Friday, April 20, 2012

Making History! A Conversation With Mr. Sumit Chowdhury

Entrepreneur of 'My Life Chronicles'

PGSEM 2005-08

1)    Why did you decide to start My Life Chronicles

The idea came to my mind while speaking casually to a couple of my PGSEM batch mates at IIMB. It was Dec 2008. My father passed away from cancer in 1998 and I left home right after that. My elder brother had left home earlier. Being a very organized person my father used to write journals regularly and keep all letters and other paper records neatly filed. On my visits to home town years later, I could see that those diaries and folders were gathering dust and even being sold away to the raddiwalla. I could not do much while on a short vacation but wanted to at least scan and digitize the old photos and letters. This desire led me to the idea of preserving individual and family stories and then on to preserving institute and corporate memories. When I googled I found that there is an organization in the USA called APH, Association of Personal Historians who are already doing this for 15 years. That was the time I realized that we Indians are poor preservers of our past and that needed to change and change fast.

2)    Tell a little about yourself - education, work, family - the story so far.
Born and brought up in Steel City of Durgapur, I completed my secondary education from St. Xavier’s, Durgapur and Higher Secondary education from Bidhan Chandra Institution, Durgapur. I went on to complete my BE(Hons) from REC Durgapur and chose to work at SAIL, Durgapur. This was the time my father was suffering from cancer and I cherish the time I stayed close to him. Father passed away in 1998 and I moved to Bangalore a year later in 1999 following my IT dreams. Infosys was about 3500 people and still a close family when I joined the company. I remember sitting close to NRN's cabin in the Heritage Building, Electronics City. Infosys gave me an opportunity to broaden my exposure and knowledge by sending me on various foreign assignments. This happened pretty quickly in my career and the rich interactions with customers helped shape my thought processes. I got married to Tandra in 2000, an alumna from my college. We moved to Banerghatta Road, very close to IIMB. We still stay here. Tandra works in Novellus Systems. We have 2 daughters, Ananya of 8 years and Anwesha 3 of years. 

In 2003, I went through this phase where I had a major urge to do a PhD in Operations Management (Sunil Mehta's book inspired me). I took the GMAT and applied to a few universities in the USA. Georgia Tech found me worthy of a scholarship and invited me over. Reality struck me hard as I realized the full impact of the decision. Leaving my 6 month old daughter and family for a degree which takes 5 years, by a conservative estimate sounded impossible. Taking them along meant sacrificing settled lives and careers. I sent a painful rejection note to Georgia Tech and appeared for the neighborhood IIMB PGSM program interview instead. This was the same time I moved from IT Delivery to Pre-Sales and Marketing at Infosys, hoping to focus on academics for a couple of years. 2004-2007 was a roller coaster ride juggling PGSM assignments, Pre-Sales RFPs and family. However, this is the time that gave me the confidence and courage to attempt something different, to start on an entrepreneurial journey. I felt I was not ready and to get a different perspective I challenged myself to join a completely different work environment. I joined Honeywell, an industrial automation giant working on New Product Development projects. I kept working on my entrepreneurial ideas and goals till the time I left Honeywell to start My Life Chronicles 3+ years later. My Life Chronicles has been a labor of love ever since.

3)    How did you manage the risks, how are you paying the bills
Having a working and supportive spouse helps. It has been more than a year and I continue to depend on her to meet our bills. However, I am planning to start taking a small monthly salary from My Life Chronicles to ease the burden.

4)    Are you happy 
I am having the most enjoyable albeit the most hectic time of my life. I am no more known by Infosys or Honeywell but by My Life Chronicles alone. This is a fundamental shift in thinking and can give entrepreneur nightmares in the initial months and years.

5)    Would you want to go back to Honeywell
No, unless I am compelled to because of financial or other pressures.

6)    What next
My Life Chronicles, I would like to believe, is at an inflexion point. I will be joined by partners in the next few months, partners who see value in what I am doing and who would like to share the risk. While stories of individuals is where my heart lies, corporate chronicles is showing a lot of promise. I am working with CRISIL (A Standard & Poor's co.), a well-known brand with a tremendous reach across India and even globally. In the process, I have been personally interviewing Senior Management and Board members of large corporate and all of them have been very positive about the idea. Making high quality memoirs and chronicles affordable and easy, still remains my dream.

7)    Advise to those who want to take the Plunge
Follow your heart but have a safety net. Prepare for the worst case, take your family into confidence and take the plunge. The 'right time' will never come. The right time is now. You are not going to die if you take the plunge!

8)    What role and importance would you attribute to PGSEM in your journey so far?
Without PGSEM I would not have had the confidence to venture out. Through PGSEM I have come to know a few people who have helped me with their thoughts, suggestions and encouragement.

9)    How did you evaluate the opportunity in terms of the critical elements of success? The competition and the potential market? Did you make a business plan?
This is a new concept in India. There was no data available as such. We did some primary research which didn’t throw up positive results. It was more of gut feel and the passion to do something I enjoy that led me to plunge.

10)  Any specific learning’s you would like to share with the budding entrepreneurs.
Meet as many potential customers you can and listen to what they want. Meet start-up founders and understand/learn from their challenges/mistakes. Moonlight.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Social Network Analysis

Social Network Analysis is one of the electives this quarter offered by Professor Suresh Bhagavatula. With the Facebook IPO coming up in May, this has to be one of the better seasons to discuss this subject after all...

Apart from coming to know about software tools like UCINET and NodeXL to analyze social networks of popular tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, the course so far has charted the not-so-unfamiliar territory of interesting stories.

The first interesting one has to be the Stanley Milgram's "Small World" experiment. Done way back in 1960's and 70's it provided the theoretical underpinning for the idea of a world with Six-Degrees-Of-Separation. Theories apart, what captures me, was the simplicity behind Milgram's experiment. Milgram handed out small packages to mine workers in Kansas, which they had to deliver to specific individuals in Boston. The catch however was that the packages had to be passed along through acquittances. No couriers, No mail. Interesting... huh?

The interesting case study of Heidi Roizen brings to perspective the often misunderstood subject of people with a better Social Network climbing the org-ladders faster. Roizen boasts of being the most influential networker in Silicon Valley having painstakingly built her network starting as a humble 'Creative Writer'.

But coming back to Facebook. Obnoxious valuations aside, there would not be a single marketeer out there who would not shell out money to get a list of all those who hit the 'Like' button of his product page. And just today I came across this article showcasing some truly interesting contests happening on Facebook fan pages. And how did I come across this one? Twitter of course!!

By the way, check out your InMap on LinkedIn if you haven't already - They truly look fabulous.

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