Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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On Turning 40

February 20th, 2008 · 48 Comments

I had written this last year around by birthday. But since I was not updating my blog then, I didn’t publish it then.

The Early Years

On August 15, I turn 40. By standard life expectancy measures, I have probably crossed the half-way mark. Birthdays are a good time to reminisce and look ahead. So, here are my thoughts on my life so far and what I’d like to do in the future.

I was born in Pune in 1967. My father, a civil engineer, had returned from an educational and work stint in the US. He had grown up in Rajasthan. My mother had grown up in Pune. She was 19 years old when she married my father in February 1966. After I was born, she continued to spend more time with her parents in Pune to complete her studies in Arts.

Sometime after that, my mother and I moved to Mumbai (Bombay as it was called then) to be with my father’s family. Ours was a small home, first at Chinchpokli (Byculla), then at Nepean Sea Road, and finally at Mahim. My father had quit L&T a few years ago to start his own consulting practice – as a structural engineer helping design buildings, especially tall skyscrapers.

Mahim was where I spent much of my early childhood. I went to St. Michael’s High School. We lived in Mahim till I was 7 years old. Then, we moved to Siddhartha building on Nepean Sea Road – which was to be our home for the next 30 years. With that, I also changed schools – shifting to St. Xavier’s High School (near Metro).

I was a quiet, studious child. My younger sister, Neeta, was born when I was 5. My mother’s sister lived on the floor below us in the same building. Neeta and my cousins were more of the same age, and interacted a lot more with each other than I did with them. In the building, I was the youngest by a wide margin – and so never quite had deep friendships. It was school and books that brought out the best in me.

I discovered new worlds through reading. Somewhere along the line, I fell in love with the radio. Listening to BBC World Service enriched my life. I’d sit at the window, close my eyes, and listen to the radio for hours. My favourites were the two science programmes, Discovery and Science In Action. I used to even be able to identify the news readers just by listening to their voices!

Academically, I did very well – topping my class. Two of my closest friends are the ones I went to school with. One of the events which brought us close was the Nehru Science Centre Quiz Contest. We beat out everyone else to win that in 1981. I was also fortunate to have some wonderful teachers – and till date, I try and maintain contact with a few of them.

I would spend vacations at my grandparents’ home in Pune. Once a year or so, my parents, sister and I would go to Rajasthan – where my father had set up a marble factory. When I was 14, we went on a packaged tour (SOTC) of Europe. It was around that time I started keeping a diary – a habit which lasted many years. (Even today, every so often, I will write out a page or two of my thoughts.)

College Days

In 1982, after completing the SSC exams, I joined St. Xavier’s College. College was not particularly exciting. Maybe it was the environment. It was a big change from school. I didn’t study as much in the first few months – spending more time in the library reading. I remember getting the shock of my life when I ended up getting 59 out of 100 in Maths! That was it. Back to academics.

Around that time, as I was getting quite bored, my father bought a computer for his office. And that changed my life. Until then, I had wanted to be a civil engineer – just like him. I would accompany him on site visits to see the new construction. The computer came into my life when I was looking for some alternate outlet for my creativity.

I leant BASIC programming from a book. After my classes at college, I would go to my father’s office and write software – mostly games. I remember three games that I created – one which simulated a one-day international cricket match, another one to play Monopoly, and a third one which I called “Mindermast” after the Mastermind game (also known as Bulls and Cows).

I loved spending time on the computer. It was around that time I decided that I wanted to become a computer engineer when I grew up. Perhaps, I thought that my logical thinking was made-for-programming. Or maybe, the reading that I did convinced me that computers were the future. But it would be still many years before I really go to do more programming.

Twelfth standard studying meant joining Agarwal Classes. I also started preparing for IIT. That left very little time to do anything else. My father was also keen that I go abroad for studies – and so I applied to various US universities. As it turns out, I got into IIT (193rd rank in JEE) and had an admission from Carnegie-Mellon. After talking to various people, I decided to stay in India and join IIT – even though I had to settle for Electrical Engineering rather than Computer Science.

It was the four years at IIT that brought out the best in me. Luckily, I didn’t do well academically in the first semester. I focused completely on studying – and ended up not topping my class. That shook my confidence – if after all this time spent studying I could not be the best, then what more could I do? What started as a ‘timepass’ volunteer effort in Mood Indigo in 1985 led me down the path of extra-curricular activities, and I ended becoming the General Secretary (Cultural Affairs) in my final year.

