From delivering video tapes to knitting sweaters, Vikas has done it all. Today he is very successful and we want to share with you his story.
Swati: From the golden city of “Amritsar” to the city that never sleeps “New York”, you have come a long way! What have been the highlights of your journey so far?
Vikas: My journey has not been smooth, it has been full of ups and downs and I think this is very normal. I read somewhere, if you have ups and downs it implies life is moving but a straight line implies that your heart stopped beating. So I think, setbacks, failures - they all are a cost of living that we pay for being alive and innovative. I had a pretty comfortable life in Amritsar, I had more than hundred employees working for me; life was good. But I wanted something better so I stepped out of my comfort zone. Honestly, I created the ups and downs in my life and that's what keeps me excited. No one told me what to do, I just followed my heart. I never felt bound by a social norm or let my mind confine my creativity. If I felt like venturing into filmmaking, I did it. Tomorrow, if I feel like doing something even crazier, I'll do it. Worst case is I fail only to start over and leap higher. If you are chef with Michelin star, most people will be content with being just that or you could defy the boundaries and go win an Oscar! So yes, failures are important and even more important is to keep challenging yourself each time you fail.
Swati: You come from a very simple, modest family and growing up you struggled with language – particularly English. Fast track to today, you are a celebrated author of thirtyfour books! How did that transformation happen?
Vikas: I am a very lazy person by default (Vikas chuckles). I think people pushed me too hard. Often we think, the one who's silent is the weakest. The silent one is bullied the most but in reality he is observing, taking it all in. People challenged me which in turn motivated me to challenge myself, I pushed myself to be the best version of a chef. I want to be the best version of myself as well but that is work in progress (Vikas cajoles). Important message is, you have to constantly move forward. To anyone who's reading this, if you are experiencing a low in your life or have suffered a major setback, just remember that at times people and circumstances around you will pin you down but you have to keep fighting and keep striving to be a better version of yourself. If it inspires you, I had a series of a failures back in 2008. I had a cooking school in NY – it closed, a catering company – it closed, a restaurant in Times Square – it closed. And all this happened in matter of few months! That's when I channeled my energy into my book “The Holi Kitchen”. This reinvented me and gave me a new, creative canvas. So remember when one door closes on you, another door opens for you.
I still experience failures. My new projects are risky and unconventional. For instance, my new film “The Last Color” challenges the social norms and is definitely not for the weak hearted. My new cook book is very different from the conventional food cook books and I am working on another project to raise funds for “Smile Foundation”. Frankly, I am glad I have the energy and drive to try new things and keep exploring. I was just talking to Jitin (co- founder of DIAC) that how I was feeling butterflies in stomach ahead of my movie premier and he said something very apt “It's good that you feel these butterflies, it means you still care. The day you stop caring, you won't feel any excitement anymore.”
Swati:Your directional debut movie “The Last Color” is being premiered. How did you manage to rope in one of the most established, veteran actresses like “Neena Gupta” for your debut project? Did you cook for her?
Vikas: No I did not cook for her (laughing out loud). Actually it was Mr Anupam Kher who arranged for us to meet. I narrated her last scene of the movie and that convinced her to be part of the project. Her exact words were, “I know you are not experienced but your honesty and passion are more powerful. I know this is going to be an honest movie”. I am very thankful to Mr Anupam Kher so much that I thank him in the opening of the movie.
Forty years ago, two business students came to US with an American dream and desire to excel. No money, no resources but united in their dream and united in their vision. Together, they conceived the idea of their business venture in the halls of a business school and 40 years later here they are as CEO and director of SB International - a leading supplier and manufacturer of steel pipe and tubing products in US and Canada and their generous gift of $12million made possible the state-of-the-art SB Hall, home of the college of business at the Univercity of Dallas in Irving, Texas. We are talking about our cover story heroes, the then students and now entrepreneurs & life partners - Mr and Mrs Satish Gupta!
We had the pleasure of having a candid conversation with Ms. Yasmin and Mr Satish Gupta and getting to know them up close.
Swati: You guys were neighbors back in India and then decided to pursue MBA in same country, same school and around the same time. Was there some planning and maybe a love story in the backdrop?
