My entrepreneurial journey - from failing in English to becoming a Speaker
I am a Motivational Speaker.
Most people think that does not qualify as being an entrepreneur. But the young entrepreneurs I have helped may disagree. True I haven’t helped them raise angel money or devil money. But I have helped them raise their emotional standards to a point where they can beat the ups and downs of being a start-up owner with a confident smile on their faces. That’s worth something isn’t it? Starting from zilch to making a decent name in the business against many odds and stiff competition, in my opinion, does count as setting up a business! It wasn’t easy convincing those entrepreneurs and board members that I was worth their time. That journey still continues.
For any business to be successful; the most important thing to identify is how huge is the need for it in the market. Answer: - There is a HUGE need for an established Motivational Speaker & Trainer.
The most critical word in the above line is 'established'.
Being a ‘motivational speaker in India’ is an awesome profession and an awful one too, depending on whose path you cross. If you are good & established then 90% of your audiences & 100% of your clients treat you like a son-in-law. The other remaining 10% junta does not secretly like you for being in this profession. These people themselves are highly self driven & perceive talks by motivational speakers to be like crutches or Viagra or whatever similar you call it.
Guess what – they are not my target audience! I do not work for them. I only work for my believers. You cannot make everyone around you happy. Can you? :) … Being an entrepreneur, you would know that!
Like every entrepreneur, my journey starts from the unknown and uncertain. I come from a very small but beautiful town in Himachal called Dharamshala. Trust me, I did not know when I was growing up that the boy who couldn’t string one line together in English will be able to become a motivational speaker. A small town guy who grew up in a village, failed in English & communication skills, did not have a very good social quotient.
The only reason I learned English was - a girl in my class laughed at my poor English. Such sense of purpose :) ... While I was supposed to be studying for my graduation exams, I was mugging up the Oxford dictionary. I did manage to do that, without realizing how this revenge was going to set my life in order.
When I started my journey in 2001- I was sitting at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of established credibility. I did not have any fancy degree e.g. a PhD or an MBA from a blue blooded B-School. I had a paltry PG in Fashion from NIFT, New Delhi which just does not in any way connects with what I am doing right now. I had been fired twice from my jobs, all within 6 months. The employers thought I was demotivating my colleagues! Hence, I started as an English faculty at a coaching center. I was addressing a crowd of 25. Soon, English started turning into motivation. I realized I wasn't that bad with an audience. I could make them laugh and feel more confident about their exams. But there was lot of room for improvement.
I decided then, what I wanted to be. I did not have a book, or a website or an elite client list or a Godfather (mother) in the industry. All I had was my extreme clarity about these 3 things:-
1) Extreme belief about my ability to create Events (products in industry parlance) which could solve problems in people’s lives.
2) The fact that I am going to stick out to doing THIS for at least 10 years. No looking back or giving in.
3) My Genre. I was trying to do something which no one in this domain had previously done. And it was ‘Amalgamating Humour, Sarcasm and Story telling’ to an otherwise slightly listless profession of Training & Motivational Speaking’. And ‘Being Funny’ is a ‘Serious Job’. I had decided that my Events will be ‘Motivation minus the Boring Gyaan’. And since it gave my events an idiosyncratic appeal; this extreme appeal helped me travel faster (as I look back).
It is not just what you say, but also how you say it that matters. My audiences connect with me not because I tell them anything new. I just give them newer ways to implement solutions, creative solutions to their rote problems. Most of them are so mired in the quagmires of life, they are not able to see things clearly. I just try to free up those passageways in a humorous, sarcastic and savage manner. Has been working great for me, the past 17 years!
1) Hard work - Between the years 2006- 2015, I did some 110-120 Events every year across almost every state of India. I went to all the major cities of India & even abroad. It only sounds cool but in reality it is quite difficult to travel this much. Leaving your family, almost never being there by them even on their birthdays, special days and festivals.
Like a photographer who starts getting a hang of what photography is about after clicking a 1000 pictures, it was only after doing 1000 Events did I realize ‘how to do a proper Event at a Corporate’. Catching up on sleep only during flights, doing sessions on Stress Management when I myself was extremely stressed – were routine. Early morning flights are like teenage sweethearts; the anxiety just does not let one sleep :)
2) I needed a back door entry. And for me it came in the form of Social Media. I was at the right place when social media started booming. Somewhere towards 2005-06’ I saw people buying laptops hungrily, broadband speeds increasing, social media penetrating, mobile phones over selling and people going a little crazy too.
I saw a huge window of presence out there and I just walked through. And building a community on social media was never a cake walk. With the constant technology changes, and my never-ending travels – somehow my team and I managed to learn our way through the revolution. We fought and fell a hundred times and still continue to do so. Today with around 3,50,000+ believers (fans) across all SM platforms; that journey continues. My blog has really helped me reach out to a larger audience. And the multitudes of experience that I have not been able to share during my events, all go to my blog. After speaking, writing has become my second love.
But this story would make no sense if I do not discuss my failures and mistakes. Apart from all the hit and trial and ‘beg, borrow, steal’ that happened for clients, my biggest mistake was my misguided sense of purpose – for a long time. 90% of my last 17 yrs - I spent chasing Money, Attention, Glamor, Love & all kinds of Adrenalin. Result - ROI was OK+ . I can say some 50%.
It was ONLY in those remaining 10% of the times -when I was CHASING the need to really make a difference and become the BEST version of myself that the ROI for (all of the above mentioned) suddenly became 200%. They all came at four times the speed. This redefined sense of purpose has made a huge difference. Even today, no matter how hard the travel is, I try to help people who trust me and write to me. If you are in trouble, I am always there to listen. All they need to do is, get in touch.
Some of my best sessions have been with Google, McKinsey & Co., BCG, Accenture, HDFC, Hyundai and so on. I have spent a large part of my life talking to people and listening to them. It is these interactions that bring me the most experience. It is through their problems that I find solutions for others. And the cycle runs itself. Through the issues that my corporate clients deal with, I get a lot of fodder to train my younger audiences. I get to give them researched outcomes of their probable paths and help them build a more confident future.
The saying goes, "Life is lived forward but understood backwards". It is my business to help my people understand someone else's life backwards and make suitable changes to their own lives!
One could say that I collect stories. Stories of individuals from different walks of life. That’s what akashgautam.com is all about. A collection of stories, an encyclopedia from where I try to concoct remedies for my clients. One could also say that I am a people connector. My business is about connecting people through their stories and the lessons they learn in life, their victories and losses. And those stories are always motivating :) . And I get to spread a few smiles too!