TECH TALK: 15 Years as an Entrepreneur: 1991-94

Almost exactly 15 years ago, in November 1991, I walked into my manager’s cabin at NYNEX and told him of my desire to quit and return to India. I had been at NYNEX just over two years. I was following a script decided before I went to the US for my MS. My father had then told me: Finish your MS in 9 months, work 2 years, and then come back. He had done exactly the same in the mid-60s when he went to the US. I was leaving NYNEX not to take up another job, but to embark on the path to being an entrepreneur. And so it was that in early December 1991, at age 24, I quit the only company I have worked for and started out on the road to entrepreneurship.

Fifteen years is a long time. And yet, there are times when it feels like only yesterday. Much of this period is a blur of ups and downs, but some memories stand out. It has been an exhilarating journey. There have been plenty of missteps and mistakes that I have made during this period. There have also been a few right things. When I look back to that decision in 1991 and the subsequent set of decisions and actions, what stands out is the richness of life’s variety. In this Tech Talk series, I will share some of these experiences and also look ahead.

Let’s start at the beginning. The decision to set out on my own was always quite clear to me. I had seen my father in a similar avatar. He had tried multiple things in his life as an entrepreneur some ideas worked, others did not. But he never stopped learning and trying. For me, there was no other way I’d have wanted to live my life. It was also quite clear to me when I was in the US that I would be an entrepreneur in India. Staying back in the US was not an option. So, a few months after I quit NYNEX, I was back in India with a friend and partner to set up a software products company with big ambitions.

Little went right for the next couple of years. We tried various things from multimedia databases to electronic parts catalogs to image processing software for metallurgists and doctors. We even tried our hand at making multimedia presentations for companies to make ends meet. It was a downward spiral we were on. Looking back at that period, I cannot think of too many things we did right. Yet, it wasn’t that obvious then. I thought I could do no wrong. I thought of myself as the person with the Midas touch. An IIT education complemented with higher studies in the US and a work stint at a premier telecom company what better background could one ask for? But as an entrepreneur and manager, the skills to build a sustainable profitable business were just not there. It was failure after failure and finally, in late 1994, I took a decision to switch tracks. Life could not go on the way it was. The business had to die. A new business had to created.

Tomorrow: 1994-99

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.