More than anything, IIT helped me open up. I learnt very little in the classroom, but everything outside it. The ‘cack sessions’ with wingmates in the hostel, the late-night chess sessions, participating in student government, organising Mood Indigo 1988, the Himankan trek in the Himalayas – all helped developed aspects of my personality which have stood me in good stead in life.

American Journey

Even as I participated in all the other activities in IIT, I did reasonably well academically – passing out with a CPI of 7.93 on a scale of 10. I got into Columbia University, New York, and in early September 1988, took a Lufthansa flight to JFK. I was now completely on my own. I was 21, but in many ways, had led a fairly protected and sheltered life. School and college had been fun and somewhat carefree. Now, I had to go out and build my career.

When I left India, I was very sure that I would come back within a few years. My father had done the same in the mid-60s, and that was what was expected of me. He did not have any expectation that I would join him. All he said was come back and become an entrepreneur. “Doing something on my own” was what I wanted to do. I had seen my father experiment with many ventures – a few succeeded but many failed. Yet, he never stopped trying.

I completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 9 months at Columbia. I took half my courses in Computers – rekindling the love from seven years ago. I still remember the Operating Systems course I took in the first semester. My advisor warned me against it – since I did not the prerequisite of C Programming. I told him – give me a few weeks, and I will learn C. Which is what I did – while I was doing four other courses. Programming came naturally to me – and I enjoyed it.

Living in New York was something else I liked. I discovered Calvin and Hobbes, and a deeper love for books (including Poetry). I also discovered Cooking – no choice there! New York was so much like Bombay – a fast-paced buzz that never left you.

After Columbia, I started looking for a job. It was a tough market – the summer of 1989. Luckily, I got an offer from NYNEX Science and Technology in White Plains, an hour or so from New York City. I accepted and joined in September. NYNEX was at that time one of the Baby Bells, created out of AT&T.

NYNEX was a wonderful learning opportunity for me. I combined my love for programming with ‘business development.’ I got to travel and meet people, make presentations, and build ‘relationships.’ It was as good as it gets – until I reminded myself of my India commitment. And so, in December 1991, I walked into my manager’s cabin and handed in my resignation. It wasn’t easy – the team at NYNEX had become like an extended family. And yet, I knew I had to return to India. Entrepreneurship beckoned – though at that time I had no idea what I would do. After a few months with a company on the West Coast, I returned to India in early May 1992.

Entrepreneurship

I have chronicled my fifteen years as an entrepreneur in detail in an earlier Tech Talk. All I want to say here is that these fifteen years, with all their ups and downs, have been as exhilarating as anything I could have imagined. For me, it is about creating new things, it is about the journey. I have tried fifteen different things in these fifteen years. There has only been one big success. But that has never stopped me from trying or dreaming big. Failure, for me, has been a learning opportunity. And that will never change.

I am currently involved in running Netcore. We are doing some interesting things in the mobile data space. I have also invested in more than a dozen companies – with a thesis that we need to build the digital infrastructure for the India first, and then take these solutions to other emerging markets. I think of these ventures as the Emergic ecosystem.

In the next five years, I hope many of these ventures will succeed. If they do, I will benefit in two ways. I will not only have significant financial resources (and here I means, access to billions of dollars) but also I have the ‘operating system’ for layering the applications that can transform life in India.

For me, money is an instrument of change. I have no interest in leaving a financial legacy and a fat bank balance for our only son. I want to bring about change in India in my lifetime. I want to spend all the money that I earn in my lifetime and while I can – because we are running out of time for India. But I do not have enough for what I want to do (more on that shortly). So, I am using entrepreneurship as a ‘money amplifier.’

The Emergic ecosystem companies will also help create the core elements for building out India’s digital infrastructure. From network computers to broadband equipment, from mobile data services to mobile payments, from leveraging video over broadband to creating books for an increasingly literate population, from rethinking healthcare to using solar energy – companies in the Emergic ecosystem have various elements which can help lay the foundation for the change we want to bring about.

As I look ahead, I would like to help build the New India over the next two to three decades. That, for me, means three things. And in all three ideas, my guide has been Atanu Dey. Atanu has helped me think deeply about the issues that need to be addressed for the development of India – and Indians.

Three Goals

Here are three things I’d like to do in the rest of my life and which will require investments of hundreds of millions of dollars. This is not about philanthropy, but about building the right systems and foundation – in a sort-of self-generating way. Ideally, the Indian government should have been the enabler – but I don’t see that happening with the politicians we have. Indian business has started taking the lead but is not doing this fast enough – and in some cases, is not even doing it right.

