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“The Privilege” of Long Shots

Why its easier for some people to be an entrepreneur

My life has largely been defined by long shots. Definition of a long shot -

“an attempt or guess that has only the slightest chance of succeeding or being accurate.”

A few big ones which have affected my life -

- Looking at my fascination with computers, my parents got me a computer way back in 1996 in India. They spent majority of their annual income to get me that PC. That one thing has defined the entire trajectory of my professional career.

- Went to Kota to study for IIT. Got into one of the better training classes. Hated it, went into depression because of the shitiness of that place and eventually quit.

- Got into one of the better undergrad engineering schools by giving a semi serious shot to one of the entrance exams (AIEEE) which back then wasn’t considered relevant by most students in the state of Gujarat.

- A big one (grad school) - applied to Cornell, Berkeley and Stanford among others, even though only 1 person from my school had ever been accepted in any of those universities. I had applied to 11 grad schools in total, the above 3 were long shots, 4 more were medium chance, 4 more were backup. I got rejected from every single one, apart from Cornell. And Cornell was the last one to get back with a response - those 2 months of rejections were excruciating. I had given up on going to grad school when I received the acceptance email.

- Chose to work in a startup at below market rate in the valley rather than a big company after graduating from school. Most of my classmates had starting salaries of 15% - 30% more than I did - but I got stock options. ;)

- Started startup #1 - worked on it for one and half years - went nowhere and eventually shut down.

- The current (and the biggest so far) one - left my comfy job in the valley, moved back to India, started a health tech company.

This is just the professional/career long shots. There are also ones in my personal life like making friends with people who were deemed “spoilt” and “bad influence” at some point or another. Telling a girl that I like her - while feeling very scared about how she will react… and so on.

Professional long shots

I want to focus on the professional long shots since many people don’t have problems taking them in personal life. I have no idea why - maybe because one has monetary consequences and thus makes it “more painful” than the other kind. But I digress.

I observed that there are a lot of people who would do well if they took long shots. I asked them why they did not do so. The responses largely fell into one of two categories -

1. I am happy where I am with a stable job and don’t want to take any risk or stress of doing things which have a large chance of failure.

2. I want to do it but I can’t. Because of X.

Choice #1 is personal and I don’t think anyone has the right to question how somebody chooses to live their life.

Choice #2 is the more interesting one. The X in the statement is in a very broad range. Its an array of infinite reasons such as -

- I cannot risk a stable income - sole breadwinner of the family.

- My family doesn’t allow me to do it.

- I don’t think it will work because everyone I know has tried, failed and went through tremendous hardships afterwards.

- Too scared to make the leap.

- I tried before and I failed - it takes too much effort to do it, my former partners/cofounders screwed me over, investors screwed me over.

… and so on.

Note that there will not be one overarching reason which encapsulates X, but a combination of several of disparate reasons that come together to prevent them from taking a long shot.

The Privilege of standing on shoulders of others

As I thought about it, I came to the realisation that my “ability “ to take long shots wasn’t an ability at all. Most of it is due to an amalgamation of my circumstances - which started right from my birth.

- My parents also valued education greatly and went to great lengths make sure I was never held back in that area. They encouraged me to read books and bought any book that I wanted, even at the cost of other things in their life.

- I don’t have any dependents that I need to financially support.

- I have savings from my previous job which gives a good personal runway to have an extended period of time with little/no income.

- I am a Software Engineer, and I know I am good at it - this gives me great comfort since I know that I can always fallback to having a job which is in high demand and has high pay.

- My extended family has always been supportive of me trying new risky things. I have several role models (both friends and family) in real life who run their own businesses successfully.

- There are several more such reasons. Every single one adds a pillar of support for the platform on which I can attempt risky endeavours, and as I have progressed in my life the number of pillars have only increased.

These pillars give me “The Privilege” of taking long shots. I am standing on shoulders of people in my life who support me unconditionally.

A lot of people cannot or will not rightly choose to take long shots because they have very few or no support to take them in the first place.

You will always hear examples of people taking long shots who had no pillars at all and made it big. But just like startups, for every one loud success there are hundreds if not thousands of silent failures.

I salute those people, the ones who did not have “The Privilege” but went ahead with the long shot anyway. You have more heart and courage to face the shit that life throws at you than I ever will.

As for the rest, be glad to have the optionality that “The Privilege” provides. Its important to recognise it, acknowledge it - and help others get it. More people with The Privilege can only change the world in unimaginably wonderful ways.

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