Answer by Amit Banerjee:
It feels suffocating.
I belong to a middle class family and had never seen “real” poverty during childhood. Yes, I had a Hercules bicycle. Yes I was given good education. Yes, I would go to Disney world once a year. Yes, my parents would take me to holidays. I had a TV video game and a huge collection of cartridges my mom bought for me, when I scored good marks.
Then I entered college. My sister’s marriage was planned, dad bought an apartment and had to pay my fees for engineering. All three events happened in quick succession and we were suddenly in debt.
Somehow, we got scammed and got ourselves chained in bank loans and poverty crept in. It was in such a rush that suddenly, I felt jumping from an airplane without any preparation and now you have to learn to fly as you fall. Or you’re dead.
There was this time range of 2 years (2008-2010) I had to fight poverty on my own. Here is what happened
– No money to pay college fees. Figure out a way to earn that thing 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, manage all the heckle of bank. They would send “bouncers” to my house to recover the EMI amount and I had to guard my mom. I was once beaten in my neighborhood in front of everyone for not being able to pay the EMI amount for couple of months. I had to sell furnitures, gold, what not.
I told my father its not worth pursuing my education, given the crisis condition. I should take up a job and raise money for the family. My father said – “Son, you can make money whenever you want 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 I can feed a family of 10 people, my brothers, sister, parents. I won’t let it happen with you. We will somehow manage it, just do your thing”
The year was 2008. My monthly expenses were 900-1500 Rs (this includes food) . My engineering fees was 7000 a month and my family is fighting debt. In Lakhs. Each month, the debt would increase because of that education fee. Imagine the condition of a 22 year old guy who has never seen poverty in his life, sitting with friends who would spend thousands on beer parties and live on their mercy.
I was literally beaten and broken because I had no idea how to generate money, while I am still a student.
I gave interviews in a BPO. Rejected.
I gave interviews in part time jobs. Rejected.
Applied for a teaching job. Rejected.
Every door I knocked, I was rejected.
Every relative/friend I asked for money, slammed the door.
There was a time in my life when I had just 10Rs in my pocket, just in case some emergency comes in and I have to make phone calls from a local telephone booth. I would walk in the streets for days because I didnt have enough money to afford a rickshaw. I would eat water when I am 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, that 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 family occasions. I saw my sister selling her jewelry. I would cry 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’re yourself in trouble, without a job, how will I present you infront 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 have died many deaths in those two years but this was the hardest blow. Losing the love of your life because you dont 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 shit was so painful that I almost gave up on everything. Weird thoughts started hitting my mind.
Meanwhile, I got a Govt job which I did not like. I walked away. I was broke, beaten and pushed to the corner but I walked away. Somewhere in my heart I had hope. I knew that this is a bad phase which is not permanent. This too shall pass but I could not allow mediocrity to creep in. I had a dream and a temporary crisis is no excuse on giving up on your dreams and settle for mediocrity.
Here is the resignation letter (some portions have been blurred for privacy)
So what are my options now?
Mission statement: Raise money as rapidly as possible and cover up the debt.
- Government sector – This is full of horse shit. I mean, you know the kind of shit I am talking about.
- 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 subject to making the greatest change. That is the point when you realize that you’ve nothing more to lose and then the animal inside 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, their should be some kind of virality associated with it, so that it spreads itself, without me having to spread it.
Weapon: Internet and Time. Let’s get some shit done.
I made up a website with 700 INR. Fuck, I did not have 700Rs to buy the domain name. I bought it again on debt. 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 don’t have any other option. My survival depends on this and I have to do it, come what may.
My first website didn’t pick up, Failed.
I made up a second one. It didn’t work either.
I made up a third website. Failed.
Devastated, I gave it a fourth try. Countless hours spent in Googling, coding, writing and building it. I remember those days. I locked myself in a balcony and Googled all day long. Nights, days, weeks, toiled like a madman. I suffered from Jaundice and lost 14-20 Kgs. That was the time I realized what hard work means.
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 starts smelling blood and flesh around, he becomes a dangerous beast. I had smelled my flesh and now I jumped on my prey with all I’ve got.
Generated $40,000 in two years. (For those curious and who doubt my story in comments – 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 is to ensure I have multiple ways of generating money, should the main site crashes. 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 did not wanted to share stats, but after some people requested it, here goes the journey of the website.
Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.
Paid off the whole debt. Saved a bit.
Today, I work at LinkedIn. Its like a dream come true for me.
(No I am not an MBA. No I am not an IITan. No I did not go to US to get a degree from an Ivy league university. No I did not get it through campus placement. No I did not 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 have learned in those two years has helped me shape up my character and be a better person. Those were the longest and 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. Don’t buy shit you don’t need. Don’t buy “branded” stuff just because every other clueless idiot is doing it. No. Don’t.
Lesson learned the hard way – Be grateful for what you have.
These days, my parents are looking 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 in this planet needs this money to feed himself. And here I am, traveling in a jet to save time because I am short on leaves.
Lesson: Be kind, for everyone out there is fighting a hard battle.
