Call of the Wild
At that time, I was also fascinated by the prospect of setting up the new venture on a sprawling campus, in a far away place. I had always dreamt of a hundred acre facility set up amidst lush green trees, overlooking sand dunes and waves that crashed on the beach and slided back in to an azure sea. Vizag! We agreed it was an excellent idea. For starters, no one would know us there and we could also check out the feasibility of a location other than Bangalore! While all that was fine, we ran in to a logistical problem of sorts. How do we all travel together to Vizag without being recognized? At such an early stage, we could all do without speculation. Traveling by air would almost certainly give away the story. Train was going to have some exposure no doubt, but more importantly would mean a lot of time wasted. Then came the idea of driving down by car. Vizag isn't really close to Bangalore. We calculated that the distance was somewhere in the range of 1200 kilometers. The idea gripped us and we were like a bunch of juveniles who had to do it. Our wives were justifiably concerned about the impending insanity. After some persuasion, they realized we were possessed. They let go.
It was agreed that Anjan will fly down from the US to Vizag and KK and I would take our two cars and four other friends to reach the Park Hotel on the 24th of December after staying overnight at Tirupati. Out of the four friends, one had mediated in my discussion with the first Venture Capitalist. The second was the applications technology person to whom I had spoken to and who had agreed to join. The third was another professional friend and a potential founder and the fourth was the potential Head Nerd who had come up with the thirty questions.
On the eve of leaving for Vizag, the applications technology person called in and said he was not ready for something like this. I felt sad. But we decided to move on anyway. The other three came on the appointed day and time when KK and I pulled out our cars and turned towards the Old Madras Road. On to Tirupati for a night's sleep and then, early next morning, the long drive to Vizag on the national highway connecting Calcutta on one end and Chennai on the other. The Technical Leader who had asked me time to think through after the four hour grilling and had then decided to hitch his fortune happened to be N. S. Parthasarathy, at that time, General Manager at Wipro's Technology Solutions.
Namakal Parthasarathy was born to a traveling ticket collector in the railways and grew up in small town railway colonies. After a brilliant stint in high school, Partha went to the famed Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, Pilani, and then did his Masters at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. After that, he joined the R&D at Wipro and grew up as an Operating Systems expert. He was one of the handful of people who were hired by Microsoft in the early eighties when Microsoft had come looking for talent from India for the very first time. A right thinking consul at the US Consulate had at that time, decided Partha's destiny by declining him the visa to the US. Thank God for such people! Despite two subsequent, longish opportunities to work in the US on behalf of Wipro, Partha never subsequently considered working for any US company or settling down in the US. Dozens of unsolicited offers routinely poured in every year, as he would dutifully pull out a Maruti 800 car from his middle class, Sanjay Nagar house every morning to drive to his work at Wipro. He was one of the handful of R&D engineers at Wipro who had seen through the transformation of Wipro's R&D from a domestically focused inward looking cost center, to an international lab-on-hire. People like Partha made Wipro what it is today. Behind the spectacular stock market performance of one of India's most admired companies are people like Partha whose world was untouched by the dizzy market capitalization of the corporation. Partha was a technology whiz kid and an outstanding people manager. Partha headed the 200-person development center Wipro ran for Lucent Technologies and dreamt of an opportunity to go and teach at a second tier engineering college someday. If only destiny permitted!
Destiny is strange. We spoke to two technology experts to join us. One agreed whole-heartedly but quickly dropped off. The other took time to think over, but came for the long ride anyway. But that is what enterprise is all about.
The drive to Vizag was an insane decision. We had, like in any well meaning software development project, grossly underestimated the time the trip would take. We left Bangalore at 5 PM on December 23 and reached only at 1 AM on December 25. We had calculated the time, based on the distance. A good "situation analysis" exercise would have made us to look at other "project risks" like road condition. We did not imagine that national highways would be in the state of disrepair that made us often crawl for miles at less than 40 kilometers an hour. The ride turned out to be long and arduous. But the team stuck together. Oblivious of the strain, we were actually beyond ourselves with joy. It was the longest career high we ever enjoyed.
We watched the most beautiful sunset as we left behind the rocks of Kolar. Next morning, we saw the most spectacular sunrise driving out of Tirupati. We stopped at wayside shanty hotels and ate like gluttons; we took turns to drive the two cars past lush green fields. We bargained like hell with guava sellers on the numerous bridges spanning across the Krishna River and we borrowed a hosepipe from a villager and gave our cars a bath. It will remain a beautiful and pure experience for us for the rest of our lives. When we reached the Park after 1am on the 25 , we were too tired to do anything. Anjan had arrived and checked in. In keeping with austerity fit for a start up, we shared rooms and in preparation for the week and the years ahead, slept off like a bunch of boy scouts in their first camp away from home.