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Have fire, will travel or Why you should listen to your heart

It is bad enough that I have been asked to stay inside my room by my team, that Osama Hashmi at Green and white and I are playing tag, that I am not playing by the rules, now Adnan Haider (lootmaar.com) is jumping in to this debate to turn this into a threesome.

For those of you have just joined in, I blasted Adnan for wasting four years of his life at IBM and not following up on his dream earlier. Adnan came back with two questions and one answer basically asking why should a new kid not work at a multinational? Money, travel, prestige and CxO exposure are all better than what a local firm can offer or what he can offer to himself? Plus there is that whole issue about the whimsical Saiths (urdu for owners)…Why indeed?

First let us categorize kids that come out of school. Category A are the ones who have always dreamt of going to the P&Gs, the Shells, the IBMs, the Levers and the Intels of the world. I call this the pink slip brigade. For them there has never been a question of running a venture by themselves. There is nothing wrong with Category A, they are perfectly normal, ordinary, run of the mill kids with just traditional, normal, ordinary, run of the mill aspirations. I don’t grudge them that.

Category B are the restless ones. These are the ones who dream with their eyes open. I specially remember a 21 year old who on the first day of my class on bootstrapping new ventures told me, “let’s just say, I dream bigger dreams” (low blow Adnan, low blow). This is the group that knows that the Matrix will never be fair to them and they have to build their own world, on their own terms. I call these kids, the reality dysfunction brigade, the unfair deal, the have fire, will travel kids.

When I berated kids and their parents in my rant, I wasn’t upset at the pink slips. I was upset at the have fire, will travel brigade. There is no greater tragedy in life than to deny the greatness inside you; yes, the quiet voice that keeps on telling you, this is not for you, it is too easy. To thine ownself be true, Adnan, And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

Now that we are clear that who the object of my ire was, lets sort out a few more things. The pink slips over a 40 year career will collect pink slips. They will retire with a house in the suburbs, with their three cars, their annual vacations, their 2.5 pink slip kids, their pension and the farewell golden Rolex. They will grease the great wheels of this world and handover their burden to the next generation. And then look back at the life that could have been. I was, therefore, I am. It is not a bad end, but it is not for me.

For me, a have fire, will travel kid, this is too easy. The fire inside will consume me, if I don’t find an outlet for it. When God finally takes me, I don’t want to look back at the life that could have been, I want to look death in the eyes and say, “You can take me now for I have been worthy of the fire.”

As far as money is concerned, a few hundred dollars here and there every month; a trip outside the country every quarter; a CxO level sales call every alternate week; If you are a pink slip kid, you are grossly overpaid and the MNC’s know it and they also know that you will never be able to break out of this golden cage, even when you realize that the golden handcuffs you are wearing, are still handcuffs. God forbid, if you are a have fire kid who took the bait; you have just short sold yourself for trinkets and perks that YOU would have been able to bestow on your team a few years later.

Just for the record. The average salary increment that we have paid year on year over the last three years to our star performers is 80% plus. That is an 80% jump, every year, for the last three years. This is in addition to stock (equity grants), flexible timings, brilliant work, a vote for your voice (yes we listen to what you have to say and we care about what you think, though we may now always do what you want), no rule in the company policy that can be broken under the right circumstances, a somewhat balanced environment (we kick you out at 6pm), though the last four months have been brutal because of our transition to a two product family. And if you are part of the inner circle or the senior team (your contribution to this firm is acknowledged by the founders and the team leads) your base salary is already competitive with any other employer in the market. Is there any MNC out there that can match these terms?

You may certainly start off at a disadvantage as a fresh graduate, but that is by design. If you are looking for an unfair deal and are sure of your ability to deliver, I will not let you go anywhere else for a few hundred dollars; as long as you keep on proving yourself consistently, year over year. But if you are looking for an easy deal and are happy with the inflation adjusted 12.5% increment, irrespective of your performance, then we are not for you. If we don’t kill you first, we will throw you out ourselves.

Don’t follow money, money will follow you.

Finally, my last point: If you ever want to work for yourself, you need to be able to create (deal) flow from scratch. This is what deals are made of. The sooner you learn this art, the more valuable you are to any employer – MNC or otherwise. The problem is that MNCs reproduce an ecosystem that creates flow for you. All you have to do is a) not fight it; b) ensure that it keeps on flowing. You are so used to being fed the flow, that when the protective cocoon of your employer is drawn away, you have no clue how to go about doing your job.

The Saiths (urdu for owners) are another story. All I can say is do your due diligence before you jump into a threesome and there is no such thing as easy money. There are Saiths out there that are no fun to work with, are not fair, are not pretty and have no vision. You have a choice, don’t work for them. Pierre Omidyar, once said that he didn’t hire any employees in ebay’s first year because he couldn’t find anyone smarter than himself. I will just turn it over on its head. If you can’t find people who are smarter than you are and are willing to hire you, work for yourself. Yes, you can do better than working for the dumbass you currently work for right now. (that includes you too Adnan.)

Within my immediate circle of friends are three dollar millionaires. The first is 50 years old. The second is 38, the third is 31. Who would you rather be?

Over and out.