Entrepreneurship Lessons Learned @ GCT

My article which got published in GCT Alumni –  2017 Annual Edition

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I started DCKAP (bootstrapped)  in 2005 post my Master’s in Computer Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. The seeds of entrepreneurship and leadership were sown during my undergraduate years in GCT, Coimbatore (EEE-2001 Batch). GCT was a great playground for me to test, explore and experiment my leadership, organizational, and sales skills. Like each one of you, I had some great and memorable time during my days at GCT.

I grew up in Chennai, did my schooling in Don Bosco, Egmore. My shift to Coimbatore for college was a pleasant experience with  great weather and people. It was also different as we had folks from across the state and the North East of India all in a hostel. WhatsApp and Facebook was non-existent and no cell phones. We got to spend a lot of quality time hanging out with friends.

One of my big learnings was to work hard, try the impossible and make it happen. If you are working hard towards something, then plan strategically. When it works, you feel a great sense of pride. One such incident occurred to me during my pre-final year when we were organizing the farewell function to our immediate seniors (2000 batch).

As the department secretary, I took the responsibility of making the farewell a memorable one. Prior to the year 2001, all the farewell events happened inside the college campus. During our time, management asked us to conduct farewell for seniors outside the campus for various reasons. This was a huge bummer for us financially.

We were 7 departments in total and as you might imagine, everyone naturally had their own agenda. Corresponding department secretaries started to collect fees from the pre-final year and second-year students for the venue and other expenses. They were collecting Rs. 250-300. from each student. I did not feel good about it. Rs.300 may sound small today, however 16 years ago it was hefty and I didn’t want to burden our students.

While toiling around various solutions to reduce the event fee, I came up with an idea to get sponsorships for the farewell event. No one had tried to get sponsorships for farewells. I didn’t want to sound crazy to my friends with my idea, so I kept it undisclosed. I wanted to share with them only when I had something concrete to showcase.

During that time, I got an opportunity to meet up with a computer institute founder through our college senior. In our conversation, he briefed me about their new computer coaching center and he requested me to help them in their promotional activity to reach college students.

The timing could not have been better. I pitched my idea of sponsoring our farewell function which would be a good way to reach their target audience. After a deep thought he said “yes, we will sponsor your event.” That was a good first step, although, the real test came once we started to discuss financials.

When he asked how much it would cost to sponsor the event, I said Rs. 10,000 (Rupees Ten Thousand). Although, I knew the team would be happy for  even Rs. 1000!   He thought for a minute and asked if he could pay Rs. 5000. His name was Prabhu, a real nice gentleman. I was pleasantly surprised that he wanted to offer Rs. 5000 for our event. Now, I also realize it was a way to encourage a youngster like me then. I was happy with the outcome and it was a big win. The very next day, he paid us the money. This incident acted as a real motivational push for us. This made me think that if one computer center is interested in sponsoring our event, other similar business will also be interested.

So I reached out to another nearby computer center called “Bi-Tech.” Since I already knew the Bi-Tech manager (he had reached out to me earlier, met me on campus to promote his institute to students), pitching to him came a little more naturally for me. Bi-Tech  liked our idea and were ready to sponsor the event especially since there was another center sponsoring. Bi-Tech favored sponsoring photography and videography for the event, as opposed to simply making cash donations. In return, they wanted to have a couple of banners displayed throughout the event, to highlight their brand among our up-and-coming class. The cost of the same was around Rs.3000. We readily agreed. I had met him with a friend of mine (Gautam) where we took a break from regular class hours. This was another sweet deal. Thinking of it reminds me to stay flexible, and the power of momentum.

Next, I reached out to an Internet Café owner and he was ready to give us 30 gift cards with 1 hour free internet service. We happily took that deal. Even 1 hour internet service was anywhere from Rs. 30-60, in those days. We distributed these cards to our seniors during the farewell event.

While having a drink in R.S. Puram, I happened to see a gift shop. I went up to the gift shop owner and explained about our department function and asked if they would be interested in sponsoring our event. Similar to other businesses they were also ready to take part by providing 10 gifts but with one condition. He will only provide gift coupons to students who visit their shop. Without any hesitation, we just grabbed that deal.

Partly because of all these various sponsorships, we were able to subsidize the student fee and make the event a grand success. We were on cloud nine – since we were the only department to experiment with using sponsorship in this way..  It was a proud moment for me and my team. The event was held in Hotel Sugam in R.S. Puram. The other six departments collected anywhere between Rs. 250-Rs.300 per person. We were the only ones to offer subsidized pricing, at (Rs. 150).

Personally, it was a huge learning curve for me on sales and leadership front.  Even now I cherish those moments and wonder how we pulled off such a stunner. These life lessons are priceless.

GCT is a great playground where you can explore your entrepreneurship, technical and organizational skills, or, whatever you are good at. You can try a lot of things, fail and learn. Wishing each student on the campus a great time with loads of growth and fun.

Always, a GCT loving student

Karthik Chidambaram (EEE, 2001 Batch)

Founder & CEO – DCKAP  (www.dckap.com)

 

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