I had a small chat last night with an EE student here at IIT, who has a business idea that a bit of financing and refinement can help him launch off ground. And in there my young friend commented, “We’re IITians and we get paid well. So its easier for us to do a startup.”

While I admire his conviction in his idea, his comment sets me thinking. “We’re IITians and we get paid well. So its easier for us to do a startup.” Really?

I agree that while there may be some truth in the campus salary of IITians vis-a-vis other engineering colleges, I beg to differ on the inference derived. Higher salary => higher reserves => Easy to Quit and startup.

No.

Human mind works in queer ways! Its less maths, its more psychology. And I have experienced it first hand.

The more paid you are, the more difficult is it to let go. I had frequent discussions about it with one of my colleagues Anshul in Bangalore; we had both landed the highest paying Indian job at our respective campuses 🙂 And both of us had a strong urge to do “something”. Work at DrKW was immensly satisfying, and I believe I was lucky to be writing software for Risk and Credit Derivatives and the likes in my very first year – indeed, very few people were exposed to this kind of work way back in 2001. The guys we worked with were all brilliant, but we still missed the thrill that you only get out of “creating something”. We both wanted to “build a business”.

And we both found the salary an inhibitor, not a facilitator!

While a top-of-the-line salary ensures that we build up a comfortable reserves early off in the career, which should ideally allow us to quit and work out a dream – it often works the other way. I call it the Golden Cage. The more you get, the more difficult it becomes to let go and the more the notional loss it seems. And a more stronger leap of faith it requires. And it goes on increasing. You are smart, so you work smart and you get paid more, and you end up deeper in the Golden Cage.

Infact I have seen more people who have worked at startups, do a startup themself, rather than the masses at bigger companies. Work at startup is like living at the fronts. You are standing in the line of fire and exposing yourself to a wider range of responsibilites, technologies and business functions. From financing, sales and marketing, strategy to product conceptualisation and execution. A bigger company cannot give you the same amount of learning, because its a huge machine – the nuts and the bolts, the gear and the pulley needs to work well in their closed domains to keep the machine working.

So to all those in the Golden Cage who think they will be free ‘later’ – my humble advice to them – a later never comes. You end up deeper in the Golden Cage. Have an urge? Have an idea and does it makes business sense? Then damn the salary and take the plunge.

When I quit Bank of America, my colleague did an MBA from ISB (probably hoping that an MBA will help in startup) but the more smart you are, the deeper you end up in the Golden Cage – he is working at a leading Investment Bank in New York! Few nights back he mailed me;

“Work is great, money is wow, but yaar, the entrepreneurial itch pings a lot at times.”

Deeper in the Golden Cage.

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