Inspiring budding entrepreneurs to business success
Here is my speech to young entrepreneurs from the Startup Brixton event at Pop Brixton on Saturday 28 May.
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen
I’m delighted to be with you all today. I want to pay tribute to Dirk and the Startup Brixton team for organising this fantastic event. We are here because of their leadership, hard work and commitment to entrepreneurship. Please join me in giving them a huge round of applause.
Today I will share with you my journey from India to the UK and tell you three secrets you can use to start and sustain your business. These secrets made me a multi-millionaire in 12 years after leaving India and enabled me to retire in 2010.
• Making substantial savings
• Acquiring top business skills
• And gaining a global profile.
My story began 7,000 kilometres away from here in India, where I grew up the youngest of 11 children. My mum couldn’t help me with my homework since she couldn’t read or write.
But, she was the best alarm clock I’ve ever had!
My mum instilled in me the value of working hard. When I was young I often wanted to watch cricket on television and would talk nonstop about meeting famous Indian cricketers and taking photos with them. But my mum drilled into me a mantra that I follow everyday in my life: “You can’t become a pianist by just taking a picture with a piano.” As a result, during my school years, I always chose textbooks, not facebook as youngsters do today.
During my summers, I would stay at my sister’s house. Her place had no bathroom, no running water and one electric light. I remember collecting five buckets of buffalo dung everyday, which I’d shape into pancakes, slap them on walls to dry and then use for fuel. Believe it or not, I was the local dung collector champion!
Studying 60 hours a week at school, I won entry to the Indian Institute of Technology, one of the world’s top universities. Upon graduation, I obtained a scholarship for a Masters’ degree from Clarkson University and went to New York in 1986.
However, my excitement of flying for the first time at the age of 22 was short-lived. The second I stepped off the plane I was a fish out of water. I was faced with a different culture, a different language and a different socio-economic level. I was dirt poor.
But I reminded myself that I had come to New York to fulfil my dream of having a global business. And I would work day and night to achieve this goal. At this time I realised that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, I would require a razor-sharp focus, determination and make sacrifices for 10-15 years. I concluded that I needed to acquire a combination of three ingredients at the same time:
• First, I would need savings to invest so I did not have to rely on the bank.
• Second, I would need the best education so I could compete with talented people.
• And third, I would need to build the profile of a global manager to conduct business seamlessly with international clients.
Implementing this strategy, I decided to save 50% of my monthly scholarship. It was no easy feat, I assure you. I never ate out in New York for the first 12 months, even at McDonalds, but I still had the most delicious food everyday… because I cooked it myself!
After one year, I had saved more than 4,000 dollars which hugely boosted my confidence. I decided to invest these savings in building my future rather than buying expensive clothes and gadgets. Just as I got a grip on my life, I suffered a brain haemorrhage. But with the help of my wonderful roommates, I recovered from this setback. I stayed focused on my education and graduated with a Masters’ degree.
I then got a job as a project engineer in New York and set an ambitious goal of saving $50,000 in three years. I worked overtime all the time. I kept my expenses to a minimum by enjoying free parks, museums and libraries. Going on holiday or seeing a sporting event or concert live never crossed my mind. Not even once!
Not only was I investing my money carefully, I was investing my time wisely too. When not working 60 hours per week, I would use my time to volunteer as a fire-fighter, paramedic and tutor. I also completed courses in community colleges to work on my funny accent. By the way, I never had any accent problems in India!
Later on, I realised that by participating in these activities, it was easier for me to learn local customs and make lifelong friends. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I had saved 50,000 dollars, enough to pursue my next dream: studying at a top business school.
In 1992, I graduated with an MBA from University of California, Los Angeles. I was awarded the Dean’s Outstanding Student Award, the highest honour given to any student. And I had no outstanding student loans. Obviously, Wonga.com did not like me!
After graduation, I joined Sales and Trading at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. Immediately I set a goal of saving one million dollars in ten years. By the way, I was interviewed 31 times before I got that job! From day one I had to work 80 hours per week just to survive! But I enjoyed the nonstop, intense competition. And I continued to save 50% of my earnings. Having worked 80 hours a week for seven years at global banks in London, Tokyo and Zurich, I achieved my goal of saving one million dollars three years earlier than planned!
It was then I decided to build the profile of a global manager – the third secret. In subsequent years, I travelled to 75 countries, experiencing many cultures and faiths. Remember becoming a global citizen is a journey, not a destination.
Armed with my savings, my business acumen and my international profile, I launched my management consulting firm, Global Markets Consultants, in London and New York in 2002. I am proud that my company has created hundreds of management jobs and contributed millions in corporate and individual taxes to HMRC. It won the Preferred Supplier Recognition from Deutsche Bank, a top global investment bank, every year between 2005 and 2013.
My savings have enabled me to retire at the age of 45 to pursue my other interests, including travelling and community building. I love travelling. I’ve now been to 120 countries, including far flung places such as the North Pole and the South Pole. Recently I visited Nigeria, Ghana and the Caribbean. Since then jilof rice, okra soup and jerk chicken have become my favourite dishes.
And I love my community. I support numerous charities and initiatives to advance education and employability for young people and to promote social inclusion in London. I also serve as a magistrate in London which I find fulfilling. And I’ve raised £250,000 for charities by completing in outdoor challenges. They include running London Marathon, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and cycling 500 kilometres in Vietnam and Cambodia. I must stress that participating in community activities and charity challenges is a fantastic way to hone your leadership skills, develop your personality and form lasting friendships. Regularly going out of my comfort zone has boosted my emotional intelligence too.
To recognise my services to the economy and for promoting charitable giving, I was awarded an OBE. Additionally, I was chosen to have a lunch with the Queen on the top table for a Diamond Jubilee celebration event. And in 2014, Boris Johnson presented the Individual Community Spirit Award to me for building One London.
Some of you might be wondering how I find so much time to do all these things. Let me share with you a tip.
Did you know that Londoners spend six hours every day making others rich? This is how much time each person spends watching television, surfing the internet and using social media. By spending huge amounts of time and energy on these activities we are making others celebrities rather than ourselves. As a result they are millionaires and billionaires and we are not fully realising our dreams.
For more than 20 years, I’ve limited myself to watching television and using social media on average to one hour per day. Before I spend more than seven hours per week on entertainment, I always ask myself whether I can put the experience on my CV or talk about it in a job interview. So, I urge you to give yourself five hours extra everyday by not focusing on activities that make others money rich and you time poor. Instead invest these hours to acquire talent and grow your own business potential. Just imagine you could be the next Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey or Mark Zuckerburg! By the way, please don’t tell this to Sky TV otherwise they will cancel my subscription!
In conclusion, I’ve told you my three secrets of success. You too can become a successful entrepreneur and start and sustain a successful global business by following them. First, save substantial money before launching your business so you can sustain it. Remember banks want collateral and your profit! Whilst Wonga.com wants your peace of mind!
Second, to compete and win against top entrepreneurs, acquire the best business skills. If you are not beating your competition, you must sharpen your traits. Believe in your skills, not in luck. Third, grow your business globally by acquiring an international profile. Make the world your oyster
I hope that you will follow these three secrets to fulfil your dreams and be the master of your own destiny.
I can assure you that my door is open to you. 100% of my time and money is available to you as long as you want to reach the stars. And if you become the next billionaire, then please don’t forget me!
And on that note, I would like to close with what I tell myself everyday: Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do for yourself.
Thank you very much