9 Young Indians Who Dropped Out Of College To Pursue Their Passions Share Their Stories [Vol. II] - Homegrown

9 Young Indians Who Dropped Out Of College To Pursue Their Passions Share Their Stories [Vol. II]

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 over-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 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 appetite 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 nine 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. From becoming ice driving instructors to casting directors, these young men and women definitely have some entrepreneurial blood running through their veins. And here’s  Vol.I for those who missed it.
[Note to readers—this list is presented in no order of preference, and has simply been chronicled in alphabetical order.]

I. Aashith Shetty

31-year-old Aashith Shetty is a fashion photographer and the co-founder of 18Percent Gray.

Dropping out of college made me gain perspective on failure—mainly that it doesn’t destroy you.

Dropout Diaries:
“I was at St Joseph Boys High School, which is regarded as one of Bengaluru’s most prestigious schools. Somehow, I never related with what I was being taught here, so I decided that I could finish my schooling through correspondence. I was in grade XII at the time,” he shares.
When he realised that he needed to do something productive with his free time, he joined a local troupe as a dancer. “It was fun, until I hurt my back and I realised that dancing was probably not a long-term goal for me. I started dabbling in photography, while simultaneously pursuing my undergrad through Annamalai University. A year later, I bid adieu to my college life. I was enthralled by photography and every little bit that I made dancing was spent on film and equipment,” he says.
Two years after he first picked up the camera, he showcased his work at an exhibition held at a local performance space. “I did it for the money. Soon after, I moved to Mumbai and I gave fashion photography a shot for the first time. It failed and returned to Bengaluru in less than four months,” he confides.
Determined to make it, he assisted Tarunn for the next 10 months, making sure that he saved every single penny that he could afford to. He went on to assist Martin Prihoda, who introduced him to the photo editor at Vogue. “Iona Fergusson single-handedly saved me from running back to Bengaluru by giving me work for every single month that I was in Mumbai. In 2011, the ex-CEO of Reliance Trends was starting a new venture and wanted me to set up the first viable in-house e-commerce studio in the country—and I jumped at the opportunity of starting something completely new. We set up a visual standard that helped me gain the attention from all the big players in the industry—all of them wanted me to work full-time, and even offered me very seductive pay packages. But what I wanted was to start a company that changes the way the country looks at web cataloguing in terms of quality and delivery-time lines. That is how I started 18Percent Gray with a friend of mine. I did all of this while maintaining my advertising photography career,” he recollects.
Second Thoughts?
“I was terrified. Mostly of people who told me that I would amount to nothing—and that they would turn out to be correct.:
On what he learnt from this experience:
“It’s alright to fail, as long as you keep picking yourself up.”

You can follow Aashith and his work on his website and Instagram

II. Aayushi Jagad | Fangirl. Hustler. Resilient.

23-year-old Aayushi Jagad is a stylist viner and content curator.

“Dropping out of college made me push myself harder than ever, further than my contemporariesbecause I had to prove that I could be just as good without the social construct that comes with having a degree.”

