Discomfort with comfort – A fireside chat with serial entrepreneur Rajive Dhavan5 years ago Varun Rastogi
It is not everyday that you get to chat with a serial entrepreneur about his guts, glory and gumption. It is not everyday that you get to meet the author of a book that you surely believe is going to become a bestseller. It is not everyday that an entrepreneur has coffee with you, and spills some beans and dishes out a lot of advice.
When you get a chance as unbelievable as this, you grab it hard!
Recently over some lip-smacking Nachos and Coffee, Rajive Dhavan, Founder of three successful startups – What’s In a Name Creatives, Namesake productions and Just Flaunt Salon & Spa, spoke with us about his book, STFU – Start the F*** Up, and the roller-coaster journey of breathing entrepreneurship for over 5 years. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.
Q: Tell us something about yourself. How did your entrepreneurial journey start?
A: I tell people that I am a failure. I was expelled from school in class 8. It was my first tryst with failure. That’s when I used to do events as a promoter. In fact, I had also started a small part-time business to supply canned fruits, sauces, etc., to bakeries. Later, I cleared my 10th from a state board school. But the situation at home was financially weak. It was a tough time for all of us. So, I decided to quit my studies, and took up a full-time job at a clothing store, Zodiac. My job was to set up racks, and fold shirts once they were showed to customers. After a gap of a year, I got back to studies, and joined St. Mary’s college. While I was in the second year of my college, I got my first corporate job at GE Capital. This was around 10 years back. Since then I did quite a few jobs in different companies & streams. From a Corporate Communications Executive to a Voice & Accent Trainer, from a HR Manager to a Process Trainer for HSBC Bank, from a Sub-editor & a Columnist with Deccan Chronicle to a copywriter in an advertising agency, I did it all. That was the time I used to not bother about what kind of money I would make. My only focus was to learn as much as possible. And when I look back today, I think my phase of being an employee played a major role in shaping up my entrepreneurial life.
My last job was with an advertising agency. Unfortunately, despite doing decent business, the agency did not pay our salaries for three months. And I felt that this is the maximum support I could give the company. That’s when the idea of What’s In a Name triggered. I did some back-end work on it, and pitched it to my friend & colleague, Harini Prabhu. She immediately accepted to be a part of this journey. At this point in time, we didn’t even have a single rupee to invest in the company. All we had was an idea that we believed in. After struggling for weeks, we managed to get a loan of Rs. 40,000 from a friend. That marked the beginning of What’s in a Name Creatives, and our entrepreneurial journey, both. I was 22 then. A lot of my close friends felt that I had completely lost it. That’s because a couple of years before we started What’s In a Name, I had left a good corporate job that was paying me well, and decided to join Deccan Chronicle for 1/6th the salary. And now I was on the verge of starting my own advertising agency. Despite all this, they were still supportive of my crazy decision. In fact, a friend of mine, Santosh, helped me buy the first computer for our company.
Q. So, you have forever redefined what STFU will mean for coming generations. Who came up with the catchy title and the enticing cover design of the book?
A. I read a lot of business books. And most of these books are serious. Though I’ve learnt a lot from these books, I always wondered why these books are not young & aggressive. Especially, when we are talking to young leaders of startups. So, I wanted to come up with a title that youngsters can relate to. STFU is a commonly used acronym. And I thought that by tweaking it a little, the title will connect with the young target audience, and it’ll also convey the aggressiveness that the book endorses. The approach for the cover design was an extension of the title. I wanted it to be young and real. Hence, a slightly worn out canvas shoe that denotes the beginning of a young entrepreneur.
Q. What provoked you to author this book?
A. There is a quote written behind the book. It reads – “If marriage is an institution, entrepreneurship is a University”. As an entrepreneur your life is full of challenges, and you are constantly learning through experiences. Though there are some really good books written by super-successful entrepreneurs, I always felt that there was a gap. I didn’t find a lot of books talking about the subject of entrepreneurship from scratch. And I felt that when people start, they would want to know a lot of stuff that would be of help to them in their current situation. Startups have become cool today. There are a lot of people who just want to launch a startup. But they forget to ask themselves the first crucial question – Why a startup. What’s my purpose? And that’s exactly where my book, STFU – Start The F Up, begins. Also, as we grow, we sometimes make simple things complex. So, I wanted to make sure that I document a path that was recently treaded.
Q. So, is this like a self-help book for entrepreneurs?
Not really. And it is not at all a “learn-this-in-30-days” book. This book shares insights and stories that will burst a few myths, challenge the status quo, and help you with a fresh perspective. It’s an effort to bring you closer to that one person who will always come to your rescue – You. Yes. Nothing helps you like… you!
Q. Book writing can be an arduous task. What kept you motivated?
A. Absolutely! I think it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. What truly motivated me was the fact that this book could end up helping a few budding entrepreneurs. But there’s also a funny anecdote behind this. A couple of years back I wanted to buy a new laptop. I checked out the MacBook, and loved it. But it was not like I couldn’t manage without an expensive laptop. So, there was a clash between my heart and mind. Finally, the heart won. I bought the laptop. However, I felt that I didn’t really earn it in the real sense. That’s when I decided that if I have to earn this laptop, I have to write a book. And I started writing. We released the book a month back. That’s when I felt that I finally earned that laptop.
Q: Did anyone tell you that you would make a great story? Expelled from school in class 8, started first business while still in school, juggling between a job and college, left a cushy corporate job to get into writing, took up entrepreneurship at 22, and now a writer! Do you think getting expelled from school was the best thing that could have happened to you?
A. (Laughs heartily) Well, at that time, no. It was scary as a kid who was trying to move away from the “failure” tag. But now, in retrospect, I think it was maybe the best thing that happened to me. And that’s because an entrepreneur’s life is full of uncertainties. Maybe learning how to deal with uncertainties & failure at such an early stage in my life helped me.
Q. What would have happened if you weren’t expelled from school?
A: I never gave it a thought. But may be my risk-taking appetite would have been lesser. I would have done all this but a little later in life.
Q: If you had a chance to start again to do it differently, would you do it any different?
A: Not really. At the risk of sounding preachy, I think that it’s important to witness failure. It’s important to see hardships. They are the best teachers.
Q: All through this journey of ups and downs, what is the most important lesson that you have learnt?
A: The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt is that not just entrepreneurship, but even life is full of uncertainties. And there’s only one person who will always come to your rescue – You.
Q. The book has been getting some great reviews. Also, you have been doing quite well professionally. Has it changed people’s perspective towards you?
Yes. The sales are going up every day. But more than anything else, it’s really encouraging to get some positive reviews & wishes from unknown people who are writing to me. Oh Yes! There is a lot of change. Most people are actually shocked to know that I wrote a book on entrepreneurship, so early in my career. May be they always underestimated me. I also came across a few unqualified critics who just know how to pass personal comments. But that’s a part of the game, I guess. So it’s all still sinking in. My close friends are still the same though, and they keep me grounded. The unfortunate truth about our society, however, is that even if we know that a person is good at what he does, we don’t easily accept it until we hear it from others. We don’t really have a mind of our own. And that’s why it becomes difficult even for the talented ones to get the recognition they truly deserve.
It is very rare that you find someone who speaks from the heart and shares so much about their failures without any apprehensions. Rajive breaks all stereotypes. While being expelled from school in class 8 and labelled a failure by a teacher would break the heart of any young kid, it motivated this amazing guy to dream big and do better every time he took up something. Hoping that the book becomes a bestseller and wishing Rajive all the success.
You can read more about the author here.