Preoccupations: Taking a Chance on Yourself (NY Times 11/7/10)
SIX years ago, fresh out of Stanford with a degree in economics, I had what many would consider the perfect job. I was a management consultant at a prestigious firm, with an office overlooking the San Francisco Bay and a shiny new ThinkPad to boot.
My co-workers were intelligent, ambitious and fun, and I interacted with high-level executives at Fortune 500 companies. My perks included free concert tickets, ski trips and fancy dinners. I was on track to be earning six figures within three years. It was the good life I had been chasing along with my peers at Stanford.
So why wasn’t I happy?
After six months of living this supposed dream, my day-to-day life was far from satisfying. I was working 14-hour days, and most of my time seemed to be spent nudging boxes around in PowerPoint slides and agonizing over the wording of bullet-pointed items.
It felt wrong to be dreading work at such a young age. I wanted to wake up each morning excited about what was ahead. I wanted to create something of my own.
I had joined consulting with the goal of starting my own company one day, perhaps after getting my M.B.A. At the time, I believed that management consulting would best prepare me to run my own business, but I soon realized that consulting was mostly just teaching me how to be a better consultant.
Venture capital, I thought, would be a more direct path to entrepreneurship. So I quit my job as a consultant after six months and joined a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.
I lasted just six weeks this time. Although I had indeed moved closer to the world of entrepreneurship, I found myself no closer to actually becoming an entrepreneur. To make matters worse, the work I was doing was even more painful than before, and the hours were longer.
My day now consisted of mining lists and industry reports for high-growth companies, then cold-calling their chief executives. The more C.E.O.’s I spoke to, the more “points” I got. Soon I would be judged by how many meetings I was able to schedule for my partners. And if a meeting turned into a deal, I made money. In short, I was a saleswoman.
Sales is an essential aspect of entrepreneurship, which is what initially attracted me to this job. A few weeks of selling something for which I had no passion, however, were enough for me to realize that my venture-capital gig wasn’t the good life I had imagined.
Switching jobs had not solved my problems. The truth was that I hated working in a conventional structure. I hated having a boss, working on someone else’s creation and sitting in an office all day. My time was not my own, and I was miserable. I could not bear it for even one day longer. So I quit and decided to become an entrepreneur.
Along with my boyfriend (now my husband), Parag Chordia, I raised money through family and friends and started my own technology company, a social networking site that grew to two million users. And I have never looked back — even though that company has not been profitable.
Last year, Parag and I started Khush Inc., which makes an iPhone music application called LaDiDa. It’s a kind of reverse karaoke — it creates background music when people sing lyrics into a microphone, and it is one of the top 20 paid music applications in iTunes.
As chief executive of my own start-up, I now spend my days building consumer products from the ground up, creating grass-roots marketing campaigns, pitching my ideas to investors and dreaming about the next big thing. How many people bought my product? Who saw my video? What can I do to reach more people tomorrow? These are the questions I ask myself each day.
There is a certain thrill to seeing one’s own creation in the hands and minds of thousands, sometimes even millions, of people around the world. Entrepreneurship is intoxicating.
Exciting as it may be, however, the entrepreneurial life is far from easy. Stress is a regular part of the day. Money is tight. There are frequent emotional highs and lows, and the desire to succeed can become all-consuming. Underlying all of this is the knowledge that failure is the most likely outcome.
Yet, no matter how tough things get, I wake up every morning with renewed hope and excitement for what lies ahead. The fact that I am working on my passion gives meaning to even the most mundane tasks.
My future is perhaps more uncertain than it ever has been. I may end up wealthy, or I may earn barely enough to support myself. But the realization that I face a high likelihood of failure is not enough to send me back to the corporate cubicle.
Maybe I value my time more than my net worth. Maybe my fear of boredom outweighs my fear of failure. Or, maybe I have an irrational belief that I will succeed against all odds. Whatever it is, I find the risk of entrepreneurship to be not only worthwhile but also necessary for fulfillment. Work is no longer work. It is life, and a good one.