I was 10 days old in one of the biggest mobile advertising companies and still getting accustomed to working in India’s famed ‘startup’ world. This was new for a typical corporate worker from the consulting world. Formal clothing, rules, processes, structure... I sat at my assigned desk, poured myself a coffee and was checking my mails when I heard a loud cry behind me. I turned to see that Naveen, our CEO, had emptied half a bucket of coloured water on one of my colleagues. He then took a mug full of it and sent it right in my direction. “Happy Holi,” he said, and rushed back to get more to splash on others. I was dumbstruck. This was an office, dammit! I didn’t know how to react. The floor was wet, the carpets soiled, and I was partially drenched. It was a madhouse. I was in the midst of a party and I didn’t understand it.
It took a good month to imbibe this culture. Disorganised, chaotic, and risky are the only words you hear when you decide to work in a startup. Mind you, this was 2012, so the idea of big monies in your bank wasn’t exactly true. By 2013, there was a romanticism associated with building a startup. The money was good. The perks were better. And all you thought of was T-shirt-wearing Ivy League kids with baggy shorts and ‘hipster’ beards who claimed to cook up code that would create the new Artificial Intelligent robot. However, by 2015, the impending doom of Indian startups was parroted by nearly every scribe. At present, not a day goes by when we don’t read sermons on how internet startups are an ugly rat race to the bottom. The critics still can’t live without their taxi-hailing or food delivery services, but crib they will.
But I digress. About a month into my job, Mohit, one of the co-founders, asked quizzically, “Err... Why would you ask me this? If you think it’s the right idea, go for it.” He was asking me to make my own decisions. It was a funny, scary feeling. Funny because I was not used to this kind of freedom; scary because I was given all the freedom and accountability to do things I deemed fit. As the days progressed, I was trying to get more accustomed to working in an alien culture. It was unlike anything I had heard or done before. And by 2012, InMobi wasn’t a small startup anymore; it was getting bigger, funded by SoftBank in the second half of 2011. So this culture of transparency and freedom combined with the right accountability had to be ingrained in its DNA. Importantly, the founders and the CEO also had to ensure that the lively atmosphere of a startup continued and took every opportunity to encourage it. In a month, I realised nobody asked for leaves. Nevertheless, I sent a mail to Mohit and all I got was a, “LOL, this is the fourth leave request mail I’ve ever got. Don’t bother sending another; you can take leaves whenever you want as long as you get your work done.”
Talk about drama! I’m a theatre actor myself and I felt like I was living in one the first month at InMobi. Only this time, there was no script. But it’s also terrifying in the sense that the audience is beaming down at you, judging every move of yours. And by virtue of being in one of India’s prized Unicorn companies, a sense of responsibility kicks in. I would soon learn that the coveted tag of being associated with a mythical creature is not born overnight, but is a hard-earned one. And if you’re among the rare breed to have made it, you’re ‘selected’ because you are worth the effort. This sort of freedom helped me take the leap and discover where my true calling was. I don’t think I could have grown so fast or learnt so much anywhere else. I made mistakes; a lot of them. But, importantly, I was allowed to make them. It’s exactly what every person dreams of in a job — the ability to give it your best even if you’re wrong sometimes. This is precisely why we leave established companies, throwing away that blanket of security — to learn new things, make mistakes, stumble, and build something from scratch. The responsibility and freedom is an adrenaline rush.
I remember some age-old clichés my mother parroted — “If you really love what you do, you won’t call it work; it will become your passion.” At the time, I would sigh and thank my mom for this rather inane advice, but after about four-and-a-half years, I truly realise the meaning of these words. ‘Work’ has liberated me and made me aware of who I am and what I am capable of. One must never think of work as a burden that needs to be balanced. InMobi taught me that it’s okay to work from home, it’s okay to set my work timings according to my comforts, it’s okay to bring your pets to work, and it’s absolutely okay to make mistakes. We spend one-third of our lives in the workplace. That’s almost 66,000 hours and suddenly you realise how it contributes to a significant portion of your happiness.
In my time here, I’ve had a chance to work with multiple teams in multiple positions and have had my own teams. I’ve risen considerably because I love what I do and want to do more of it. I jumped from a structured organisation to a startup because I wanted to dive into one industry and learn its depth. This transition was an out of the ordinary experience and made me question everything I learnt. I believe every one of us should work in a startup, where you get a chance to be everything from the CEO to the sales person to the customer support bundled into one. You learn so much more than what’s assigned to you and that’s the unmistakable opportunity — to wear many hats and be amidst the thick and thin of building a world class company.
These four-and-a-half years have been an amazing ride. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. Startups are not those rides around the park in a toy train, but those roller coasters that go up, down, and upside down. But we all want this one ride and we owe it to ourselves to experiment and take some risks. This chance is temporary and you should grab it. So if you’re reading this and wondering if you should jump into that unheard-of company from your stable job — DO IT. You might fail, you might succeed, but you owe it to yourself to take that plunge.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)