People who end up changing the world, for better or for worse, rarely follow the rules. In fact, the only rule that many revolutionary behemoths who lead or have led some of the world’s biggest companies right from Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg) to Apple (Steve Jobs), seem to have followed, is one that flies in the face of the advice all adults seem to impart with unusual solidarity—finish college, get a degree, and then do whatever the hell you have to to stand on your own two feet. By dropping out of college to follow their dreams of learning while doing, as opposed to just learning until the world believed they were fit to do, they’ve managed to join a very long and very antiquated cliché that college dropouts make for some seriously successful entrepreneurs.
This theory was a little bit too romanticised for our liking - college dropouts certainly don’t always make it big, and people who make it big aren’t always college dropouts. The only thing we know for certain is that we pay closer attention when the former becomes successful because that would mean everything we’re led to believe is true is actually wrong when it comes to the necessity of a college degree. Our two bits? No one path works for everyone, especially if you’re planning to risk it for the biscuit.
We were more intrigued by the strength of character and risk it takes to truly quit a known path, and head over into uncharted territory when it comes to people who do dropout of college. So in this vein, we profiled 14 young Indian entrepreneurs who did exactly this while silencing the world’s advice with their intuition, and got them to share their learnings for anyone who might be in two minds about a similar decision.
[Note to readers—this list is presented in no order of preference, and has simply been chronicled in alphabetical order.]
I. Akshay Tambe | Spontaneous. Honest. Freak
23-year-old Akshay Tambe describes himself as a “self proclaimed photographer and other things you don’t want to know about.”
“Dropping out of college made me not have a Plan B and made me give all I have to something I love doing.”
Dropout diaries: Before he knew that he wanted to be a photographer, he took up biomedical engineering at Vidyalankar Institute of Technology. However, he wasn’t interested in the course and never attended lectures. “I think somewhere in the second year I happened to lay my hands on a DSLR and a friend of mine explained to me how all of that works. I loved the whole medium of visual language.”
However, the idea of taking this up as a profession only came to him after a particular incident. “After bunking lectures for days together, I decided to attend a lecture as the semester was almost ending,” he shares. “But, my professor caught hold of me after the lecture, sat me down and asked me to write down the answer to why I don’t attend lectures. It was really funny.” She chided him for his irresponsible behaviour and reminded him that he was not only wasting his parents’ money but also robbing a deserving student of his seat. “Frankly, I had been thinking of all these things for a while, but I don’t think I would have found the courage to leave if it hadn’t been for her. I simply stood up, handed her the paper and the pen and said, “Thank you so much. I’m not coming to college from now and I am going to be the best photographer you’ll ever hear about.” Till that point I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but right there I made a decision and I’ve stuck to it pretty well,” he says.
Second thoughts? “I wasn’t really afraid of the consequences. My parents were really supportive of my decision, which helped a lot. There is absolutely no looking back. There’s nothing back there.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “What I’m glad about is that I didn’t stay back and study like everyone else. Dropping out exposed me to the world. It was better than wasting my parents money doing something that I didn’t really like.”
II. Arz Bhatia | Young. Ambitious. Diligent.
20-year-old Arz Bhatia is a UI/UX designer by profession. At present, he is working with OnePlus Inc. in Shenzhen, China, as the Lead Designer of OnePlus’s home-baked version of Android - OxygenOS.
“Dropping out of college made me explore.”
Dropout diaries: “I explored the internet for the first time when I was in the sixth grade. I have been hooked to technology since then. I was born in a family of architects and I thought that I would be one too. I actually wanted to, till I realised that I wanted to do something different with my life,” he recollects.
In 2007, Bhatia became active in one of the many forums deep inside the interweb. Here, he learnt a lot about technology, machines, gaming, cultures, and human behaviour. “I was fascinated by the unique graphic signatures/footers beneath everyone’s post and that made me explore graphic design. By the end of the year, I started creating websites for fun.” At first, he would hand over the websites to anyone who approached him for free. It was a while before he started charging people for this.
“By 2010, I became popular as Themer/UI Designer in the Android Community. I was recruited and became the co-founder of one of the biggest custom android development teams. We created an innovative operating system called Paranoid Android along with 12 other core members,” he says, “At the same time, I was creating a business plan for a custom enterprise and design agency. In 2011, Arz Bhatia Design Works was launched.” Under this banner, he provided services ranging from web design to copywriting and business plan development. In 2013, he joined Sushant School of Design, Ansal University Gurgaon, to pursue a course in Visual Communication.