Yasmin: Satish is from Sonepat, Haryana and I grew up in Chennai. Satish had come to Chennai to pursue his undergrad and was living on the same street as us. In a street full of girls, he was easily the more popular guy (Satish blushes). I was still in boarding school and very focused on academics; on the contrary Satish came from a business family with little interest herein. It was very unlikely for us to come together but we did and this imbued in Satish interest in academics. Back in our times, families were conservative in accepting inter faith marriages. We knew the only chance we had together would be if we went to United States to pursue higher education. And that's what we did, and rest is history.
Swati: Satish, when you decided to pursue MBA in US, did you have a clear vision of being an entrepreneur or is that something that evolved while doing MBA?
Satish: Traditionally, I come from a steel business family; business is deep rooted in my blood. I was 20 years old when I came to US to do MBA (1979). I would say, at that point, I had some dreams, some ideas but wasn't sure how those would pan out. But yes, within 6-9 months of landing in US, I was already looking for business opportunities. I would say, having an association with business family definitely helped. They had connections which I could leverage but I quickly realized how different the business dynamics and economies are in US when compared to India. So it was definitely a learning curve, but yes to answer your question, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Swati: What deterrents you faced when you initially launched your venture? Any failures you recall?
Satish: Yes, definitely but I wouldn't call them “failures” rather “challenges. We were exporting copper, brass products to other parts of the world and one of our suppliers (whom we had given substantial advance) faced financial difficulties. All our earnings until that point were invested with this supplier and we had no legal document to support the agreement. That was a great learning for us, that in this country handshake agreements are not viable and everything in business must have a legal representation.
Another challenging time was in 2015, 2016 when the oil & gas prices dipped below $30 which impacted several groups within our organization. But from this downturn, we learnt the importance of technology in enabling real time, accurate information which can be compromised or misrepresented if you rely on people around you for its transmission. Until this point, we had not integrated technology that well with our business and this was our biggest learn from this downturn. We made changes, did multiple strategic acquisitions and bounced back with double the speed!
Swati: Yasmin, Satish and you have known each other so long. How have you seen each other change through all these years?
Yasmin: I have seen Satish grow from a sixteen-year-old to who he is today. Yes, he has changed but I would like to say that he is very passionate about what he does and that hasn't changed about him till date. Satish is also passionate about sports and yoga and through all these years he has managed to balance them with his work. No matter how long the day is, end of the day, his office desk will be clear and you will see him heading out for his tennis game or yoga! That's something that has remained the same about him, through the ups and downs in business, through raising our children and through all these years!
Satish: I come from a small town in Haryana where we deal with lot of farmers. Growing up in this environment, my language and attitude sometimes comes across as rugged and rough. On the contrary, Yasmin has a very polite tone of voice and demeanor. So it was quite a change for me to adjust our talking styles but a change in a good way. And something I am still working on!
Swati: What activities do you enjoy doing together as a family with kids?
Yasmin: Our kids growing up were active in Girls Scout and Boys Scouts. This got us active in outdoor activities Satish went for camping with the boy scouts in New Mexico at Philmont, where they were out camping in the wilderness with no technology, no phones for 21 days and food/water supplies hung up in the trees to avoid bears! As a family, we loved hiking, skiing , mountains and nature. When our children were younger and Satish traveled for business, the whole family would tag along so that we could spend quality time together whenever we got a chance. When life gets busy, you need to be creative in finding ways to bring together the family as often as you can.?
Swati: Yasmin, how difficult was it for you to be an entrepreneur and a mother?
Yasmin: Honestly, it's a challenge! As a mother you are always in a dilemma on how to fulfil your role of a mother and at the same time not lose your individuality. For me, life changed after having my second child. Before that, I was working in a bank – I was learning, in large group enviornment, I was flourishing, it was great! However, after the second child it became increasingly difficult to balance my job commitments with my family responsibilities. Watching kids grow with baby sitters was not satisfying, I would be constantly flustered and impatient. That's when Satish and I conceived the idea of setting up a specialized import/export company/family office (Y.A.S. International) which I could operate from home and be around my kids. That was a win-win situation, so yes being a mother and an entrepreneur is challenging but can definitely co-exist.
Swati: Talking about kids, who were they closer to growing up? Who played the bad cop?
Satish: I think I played the bad cop (Yasmin laughs). We are blessed with great kids and now that they are grown up, we try to get together as a family at least once a month. While kids always had an option to join the family business, we let them pursue their passion. The eldest son decided to go into family business. One of our daughters is a Pediatric Physical Therapist and the youngest one totally surprised us by going into HR Management with Google.
Swati: Satish, if you were to start over again, what would you do differently?
