Meet my friend Sharran Srivatsaa, a self-made millionaire who was born middle-class in India, with an almost one-in-a-billion chance of success, he needed to get a chance to go to America and live the American dream. His father bought what we’re going to call a lottery ticket. You’re going to hear about his story with this lottery ticket and how it actually paid off and got him out of India and into America.
Tell us about your parents, what they had to do to survive but then also the lessons that you learned from your parents as entrepreneurs.
I was born into a very average situation. I think almost everything in my life in India was average, apart from having just extraordinary parents.
In India, there is a 4-caste system:
- The priests
- The warriors
- The merchants
- Then everyone else: the lower caste.
What happened over time is that to make equality happen in India, they flipped it. They wanted to give people that were oppressed in the lower caste, more benefit.
When did they flip it?
They flipped it probably in the last 50 hundred years. I was born into the original highest caste. In the olden days, we got the benefit of everything, but not today. I’ll go into that story. But the reason
I love my parents and they are extraordinary parents. They couldn’t afford to have another child. They realized that the only way to make it work was to create an entrepreneurial life for themselves where they can control their destiny and give me a platform for success.
What rules did your parents have in the business?
My dad did everything outward-facing. My mom did everything inward-facing. Think of my dad as the CEO and my mom as the COO. My dad was the hustle and grind. My mom was the systems and scale. They had it together, right from the beginning, which is pretty amazing for an entrepreneurial team.
When were you able to leave India?
My parents realized pretty quickly that I had all the raw material, but I was probably born in the wrong environment.
What I mean by that is, in India, because of so many people there, the educational system and society are built straight up on academic success. You were either brilliant or you were stupid. There was no in-between. I was just an average student. Being average in India never got you anywhere.
Tennis lessons were the only things that my parents could afford. My dad said, “This is your ticket to greatness. This is your ticket to a better life.” He said, “You don’t have to become a pro tennis player. You just have to get out of the country.” Which means a college scholarship.
The result was just being good enough to get the passport out; being good enough to get the exit out. That’s what drove me every single day. My dad would wake up. He said, “Hey, you have to train for this”. I was an 11-year old kid waking up at five in the morning to go train with the only result of getting out of the country.
You would train for hours, go to school, then go back and train for hours?
Yeah, exactly right. We would do two hours in the morning. I would go to school. Then I would do 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at night, come back home, eat 10 eggs, do whatever homework and rinse and repeat because the goal was very simple.
Use this as a passport to get good enough to get out of the country, just a singularity of focus in doing that.
Do you ever use that in gratitude or when you need a kick in the butt to like say, “Hey, listen, you could be one of the one billion workers in India right now. Sharran, get your head together.” sort of thing?
Yeah, the one thing I miss is my parents still live in India. I miss being with them; miss having a close proximity to them. But technology has changed all of that. I get to see them every single day on Skype or FaceTime or whatever.
They’re still a significant part of my life. But I’m very grateful for finding the path out of that environment and being here.
So you got the scholarship. But you were also injured, how did all that work?
I played on the pro tennis tour for 18 months, when I was 16 years old. I was high 900s in the world, which is nothing fancy at all. You make nothing when you’re high 900s in the world … Except for a ticket out of India.
Then I got hurt. I had a shoulder injury. It was, “Hey, do I take another year off to heal and continue playing, to see if I can make the big leagues, or do I go to college?” But I knew very quickly that I wasn’t good enough. I got beaten by 14-year-old Chilean kids upside down. I was good enough to get out of India. But I wasn’t good enough to be top 100 in the world.
There was a lot of humility there to understand that. It embodies what it means to lose over and over for 18 months when you go through that professional experience.
I connected with a coach when I was on the tour and he said, “Hey, you can’t play Division 1 tennis but you can play Division 3 tennis where you don’t get academic scholarships.” I looked at these Division 3 schools, and Luther College, which is a powerhouse tennis school in Division 3, in middle-of-nowhere Iowa, was a candidate, which I got introduced to.
You have a son, when do you think you’ll tell him the full story that you shared there?
I don’t know when. But he’s a really astute kid. What I’ve learned as a parent is that I never realized how much our children model us. I had no idea. My son is six and my daughter is two.
We want to create a platform of possibilities. That’s our filter, if you will. “Can Neil take a soccer lesson? Does it create a platform of possibilities for him?” “Yes. Don’t even ask me. Do it.” Or if I say, “Hey, we need to take him on a trip and that creates this experience. Does it create a platform of possibilities for him?” “Yes. We should do it.”
I don’t know how I would tell him the story, especially the dumpster story. I would cry if I told him that. But I hope one day when we have a father-son trip somewhere, I could probably share that.
Let’s circle back to Iowa. How long were you there? What was the culture shock like? Where did you move to next?
I was just so grateful to be there because it was outside the negative environment that I was in India. I was there four years. I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Math. I spoke English but not to the point where anyone understood me because I had a very thick Indian accent.
I made some phenomenal friendships and relationships there. I enjoyed my time very much. I almost needed that as a transition. I was in a bubble. You’re in the middle of Iowa, in the middle of cornfields, trying to figure out what life is. It was a really great introduction to what life has become.