“By 2014, I had released three applications/ themes in the Android Play Store that I had developed during my summer vacations. They hit 18,000 downloads in just two days! One day OnePlus Inc. approached me and now, here I am, sitting on a bright green chair at the OnePlus HQ in Shenzhen, China, creating an operating system from scratch along with five other people from the original Paranoid Android team.”
Second thoughts? “None really. Everything went pretty smooth. My parents and family were very supportive, my girlfriend was proud and even my college was pretty cool about the whole thing. I tend not to think about things too much. I’m happy with what I’m doing and I’m learning a lot. Sure, there are times when I think I’m missing out on things, but then I think about how I led myself here.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “In my case, experience was definitely what mattered more than the course I was pursuing. I believe design is not just about visuals and what looks good—it’s much more! Including presentation, interaction and even handling butt-hurt bosses.”
III. Ashwin Baburao | Creative. Energetic. Intriguing
31-year-old Ashwin Baburao is the co-founder of Beatworx Studio.
“Dropping out of college made me a student of life for life.”
Dropout diaries: “I have loved music for as long as I can remember,” he says. “I come from a home where my mum sings and plays the veena. I grew up listening to the soundtrack of Sound of Music and it is one of my favourite soundtracks till date. There was a channel called MCM. They used to play the likes of Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, and Kerri Chandler, and I spent endless nights watching their music videos. I think that is how I knew what I wanted to do.”
When Baburao was 16, his father was transferred at his job and his family moved to another city. He stayed back in Bangalore to continue his studies at National Junior College. “Here, I met a bunch of people that also liked electronic music. We’d exchange CDs and tapes, and even go clubbing. At one of the spots I happened to meet a DJ who agreed to let me play there in exchange for some music.” This eventually landed him an afternoon residency at a spot called Downtown Pub in Bangalore. He honed his skills there with his stage name as DJ Inferno. Around the same time, he began working for his cousin who had started a t-shirt company. “Being a startup, I had an abundance of responsibilities on my shoulders. I learnt a lot of things about how a business works in terms of accounting practices, marketing pitches, and sales targets, which is of huge help to me today.”
For the next three years, he continued working as a DJ. “My younger brother failed his 12th grade, because he was too busy hacking his computer to install custom operating systems and becoming an oral Wikipedia of all the latest hardware technologies. My parents sent him back to Bangalore so he could spend time with me. At the time, I was fiddling around with a few early music production softwares, but I couldn’t create much. When he came down, I taught him all I had learnt, and together, we started to write music. None of that ever saw the light of the day,” he shares.
Two years later their parents moved back to Bangalore, and the brothers moved in with them. They bought their first pair of studio monitors/speakers and set up a tiny little bedroom studio. “We continued working on our music like before and we landed our first release sometime in the end of 2011. We called ourselves Audio Units. We spent the next few years honing our skills. We also signed UnMute as our exclusive managers. This helped us a lot in propelling and propagating our music.” Slowly, people started approaching them for lessons in DJ-ing and music production. “We started out of our bedroom, offering lessons to a few people, and this helped us earn a little extra money. In 2012, I was on the lookout for a place to set up a studio which is a dedicated space for us to make our music and teach. My uncle had a spare room on top of his hospital and even though it sounded ridiculous, it was the only place that fit my budget. We converted an empty hospital ward into a studio from scratch,” he recollects.
“We have a huge influx of students coming in from various parts of the country for courses. Our courses are structured in a modular format offering personalised classes with no more than two students in a batch. We have tied up with a bunch of manufactures to sell and service gear. We also write music for ads and other clients, such as Harley Davidson, Set Wet, and YouthGame, amongst others. We now have a regular stream of students who have made a name for themselves in the market and we’re really proud of them.”
Second thoughts? “None. Because all we wanted to do, even in the worst case scenario, was to be able to make music. It frightens us more when we feel we’re out of ideas than out of money.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “We’ve learned so many life lessons from music. I don’t think any college could have taught us determination and patience, and given us the ability to face the hardships of being an artist and leading an unconventional life. Collaborating with other people has been another amazing experience. It has helped me understand people and to not be judgemental about the work and traits of others. It has brought a newfound meaning for hard work and passion.”
IV. Dev Bhatia | Intelligent. Aggressive. Dedicated.
32-year-old Dev Bhatia is one of the co-founders of UnMute.
“Dropping out of college made me work harder and longer, so I could compete with those who had the luxury to attend one.”
Dropout diaries: “I was born in Bahrain and brought up in Dubai. After completing high school in Dubai, I started studying BCOM at the University of Pune. I chose the course only because I couldn’t afford to pay a ‘donation’ to get into hotel management. I worked in a McDonald’s at Pune for almost a year so that I could gain some experience. Two years into the course, my dad figured a way to get me into the Oriental School of Hotel Management in Kerala,” he says.