Edit: Thanks for all the upvotes. Here is sharing the first cheque I received from my website. This was that day when I have cried the most.
Whenever I am in trouble, I open my archive and see this cheque. This gives me all the strength I need.
Some tips to graduates, students who are yet to enter “real world”
1. Lead a loan free life. Need a car? Wait, don’t jump into an EMI. Save and then buy the car. Avoid banks as much as possible. No credit cards, I don’t need cashback and other things. Want to study abroad? Don’t take huge educational loan. If at all you take loans, have something to fall back on. Money is fire, you gotta be careful. Save. Every month
2. Make mistakes. Fail, fail fast and make it public. Don’t drag it on. I wouldn’t have succeeded in this wild venture if I listened to people telling me I write shitty articles. In fact, all I wrote for the first year was pure garbage. But here is the thing. I didn’t stop. I kept pressing on because I had no time.
3. Do not be ashamed of your situation. I could have written it Anonymously, so that my Facebook friends never know how miser my life was. But No. I am not ashamed of the truth. Accept life as it is.
4. Do not compare your life with anyone.
I see a new trend, specially in Quora. People comparing their life with IITans and IIM graduates. As if, IITans don’t have any struggle in life. As if IIM graduates are the happiest people. Trust me, its a myth. They too have challenges, they too have problems in their life. Keeping the expectation of society because you’re an IITan or IIM graduate is no easy feat. The moment an interviewer sees the word IITan on a resume, he himself prepares the toughest questions. If you compare your life with someone else’s, you will not achieve peace.
5. Be very careful when success comes to you easily. It’s treacherous path to tread down. You must see failure before success, otherwise you will not know the value. Lets say you sit in a campus interview and clear it in one shot, take up the job and keep doing it for years, chances are high that you will regret – “Why I did not explore? What for?” Also, do not expect to get lucky everytime. You will be in trouble somewhere down the road, then what are you going to do?
6. Do something on your own. However small or big, doesn’t matter. Do something completely from scratch and learn how to sell that thing. This will teach you life lessons you will use for the rest of your life.
This will also give you huge confidence. I don’t have any fear in my mind. Fear of what? The worst that can happen is that I will lose my day job. So what? I have worked on my own for 3-4 years without any help and have overcomed a huge financial crisis on my own, without a job. So if I am in trouble again, I know how to make my way.
7. Do not make one disappointment the center of your life.
When some incident shatters all the plans, hopes and aspirations, people start considering that pain and hurt to be the center of their lives and continue to live their lives around it.When people start considering one obstacle, challenge or misery to be the center of their life, and stops the very momentum of life, they cannot become successful in life. Nor can they achieve happiness and contentment.
8. Help people as much as possible. My friendwas with me during that tough phase. WE have had many fights. But he was there. When the storm had settled down at my end, he was going through a tough time. I pulled him out and secured his position at a startup I was working.
9. Do not be obsessed with “perfection”. You don’t need a perfect solution. You need a solution which is “good enough”.
People say “passion” is everything. Trust me, its wrong. Passion is not everything. Noone interviews a passionate musician who played guitar for 20 years, never copied someone else’s music and call it his own.
You should have a Goal. Well, wrong again. How do you know where you are going when you are full of doubts?
I believe, you need a problem. A massive problem. A crisis. Solve that shit and you will have those answers. Most of this comes from experimentation. And to experiment, you need systems.
Big things will happen from many small things. So lets say if you have 10 small things in your pocket, one of them will be big. You don’t know which one is your trump card.
Now this calls for a well deserved rant, take it with a grain of salt.
10. Failure is acceptable. Every single person fails. You know what’s not acceptable? NOT TRYING. I see most people giving up without even trying in the first place.
So you hate your job. What are you doing to find something you love? You dedicate so much for your girlfriend, you spend hours chatting in Facebook, you go to weekend parties and then on Monday morning, you are ready with your excuses. Stop pretending. Yes You, I am telling this to you. Stop being a hypocrite to yourself. Yes, I am angry and shouting because I know you’re not giving your 100%.
You keep feeding excuses to your brain everyday. Things like – “I don’t find time to do this. I don’t have 60%, I won’t be able to sit in some campus placement interview, I am a loser. She will leave me, my parents, he is lucky because he has an MBA, I dont have a rich father, recession is coming, not many companies are hiring electrical engineers, everyone is shooting for IT companies. I must get some money to pursue MS from US, otherwise its impossible to succeed…..I am a girl and I cannot survive outside my home because of rising crime against women, I am this I am that….” FUCK..!
WTF dude? WTF are you thinking? You need a massive thrashing from life. Someone must tie you with a rope and beat you up like shit, then you will do it. You dumbass, stop telling yourself those imaginary lies. Stop cribbing over your misery. Stop crying over your weaknesses. JUST DO IT. You’re not a kid who cries over a fucking lollypop. Get off your ass…!!!!!
11. Time for another analogy. Its what we call – “Filmy bullshit” 🙂
Hector and Achilles – both are great warriors. Hector is a noble spirit while Achilles doesn’t give any damn on anything.
