Men do cry !
In all probability, this makes for a good title to the book I will be starting soon. I have always had a fascination for writing, thanks to a wonderful teacher, Ms.Shanti Elliot from SBOA Madurai. She taught us English in 9th/10th grade, most of us could neither speak fluently nor write a grammatically correct sentence in English (Wren and Martin was spooky). Many of us were low lives with zero confidence to speak, for sure I was. Tamil was all we were comfortable with. I remember that day vividly even now as she was into a grammar lecture and asked me to form a sentence. I stood up and said “My mother is a great cooker”. Funnily, no one laughed in the class, but for my friend Roshan who smiled (who was an exception). Ms.Shanti corrected me, praised me for the attempt and went on with it. I was naturally ashamed, but that day and the way she handled it will always be etched in my memory. I had to become better at it and started working on my English.
Boys and men are taught to be tough, “Men don’t cry” is often told and you are left wondering if we are emotionless creatures. Reality is, everybody cries, some emote, some don’t. The ones who don’t aren’t necessarily tough, they cry inside in all probability. Life gives you numerous occasions to shed tears; unrequited love, educational failures, rejections, unhappy marriage, filial troubles, financial pressures, a melancholic movie, a sad story, friendship gone sour, etc. Depending on what stage of life one is in, many go through some or more of these moments.
Same goes with me, but what has made me cry more often is none of the above, but running a business. Since 2016 July, I have been on my own, it was purely circumstantial, sudden and unplanned. Sometimes you just go with your gut, get into execution mode rather than think and dither. The initial months are pensive and painful — more because there isn’t much to do and clients are hard to come by. All you need to have is hope, loads of it. You are desperate and even a call or an email will give you a cocaine high. But hope without efforts will not fructify.
This is when I started reading about business, sales, funnels, prospecting and follow ups. It would be apt to say that I had zero knowledge of this having been a software developer for 15 years. All I had to understand was that typical sales people (~50%) give up after 1/2 follow ups, this was vindicated by the fact that many who emailed me with their offering fit the pattern too. I had to be the Andy Dufresne from Shawshank Redemption and not be within the 50% bracket. I did at least 10 follow-ups for each prospect, sometimes even more, sometimes running into 5–6 months. As a matter of fact, longest was about 8 months. It is easy to give up giving all sorts of excuses, typically a sour grapes analogy, the one thing I told myself was “Do what others aren’t”.
We are naturally lazy beings, indolence is in our DNA. Suddenly it started working, it was then I realised it is a process, no rocket science, it is grunt work, follow up and if there is no response, follow up more till you cross 8. The chance of conversion is 80–90% with 7 or more follow ups. These are very well documented too, most sales persons are taught and trained, but still they don’t do. Arun Singh, a close friend of mine told me once “Vinodh, discipline is the key, you just have to grind”. Recently when I told him about another deal and said how patience helps, he retorted “People and businesses will age and die just with patience and without adequate efforts”.
Also my stint at Redcooker helped. As I was in charge of supplier on boarding, I was used to vendors visited me on a daily basis. Whenever a situation came by where there were multiple options with similar offering, the guy who visited or followed up more won it. There is every bit of human psychology at play here.
Last month I was in Bay Area, business meetings most days and travelled a lot. It was tough and very demanding, soul crushing some times. After one particularly tough meeting, I went to Fort Mason with a friend. We sat there for more than an hour, numerous thoughts running through my mind. He was throwing too many tough questions to add. The calm sea was trying to soothe my microwaved brain, but that’s all it could offer. There was a mendicant sleeping on the floor, under the harsh afternoon sun, half bottle of whiskey and some cigarettes. Funnily, another mendicant walked past, took a quick swig and moved on. The one lying on the floor had a fleeting look at him and could care less. After my friend dropped me near the station, I took the Caltrain from SFO and started the journey back to Santa Teresa (staying with my cousin). I just wanted to go home and get some rest. I was always looking for opportunities to talk to other humans, but that day I didn’t want to. At a transit station, I met an Indian grandmother from Punjab settled in US, she narrated her story and how lonely she felt living there. I guess most people make out when you look lost. She bid adieu at Cottle Hill, one station before mine. I think fear, anger and sadness were filling me up fast and it just went a notch higher. It was around 4:45 or so in the evening and I reached Santa Teresa light rail station, the last stop. Only the walk back home was pending and I used to enjoy that walk a lot. However emotions took the better of me that evening, I sat on a platform with those electric boxes near the station and started crying, it started with a whimper and soon became a full fledged loud cry. Tears rolling down and nose playing the supporting role well. I couldn’t care for the people who walked by and saw, everything was inanimate but for that electric box bench that saw me closely. I just went through the process, sat for about 30 minutes. Once the cleansing act was done, hunger took over. Went home, had curd rice with pickle and went to bed.
Another instance I can’t ever forget is March 8th, 2018. EagleOwl launch was on 10th evening. I was so looking forward to it, dreamed a million times, many dates had passed by and at times I even wondered if that day would come by. But finally, it was there, it was going to be real. Invites, decor, gifts, office arrangements were in full swing. Entire team stopped work that week and were busy getting things going. I was sitting in my home balcony on 8th night, watching the moon and visible stars, small pot plants all around, the spot I love the most. I was done preparing my speech and only revisions were pending. My mind was putting together a pensive recollection of the struggles and joyous moments that it went through, the idea, first attempts, consulting gigs, building the team, convincing yourself and everyone around, days and nights spent drawing, designing, articulating, dreaming, many rejections, negative opinions, arduous travel within and outside city. The days you were embarrassed when people asked “How’s your product coming along?” and your sheepish answers that it is just around, the 500/504 server errors that magically pop up during demos. The days when initial customers signed up, the gargantuan effort that went in to get there, the effort required to satisfy them. It was a wonderful concoction of thoughts, “Thukkam thondaiyai adaithathu” (for non Tamils, that’s sadness filling your throat). Family was asleep and there was nobody to hear me anyway, burst out sobbing, went to the bathroom to clean my face, went back and cried again. This cycle went on for a while. For some reason, somethings are uncontrollable, it just happens and you can’t find a reason. You just go through it. Such catharsis is good for the body and you start feeling much lighter.
There are many more such instances, but I will reserve them for the book. This is a sneak peek, a high level EagleOwl view of my journey. I wonder how it will be after a few years and how I will react, but it will be fun to rewind and read. Well, nothing comes easy in life, that am sure. Coming back to the topic, crying is normal and natural. Everyone does, many men do, at least I do.
These won’t be it and there will be more to chronicle.