After completing a year there, Bhatia lost his father and had to return to Dubai so he could support his family. He started working as an accountant at United Flexible Packaging Company. He stayed there for several years, learning the ropes in several departments. Eventually, he became the go-to guy when anyone from any department would go on leave.
“I still tried to pursue my passion of being in a hospitality-like industry. I saved up so that I could do an Airport Operations Course with Emirates Airlines. I was really intrigued by this industry. But even after securing 95 percent in my exam, I was the only person from my batch who didn’t get a job,” he muses. “I guess that’s because there was something else in my destiny.”
He began working for FM radio with the Arabian Radio Network. He started as a sports producer on Dubai 92 and 104.4 Awaaz and went on to become a radio show producer along with an RJ friend, Ravi. “I really loved the job and I tried to gain as much knowledge as I could through colleagues who’d been in the industry for years. Eventually, I decided to venture back to India to work in the then-emerging radio scene there,” he says.
Even though he wanted to work in Mumbai, he realised all the openings were in Delhi. “I was stranded in Delhi. I didn’t know anyone. Somehow I was introduced to Ash Roy by a friend from Dubai. Ash really helped me settle down during my initial days.” Bhatia joined the 93.5 RED FM Delhi programming team as a show producer. At the same time, he joined Jalebee Cartel as their manager. “I used to work full-day shifts at radio and then go manage Jalebee gigs at night. It was a no-sleep phase for me, but I loved it. In 2010, I joined ibibo.com during the launch phase of their mobile radio/games platform as the Creative Head. I helped create a studio, put together a programming team and launched the product, which went live via Airtel and Vodafone. ”
By 2012, Jalebee Cartel had become one of the premier electronic acts in the country and were playing over 100 shows a year. So it was getting harder for him to work on both fronts, which meant a decision had to be made. ”I was toying with the idea of an agency to extend the backend we had created for Jalebee to other artists as well. There was a huge hole in the dance music management space. One serious conversation with Arjun Vagale led to our partnership and the eventual launch of UnMute with some of our friends on the first roster. That was it for me. Three years in, I’d like to think we’ve changed the way the industry functions from an agency’s perspective by bringing in a more professional approach. Subsequently, we are also lucky to be working with some of the finest talent from the country and across the world.”
Second thoughts? “I didn’t really have a choice. I had to be brave and do it myself.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “Practical experience is great and is much needed, but what’s most important and is largely missing in most professions is the application of common sense. I still miss and rue the fact that I missed out on college (given a chance I would go back to do it even now) and think it’s important to complete it if one has the opportunity. However, I also believe that there’s nothing like early practical experience on a day-to-day basis.”
V. Justine Rae Mellocastro | Free-spirited. Calm. Honest.
25-year-old Justine Rae Mellocastro is the co-founder of The AnaRae Store. She also works as a freelance hairstylist.
“Dropping out of college made me whole.”
Dropout diaries: “Six months into my B.A course at Jai Hind College, I decided that I didn’t want to continue with it. At the time, I was interested in learning how to style hair and I had the chance to intern with one of India’s best hairstylists at her salon. For almost a year, I attended college in the morning and worked at the salon in the evening. Then, I decided that I wanted to be in the salon full time, so I quit college. I thought I would continue a correspondence course, but that didn’t work!” she shares.
She worked with the salon for four and a half years and then went on to freelance on her own. Since then, she has worked with top fashion magazines, photographers, and actors. “I met my partner, Ria, three years ago. She lived in Kenya at the time and it was during one of our Skype conversations that we conceptualised The AnaRae Store.” The duo works with artisans around the world who craft jewellery, scarves and other accessories, with the aim to provide heirloom pieces at reasonable prices, while re-introducing the concept of heritage craft. “We believe in providing our artisans with fair and consistent pay for their craftsmanship, so whenever you buy an AnaRae accessory you know exactly who made it, their story, and where it came from.
We launched the brand this February and so far we’ve done two collections, one from Rajasthan and one from Kenya. We get to travel a lot, photograph and meet beautiful people, learn their stories and share them with the world. I get to dabble in photography and styling for the brand,” she says, “It is all very exciting.”
Second thoughts? “I always knew that I wanted to start working early, so when I had the chance, I took it. It has been the best ride ever. I have very supportive parents, which made it much easier to make the decision.”
On what she has learned from this experience: “I’ve learned to be resilient and brave, to take chances and to not be afraid of the future. You can’t always calculate how things are going to turn out. You have to learn to be spontaneous and live every day to the fullest.”
