When I first met him a decade ago, he could afford all of it. He had just launched UFO Moviez India Ltd. It promised to change the cinema business by using digital technologies to broadcast films into theatres and do away with prints, as they were called then. This was the breakthrough filmmakers needed to fight piracy. Private equity firms had put all of their might behind him. Journalistic instinct told me he was destined for the big time.
I tracked his career for over a decade and watched in awe as he innovated relentlessly, disrupted incumbents and built a formidable business. Over time, at least to my mind, he started diversifying into unrelated areas. I thought his urge to grow bigger and faster insatiable. The firm he first built has plans to mop up ₹ 750 crore from an initial public offering, pending clearances from the markets regulator.
I must confess to a tinge of jealousy as well when I’d visit his lovely lake facing duplex every Diwali. After all, there was very little that separated us. We were more or less of the same vintage and shared a common economic heritage. Some day, I told myself, I’d have an apartment like his and the money to splurge on a private theatre where both of us had watched many a movie together. I wanted to be him.
The feeling lasted until a few days ago when I visited my psychologist for a routine dump. As he probed me, I eventually had to concede like many mid-career professionals, I am at the crossroads. Did I really want to be like Gaikwad? Or did I want to be somebody else? Like Gourav Jaswal, for instance?
I have watched him as well with unspoken admiration. At the peak of his career in Mumbai, where he headed a media house, he took a call to move out. He could have gone any place he wanted to. But he chose the more serene Goa to bootstrap the now established Synapse.co.
“Because it fits the framework of my life," he said. “I am a workaholic in many phases, routinely (and happily) working for 14 hours a day, so deeply immersed that I often forget to eat. At the same time, almost every indicator would mark me as a family man. I am overjoyed at being married to the same girl I first fell in love with 26 years ago. And every spare hour I can find is spent with her and my two sons. Even the idea of the currently fashionable vacation with friends to me seems an unthinkable intrusion into my time with my family."
Clearly, my psychologist said, this is a man driven by purpose. He described Gaikwad’s instinct as that of a thrill seeker. “Choose purpose over thrill," he advised me as our conversation ended. “You won’t regret it."
Curious to know if Jaswal was indeed purpose-driven as the psychologist described him, I asked him if that is indeed true. His answers were precise.
All of us know our lives have a beginning and an end. What remains uncertain is when the end will come. All we know of life is that it is the sum of experiences that lie between the beginning and the end. So purpose is the ability to create a framework to understand and engage with life’s experiences—a scaffold, if you will, that helps us resolve the infinitely unpredictable problems it throws at us. What does it mean to be without purpose? It is akin to not having an integrated vision for ourselves. Then we are either sleepwalking through life or careening through it at breakneck speed. It is when we do not have a deep connection to most things we profess to care about; when our interests are imitative and our passions are shallow; when alignment is missing. We think of something and do something entirely different.
To find purpose we need many things—time, health, a positive emotional environment, and an economic cocoon. Sometimes all we need is a trigger: The death of a parent or spouse, a major failure in business, for instance.
But what we most need is the habit of reflection. Most of us though seem unwilling to reflect. We refuse to go through the process because it lays bare all our weaknesses. It is never welcome.
So how do we find purpose? On the face of it, life may seem too complex to predict. And because it is so complex, our ability to find purpose may sound futile. Why bother with it then? Why introspect and make life more complex?
But purposes are like force vectors. Our life moves in a certain direction depending upon the aggregate vector, which is the outcome of thousands of our individual actions. If we choose life, then why not apply purpose to the choices that follow?
Even as Jaswal was telling me why purpose matters, my phone rang. It was Rajvardhan Sinha, additional commissioner of police at the economic offences wing (EOW) in Mumbai. Finally, he was returning a call I had placed earlier in the day with some questions around the exact nature of business Gaikwad and his associates are involved in. There were murmurs doing the rounds that it was under a cloud. Sinha told me that while the nature of breaches is under investigation, a first information report (FIR) has been filed against Gaikwad and the senior team at UFO Moviez for criminal misappropriation of funds.
Arun Ohri of AdFactors PR firm, whose services UFO had engaged to manage their public affairs said, “Officials from the EOW met him. But it was part of routine and all allegations are baseless and unfounded."
I hope to God the allegations are indeed baseless because Gaikwad always came across as a decent man with one flaw pretty much everybody seems to possess, an overriding obsession with money.
That compelled me to ask Jaswal where money fit into his scheme of things. “Money can take us places, as long as we remember who should be driving it. I try not to forget that money was designed as an instrument to serve us," he said. “We were not designed as an instrument to serve money. Also adhering to what Jonathan Swift said, I try to keep it in my head, but not in my heart."
Charles Assisi is co-founder and director at Founding Fuel Publishing, a media and learning platform for entrepreneurs that will go live soon. He tweets on @c_assisi.