How did you get rid of your accent?
A bunch of boys and girls were out at a party somewhere. They were like, “Hey Sharran, tell us a joke.” I told three jokes. They were hilarious. I was laughing at my own jokes but no one understood me. No one understood the punch line. No one understood my accent. They all pretended like they laughed. They cared for me as friends.
I started to realize that the joy that I have, and the energy that I can bring, and the relationships that I have are dramatically minimized by my inability to communicate in a way that people understand.
I went to the library the next day and I started listening to tapes on how to speak English.
Tell us about your experience in the South after college.
Well it was during the boom in the technology world. We had a chance to build and grow a technology company in the Bay Area.
It was during the boom. Everyone is selling companies for big amounts of money. We sold. I was part of this business that sold in 2001. I got a chance to take five years off after that.
Those five years were the most inspiring, creative and transforming, five years of my life, and I’ll tell you why. We sold our business. I didn’t know what to do. I said, “I got to do something to experience the world because I didn’t want to be in a cubicle.” I got this job as a tennis teaching pro in different resorts around the world.
Then you decide to go back to school. Is that correct?
The best advice I got from a mentor was, “The MBA program is probably the best path because you can say, “You’re switching careers. You’re reinventing yourself.” I got my MBA at Vanderbilt, down in Nashville.
The goal was very simple; to go to another very good training program to learn sales skills because I’ve never had learned sales skills before that. My goal was to go to an MBA program so that I could go get a high-end sales and relationship management role. The best one that I found was this job at Goldman Sachs; very hard to get into.
After six months, you take that million-dollar education from Goldman and did you leave? What did you do for them then?
I stayed for 4-1/2, five years. Then my entire team went from Goldman to Credit Suisse. We were there for another two years; so about five years. Then what happened was my mentor from my first business had invested in this real estate company called Teles out in California.
He was my client at Goldman. He said to me, “Hey, I’ve invested in this company. Can you just check it out? They’re struggling a little bit. They could use some advice from a corporate perspective.” I said, “Sure. You’re my client. I’d do anything for your investments.”
When I went and checked it out in California, I said, “Wow! There’s a significant opportunity here. Here are the 10 things that these principals should do, and they can drive this company.”
For those 10 principals, the 10x growth of a company or are these just 10 principals?
Just to get the company up and running from where it was. It was a start-up at that time. They implemented a few of the strategies that I presented. They started to see results. Then my now partner then mentor said, “Hey, would you come and run this business? I said, “Well it’s a chance to come back home to California; a chance to be an entrepreneur again; a chance to do something with a company that I believe in. But that would mean that I need to have full control.”
Where were you living at that time back in?
I was first in New York. Then I was living in Atlanta. I moved to California to take over and grow this business called Teles.
I didn’t move by myself, I met my wife in MBA school on the first day of classes. I went and sat down right by her. I tried to make conversation. It took me three months to get her to go out to dinner.
What else is her impact in your life?
How has your relationship with money evolved over time?
What are your reflections on this period as you look back?
These three reflections are my personal reflections.
The first one is: that 10x growth or exponential growth can be a magnifying glass. What I mean by that is you can’t hide your weaknesses in any way because of it dramatically.
The second one is: just because your business is growing 10x doesn’t mean the other areas of your life can be the same.
The third one is: knowing that now 2x growth is not exciting enough; now the 10x, 10% growth is not exciting enough. I think that it allows you to have a filter of saying, “Wow! There’s so much more possible.”
Have you ever been steered wrong by any of the influences in your life?
I have not been steered wrong. However, what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to make a different decision than what they would have suggested because, at the end of the day, it’s my life. It’s your life. If I didn’t have a good-enough relationship with a mentor where the mentor knew me that I would take the advice and sometimes I may veer away from it, and I might do something else, then it’s not a good-enough relationship.
Imagine you were a mentoring younger Sharran, what advice would you give?
I never believed in coaching and mentoring. I never had a mentor until I met Peter who’s my partner and mentor today. I never had a good mentor. I never believed in writing a check and buying speed to create a result. I had no idea what that meant. My coaches were tennis coaches. That’s all I knew.
If I could go back 20 years, man, I would go find the best of the best. I would go find an accent coach. I would go find a speaking coach. I would find people that could help me get down the path much faster.
What are your eyes seeing for Sharran for the next 30, 40, 50 years? Where do we go from here?
I have this thing called the 5 AM Club. The 5 AM Club is a call that we run for five minutes every morning; every week; every morning. When I was really sick, I realized that I need an anchor in my day. I just needed one non-negotiable time in my day.
How can people be on that call?
Yeah. It’s 5AMClub.net. Everything that I’m working on as a personal deliverable, delivery mechanism to the world is on Sharran.com. I’m looking forward to creating some group’s transformation for a lot of people through that site. That’s going to be the delivery vehicle going forward.
Wow! What an epic interview! Sharran’s story of turning the immigrant edge into an American dream is going to give you life lessons that will last forever. Sharran and I would love to hear what you think about today’s show and how you plan to overcome the obstacles in your way.