VI. Krishna Bahirwani | Inquisitive. Thinker. Learner.
22-year-old Krishna Bahirwani is a contributing editor with DNA and is solely responsible for the creation and running of DNA’s weekly Technology page. He is currently a part of the organising committee for the UNIC Young Changemakers Conclave and heads their social media team.
“Dropping out of college made me let go of my conditioning and look at the world with a fresh pair of eyes.”
Dropout diaries: Krishna joined R.D National College to pursue a Bachelors in Information Technology, but he decided to drop out after his second year. “I attended lectures where teachers would read out portions of the textbook for students to write down without any thought given to whether the student actually understood what they were being told to memorise,” he shares. “I found my course really rigid and that is the case with most degrees offered by Mumbai University. There is just one subject in my entire course which I could theoretically (my college did not offer any of the alternatives) swap for something I was more interested in. It did not make sense to me that I had to study things that would not help me in the future and instead I had to learn those things in my spare time only because I needed a piece of paper that was necessary for me to get a job.”
Ever since his first computer class when he was just four years old, he had been interested in technology. “I always believed communication, research and an understanding of technology were my biggest skill sets. I felt that writing about technology is where I could put these skills to optimal use,” he says. “When I saw an advertisement for DNA’s Shadow Editorial Board, an internship designed for students to shadow an editor and learn how they work. I jumped at the opportunity. About a month after my internship, the editor-in-chief asked me to come in full time and create something of my own within DNA. I came up with a technology page called Phish n Chips (Now called DNA of Technology), a weekly page written and curated entirely by me. The page has been active for over 60 weeks now and I could not be happier with the progress I have made,” he says.
Second thoughts? “There is a lot of risk involved when one decides not to take the conventional path. Indians look at degrees as validations for an individual’s skills and knowledge, and they are not open to other alternatives. It’s a lot of pressure. I live with three senior citizens and any failure on my part will stress them out. I am also my sister’s role model and my mom’s only support. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard—it is. But like anything in life that is worth achieving, it pays off. It’s not like I disagree with the fact that a college degree could be helpful. I just feel like my twenties is the most productive time I am going to get and I can definitely make better use of them. There is no single way to any goal, so I don’t think there is any reason I won’t be able to find my own ways to my own goals.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “There aren’t many better ways to spend time than on my own development. I got a chance to try a professional industry and learn a lot, so I took it. I never did a course on journalism, but I feel like my six-month internship taught me enough to get me started and kept me more motivated and committed than ever. Because I wasn’t limited to the structure and ‘best’ practices taught in colleges, I was able to think of the most intuitive ways to do my job—and before I knew it I was writing front page stories.”
VII. Mikhail Mehra | Hungry. Open. Focussed
“Dropping out of college gave me a whole different perspective on College Dropout by Kanye West. One of my favourite albums of all time.”
Dropout diaries: “I was at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco studying motion picture and television production,” he begins. “While I was there, a bunch of my friends exposed me to the rave culture. I fell completely in love with the EDM and dubstep scene. Under the guise of shooting a documentary, I would get in touch with promoters who would let me film their shows. I didn’t own a camera or any editing equipment, so I borrowed my friend’s camera.”
He used his college’s editing lab to edit the footage and then sent the promoters a montage of their events. Slowly, he started charging for the videos. As time progressed, it became harder for him to juggle this with his college work. “I started reading a lot of literature about colleges and the education industry in the US. It seemed that most Americans were becoming increasingly disillusioned with their college system. People were graduating with mountains of debt and having a degree was not the golden ticket it once was. Fortune 500 CEOs were actively encouraging young people to skip college. I knew that my art degree would be meaningless in the real world,” he shares.
The fetishisation of the college degree, especially an American one, seemed to be an Asian/Indian trait to him. Wasting his prime to get a degree did not sit well with him. The fact that none of the greatest filmmakers of all time went to film school—and that the few who did go dropped out—made him feel like dropping out of film school was a rite of passage. “All the working directors that I looked up to shared the common idea that the best way to succeed was to go out and make films—to practice. So that is what I decided to do. I learnt a lot in my year at film school, but I had to go out and grind by myself.
Second thoughts? “I was confident of my path, I didn’t really see another way forward in life.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “I learnt how the real world works—how to interact with people, how to negotiate. I’ve been part of startups that failed. Honestly, there’s been a lot of screw ups, but none from which I haven’t learnt or made me better. Making mistakes isn’t bad. But not trying is the worst. All of this isn’t to say that everybody should drop out of college. College can be a great place, and often required, depending on your career choices. It just wasn’t for me.”
