Success stories of College dropouts

Kiran Jonnalagadda cleared his PU course after five attempts. And by the time he did it, his friends had completed their engineering course. But Kiran’s story had just begun.

This Bangalorean’s name now features in the team that developed the Human Protein Reference Database by John Hopkins University. The database contains entries on the 3,000 most-studied human proteins and their roles in diseases and is supposed to be the standard of developing a database internationally. Kiran has come a long way from an unsuccessful PU candidate to a successful entrepreneur.

kiranLike many who failed many times before tasting success, Kiran says it’s OK to fail. Stories of suicides by anxious students shock them. Exams are not the end of the world, they insist. “As Einstein said: ‘Just because a fish cannot climb a tree doesn’t mean it’s not smart.’ I was never good at Maths and Chemistry but I loved computers,” Kiran says.

What kept him going through the five years in PU: “Fear. It was through an act of rebellion that I started working. I gained confidence and I wanted to get into a college. But I felt insulted when some people said I was too old for it. That was last straw,” he said. Kiran has worked with Chip magazine, the e-governance wing of the Karnataka government and then with the John Hopkins University.

Another interesting example is renowned theatre artist Vivek Madan. He dropped out of college when he was doing his first year BSc in Environment Science at St Joseph’s College. >”Some days, I’d revise a subject for days before the exam, but remember nothing during the exam. I’d think ‘What’s the purpose of studying?’ I realized I wasn’t stupid – it was either the subject or the way it was dealt with,” said Vivek.

He added, “It wasn’t an easy decision to quit. My family did well in academics. My two grandpas are PhDs. Scoring 52% in PCMB was a horrifying experience,” he said.

vivek artistYet that didn’t stop him from quitting college at 19 and plunging whole-heartedly into theatre, despite of his parents’ disapproval — “I had a big fight at home when I did that,” he says. “It was supposed to have been a year-long sabbatical but I never went back to college.”

He began with a series of musicals adaptations. He went on to direct his first play at the tender age of 20 and even won an award for it. “You know, I got kicked out of the dramatics team at school and college. I always wanted to go back and show the cultural secretary that award,” he grins.

He then decided to tread a more conventional path and took up a job at Trump It – an events and marketing company. It was a short stint however that lasted all of ten months.So he went ahead and started his own entertainment company, Harlequin entertainment along with a partner.

KARTHIK.jNarlaKarthik Naralasetty, 25, with an established business in the US, feels success in studies does not guarantee success in life. Karthik dropped out of Rutgers University, US, after a year. “I realized I had to spend a lot of my father’s hard-earned money to get a degree. I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do after getting a degree?’ I knew the answer – start a large business and manage it,” said Karthik, currently running a company called Socialblood Inc based in New York. “Funnily, though I don’t have a degree, I’ve got investors who’ve been to Harvard, Stanford, MIT and IIM,” says Karthik.

He was labelled a poor student in school. Karthik said he couldn’t do much about his dislike for Mathematics. “Through school, I was bullied by teachers because of this. In Class X, my school officials openly declared that I and a few students would surely fail the examinations and be a disgrace to the school,” recalled Karthik. He said the mantra to be successful in life doesn’t lie in Class X or Class XII grades.

Now much more successful than he may have ever been, Naralasetty is an Internet entrepreneur and the founder of the first of its kind site “In June 2011, I heard of a rare case in a four year-old girl who had thalassemia. She needed 30 units of blood a day every day. Not knowing anything about blood banks I realised how hard it was to find blood. My obvious response in the age of Facebook, was why can’t Facebook tell me when someone needs blood,” he says animatedly over the phone.

Having started eight groups for different blood types on Facebook, his idea led to people posting requests for blood on the site. “Eventually, I formed the website that can connect you to people in your locality or the city to donate and receive blood. Within six months, 20 countries approached us to create a similar model for them,” adds this winner of the Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Award, 2011.

At least Akshar Peerbhoy, a successful businessman, followed that mantra since the day he was enrolled in the school. I’m probably one of the only few students to fail in Class 1. Even during exams, I’d prefer playing some games” or later on, hanging out with my friends. Most teachers gave up on me. My parents were incredibly worried, as both of them are leaders in their field,” said Akshar, who had a brief stint at Deakin University, Australia but dropped out in the second year and returned to India.

akshar-It’s been a rollercoaster journey so far for Akshar, who says that focus and power of mind are keys to real success. “Today, I’m respected among colleagues and clients. Today, when I meet school friends, they’re amazed at the change in me. At the beginning of my career, I started every morning with only one goal — be better than I was the day before,” said Akshar, a successful businessman.

