Mr. Luis Miranda while we were showcasing Gyan Lab to him on his visit to Manipal. He was taken by our idea and even spent an hour with us the next day. Slowly, this relationship grew and I requested him to advice ADD-on-GYAN and he readily agreed. Since then, Luis has been a huge inspiration. He is so friendly and tells you the right things always. Infact, he spent 8 months chasing me to make me call him ‘Luis’ and not ‘Sir’. I finally had to yield!
Confession: I so wish to retire as and when I want (just like he did)
Lesson: Great people are always pacific. It is the wannabe greats who are too jumpy and finally end up not even being close to greatness!
We started off with a 2 seater open cubicle as our office till November when we go our own room as office. Soon, it expanded to 2 rooms and then 3 rooms, today, which forms our R&D Centre. My life’s biggest laurels came with the advent of 2012 as we won Scale Phase Award at DSIC, won at the ET Power of Ideas 2012 (heralded at one of India’s top 20 young start-ups from 14000+ is a huge thing for me) and won second place at Dell Education Challenge (representing not only ADD-on-GYAN or Manipal but the entire Nation)! There is nothing that can beat the satisfaction I received from doing well at these events. We now believe even more in our ability to make Gyan Lab a positive disruption in Indian Education. I made more good friends through these events – Sudarshan (my legal consultant), Sneha (my prospective CS), Vivek, Piyush and so many of them. I now have the finest start-up CXOs of India as my friends. Isn’t that so rewarding?
Lesson: Treat awards as confidence boosting tools not the goal of life!
And finally the decision to move to Bangalore had to be taken to grow the organization pan-India. And here I am sitting in the Manipal office having sent a one tonne cargo comprising of my logistics, R&D materials, etc to Bangalore already and leaving myself tonight. A new chapter is dawning in our lives at ADD-on-GYAN and an old chapter called Manipal is coming to a glorious end.
THANK YOU MANIPAL FOR SHAPING MY LIFE. Indeed, this town is ‘INSPIRED BY LIFE’!
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