VIII. Mohammed Saif Qureshi | Passionate. Creative. Audacious.
21-year-old Mohammed Saif Qureshi is an aeronautical engineering dropout-turned-education entrepreneur. He founded Intelaeon in 2011.
“Dropping out of college made me believe that being ‘safe’ is truly the riskiest thing we can ever do in our lives.”
Dropout diaries: “When I was five years old, I went on my first ever flight. That journey had me hooked to the idea of becoming a pilot. After my 10th standard exams, I even got all the necessary health clearances from the DGCA and was ready to take flying lessons,” he says.
With the recession settling in, he couldn’t afford the flying lessons and the pressure of all his peers joining coaching classes pushed him to do the same. However, he dropped out after a few months. “Close to the 12th standard exams, when everyone was filling out forms to engineering colleges, I was figuring out flying schools and attempting to talk to current pilots and airlines. It was a time when airlines weren’t doing so well and it made sense to have a backup. The closest thing to becoming a pilot was becoming an aeronautical engineer.” He applied to colleges in the US, UK, India and Singapore and from the ones he was accepted , he chose the University of Glasgow. “After a few months here, I met a few employees from Airbus, Boeing, BAE Systems and Rolls Royce. Meeting them made me realise that I would hate most of the jobs I would be offered, and be overqualified for the ones I’d enjoy,” he muses. “I always had a dream of starting my own venture. I had no idea what kind of venture, but I always assumed that I would work for several years, save a lot, quit, and start something on my own. But, with time, I realised that no time was better than right now.”
Qureshi knew that he wanted to make a difference in the education sector, and so, in 2011, he registered Intelaeon as a legal business entity. He roped in two of his friends and they began researching, curating and hosting live quiz events in India. He returned to university with the full intention to quit, but his friends convinced him to stay. During his second year, one of his friends happened to visit a school in the slums of Howrah, West Bengal. She put up a post on Facebook looking for people who would be interested in taking online classes with the students. He volunteered to take weekly classes from the UK.
“During one of the classes, a little girl asked me, ‘What is the meaning of education?’ I fumbled, stuttered, and meekly uttered a nonsensical answer. After the class, I began exploring what my definition of education was. This question took me far and wide, until I finally quit university early in my third year, returned to India, and began working full time on Intelaeon.”
Qureshi works towards improving the learning ecosystem and building better capacities within the teachers and administration of schools in rural and slum areas. He began working with a few students from IIT-Delhi to develop an edu-tech startup called Pleolabs. They worked with several schools, governmental organisations, UNICEF and UNESCO to implement programs that would help improve the Indian education system. After two and a half years of building, Pleolabs was acquired in April 2015.
“At Intelaeon we are currently working on creating programmes to nurture creativity within schools, colleges and companies. We are also working on a launching a magazine on creativity, and a technology product for students and potential employees is under R&D. Our long term goal is to start unique creative schools across the globe,” he adds.
Second thoughts? “I was terrified. My mind would go from bliss to extreme chaos and fear. Almost everyone around me was focused on getting a degree, and here I had an idea to quit everything and start something on my own. I had nothing but an idea to hold onto. “
On what he has learned from this experience: “Life is unbelievably short. Discover yourself. Become self-aware. Life will suddenly become vivid—if you find your true calling and have the courage to chase it.”
IX. Monisha Ajaonkar | Quirky. Enthusiastic. Eccentric.
26-year-old Monisha Ajaonkar is a professional photo-maker.
“Dropping out of college made me a…CrackerJack entrepreneur.”
Dropout diaries: “I was studying psychology at DJ Ruparel College in Mahim and I realised that I did not want to study this particular subject, so I quit.” she confides. She spent an entire year sitting at home exploring different possibilities. Later, she joined the JJ School of Art. “I did not benefit much from that either. I had a crush on this girl and she loved attending concerts. So, to impress her, I went with her to cover the concert with my camera. Things did not really work out with her, but I found my true love—photography.”
She I started off by covering gigs and started freelancing for Rolling Stone, and Bombay Times parties and fashion events. “Once, I went to shoot my friend’s wedding as I was very interested in Catholic weddings. That was the start of The Photo Diary and it has been two years now. We are planning to go international next year and set up in America or Canada.”
Second thoughts? “I was really scared about making this decision, but it was completely worth it. You have only one life and I wanted to make the most of it. I was working earlier in some other firm and it did not work out well. Hence I started my own thing. My friend, Nidhi Shetty, helped me make this decision and pushed me in the right direction .She has been a godmother to my project. It was a very scary journey, but I somehow managed. I had to begin from scratch and it was very difficult to make a mark as a one-stop company.”