Satish: Through our experiences in life and business, we learn and we implement. But sometimes, we are slow in learning and slow in accepting change. We are too stuck in our ways and this impedes our ability to adopt new ways of doing things. Technology for instance has changed every aspect of doing business. In the coming future, Artificial Intelligence will make decisions for us by using historical data and mapping it with current data points. This is new way of doing business and we should be nimble in adopting these changes and integrating them in our lives. So, yes something I would do differently would be to be more flexible and nimble to change.
Swati: Which charity project is closest to your heart?
Yasmin: Satish has a big heart and has always believed in giving back to society. I personally find it very fulfilling to be able to give the under privileged children a platform for education and to be able to see them grow up to be financially independent individuals. I am doing such projects in India wherein I sponsor education of kids right from their childhood to adulthood, and identifying talented kids in the US who would benefit from sponsorship of specialized college education.
We both strongly believe in “social responsibility” and would like to encourage the young generation to take the baton forward, and to think how they can give back to the society and make a difference. We are trying to imbue this concept in our kids as well wherein they figure out a way to give back to the educational institutions that helped them build a strong foundation and hence helped them be what they are today!
Spirituality, health, family and work – these are four pillars of life and need to work together in harmony. When you initially start any venture, the first few years are tumultuous and may call for a compromise with family time or with the things you like to do. But very quickly, you'll need to find a balance and figure out a way to assimilate all these components in your life; this includes getting a good night sleep, exercising and spending quality time with family. If you deviate too far and too long from these fundamentals, you won't be happy in the long run and would pay a price for it very soon. Yasmin and I practice yoga thrice a week and take long walks. This has helped us maintain a healthy life style.
Also, a message to all the budding entrepreneurs is to think BIG and think DIFFERENT and be willing to take risks. Don't follow the rat race and jump into doing what everyone else is doing, instead think out of the box and that's what going to lay the foundation for a successful business and a successful life.
I had the pleasure of having a candid conversation with the comedy kings
Kunal Kamra & Rahul Subramanian who were here in Dallas for a standup
comedy show. Here's their story Dallas, sit back and enjoy!
Swati: How did you enjoy
performing in Dallas?
Rahul, Kunal:We had a great time,
the audience was so responsive and
so full of life. It was almost like
performing in Mumbai with the
exuberant crowds that motivate you
to do better!
Swati: We’ve had so many
comedians come to Dallas this
year – Amit Tandon, Atul Khatri
and they all had an IT background;
clearly there is a strong correlation
between IT and comedy. What are
your thoughts on this?
Rahul: That’s a fair question
because in India most people end
up doing IT. From the same batch of
people, you will see other careers
evolve like pilots, journalism and
comedy. So that explains why most
comedians have an IT background.
Kunal actually is unique in that he’s
not from IT (Kunal chuckles).
Kunal: Yeah, I am a BCOM drop out.
I actually saw that poster where all
fish are going in one direction and
that one fish is going in opposite
direction; I chose to be that fish. But
if I become a PM someday, I’ll fake
my degree, Kunal quips.
Swati: How has life changed for
you guys after being famous in
Kunal: On a personal level, it hasn’t
changed much. To us, our content/
delivery is same just that now we
have more people coming in to
listen to our show and now we are expanding geographically. From
performing in Nagpur, Nasik,
Ahmedabad, we have evolved to
performing internationally and are
glad to be here in Dallas!
Rahul: To add to this, comedy
platform is still very grounded and
connected to the audience. It’s not
like Bollywood where with one
movie you shoot to fame. End of the
day we are normal people who still
travel by Uber and still use discount
Swati: Rahul, on one of your shows
we heard how your breakup
inspired MBA. Is that true?
Rahul: Wow, that’s a tricky one!
Well, I’d say my breakup didn’t
inspire MBA but breakup was the
reason I did MBA, basically to get
away from it. Before the MBA
entrance exam results are
announced, you have to buy the
admission forms for colleges. I
didn’t get admission in any of the
colleges I had bought the forms for.
But there was this one college
giving out forms even after results
came out and that’s the college I
ended up joining and here we are!
So yes, sometimes something good
can come out a little bad in life.