Hector doesn’t “seek” wars. He sits in his comfort zone and waits for the war to come. His logic – “Yes, I am a warrior but that doesn’t mean I should be looking for a war and invite trouble.”
Achilles “seeks” war. He never sits in his comfort zone, he finds where a war is happening and goes there to fight it. His logic – “I am a warrior, my character is fighting wars. I will find wars and fight it. If I don’t, war is going to come anyway and then I will be beaten.”
Now who do you think will win, the person who sat in his comfort zone waiting for the war or the person who fought wars anyway?
Be like Achilles. Find wars, fight them. If you be like Hector, someday some Achilles will come and beat the shit out of you, kill you and drag your dead shit in front of everyone.
As he said – There are no pacts between lions and men.
12. Life is hard. Remember that dialogue from Rang de Basanti,
“Gate ke is taraf hum life ko nachate hain, to dujji taraf life humko nachati hai”
I don’t care who you are and how much money you have, life will beat you down to your knees and keep you there if you let it. Be prepared. Value relationships, you will need them someday.
There is a poem in Hindi by Harivansh Ray Bachhan which you should remember
लहरों से डराकर नौका पार नहीं होती ,
कोशीश कराने वालों की हार नहीं होती
नन्ही चींटी जब दाना लेकर चलती है ,
चढ़ती दीवारों पर , सौ बार फिसलती है
मन का विश्वास रगों में साहस भरता है ,
चढ़कर गिरना , गिरकर चढ़ना ना अखरता है ।
आखीर उसकी म्हणत बेकार नहीं होती ,
कोशीश करने वालों की हार नहीं होती
दुब्कियाँ सिंधु में गोताखोर लगता है ,
जा जा कर खली हाथ लौटकर आता है
मिलते नही सहज ही मोती गहरे पानी में ,
बढ़ता दुगना उत्साह इसी हैरानी में ।
मुठी उसकी खली हर बार नहीं होती ,
कोशीश करने वालों की हार नहीं होती
असफलता एक चुनौती है , इसे स्वीकार करो ,
क्या कमी रह गयी , देखो और सुधर करो ।
जब तक ना सफल हो , नींद चेन को त्यागो तुम ,
संघर्ष का मैदान छोड़कर मत भागो तुम .
कुछ किये बिना ही जय जेकर नहीं होती ,
कोशिश करने वालों की हार नहीं होती ।
What has poverty taught me?
I got a few questions in my inbox – “If you succeeded in your website, why did you choose a job?”
Here is the thing I have learned from poverty, being broke, establishing a small business from scratch. Money is not everything in life. Neither is your job title. Nor is your MBA degree. Life is much more greater than these petty things. Life is all about the experiences you make. I could have sit at home and pursued my website, earn more money but I would miss out experiences which are far more valuable. 25-35 is that time of your life when you can explore and do whatever you want. If you give up your freedom for money, one day you may have to regret it. You’re going to die anyway, so the amount of money in your bank is useless. Make experiences, not wealth. Money is important and it matters but far more valuable is gaining experiences, inviting challenges, accepting how life unfolds. Live in different cities, work on small jobs, you will see the true color of life. You will never be able to realize this if you sit in your comfort zone. Get out of your comfort zone and do stuff you’re afraid to do, do things you want to do.
P.S: I still cry for her.
Some People you can take inspiration from
When you have empty pockets, you will need inspiration. Let me tell you, I am not the only guy out there. I am just average, there are people who have exceptional stories of their own. I know some of them personally, have met a few and have connected online since 4-5 years.
Here is a small list of entrepreneurs and technology bloggers I know whom you can refer for inspiration (in no particular order)
- Amit Agarwal (the godfather of Indian tech blogging) –
- Keith D’Souza (this guy is my hero, he was my inspiration and mentor. I am grateful to him in so many ways beyond explanation, not because of the money I earned from freelancing. I am grateful because he gave me guidance, he taught me the tricks of the trade. I was a sophomore, would commit silly mistakes and he would correct it, show me the way. I wrote close to 400 articles in the site he started. my articles – )
- Amit Ranjan (SlideShare COO and cofounder, I am under his mentorship now)
- Raju PP –
- Sandip Dedhia –
- Abhijeet Mukherjee (I know him. Amazing writer.)
- Rohit Langde ( I know him personally. Nice fella!)
- Rishabh Agarwal (He quit his corporate career and pursued Photography. and he is a real badass at what he does – )
- Pathik Shah – growth hacker at Hike. He quit his IIM dream and went the startup way.
- Debajyoti Das – We belong to the same hometown, Calcutta. Our stories are similar.
- Ashish Mohta –
- Harsh Agarwal – This guy teaches how to raise money online. Good resource-
- Unitechy (this goes to all those girls who think technology is for men, she will blow your mind)
- Rajesh (we call him Pandu). If you break your mobile into a million pieces, he will still fix it for you.
- Puneet Jain n
- Sathyajith – (Linux geek …we call him just Sathya. )
- Arpit (one of the first guys whom I met online. Alpha geek. )
- Mayur –
- Shankar Ganesh – He is just 22 years old and well ahead of his time.
This list is endless and I can go on and on. More awesome people here
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.