On what she has learned from this experience: “School and college is a great medium of learning, but there are some practical experiences that teach us to be more professional. You can only know a certain job or business when you actually begin to work in it. The skills you need, the people you need, the connections you make, all becomes a part of the exposure you have had. I have been learning on my job every single day. I think learning comes from failure, and when you have actually failed you learn way more than when you fare well in an examination. Failure can teach you how to rise and become even better because even if you don’t know what has to be done at least you know what you should not do. You cannot depend on anyone else. You have to be your own friend.”
X. PS Ashrith Govind | Visionary. Geek. Hippie.
21-year-old PS Ashrith Govind is the co-founder of PingCloud Automation.
“Dropping out of college enabled me to think out of the box,it helped me execute and work towards my vision early in life,rather than traditionally holding a degree and hunting for a job.”
Dropout diaries: PS Ashrith Govind designed his first portable power bank using a nine-volt battery and transistor that he bought with Rs. 50 when he was 10 years old. Since then, he has dedicated his life towards research and development. “When I was 12, I hosted an online community forum called Hacker Source. We had over 6,000 active users discussing various vulnerabilities and the ways to deal with them. I even started selling some custom games that I designed for Sony’s PSP.” When Govind turned 15, he started working with his uncle towards his vision of ‘Plug and play automated night clubs’
He joined Jain College after his 10th because they were lenient about attendance, which meant he could work with his uncle without any hitches. He had taken up commerce because he thought it would be easy, but the course helped him realise the relevance of commerce and entrepreneurship. “It helped a lot that my uncle was in the hospitality industry. I explored this trending technology called the ‘cloud’ that revolutionises the way technology works. It is a game changing medium that essential for centralisation of a chain of outlets. It allows multimedia to be streamed from a central location and the franchise cannot download the media. I programmed my first application that would help waiters with taking orders, and this enabled me to learn programming which would change the way I would logically solve problems.”
He would often moonlight as a DJ so that he could learn the technical aspects of being one. He even spent hours bartending, and when he realised that bartenders could actually cheat a lot, he created an automated bar system. The machine was programmed to dispense the right amount of alcohol and it was linked to the billing software he had designed. By the time he completed the 12th grade, he had programmed several utilities and apps, but he still didn’t have a proper medium, resources, or a team to help build his vision. He took up the BBM course from Jain College and hated it. During this time, he met Shirish Narsepalli, and he knew that together, they could build a potentially big trajectory. “Since the startup culture was starting to boom in Bangalore, we knew that it was the right time for us. We formed a company called PingCloud Automation. Our main aim was to explore opportunities with technology and see if it would give us the right scale,” he says.
“By the end of my second year, I went to collect my hall ticket, but I was denied due to my lack of attendance. I didn’t care enough to go back. My parents were a little disappointed initially, but my goals and vision were clear to me. My parents gradually accepted my decision. If I hadn’t quit, the kind of success I have had would never have been possible.”
They realised that there was a huge scope for providing free WiFi to people and that this medium could be used by hoteliers to understand the loyalty of their customers through their database and visiting patterns. “We started working towards the creation of ‘WiLoop’, a series of free WiFi zones. We proposed our product to many lounges, cafes and retail places and they were excited about the concept. We hired a couple of freelancers, built our product, and tested it in my uncle’s lounge and saw that people actually loved it.” In the last four months alone, they have covered over 95 places across Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. “We want to extend our services even to villages where there is no connectivity.”
Second thoughts? “I did panic about dropping out of college, but sometimes you just have to follow your instinct and passion. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. You can either try to control your own life or let others do it—but eventually, everyone realises that controlling your own makes more sense.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “I believe that a big sacrifice leads to something that you actually want to do and care about. I would not say that BBM was a waste. I met some great people who became part of some of the best moments of my life. I also think bunking classes connected us more than attending them, but dropping out definitely made me think out of the box.”
XI. Satyarth Shaurya Singh | Tall. Not-so-dark. Handsome.
26-year-old Satyarth Shaurya Singh is an independent filmmaker and the founder of Lights On Films.
“Dropping out of college made me much more conscious about my work, career, and the decisions I take at every step.”
Dropout diaries: Satyarth went to Symbiosis Institute of Design, Pune, and pursued visual communications under Communication Design. He decided to drop out of college in the final year when he was told that he had to complete a backlog from his fourth semester in order to be able to do his degree project. “Completing the backlog meant that I had to give one more year of my life to the same place, for nothing but a degree. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to do a project with a bunch of guys and I would get paid a little for it. So, I decided to take up the work and leave the backlog.”
