The Beginning Prologue
When I was sixteen years old I started a company in my bedroom, and within a few months I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I would become an entrepreneur. There was one thing standing in my way, however: school. If I was going to pursue my goal, I would have to do it full time, and I needed my father’s permission to drop out. This wasn’t going to be easy. More than a decade earlier, my family had come to America from India, settling in a one-bedroom apartment in a marginal section of San Jose, California. My father had arrived with $25 in his pocket, but his heart was full of dreams.
“Education, education, education!” he would say, repeating it as if it were a mantra.
“Education is the key that opens all the locks to all the doors in the world. My four children will become doctors and engineers. Maybe even both!”
In time, I realized I couldn’t bear another day of school, and I was ready to take the biggest risk of my life. It was the defining moment that every entrepreneur eventually has to have in one form or another. I had to have the Talk with my father. I was terrified about approaching him. He was a man who valued education above almost everything else. How could I tell him I wanted to drop out of high school? Then again, to pursue my dreams, how could I not?
Finally, one night after dinner, I braced myself and plunged in. “Dad, there’s something we need to talk about,” I said. I had a hard time meeting his eyes, so I focused on his turban.
“What?” he snapped.
“You know that stuff I’ve been doing in my room?”
“No,” he said. “Not really.”
“Well, it’s turning out pretty well.”
“As long as it’s not interfering with school,” he said. Man, was I in trouble. But I felt compelled to press on.
“Take a look at this,” I said.
Hesitantly I showed him my bank statement—the balance had edged north of $100,000. My father’s hand flew to his chest, like a man on the verge of a heart attack. “W-what is this? W-where did you get all this money?” He turned toward the kitchen and hollered for my mother. “Gurbaksh is going to jail!”
My mother came running from the kitchen, eyes wide with alarm. “What did you say? To jail? Who is going to jail?”
“No one is going to jail!” I said.
When they were somewhat calmer, I proceeded to explain how I’d spent the past six months studying the dot-com market, watching young companies grow very rich, very quickly, and trying to figure out how they did it. One of them, DoubleClick, had piqued my interest, primarily because it was among the first companies to put advertising on the World Wide Web. People were spending more and more time on the Internet and less time reading newspapers and magazines or parked in front of their television sets, and traditional advertising was rapidly losing ground. The Web was fast becoming the next big sales tool.
But my parents weren’t really listening. “I had hoped you would become a doctor,” my father said, looking at me balefully.
“Dad, this is better. I promise.”
Two days later, he agreed to drive me to school to talk to the principal, and I was so grateful that I was near tears, but we Chahals are not emotional men, so I simply thanked him for believing in me.
“I believe in you because I can see you believe in yourself,” he said. “And obviously you’re doing something right.”
“I won’t let you down,” I said.
“You better not,” he said. “Because I’m giving you exactly one year to prove yourself.”
“Yes. One year. If this Internet business doesn’t work out, you’re going right back to school.”
When we reached the campus, we parked and I led my father to the principal’s office. He got to the point without wasting any time. “My son is dropping out,” he said.
“He has never liked school. He is going to do bigger things.”
By midsummer, after barely six months in business, I was posting revenues of $300,000 per month. And two years later, shortly after my eighteenth birthday—in what turned out to be one of the very first things I did as an adult—I sold my company for $40 million.
That was only the beginning.