First, ensuring access to quality education for hundreds of millions of Indians. Education is a life-enhancer – and nothing comes close. My father was helped by his education to get out of the village he grew up in and created opportunities for himself. How can we do the same for millions in India who are otherwise resigned to a life devoid of opportunity? This is not about trying to build the world’s best school or college, but ensuring that a sustainable and scalable system to provide quality education for everyone in India. For more, read Atanu Dey’s series on Doing Education Right.

Second, we need to build hundreds of new cities to house the hundreds of millions of people who we need to get out from the villages. Our current cities are bursting at the seams. Creating urban slums in not the answer. We need 600 new cities of a million each or 6,000 towns of 100,000 each – or a mix of both. But there is no way we can provide any reasonable future to pockets of 1,000 people living in 600,000 villages. In other words, India cannot afford its villages – and needs to urbanise fast. Else, the demographic dividend will turn out to a big nightmare. Creating these new cities right – in a clean, green, and self-sustainable way – is what I’d like to see us do. For more, read Atanu Dey’s series on Creating India’s New Cities.

Finally, I want to create a Santa Fe-like institution in India. It should be a place where multi-disciplinary thinking is the norm. It should be a magnet for smart people to spend time interacting with the best in different areas so they can forge multiple mental models which can then go out and solve problems right. We go wrong in solutions because we have partial knowledge and so we do not understand the real problem. This leads to what I call brain-dead decisions. An institution like this will ensure that we make the right decisions for the future. It will create a platform for the innovations we will continue to need.

The day after we had sold IndiaWorld for $115 million in November 1999, my wife, Bhavana, told me: “We are custodians of God’s money. If God has given us money at such an early age, there must be something He has in mind for us. We have to utilise this wealth for the greater good.” These are words which have formed the bedrock of my life since then. Till then, I was an entrepreneur trying to prove that I could, even after repeated failures, be successful at least once. Since then, I have come to believe that what good we need to do, we have to do in our present life – while we still have the physical and mental energies.

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48 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ranjan // Feb 20, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    awe inspiring (especially for another 40 year old like me! )

    Atanu is a great guide and I wish to be part of your goals. In a smaller way but as Atanu says, we can be useful in our own small ways.

  • 2 Vinu // Feb 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Lovely writing Rajesh. Felt as if I was having a one on one chat with you. Good see the new blog – lovely presentation.

    I like the idea of the garden and the dog playing around :-)

    Hoping to catch up soon sometime … Mobility, Media, Education and Enabling people to enrich their life is something I am looking forward to do also!

    PS: No Captcha?

  • 3 Rajesh Jain “On Turning 40″ // Feb 20, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    [...] read Rajesh’s mini-autobiography “On Turning 40,” which he did last year on August 15th (but posted it only today because he was on break [...]

  • 4 Pranav // Feb 20, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    Welcome back Rajesh,

    We missed you while you were gone. oh, and a blated 40th bday.

    -p

  • 5 Patrix // Feb 20, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Congratulations, Rajesh. It was an inspired read and I wish you all the luck in achieving your three goals.

  • 6 On Turning 40 // Feb 20, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    [...] you must read one post today then read Rajesh’s mini-autobiography on turning 40. You might remember him from 1999 when his company IndiaWorld was sold for Rs.400 crore. He has [...]

  • 7 Prashant // Feb 20, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Welcome back,

    It is always a nice read how a person achieves success and to know that there were many small things that went behind that one big headline…

    Missed your writing very much…

    Keep blogging

  • 8 On Turning 40 | DesiPundit // Feb 20, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    [...] Jain, one of India’s foremost entrepreneurs, shares his mini-autobiography on turning 40. It is amazing to see the extent of his achievements and the breadth of his vision for the future [...]

  • 9 mark levy // Feb 20, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    Rajesh:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is very inspiring. I would like permission to feature this on my website – Turning40.net. The site is a place where people turning 40 can share their experience, strength and hope as they cross this milestone.

    Best wishes for continued success,

    Mark

  • 10 Loknath // Feb 21, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Inspiring and elegant. I wish atleast someone like you pulls the rights strings now and then to cull all thats wrong and dirty in this country. While most are aware abt what needs to be done, only a few could actually translate that into a vision… a vision thats better articulated than the entire democratic institutions combined. Bastard still could figure out the importance of educationg people.

  • 11 Rachit Chandra // Feb 21, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Amazing story. Loved the money amplifier part.