Working for the project, he realised that real time experience counted more than the theoretical knowledge he would have gained from college. He went on to intern for a Delhi-based production house Carrot Films for about 6 months. Here, he gained exposure in documentation for corporate/documentary shoots. Post that, he worked as a Production Head at GoodOneYaar Productions for another four to five months.
“Slowly, I started planning something of my own. I wanted it to be something that brought some sort of depth and meaning to the content that is being created, rather than just being a documentary. After a lot of contemplation, in January 2012, I started Lights On Films, trying to keep the focus on underground/urban culture,” he says. “The first project I did was a documentary on the independent music scene in Delhi with artists like BLOT, Dualist, SkaVengers, Teddy Boy Kill, and Space. Since then we have done about three or four documentaries, a few music videos, and one short fiction film. We have also worked with clients like Audi, Porsche, Whirlpool, Jameson Whiskey, Discovery, Microsoft, and TVS.”
Second Thoughts? “I was very scared of making this decision. Most of my friends did not agree with my decision. At that time, these things tend to hit you more. When all your friends, with whom you have spent almost every waking minute for four years, graduate and leave you behind...it was quite hard to take in. My mom and dad were really upset, but I had made up my mind. It was a very hard decision for me to make, but it was a risk I was willing to take. Looking back, I don’t think I could have made a better decision.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “Well, honestly, I think going to college is a great experience. You get to meet like-minded people and do things you could have not even imagined. But, I think there are things that one can learn much better when you are out there doing it. While you are in college, people and professors tend to judge you by your marks, but I never understood that idea. Right now, no one asks me what GPA I had in college. All they care about is my work.”
XII. Setu Goyal | Relentless. Fearless. Artistic
20-year-old Setu Goyal is the owner of Busker’s Corner. This Ahmedabad-based entrepreneur is a jack of all trades—a cook who has completed several workshops in theatre and photography, and can play four instruments.
“Dropping out of college made me independent and fearless.”
Dropout diaries: “I remember telling mom to withdraw my admission from school back in grade nine. This was not because I hated studying, but because I wanted to educate myself in areas that interested me. My mother has always been very understanding, and explained that I might grow up and regret that decision. She also said that she would let me take any form of education after completing school.”
After finishing school, Goyal appeared for four different entrance exams—three to design colleges and one for hotel management with IIHM-JEE. “I cleared three of them. My mom told me that she would be okay if I still chose to not enter any of these institutes,” he recollects fondly. “I was scared to lose this opportunity. Besides, Mumbai was a dream for me. I picked NIFT Mumbai. After six months of college, I was appearing for my jury, and one night before the geometry jury, out of sheer pressure and laziness, I borrowed a senior’s work from the previous year. I was caught and detained for a whole semester.” Goyal refused to let this be a setback and when he returned home, he started learning the tabla. He also joined the Darapana Academy of Performing Arts. “
I was at peace,” he muses. “I always had a dream of starting up a food venture. I decided it was time to go and do my own thing. I researched into street-side food ventures, and in 2014, I set up Busker’s Corner right opposite IIM Ahmedabad’s campus with a meagre investment of Rs. 15,000 that I had borrowed from my mother.” He started out with a small menu comprising of three variants of pancakes and crepes. Being an amateur musician himself, he knew there were many artists and performers in the city who needed an audience. “I felt busking would be a great way to gain some traction, but many thought of it as a form of begging or an activity practiced only by the lower strata of society. Social media helped me gain popularity. I was interviewed by two radio stations and several local online media platforms wrote about me. It helped get me in touch with more people who would encourage the idea of performing on the streets.”
Unfortunately, after running for two months, they had to deal with some legal issues due to which they stopped. After waiting for more than a year, they found a perfect place to reopen Busker’s Corner. “In this span of one year I had the opportunity to attend an intensive six month guitar workshop and intern at Radio One FM 95 for other six months. So it is all good,” he adds.
Second thoughts? “I was most definitely scared, but there was an inner voice, saying, ‘Setu, just do it! If you don’t, you are going to regret it.’ I wasn’t sure about where dropping out of college would lead me, but I was pretty sure of where continuing it would—and I was sure I didn’t want to go there.”
On what he has learned from this experience: “I would have never learnt how to clean coal tar stains with diesel, how to deal with cops in India, how to manage inventories, and how to deal with people, if I had still been in college. It taught me how to take constructive criticism from people and utilise it to my growth.”
XIII. Soumya Iyer | Passionate. Creative. Dedicated
21-year-old Soumya Iyer had been painting for years before she decided to become a professional photographer and painter.