Dropout Diaries:
“I went to INIFD, while I was in Fergusson College, Pune, for my XI and XII grade. That course gave me an idea of what I wanted to do in fashion, which is when I made the switch from designing to fashion styling. I started assisting people on very small photo shoots locally, and one thing led to another,” she begins.
With that she started off a career of styling photoshoots, ads, videos, movies and even pageants. “I started college at Symbiosis Institute of Design, but a year later, I dropped out. At the time, I genuinely believed the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York had more to offer me. I managed to get in, and went there to study, but came back because it got too expensive. It had started out as a hiatus, but soon enough, I dropped out. By virtue of the fact that I had studied in FIT and had a few pictures published in Vogue Italia, I was getting a lot of work here,” she shares. As a freelancer, she went on to produce photoshoots, work as a creative director on videos, and produce videos. She even worked in a marketing, PR and event management for a while. She is also a trained dancer, sings live, and writes for The Punekar.
“It was a time when Kanan Gill and AIB had gained popularity and I was in love with Superwoman. I wanted to do it myself. Apprehensive of its success, I started taking on clients for branding and social medal to make some money that I could put it into the production of a YouTube channel. Every skill I had picked up on the way seemed to come together for this one endeavour. I was terrified that no one would watch what I had to put up,” she confides.
Her company FANGIRL.Co came into existence as a manifestation of all the services she had provided as a freelancer. Unable to work on the YouTube channel, she started making Vines. “I told myself I just need to make one every day. And guess what? I did! I’ve wondered for a while if my hard work was ever going to pay off because I kept working for free and doing favours and losing money—but somehow it led me to my company and to a BuzzFeed video that would land me my current position with All India Bakchod. I joined them this earlier this year as a writer and course co-coordinator. All because of that one BuzzFeed video—it is amazing how things just fall into place. It is extremely difficult to overlook the functioning of my company while having a full time job. Letting go of control was the hardest, but it’s still the most rewarding of all experiences and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she adds.
Second Thoughts:
“Afraid is an understatement. I live in fear, even today. I have a horrible habit of not believing my success because I feel I’ll get cocky and lose it all. It has happened before, I’ve gotten comfortable, and life has knocked me down on my ass for my arrogance. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
On what she learnt from this experience:
“I have been working since I was 16. I was making money way before my friends, and that came with its own fun and its own responsibilities. I feel like I was able to grow up and advance in the professional world faster than other people. It all happened when talking to a friend and he asked me what my plan was. I said that I wanted to assist and work after my degree to which he replied with a simple question: ‘why must you wait?’ That one sentence flipped my understanding of educational structure. I realised I could learn anywhere. And, honestly, I did. The fact that when you take up an assignment you have to really commit, that mistakes in the professional world have very real and monetary consequences—I learnt all of this outside a classroom. In fact, I’ve studied at one of the world’s most prestigious fashion institutions and while it was an amazing experience, more than what I learnt in those classrooms, it is my experience as an Indian on the rupee, trying to survive New York, that I value.”

III. Hardik Gandhi | Passionate. Cynic. Wayward.

21-year-old Hardik Gandhi is a  visual artist from Mumbai.

“Dropping out of college made me the child that I once was— the one I had started to run away from.”

Dropout Diaries:

“ I dropped out of Asmita College of Architecture after completing three years because somehow I couldn’t see the value in a structured, traditional system of education. My concepts of design were just not meant for a commercial industry, which is all they teach us. I often put poetry, urban culture and spirituality into architectural design. For me, architecture is an art, a play of physical space and emotion,” he explains.

During Gandhi’s last four months at university, he would leave for college home and instead go to Jehangir Art Gallery, or a bookstore. “I would sometimes go to the beach so I could just sit and sketch. Around this time I started experimenting with digital painting with a wacom tablet on my computer. I’d sit for 14 hours a day and practice art and design on computer software. I learnt everything from the internet and art events that took place around the city. I started putting up all my art online. Soon after, I started working as a graphic designer with Elevantis in Bandra.”

He went on to work with an architect on experimental new media art projects for six months. He learnt about cinema theory and he began to appreciate and understand film as an art form. “People apprached me, asking me to join them as a  full time concept artist or a visualiser. I worked with iCube Design Studios in animation projects as a visualiser/conceptual designer for five months. But the animation industry still didn’t seem to fulfill my theoretical understanding of art and cinema. Till recently, I was even into social media marketing as a creative designer,” he shares.

Now, he teaches students of architecture at Architecture Masterclass part time and works as a designer with Bombay Trooper.

Second Thoughts?

“I was extremely afraid of making this decision. I used to wander around the city, drawing, attending art talks, and having conversations with people who warned me about the danger of not having a degree.”

On what he learnt from this experience:

“A system designed for learning can never teach. Leonardo Da Vinci said, ‘our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions’. I changed a lot of jobs, across industries and I have evolved in so many different ways at a very young age. Don’t colour inside the lines of a drawing with your crayons, colour right off the page.”

IV. Himanshu Shetty | Eccentric. An anomaly. Alive.

29-year-old Himanshu Shetty is a graphic designer based out Mumbai and Pune.

“Dropping out of college made me put all my faith in myself.”

