El Camino Real, Friday 12th. March
All of us were very clear about doing all the preparatory work after dark. We did not want to use company time or resource in preparation for the new venture. As a result, whenever any one of us had to travel overseas for a long time, things slowed down. Except for once. I was to go to the US and my work took me to the west coast. Sudhir suggested that after I finish my work for Lucent, on the way to San Francisco airport, I should have dinner with Som Das. It so happened that Sudhir was also going to be present. The idea was to walk through the financials a second time, presuming that we made some progress.
It was Friday, 12th March. My flight out of San Francisco was close to midnight. We agreed to meet up in Sudhir's room at the Radisson on El Camino Real in Santa Clara. That morning, after speaking with some of the other founders, I felt that we have not been able to make progress enough to meet Som. So, I called Sudhir and requested that we drop the meeting. None of us wanted a "feel good" meeting. Sudhir agreed. Minutes later, he called back to say, independent of the financials, Som felt we should meet. There may be something interesting he would like to discuss, Sudhir added, with a hint of mischief. I agreed.
We met close to evening in Sudhir's hotel. It started on an awkward note. Som was deliberately playing a little remote and kept asking me very VC like questions. He asked how we thought we could differentiate ourselves, and similar questions.
After troubling me for a while, he finally decided to call off the game. We got up to walk down to a nearby Afghan restaurant; while walking down El Camino Real, he broke the news. "This morning, I had a phone call from Ashok Soota. I missed the call and he left a recorded message on the answering machine to call back." Ashok Soota and Som Das spoke within hours of that call and the message was, like Ashok, unambiguous. He had spoken to Wipro's Chairman, Azim Premji, and communicated his intent to start something on his own. The question was, would Som be interested in funding it? Som asked Ashok on the business model and after briefly listening to him, was amazed at the synergy in thoughts he had picked up from us. As a VC, Som cannot reveal too much. So, he told Ashok, that some senior Wipro people and an ex-Wipro person have thought of a very similar business venture and Walden is in discussion with them. Without having to go further, Ashok Soota said, "let me make a guess you are talking about Subroto Bagchi". Som asked if Ashok would be open to merge the dreams. Whether Som could take me into confidence and share the information this night over dinner? Ashok Soota did not hesitate for a moment. He said, "go ahead and speak to Subroto, and ask him to call me after he comes to India". Within minutes after this call, Som conferred with Walden's Chairman and got the go ahead from him. This was not a deal to miss, they all felt.