  • 12 Rajesh Jain on Turning 40 « World is Green // Feb 21, 2008 at 5:33 am

    [...] writes in his blog on Turning 40 and his goals for India and Atanu’s influence on him. An inspiring read. Three [...]

  • 13 /pd // Feb 21, 2008 at 5:44 am

    Excellent & Awsome to learn about you !!

    I have been taking your feeds for so so long and never even thought of who you are , what you did or where you are !!

    I just liked what you blogged about and the content is always Grade A stuff !!

    All the best with Vision !!

  • 14 Dhruti // Feb 21, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Rajesh, that was very inspiring. Your three goals have really inspired me and helped me gain a better perspective with regards to enterpreneurship. If there is anyway i can be of help in achieving goal 1 and 2 i would be more than happy to help

  • 15 Sri Prasath Venkateswaran // Feb 21, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Rajesh, Thanks for such wonderful blog which provided a positive insight for emerging professionals like me.

    Your blog has inculcated a 360 degree change in me. Let me carnate the best from you. My best wishes for your vision to come true.

  • 16 Swapnil P. Bendekar // Feb 21, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Congratulations, Rajesh Sir !!!!!!!!!!
    It was very inspiring read and All The Best for achieving your three goals as earliest as possible.

  • 17 Shrish // Feb 21, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Rajesh,

    We have never met though some day we will. I think yours is one of the best blogs that I have read. Very inspiring.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • 18 Debashish // Feb 21, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Immensely gratifying post, I used to think you were much older :) When I introspect, being just 4 years younger than you, I find that I am no where near the maturity and vision you possess. Just curious, apart from the intellect, do you think your education from IIT and your stay at New York honed you to what you are today?

  • 19 Mallikarjuna // Feb 21, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Very inspiring read, Belated Birthday greetings to you Rajesh.
    Good that you are back to blogging.

    Looking at guys like you, lazy rats like me have something to get inspired.

  • 20 What good we need to do, we have to do in our present life! « Niranjani: Perspective on Life, Meditation, Spirituality…. // Feb 21, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    [...] Ever since I have been a close follower of Emergic and Rajesh’ writing. His blog entry “On Turning 40” is a must [...]

  • 21 Malapati Raja Sekhar // Feb 21, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Dear Rajesh,

    It is wonderful to read. I too believe that India needs platform.

    Hope your dreams will come true!

    Thanks
    Raja

  • 22 Vivek // Feb 22, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Great Writing ( && Life) Rajesh. It was inspiring and depressing to look back at my life.

  • 23 Eroteme // Feb 23, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Very de-slumbering post. Really shook me and made me think. Wishing you the best and congratulating you on such a fulfilling life so far.

  • 24 Vishal Sharma // Feb 23, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Yr blog and Atanu’s blog is always refreshing. I stted blogging in 2005 after reading yr blog. So my sincere gratitude to you :) .
    Congrats on Turning 40 – All the best for future.

  • 25 Arvind raj // Feb 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    It is very inspiring and as well as i read your blog it was very intresting and useful.
    Best wishes for continued success…

  • 26 Popular Weekly Links: Feb.17 - Feb.23 | DesiPundit // Feb 24, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    [...] of Netcore Technologies and brain behind IndiaWorld turned 40 and finally found time to pen his brief autobiography [posted by [...]

  • 27 Sumit // Feb 24, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Inspiring read.
    Wish you luck and hope it succeds for India, Indians and humanity

  • 28 Amrit Hallan // Feb 24, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Hi Rajesh.

    Loved reading your post. 40 is something I’ll be knocking at the doors very soon :-) .

    I’m preparing an online blog directory of blogs being maintained by Indians and people of Indian origin. Whenever you get some time, please submit a few details at http://indianblogdirectory.com/add-new-blog.php.

    Please forward this message to other bloggers if you think they’ll be interested.

    Thanks.
    Amrit

  • 29 BASAVARAJ // Feb 26, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Great wring!

    Marvellous………..!!!

    Thanks for the inspiring life story.
    Basavaraj

  • 30 Gaurav // Feb 27, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Really nice – have you thought of writing a more detailed book?

    Thanks

  • 31 Santosh // Feb 29, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    We need some more visionories like you.. indeed a great vision and great utilization of your talent and abilities… hats off.