Dropout Diaries:
The most distracted kid in class, Himanshu could inevitably be found doodling away at the back of every notebook he owned. Unable to find a way to get him interested in studies, his parents sent him away to New Era in Panchgani. While the school wasn’t able to get him interested in studies, they were able to discover the reason—dyslexia, with a mild form of ADHD. Some good Samaritans at school guided him into the world of art and he ventured into commercial arts at L.S Raheja School of Arts where he majored in commercial arts. “When the time came for 12th board exams I enrolled with Mahesh Tutorials, but instead of studying, I started working with them in the marketing department, designing their presentations and so on. By the time I finished school, I knew that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to experiment, take risks, and show the world something they hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t the college’s fault entirely, but I just wasn’t getting what I wanted. So I dropped out and went for it myself,” he shares.
He went on to make beautiful art in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Goa. He started working for a company called HybridUV in Goa and an ad firm called 7thEye in Pune, before he decided to strike out on his own. “As is the case with most freelancers, the lure of an agency caught up to me and MagikBox Media came to exist in February 2014, with the help of Sanya Kapoor. I ate when I was hungry; I worked when I was inspired; slept when I was tired and I’m glad for how life worked out. Today, I know that my struggle was my greatest education. Our firm MagikBox has achieved so much in such a short time, and it has got a lot to do with the fact that I learned very early on that you are greater than your opportunity, and the only thing that anyone can promise is their best,” he adds.
Second Thoughts?
“Never. I never really was a good fit for traditional forms of ‘education’. The other kids were always faster than I was. Information printed on textbooks made more sense to them than it did to me. Luckily, I was a commercial art major, which I had been studying unknowingly for years already. When the time came to move on, I just felt relieved and excited at the same time.”
On what he learnt from this experience:
“I learned that a degree should mean more than just a foot in the door. What I had to offer, no college or curriculum wanted and what they had to offer, I didn’t want. What I wasn’t getting from them, I took from the world around me. Opportunities will always be around for those who are willing to put themselves ahead and take risks. I didn’t get here because I have a big name behind me. It’s not even because I have a rich family backing me. I got here because I took ownership of what happened in my life. I could have stayed back in college, gone from pillar to post with my portfolio and degree in hand and maybe a big firm would have hired me. But, I chose to gain an education that no college or establishment could give me. I honed my skills according to my creativity, not according to what I was told is creative. I have been in some very difficult situations in the past eight years, but would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat.”

You can follow Himanshu on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. You can also follow his work with MagikBox on their website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn pages. 

V. Panchami Ghavri | Free-spirited. Inquisitive. Passionate.

25-year-old Panchami Gharvi is a casting director for feature films and advertising. She has been working independently for four years.

“Dropping out of college made me the master of my own world.”

Dropout Diaries:

“I quit college and started working in the film industry. I started off as an assistant casting director on Wake Up Sid for Dharma Productions, and soon after, I went to NYC, where I did a three-month diploma at Lee Strasberg,” she explains. She returned to Mumbai and dived into this world.

“Growing up, while all the other kids were watching Cartoon Network, I spent a large part of my days watching movies with my mum and sister. After I finished with school I attended Jai Hind College for two years (HSC) where I took up Arts. Like most other kids my age, I barely went to college. I began to realise that I needed to do something better with my time. I grew up in a household where my mum raised us to be fiercely independent. Everything I was learning in college felt like such a formality and I didn’t think it was adding anything to my life. By this time I had figured that I wanted to work in the movies. At the start of my second year of BA I decided that I wanted to drop out of college and work on a film as an assistant director. My mum wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of me dropping out. Like any other parent, she thought having a degree was important in order to have a successful career. But she had also never been the kind of parent to force me to do something that I didn’t want to do,” she muses.

She went with her gut, quit college, got herself a job on a movie set, and started working. “I assisted Nandini Shrikent for a year for Wake Up Sid. That was my first casting job, and everything I know about the field I owe to that job. Once I returned to Mumbai after my course in NYC, I started working independently. I now work as a casting director for feature films and advertising, and have four feature films, over 60 ads, and a happy mother to my credit. My most recent work is Kapoor & Sons with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.”

Second Thoughts?

I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it. There are very few jobs in the world you can do without a degree—and that did scare me a little. If I hadn’t made it, I would have been a college dropout, without a job or a degree. I had no backup plan, it was my only plan. But I did it anyway, and it was worth it.