“Dropping out of college made me what I really wanted to be.”
Dropout diaries: “I have loved painting and art since childhood. So, taking up painting at Rachana Sansad College after my junior college was a no-brainer,” she shares. However, after completing two years at the art college, she was not satisfied with what she was learning. She dropped out of college and decided to study fashion communication from Raffles Design International.
“I genuinely liked the course and learnt a lot, but I hated the fact that I was dealing with something so restrictive. I was itching to do something creative, and strangely, I missed my art school,” she says. After a year here, she realised that there was no point in staying on, and she dropped out. Even though photography was never her passion, she had taken it as one of her subjects at Raffles. “It was a short course comprised of eight lectures, but we had to buy a DSLR for it. When I first bought the camera, it was nothing but a showpiece. But, once I started using it, there was no going back.”
“I had the freedom to do what I wanted. I could make my own images, compose what I wanted—it was almost like deciding what you wanted to paint on your canvas. I always wanted to do something creative and I would never have been happy with a nine-to-five desk job. I needed the freedom to create,” she muses. “I have such a strong belief in what I am doing right now. It took me so long to figure out what was right for me. Taking up photography helped me learn so much more about myself.”
Second thoughts? “Well, I was definitely afraid to take the decision initially. Not because I wasn’t sure about dropping out, but because I was afraid about how my parents might react to it. It took me really long to convince them, but things are fine now. They like what I do.”
On what she has learned from this experience: “What I learned, no college or school could obviously teach me. I learnedx to take risks, and un-learned so many things that I had been taught. I joined two colleges of my choice and still wasn’t satisfied. I realised that the only way you can be satisfied is by finding what you really want.”
XIV. Zaheer C | Zestful. Artistic. Genuine
25-year-old Zaheer Chhatriwala is a professional tattoo artist.
“Dropping out of college simply made me an open-minded person. It taught me some of life’s biggest lessons.”
Dropout diaries: “I was pretty decent child growing up. I performed very well academically, even though I was naughty, distracted and high strung by nature. I never really had any plans for myself. I just did what I was told,” he says. “After the 10th, I joined National College and decided to pursue science, simply because everyone said that it was the best field. I also continued my training in art. However, that was seen as a mere hobby. In college, I was exposed to a new culture, where having fun was the priority. I didn’t care about studying and spent my time smoking, getting high, drinking, and having a blast. It was no surprise that I failed my FYJC.”
Even though his family was shocked by the news of his failure, they tried to be as supportive as possible. It didn’t take long for them to realise that he was not interested in finishing the course. “That phase was very difficult for me. I became socially awkward. Even though I excelled in art, it wasn’t considered as an achievement and I felt a lot of pressure on me. Somehow, I cleared my 12th and heaved a sigh of relief because I was done with science.” He joined MIT, Pune, to pursue a course in product and graphic design.
Independence and freedom from his family helped him break away from his inhibitions. “I started exploring my freedoms artistically and in some ways, anarchically. I was drinking and smoking heavily. I barely attended lectures and even though I created praiseworthy work, I started getting noticed for my devil-may-care attitude by the faculty and they started developing a grudge towards me. During the last semester exams, I was asked to leave the college, even though I had passed all my papers.”
Angered and hurt by this failure, he wanted to deprogram certain views that had been drilled into him. The more he thought about it, the more he hated the idea of being a product of an institutionalised educational system and structured institutions like religion. “ I realised that I did not agree with any of the conventional career prospects. After a lot of thought and research, I decided to take the risk of telling my already disturbed and scared parents about my new passion to be a tattoo artist.”
Eventually, they accepted thi decision of his under the condition that he would do a diploma course in fine arts. “I had learned from my failures that I needed to balance things out and that helped me to manage my college with my new love for tattooing.”
Second thoughts? “I was terrified, but then I realised that one can only be scared for so long. I was worried about how people would react, but I was confident about my dream., I knew that if I worked hard I could achieve something spectacular that would make them proud of me. Now, I can proudly say that even after so many setbacks and failures along the way, my family is very proud of me. The course I had to do did nothing except fill a hole on my wall with a certificate and make a few friends and memories.”
On what he has learned from this experience:“Failing and dropping out of college, twice, was the worst phase in my life. I lost my self respect, my family lost all hope, I lost my reputation as a person, and more importantly, I had lost myself as a person. But, I learned to face problems head-on and to fight for what I believed in. It showed me the ugly side of life, but at the same time, it taught me that my actions have consequences. It made me wiser, confident and more diligent. It also taught me to be sensitive towards those around me.”