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Why I skipped College Placements & multiple IIM calls to run an edtech startup

When people marry, they don't look for the best guy / girl, they look for the person they can feel best compatible with. Similarly, in life, it is important to choose things we are compatible with rather that what the world believes to be best!

I read The Godfather when I was in Class 9. Somehow, the book ended up becoming one of the greatest inspirations of my life and the biggest takeaway I have taken from it is that what I do must impact people positively - if not millions, atleast a few hundred thousand for sure. Don Vito, despite being a mafia lord, was someone who was good to people, had values and positively impacted the life of every family member, neighbour and others in his vicinity.

I knew, after finishing the book, that whatever I do has to have a meaning beyond just being good for me. Move to my final year when I was studying mechanical engineering in Manipal. I see a lot of my friends getting placed in a variety of companies and organisations. I see this and I ask myself - Will me working in an automobile firm or heavy engineering firm or an IT company do good for people of my country? If surely will but is that the most I can do? Surely not!

And that was it! I decided to stay away from the Placement process. But what would I do if not find a job.

I knew I had felt trapped in the school system during Classes 11 & 12 and the same feeling had continued as I moved to Manipal to study mechanical engineering. Surely, there were some great breakout moments which helped me discover myself over those 6 years but academically, I had been stunted and mostly did not enjoy the process of learning that I was made to go through. Through research, I kept delving deeper into the stagnant education system and how millions of students every year suffer due to the system not being suited to their needs.

Will you call a petrol car bad if it has been filled with diesel and breaks down because of the diesel?

And, our journey of GyanLab began with this.

A couple of months before starting up, I had written CAT for the first time in 2010. I had enrolled for BYJU's classes in Manipal and did attend the first few lectures. It was intense but for someone like me, I preferred to create my own shortcuts to find solutions to interesting questions. In all my life, I had never done well in any competitive exam so I was sceptical of my abilities writing the CAT as well. But, I found the exam to be fun and did manage a 96+ percentile. But, it was not enough to get me any calls at any IIMs. Life might have been very different if I actually had received an IIM call that year. I was sure I would not have taken admission since I very deeply believe that an MBA without work-ex is not worth it.

But, not receiving an IIM call kept me on the hook. I registered for CAT in 2012 also but could not write the test because of work. Finally, in 2013 I wrote it again and, of course, I had no time to prepare for it. In fact, I took on a bet with a friend that it is not too hard to score in CAT or any competitive exam as long as you are conceptually sound. My friend believed that extreme preparations are required to do so. In the end, I prevailed and scored my first 99+ percentile in CAT. Since 2013, I have received shortlist calls from all IIMs except A, B and C owing to the fact that I have not been a perfect student all my life with low score in every exam that matters (such as 10th, 12th and under-graduate) and am a GEM (general category, engineering background, male).

I know a lot of people feel ecstatic on receiving a shortlist from an IIM. I was too. But I took this time to think very hard. I was running a start-up that was already almost 3 years old, I had learnt some hard lessons about running my own start-up and was gaining expertise in the K-12 education space. I was already working on solving a problem that I was very passionate about solving and I did not feel the need to stay away from it for 2 years. I was already making a positive impact in the lives of thousands of young people and the numbers would surely grow over the years if I kept going at it. In my head, it made no sense to deviate from what I was doing. Plus, I was learning a lot of things practically which is taught in an MBA course.

Many of my friends, family members told me to atleast reply back to the shortlist and sit through the next stages of the selection process but that would mean that I might actually end up taking a seat from someone who actually deserves and desires to go, and study at an IIM and it would be something very wrong on my part.

One can always argue on these decision I took for myself to find numerous pros and cons but I believe that there is no perfect solution - a one size fits all solution - to any issue or topic.

When people marry, they don't look for the best guy / girl, they look for the person they can feel best compatible with.

I like to make sure that I do not choose the best alternative in every case but what are compatible with my thoughts and beliefs.

Eventually, I made it a habit to write CAT every year since then except for 2016 when TCS decided that it is okay to give a centre that is 70km away with limited approach and for the morning slot for which the reporting time is 8am. It helps me believe (may or may not be true) that I am still sharp and witty :)

And, based on what I have written in this post, I also advise every young undergraduate or those just about to graduate that they need to find their calling and stick to it. Too often, young people are trying to find the shortest path to success. Truth is there is no shortest path to success, and even if there is it is too short lived.

We all have to atleast make an effort to live our lives on our own terms. And, my terms always tell me to look for greater good in my actions rather than take one for personal gains.


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