  • 32 Viki // Mar 2, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Awesome – very inspiring – I am going to be 50 this August – and to me this is classic – 50 WILL be the new 40 !! I hope you dont mind if I link your post on my blog and facebook

  • 33 Maheswari // Mar 4, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    All the best :)

  • 34 K R MAni // Mar 6, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Hi rajesh, Nice to see you after long time in blog space. Eventhough it is known story, it refreshing. Take care..

  • 35 Abdul Qabiz // Mar 7, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    More I read your posts, better I get at my things. I want to achieve things, the way you have done in these years.

    Totally inspiring, not many people know how to make money work for them, you know that. You work for different and better reasons..

    Belated Happy Birthday :-)

    Thanks

    -abdul

  • 36 Kaushal Karkhanis // Mar 17, 2008 at 2:59 am

    Visiting ur blog after a long time – this was a truly inspirational read! I loved your thoughts on money as a change-enabler and share the same beliefs with you. We’ll surely cross paths sometime :) Until then, Goodluck and Godspeed sir!

  • 37 arZan // Apr 3, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Rajesh…

    Good to see you back to blogging. And a mover to WordPress and all eh ! Nice.

    I loved this post. Ive been a long time reader and missed your absence on the web for the time you were absconding.

    Your candid and insightful writing makes inspirational writing.

    Thanks

  • 38 ptc // Apr 7, 2008 at 12:58 am

    Actually, Google reader suggested me your blog … and following the suggestion, this article has made my day, this Sunday couldn’t have been better!

    Thanks for sharing your inspirational experiences, Rajesh.

  • 39 brijesh // Apr 8, 2008 at 11:44 am

    amazing read this blog was…I just curse my self for not visiting this earlier, despite knowing the existence of emergic.org (although didn’t expect it to be even remotely close to what it is).
    I ‘presumed’ it to be something to do with business-entrepreneurship, netcore’s plans and the usual things that are seen.
    This mini-autobiography is certainly one of the best reads that i have had after a long long time.
    My only hope is to become a part, even if the smallest one, of such a vision – but for that i have to find my own way to contribute.
    I just hope to stay focussed and not lose the inspiration i just seem to have been injected with.
    Great going Rajesh sir. The least i can say is that it is people like you that the generation looks upto and gets inspired; i’m sure it would give you immense pleasure to know that it is through these insights that many youngsters (and oldies too!) are introduced to the holistic thinking. Even if a small % of these convert their intent to action, it would a be a priceless achievement.
    Keep inspiring!

  • 40 TrulyTuli // Apr 19, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    Inspiring is the word. Must say you have not wasted your last 40 years. Hope the next 40 go towards making a difference to Indians and the India they live in. Thanks in advance to you Rajesh as also to your warmhearted wife……………

  • 41 Technology Hacker // Apr 29, 2008 at 11:16 am

    truely inspirational

  • 42 gyan c jain // May 3, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Dear Rajesh,
    Today Manish Jain my son introduced me to your blog. I hope you know me. I am say that your aims are very laudable. Fifty seven years ago I also started on the same mission but my circustances were very different. I very much appreciate the views of your wife about doing something good. These are really something different than the views of most of the ladies. God bless you and her. You have a wonderful partner. Love.

  • 43 Jayanth // Jul 23, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Rajesh,
    After a long time I read your blog.
    The thoughts you have are really good and in the right direction, however, how are you planning to spread this message across, as I believe to bring about the change you are talking, we need to get this message across.

    Jayanth

  • 44 40 to 41 // Aug 15, 2008 at 10:44 am

    [...] I turn 41. Last year, I wrote about my first 40 years. So, to ensure that the story is kept updated and since I did very little blogging during the past [...]

  • 45 Vijay Singh // Jan 15, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Awsome

  • 46 41 to 42: NetCore // Aug 10, 2009 at 5:00 am

    [...] Personal – Letter to a 4-year-old (Apr 09) – 40 to 41 (Aug 08) – Letter to a 3-year-old (Apr 08) – On Turning 40 Best of 2008 – Mobile VAS and Data – Entrepreneurship – Mumbai 26/11 – Reinventing Indian Politics [...]

  • 47 Blog Past: On Turning 40 // Aug 16, 2009 at 5:00 am

    [...] Personal – Letter to a 4-year-old (Apr 09) – 40 to 41 (Aug 08) – Letter to a 3-year-old (Apr 08) – On Turning 40 Best of 2008 – Mobile VAS and Data – Entrepreneurship – Mumbai 26/11 – Reinventing Indian Politics [...]

  • 48 online book of ra // Jun 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Nice blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog shine.
    Please let me know where you got your design. Thanks

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