On what she learnt from this experience:

“I think more than anything, it taught me to believe in myself. Everyone should go with their instinct. I went with mine and trusted it more than anything else. And yes, it could have all gone horribly wrong. But you will never know until you try. I was unsure and wondered if it was a good decision, especially with how competitive the film industry is. Every second person I knew either wanted to be a director, a producer, or a writer. But I didn’t worry too much about the competition or how hard it was going to be. I just trusted my decision and worked hard. I really believe diving right into it is the only way to learn. No school or college can teach you how to get back on your feet after failure, but experience can.”

Follow Panchami on Facebook and Twitter

VI. Rahul Mistry | Creative. Adventurous. Experimental.

20-year-old Rahul Mistry is an artist based in Mumbai. He runs an online store where he sells custom hand-painted shoes. He is also an avid traveller who loves capturing his adventures on camera, a trekker and certified skier, and is planning to take up training in mountaineering.

“Dropping out of college made me more confident, outgoing, creative, and adventurous.”

Dropout Diaries:
“After completing my 12th grade, I got involved in various hobbies and activities. The conventional education structure never appealed to me. So, I went for the least intensive course I could find, which led me to pursue BMM from R. D. National College. I continued my activities—playing football under Manchester United Soccer School, painting, doodling and anything else I found interesting. Anything, except studies. It first took me only one semester, to realise that I wanted to quit,” he begins.
“I had a lot of free time and I spent a lot of time watching YouTube tutorials and taught myself to paint, sketch and design. I started going on treks and developed a love for being outdoors and exploring places. That is when I picked up an interest in photography too. I was all over the place doing many exciting things. The decision to not go back to college came to me very easily,” he explains. Around this time, he developed an interest for architecture, which made him take the decision to skip a year and prepare for the entrance exam for B.Arch. This one-year break was his turning point.
“I focused on my primary skill, painting. Somehow, that led me to open an online store. It started with me painting on a pair of plain canvas shoes, uploading an image of them and waiting patiently. Before I knew it, I got my first order from the US. I painted the shoes, shipped them and got a five-star rating. Two years later, I have more than 100 designs that I have painted across 200 shoes and delivered to customers from all over the world. I have made a career out of my hobby and I am enjoying every moment of it since I didn’t have to give up on any of my other activities. I recently started my own travel blog, where I showcase photos from all the places I have explored.”
Second Thoughts?
“None. Since I was a kid I was never interested in studying. I always preferred spending my time playing outside or doing something art-related. My parents are both artists, and since they were familiar with the unconventional paths all creative people have to take, they were always supportive of my decisions. Hence, I never had to think twice to quit college.”
On what he learnt from this experience:
“To be bold, unconventional and to make my own path instead of following the trend. I grasped pro-level skills in painting, photography, and software that have made me industry-ready. I don’t think any college or course would have taught me any of this.”

Follow Rahul and his work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To check out his travel blog, click here. 

VII. Roshni Kumar | Passionate. Quirky. Myself.

23-year-old Roshini Kumar is a freelance fashion photographer based out of Bangalore.

“Dropping out of college made me the individual I am today. I am not famous or popular, but people know me for my photography—and that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t decide to chase my dreams.”

Dropout Diaries:

“I have been passionate towards photography since childhood. I decided to take it up seriously right after I finished my 12th grade. Photography was the only thing I wanted to pursue. So I found a college that had photography as a part of the curriculum. I also started freelancing around the same time. After almost finishing a year I realised I was not learning anything new, and instead I was learning other things I didn’t intend to focus on. I decided that I didn’t want to put my photography aside to learn other things just for a degree. My parents understood my decision and I dropped out immediately. I joined a diploma course on photography and it was the best decision I’ve made,” she shares.

Second Thoughts?

“I was apprehensive at first, but I’ve always believed that a degree doesn’t define anyone. And if you have talent and passion and mix that with hardwork, you can attain anything. I thought it was unnecessary to spend time getting a degree in something I’m not passionate about. When I realised this, dropping out seemed like the best decision to take.”

On what she learnt from this experience:

“Leaving college curriculum helped me get used to the real world. It also helped be gain perspective and experience in a field I’ve been dying to be a part of for years. Nothing can beat that.”