Reid Hoffman started his professional life with the intention of becoming an academic. But then he realized: “in order to be a professional scholar, you have to dedicate a vast majority of your career to writing esoteric books that only 50 people will understand.”

linked inSo instead, he got into the technology industry with a job at Apple, where he helped build eWorld, Apple’s version of America Online. Next, he started a company called SocialNet. It failed.

A friend of Hoffman’s, Peter Thiel, recruited him to join a startup, PayPal. It sold to eBay in 2002. Then Hoffman went on a long trip to Australia. There, he decided to create an Internet company. It’s LinkedIn. Today, it’s worth $19 billion – and Hoffman is its biggest shareholder.

Mantras for success

* I don’t believe the school system is the only route to success. It gives you an automated path to a career. Otherwise, you can make your own path.

— Kiran Jonnalagadda

* I was lucky it worked out for me. It could have gone awry. You have to play your cards right.

— Vivek Madan

* Life is what you make of it. If you fail, laugh at it and move on. Never lose hope.

— Karthik Naralasetty

* Studying is not the end of life. Today, I am who I wanted to be all along and it has nothing to do with a formal education.

— Akshar Peerbhoy


Rags to Riches story of Slum Kid

His story is much more than a celluloid dream script. His is the proverbial rags-to-riches tale, made possible through hard work and determination. E. Sarathbabu’s story started in the slums of Madipakkam. Today, at 29, he is CEO of Foodking Catering Services, which has outlets in Chennai, Goa, Hyderabad and Rajasthan, and has a turnover of Rs. 7 crore.

s-babuTalking about his days of abject penury when he supplemented his mother’s income by selling idlis door-to-door and binding books, Sarathbabu says: “Poverty can never play spoilsport if an individual is determined to win.”

It pays to focus

With two sisters and two younger brothers around, not only food was less, there was no electricity either. “But, I never felt sad as there were no distractions while studying. You cannot achieve anything if you brood over what does not exist. Even when I was asked to stand outside the classroom for not paying the fees, I used to listen to the lessons being taught inside because I understood that nobody — my mother, me or my teacher — was at fault for the situation I was in,” he philosophises.

Sarathbabu’s willpower coupled with his mother’s desire to see her son speak English like the “upper-class” people do, took him to Kings Matriculation Higher Secondary School. While his classmates discussed the good food they ate and the new dresses they bought, Sarathbabu was driven by the desire to top the class. And, first he came, always, even scoring the highest marks in school in the Matriculation Board examination.

His score of over 1,100 in the Class XII examination made him dream big. He found himself in BITS, Pilani, and then at the country’s best B-school, the IIM-Ahmedabad.

“At Pilani, I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew. My poor spoken English aggravated that feeling. But, I did not give up; I started reading books and practising spoken English in front of the mirror. Today, I think I have made it,” he smiles.

Whenever I feel dejected, I think of my mother. I always remember her drinking only water to make sure that her children ate whatever was available. As a child, I used to think she liked water a lot but only later did I realise that it was acute poverty that forced her to fill her stomach with water,” he says.

Turning entrepreneur

Sarathbabu worked for two years with Polaris and repaid the loans taken for higher education. When good jobs came knocking, he shocked all by rejecting them. For, he nurtured a different dream: “I know the pangs of hunger and always wanted to provide employment opportunities.” Today, he employs 250 people.

Sarathbabu launched Foodking in Ahmedabad with a paltry sum of Rs. 2,000. “It was a dream come true, when Infosys’ N.R. Narayanamurthy inaugurated my venture in 2006. I introduced my mother to the chief guest and her eyes filled with tears of happiness. It is one of the most memorable moments of my life,” he recalls.

His dream is a hunger-free world by creating more job opportunities. How does it feel to be a youth icon? “Positively happy.I believe God is giving me this fantastic opportunity to inspire youth so that they too can create more jobs, bridge the rural-urban divide and address social issues and make India shine globally.”

I have risen from the bottom. If I can, why can’t you?” says Sarathbabu, who also plans to start a school for the downtrodden.

Having come this far, this unassuming ‘crorepati’ continues to live in the Madipakkam slum with his wife Priya, mother Deeparamani and his younger brothers. But, he does plan to construct a house for his mother and also convert the ‘hut’ — from where he began his journey — into a memorial.