Accidental Entrepreneur: Bold Actions
Welcome to my 9th weekly article on the importance on taking actions and capturing opportunities when it’s in front of you.
No matter what path you choose to pursue, believe in yourself, take action and be bold to achieve everything you’ve ever imagined.
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My goal is to be able empower folks to go after their goals and reach their full potential!
“பகையகத்துப் பேடிகை ஒள்வாள் அவையகத்து
அஞ்சு மவன்கற்ற நூல்”
Knowledge one bears whilst lacking the courage to stand by the knowledge before a forum is like a shining sword in the arms of a coward.
— Thirukkural, 3000 years old Tamil literature
I believe the community around us and the experiences we gain from them provides a foundation for our lives. All of us live through this every day and we observe and make decisions based on these experiences. Then there are incidents which knowingly or unknowingly put you on paths for success and learnings. Here are a few bold actions which defined and changed the trajectory of my journey.
Bold first step: As I look back at my university life in the US, I can remember one specific action that I took in the spring of my first year at the University of Minnesota (@UniversityofMinnesota) that changed the trajectory of my life. With my limited English knowledge, I was taking my first Electrical engineering class in university. Due to my strong background in Physics and Math from GCE A/L (British system) in Sri Lanka, I was doing very well in the class. Having a long name made the professor notice me, too, as all the professors found it difficult calling my name out.
One afternoon, as I was sitting in a study lounge, I noticed the professor Dennis Polla’s door was open, so I knocked and walked in. We talked about our backgrounds and many other things. As I was ready to leave, I mentioned to him that as an international student, it wasn’t easy trying to find a good job and asked if he had something for me to do(#justask). He told me to talk to his graduate students.
That led to a summer job in his lab and another two years of research with him in addition to my tutoring job + economics grading job. All three jobs paid good money and gave me a lot of experience. My research job included testing the ICs designed by graduate students and that led to working in a semiconductor clean room building various chips. In the end, I designed a nonvolatile memory (nVDRAM) and I manufactured it myself in the clean room. This provided me the opportunity to conduct the testing and I ended up publishing a paper. Having the chance to get paid while doing great work was truly a win-win experience for me at that time.
I believe this led to a very good reference from the professor, and eventually admission to Stanford University. Everything is history from that point.
Bold move: I will describe in detail about how we started my first company later. Once we identified a technology, product, and company to form, we went around looking for funding. It was driven by our CTO and Marketing lead. In the meantime, we were developing the technology in our apartments. After many discussions, we found an investor who was interested in investing in our idea and company. He invited us to a nice Ritz Carlton hotel in Southern California and placed an offer to fund our company which I believe was around 1.5 million dollars. His task was that we needed to decide in twenty-four hours whether we would quit our current job within.
It was a precarious situation and a challenging time. My wife Ahila was completing medical school in Sri Lanka and was almost ready to move to the USA. Prior to that, I was going to have my wedding in Sri Lanka. I hadn’t saved up enough money for everything. Here, I was given a once in a lifetime opportunity to start my company.
We discussed among the five founding team members. I decided to quit my job and take a chance, believing that I could create value for the company and myself. It was very difficult to explain to many people that at that time startups were not as attractive as now. Most of the people I knew had well-paying jobs in Fortune 500 companies and lived happily under the radar. Here, a young guy quitting everything he was building in a corporate America was foreign. Thankfully (some people say luckily), it worked out well for me.
Bold stand: In my second company, another interesting incident made the company successful and built my character. The CEO of this company was a very technical person, had good connections in Silicon Valley and helped with raising funds. It was all good for some time as I was running the engineering team at that time.
I had a team of capable and loyal engineers who worked for me. This CEO would visit our labs to make technical suggestions and tell them to change the plans. One such day, I went to the CEO’s office to discuss something and he started telling me that he had asked the engineers to change something. I really got mad and told him that his job was to go get funding and customers while we manage the details. Another thing I told him was “Don’t change any plan without talking to me.” He was very surprised that I was that straight forward. What came next from my mouth, he didn’t expect. I said to his face that “You are the wrong person to be the CEO of the company and you should quit.” His face turned red and he asked me again what I said. I was so mad that I told him that he heard me right that he should quit.
I left the office a bit shaken, thinking that he would work with the board and fire me. I didn’t care. I called one of the board members and told him I need to see him immediately. He asked me to come by his office. I went and told him what happened, and I had calmed down by then. I articulated the reason for my outburst, and I expect my CEO to terminate me. First, he nearly fell off the table laughing saying that he had never seen a person in my position have the courage to tell his CEO to quit. Luckily the board member understood my point and asked me to stay at the company and that they would take care of the situation and me.
Within three months of this incident, the CEO was let go and the board hired a new CEO. With new products and prestigious customers including LinkedIn, the second company was acquired by a public company for a very large sum of money. It was a happy ending for everyone, including the fired CEO who had a large vested equity in the company.
Be bold, but humble. Be bold where you have a strong point. Act bold when you are relevant. Be bold and add value. Be Bold and believe in yourself. The system normally takes care of itself. Sometimes I wonder where this boldness or bravery came from. Maybe from losing my father at a very young age and being a survivor or living through all the war and killings during my teenage period or moving from country to country and seeing the world and its resistance. I don’t know, but I can confidently say that I made it, and those bold actions helped me create my story.