Swati: Tell us about your most
embarrassing moment on stage so
Rahul: For me it was performing at
a standup comedy show where only
fifteen people were present in
audience, none of whom were really
listening. In the middle of the act, these five girls right in the middle
stand up and request me to take a
picture of them. And guess what, I
did! Those five girls were 33% of
my audience so I couldn’t have
disappointed them. So that was
me, taking a picture in middle of
Kunal: During one of my shows, an
elderly uncle eating pasta got so
offended by my comedy that he
got up in the middle of the show
shouting “This is not comedy, this is
anything!”. That was the most
discouraging/ embarrassing remark
I received till date, comparing my
comedy to “chicken tikka” would
have felt a little better (Kunal
So this was our inside scoop from the
comedy kings Kunal Kamra and Rahul
Subramanian. Hope you enjoyed
reading their story. Stay tuned for more!
I was neither born lucky nor born genius, nor born talented. When
I peep behind the shut doors of the past, immense complacency
overwhelms me, marveling at my own resurrection to what I am
today. I was born in a small, obscure town of India. Of the few
memories I can conjure, I recall the wide drains bordering the
narrow brick lanes, the rowdy railway station, the hustle bustle of
a typical Indian grain market, the squealing hawkers and the
jubilant temple bells.
My life was to follow the same suit had my dad not decided to
migrate to Chandigarh (an urban city of India) in pursuit of an
alternative business. The imminent target after that was to get me
into a good school. My mother enrolled me into one of the
leading schools of Chandigarh-Sacred Heart Convent school.
While the school boasted of it's highly polished and multi faceted
students, the admission criteria was grossly formidable. As I raced
through my 2 hour admission exam, my mother's heart raced and
pounded with each passing tick of the clock. I exited the hall in
oblivion of the fact that what I penned inside was not an exam but
my destiny. To everyone's surprise I was taken in the school- the
most coveted and celebrated school of Chandigarh.
Like I said I was 'not born lucky'- 'my mom' made me one
As I staggered into the relatively alien turf, I realized it was rather
an opening of 'Pandora's box of troubles'. Being a convent
school, it was mandated that each student converse in English.
Hailing from a small Indian town, my base language was Hindi.
While the weighty English words poured out of my peer's mouths
glibly I struggled to put together the same hostile words to form
coherent sentences. I would be too shy to raise my hand to
answer a question, fearing the mockery my ugly stutter would result in. Whenever I was asked a question, I stood frozen,
humiliated and drained out of life. Our school conducted
monthly parent teacher meetings to evaluate student's
performance and give necessary feedback to parents. I so
dreaded this demon that resurfaced every month. My palms
would drench in sweat, and fingers wrestle nervously as my
mother fidgeted on her seat uncomfortably, bruised by an
interminable tirade of complaints from my teacher. While other
mothers walked out smug and exhilarated, my mother walked out
low head, her hopes thwarted.
Brimmed with guilt and remorse I finally decided to rather face
my fears. The mirror became my best friend as we spent hours
together talking and rehearsing in English. I would deliberately
broach controversial discussions with my friends to challenge my
English proficiency. I started reading vocabulary books,
newspapers, editorials and rummaged the dictionary for new
words. I would jot them down and review them rhythmically until I
became comfortable with their usage. Gradually, I gained a
command on English and along with that came a better
understanding of my academic subjects and that of the
classroom sessions. I still remember the massive leap I made in
my scores startling the teachers as well as the toppers of my class.
All it took was a focus reinforced by the desire to excel.
Like I said I was not born genius, I found in me one
My initial success in academics triggered success in other
domains as well. My earnest efforts and avid interest helped me
refine my literary and oratory skills.
I participated and excelled in
several events like press conference,
extempore and debates. I even
contributed articles for the famous
'Hindustan Times', an achievement
I cherish till date. In recognition of my
supreme communication skills I was
appointed the 'Marketing committee
head' in college. On similar grounds,
working in Infosys on a cross-cultural,
Indo-Chinese project I was given the
task of mediating any conflicts
arising due to cultural disparities.
My persistence and hard work
helped me not only surmount
my initial obstacles but also
channelize them in the right
direction to unleash the talent
Like I said I was not born talented, I chose to be one
Behind every success, lies a motivation and my motivation was and is,
my mother who exemplifies tremendous strength of character, worth
emulating. Also insults can do to you what laurels can't. The humiliation
I faced at the hands of my teachers and peers ignited in me the desire
to excel in every domain I floundered in. I believe that criticism, if taken
in a positive stride can actually help us transform our weaknesses to
strengths. Success like learning is a cumulative process, one success
laying the foundation of yet another and for me my first success was
the motivation for each success that followed thereafter.