On Turning 40

Reflections on the last decade

10 years back, it was Jun-end 2009 when I joined IIM-Ahmedabad. For the last 4 years, I was in the Himalayas … It was a world complete in itself, everybody around me was aspiring to become the God … Here at IIM-A, I was a misfit. IIM-A was a different world altogether, almost everyone here was aspiring to get hired by top companies at fat packages, few of them were aspiring to build valuable companies. I did not have any of these objectives … I somehow was not comfortable in working for someone for my entire life and money for me was just zeroes in the account. Our objective functions were different, hence it was hard to mix with them.

Somehow I sustained for 2 years, mostly because I had a significant education loan to pay :). I made a few very good friends, they were the people who were not too certain about what they wanted from life :) …. We had a great time, mostly out of classrooms :) I somehow managed to graduate, barely though … thanks to IIM-A’s way of group assignments and mostly thanks to my group mates — I sometimes feel, the names of my group mates should’ve been mentioned on my certificate :)

It was now time for placements.

I sat for placements, got rejected by all the coveted companies. I was not new to rejections by now. I appeared for all 6 IIM Interviews and I got rejected by IIM-L,K,I — I was only selected by IIM-A,B,C :). I requested the placement committee to let me opt out of placement but they refused, said the date for opting out has long passed. I appeared for a few more companies, finally got job offers by 2 of them … but I did not like any of them, I don’t even remember their names :). I again requested Placement committee to let me out but they refused — this time I asked, ‘what if I run away and don’t join, what would you do — can you hold my degree?’. They said, ‘no’. And then it was all set :) … Finally, they found some workaround and made an exception :)

I traveled for 2 months, then joined Ankur’s startup — I was Introduced to him by a school friend. I didn’t know back then but he was going to play a big role in my life. I worked for him for 2 months, and it did not end well … but I was impressed by Ankur as a person — he was probably the best thinker I had met so far.

After about a month I launched my first venture, ‘Travelocon’. And I started organizing Trekking and Camping Trips to the Himalayas. It was fun, I used to go on most of the trips as a Raju Guide :), on the side I was making some money too — it was a good lifestyle business. After around 1.5 years I thought it was time to take the next step. I went for our alumni meet in Gurgaon, I asked for the advice and every one suggested me to meet Salil, who as per my knowledge was the director in PwC … I approached Salil, he asked me to meet him in his office next week.

I went to meet Salil in his office, to my surprise it was not PwC but the office of SAR Group. We discussed our Venture for about an hour and then suddenly he asked me to meet Rakesh. Rakesh was the founder of SAR Group — of the fame of Luminous Inverter, Livpure Water purifier — I was told he was busy that day as he was signing Sachin Tendulkar as the brand ambassador. But Salil arranged the meeting with him without any prior appointment.

I, Rakesh and Salil discussed it for about 45 minutes and at the end, to my surprise, Rakesh offered to fund Travelocon. He recently sold Luminous Inverter for Rs 1600 Cr and created a Venture Fund.

I came back, I was supposed to get back to Salil with the projected financial sheet. Around 15–20 days passed and I did not get back, Salil called me one day and I asked him for some more time. After a few more days, I called Salil and politely refused the offer. And next month I shuttered Travelocon.

The reason being, I realized I love Samosas but I don’t want to become the Halwayi :) … Had I taken the funds, I no more would be the Raju Guide, I would’ve become a logistics guy sitting on a Desk in Delhi.

I launched another startup, ‘iThought’. Here I intended to teach Thinking Skills through Mobile Games. It did not go as I expected. I was finding it very hard to acquire paying customers … There was no market for my product, as no one was ready to accept that they cannot think :) ….. I was pissed at the people. I was like, I’m offering them the philosophers’ stone for pennies and they are not buying, how dumb people can be :(. And then one fine night, after too many beers, it struck to me — If you really have the Philosopher’s Stone, why would you sell it 🤔.

And the next day I shut the shop.

By now I was broke. Big in debt. I started looking for a job — applied to hundreds of them. Got rejected by all, finally got the offer for COO at a funded tech startup based out of Noida. There was a week’s time before joining. I along with my friend Pranshu, planned a sudden trip to the Himalayas. We Invited Aravind who was in Bangalore those days but he couldn’t join, so we both went to Manali, but got bored in 2 days and came back to Delhi. Then we decided to go to Bangalore to meet Aravind and drive to some beaches. Our friend Prince too joined us. We three went to Bangalore and along with Aravind, we went for a 3–4 days drive. On the day when we were to go back to Delhi, I developed some infection in my ear and doctor asked me not to fly for a week. Pranshu and Prince went back to Delhi and I stayed back in Bangalore.

Next day I met Ankur in Bangalore, his last startup did not do well. He was working on his next startup in AI, he offered me to join him and he also offered me a decent salary from his own pocket — I accepted. And so was born, Hotify. It was only two of us, we built an MVP and started knocking on the doors of investors and after hundreds of rejections in the next 2 months finally, we got funded … My plan was to build Gene — An Artificial General Intelligence. But our funds dried in over a year and the tech was nowhere near completion, nobody now was interested in funding such an ambitious project. Keeping in mind the market forces, Ankur pivoted to NuGene which was more market focussed, and I moved out. And Hotify got acquired, for $30M.

For the next 6 months, I focussed only on developing a foolproof plan. This time I was determined to make a plan which should have a dependency — neither on Investors nor on the rapid scaling. And as a result, on 16th Feb 2017, I founded Olbrain, along with Nishant — the God Coder, and Mayank — the God Mathematician. Both Nishant and Mayank were friends from IIT-Kanpur. And the journey to build Artificial General Intelligence for Space Robots, began. All three of us have the same Objective Function and we have almost the same drive. It’s been over 2 years now and every day we get up with same energy and excitement as it was there on day one …

It was a good decade. Let’s see what would I have to share on this day in 2029.



Building Artificial General Intelligence

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