In 1996, I was living the dream life of an expat in London. I had a beautiful flat in Chelsea with a roof terrace where I entertained frequently, a group of fascinating friends from around the world and a job at a prestigious investment bank working in telecommunications and media – a base from which to explore the world. Sure, there were all-nighters and frustrations, but overall I felt incredibly fortunate. Yet at the age of 23, I wasn’t ready to settle into a comfortable routine.
A year prior, I had gone to a conference in New York City. On the day Netscape went public, a key moment at the start of the dot-com era, a banker I highly respected closed the door of the conference room and told us we were witnessing history. I started exploring the Internet and became more and more excited at the potential of having all of the world’s information at our fingertips.
My mind raced with the possibilities, and I thought back to an incident from my childhood that changed how I thought about connectivity and communication. In 1980, I visited India with my parents. It was a shock to say the least – my visions of palaces and jewels disintegrated when I saw the poverty and breathed in the heavily polluted air, stray dogs barking at my feet. Yet when we visited my dad’s ancestral village, his relatives didn’t ask us for money or food; they asked for batteries for their radio. That very strong, human desire for connectivity was forever burned into my memory – and came back to me as I searched page after page of this new thing called the Internet.
I subsequently left investment banking to move to New York to look for like-minded individuals. Friends and colleagues responded with shock and concern – why would I leave such a comfortable position to be voluntarily unemployed and start over?
It was difficult to explain to anyone who hadn’t made a similar decision, and there were many moments when I wondered if I was doing the right thing. My parents had always told me that they didn’t care what I did as long as I was happy. I took those words to heart, as I did Mahatma’s Gandhi’s: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
I ended up on the launch team of an online financial research startup. Those were special days: I learned to code, built website tracking software and packaged personalized content to our subscribers. I also lived on a tenth of my previous salary. What I lost in material wealth, I gained in experience, confidence and passion, all infinitely more valuable than any objects.
Since then, I have made several more unconventional career decisions but always with the knowledge that I cannot go wrong if I listen to my inner voice. That faith in myself is key in the inevitable challenging times, and I would never have attempted my current move – launching my own venture capital fund – without that first risky step I took 17 years ago.