VIII. Sidhant Panda | Passionate. Determined, Optimist.

24-year-old Sidhant Panda is a racing instructor for go-karts, sports cars, and ice driving.

“Dropping out of college made me find the real me. I understood my strengths and weaknesses without worrying about others.”

Dropout Diaries:
“My story starts when I decided to drop class 12 to take time to decide what I want to do with my life. I always knew I wanted to be a racing driver but did not know how I could make that happen. When I began feeling pressured to take up engineering, I decided I would be much better off if I saved both, the money and time and went on to pursue my passion,” he shares.
He went on to work as an apprentice mechanic to learn about cars. He worked there free for three months, before which he went to Kolhapur to race go-karts. “In my first year of karting, I finished third in the rookie championship. Before I knew it I was climbing ranks to race in Asia and then France to race in the French F4 championship,” he adds.
Second Thought?
I never thought i would be a college dropout, but I could not imagine my life without cars. When the time came to decide what I wanted with my life, it didn’t seem like a difficult choice to me.”
On what he learnt from this experience:
“Even difficult times pass easy. You cannot learn about life from books. You do it by actually living it.”

You can follow Sidhant on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

IX. Vinod Sreedhar | Learner. Thinker. Naturaphile.

40-year-old Vinod Sreedhar is a jack-of-all-trades: a traveller, jingle-composer and philanthropist, all rolled into one.

“Dropping out of college made me experience the world in all its different avatars—in its madness and chaos, beauty and ugliness, emotional and physical challenges. It showed me that all aspects of my life are interconnected and that life is not linear. Study, get a well-paid job, get settled, marry, retire and die. It can go however you want it to.”

Dropout Diaries:
“I passed out of school in 1990. I had opted for the science stream, but two years later, I realised that I was far from interested in being a part of this race towards becoming a doctor or an engineer. I was young, so I stuck it out for as long as I could. Apparently, my board exams seemed like the best time for me to give up. I ended up repeating the year, so I decided to do it right. I chose commerce, this time round,” he begins.
He went on to join SIES College of Science, Arts, and Commerce in Mumbai for his graduate degree in commerce. “Our classes used to end at 9:30 am, which meant that I had the whole day to do what I pleased. I turned towards music and began playing the keyboard and composing music. I used to spend hours engrossed in music and I was confident that I had a future as a composer,” he shares.
Exams came around and once again, a feeling of anxiety and boredom settled in him. The fact that he has to write an exam to prove his intelligence annoyed him to no end. Unable to come to terms with this society-accepted screening mechanism, he walked out of college. “It took a lot of courage from my part to talk to my parents about this decision. They were surprisingly supportive, and this alone has continued to be a motivating factor for me,” he muses.The following 20 years of his life has been an exhilarating ride filled with exploration, experimentation, learning, hard work, and learning to push his emotional and physical boundaries. He travelled across the country; worked on farms; composed jingles for the ad industry for 10 years; consulted and worked with several NGOs and even founded two social enterprises of his own.
“Since 2007, I’ve been working mostly on the second social enterprise that I started, called Journeys With Meaning (JwM). Through JwM, we design and offer immersion experiences for people through which we expose them to India’s most inspiring environmental and social solutions. We organise several adventure-filled eco-tours through the year, across regions such as, Ladakh, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Kumaon, Kashmir, Gujarat, and Sri Lanka,” he explains.
In 2015, he opened up another area of environment education, where he placed focus on working with schools, so that they could reach out to children and teach them to love nature and adopt eco-friendly ways of living. “Apart from this, I still consult with non-profit organisations on issues relating to youth development and environmental issues. I am also gradually returning to music,” he adds.
Second Thoughts:
“I’ve never been afraid of walking out of expected social norms and practices. That fear only arises if you make the mistake of believing that there is only one way to live your life. Once you let go of this narrow perception of what your life can be, a million possibilities open up in front of you. The only thing that limits you is your fear.”
On what he learnt from this experience:
“So many things: learn what you love doing and never stop learning; the limits you see around you are largely artificial and you can do whatever that you wish to; that there is more to life that landing a high-paying job, and challenges will keep showing up.”

You can follow Vinod’s work on his website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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