Going to the US was always a dream. I wanted to go to Stanford because I read the smartest people in Silicon Valley went there. That was why I started the company in the first place. When the offer came, I was all set to pack my bags and leave. For my parents, too, success meant getting a job with a multinational and going to the US. An interview held me back..during the visa interview, the officer looked at my salary certificate that said I got Rs.20 lakh. “A 20-year-old getting Rs.20 lakh?” He found it hard to digest. He asked for bank documents…I couldn’t because I hadn’t disclosed the company sale, the payments were reflected in that bank statement.
He rejected my visa, asking me to come back with proper bank documents. That rejection hit me hard. I had both money and success, something I always wanted, yet that was not enough…That’s when I decided I won’t let money define me… To prove that, I left the company after 11-and-a-half months, two weeks before the shares would be vested. Everyone, including my boss, thought I was crazy. I also decided that I will not go to the US. I will build something so big here that they will call me there.
That’s how One97 Communications came into being, in early 2001. The idea was to build a search engine wherein you typed the phone number, and it told you who the number belonged to. But telcos weren’t providing the data, they wanted us to do content management instead! They wanted astrology services! I didn’t know what to do, I was in two minds. We had started in January...it was already March. We had made absolutely no headway. Here, was a customer willing to pay…that decided it in the end. It is important to do what you want but also important to survive. The astrology business helped me survive. I had 40 astrologers working for me in three shifts. Even as we were finding our feet, 9/11 happened and my partners got cold feet. Both of them left the company after finding jobs. From being one-third owner of the company, I became a 100%