How Dreams Come True – Path to Podium Finish
India is at an inflection point; a nation with limitless potential and promise, and a juggernaut on the move carrying a billion people and their aspirations with it. These aspirations are as diverse as the people of India. Technology and a new sense of confidence gained in the post-liberalization era are leading to bolder visions and aspirations across governance, business, arts, sports and beyond. At the Kstart summit, A Billion Aspirations: Ideas Transforming India, we took stock of this ongoing transformation by inviting thought leaders from different walks of life to speak and inspire about how dreams come true.
Chak De! India, Mary Kom, Bhag Milkha Bhag, M.S. Dhoni and the recent Dangal, illustrated vividly how sports as a discipline has time and again brought people together and had the power to inspire youth to aim for larger-than-life goals. On a platform that celebrates the aspirations of a superpower in the making, it is imperative that we share learnings from different domains. At Kalaari we know the tough road entrepreneurs need to walk to realize their dreams. We were so pleased when Pullela Gopichand agreed to share his journey and key learnings on how dreams come true on our platform. Because his story is as relevant to tech entrepreneurs as it is to badminton aspirants.
How Dreams Come True
I’m a Work in Progress
Gopi has a certain gravitas to him. He embodies the spirit of quiet leadership which is rare and I find it deeply inspiring. The mild-mannered Gopi is soft-spoken and has a demeanour of a college professor. His humility only accentuates his other desirable qualities such as his unwavering drive and unstinting grit. When he speaks, I notice people sitting on the edge to catch his every word. He speaks quietly, even monotonically, without the cadence we normally expect from type-A people. This is his signature and this makes his words all the more powerful.
“I am somebody who is a work in progress.”
said Gopichand reflecting his desire to learn continuously and keep pushing himself to see if he could do things better each and every day.
He was drawn to Cricket, in the wake of India’s 1983 world cup victory, which is when he met with his first setback. He couldn’t pursue professional Cricket as he had dreamt. With a classic entrepreneurial move, he pivoted to Badminton, but not before considering Tennis briefly. His parents feared “Tennis was a rich man’s sport”. When he ended up at a Badminton court in Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad, there were not many takers lining up to pursue the sport.
Doubt is the true test of Conviction
When the coach doubted his resolve and asked him “Are you sure you want to play?” he dug his heels in and pursued the sport. In fact, it is not uncommon for an entrepreneur to be questioned or even doubted. Whether she pursues her idea in the face of stiff resistance is truly a test of her own conviction.
Competitive sports require significant dedication. Winning is a function of training harder and better than immediate competitors. Gopi, speaking of his competitors, said
“if I worked as much as them I would not be able to beat them”
Working harder sets the winners apart from the also-rans and Gopi’s journey goes a long way to reinforce that principle. He said
“I needed to push myself harder than my opposition.”
and continued to do so at every level. The same principle applies to entrepreneurs as well. Once he won the regional levels, he realised he had to re-dedicate himself to a new level of hard work for the state level, then the nationals and then again for the internationals.
It is good to heed this simple insight as to how dreams come true, as it is no different for an entrepreneur. At each level of success, she needs to reach within and reinvent her role as a visionary and a leader. In a free market economy, businesses compete on a global level and the only way they can stay ahead is by constantly pushing the envelope.
Mein Jeet ke Dikhaunga
Gopichand’s zeal to achieve his goal was bolstered by his “positivity”: the one other trait besides hard work, he advises as important to separate winners from the rest. In 1991, at his first international event, he along with the rest of his team suffered a demoralizing defeat at the hands of well-trained and well-equipped Chinese and Indonesian athletes. While his teammates painted a grim picture of Indian Badminton’s future, a young Gopichand declared
“Mein jeet ke dikhaunga!”
He said he continued to keep that spirit until the end of his career. This incident illustrates perfectly, whether in sports or in business, how dreams come true is directly proportional to how it is you stay positive and never lose heart. Had Gopi succumbed to cynicism he would have never scaled the heights he did.
Gopi talked about how important it is to visualize success. He imagined himself to be an Olympic medallist. Even before qualifying for the Olympics, he visualized himself being awarded a medal and listening to the national anthem. The preparation he insists is important in the pursuit of a goal. A vivid and clear goal — Olympic Medal. That goal allowed him to push harder and propelled him on the court.
When Knocked Down…
Gopi, talking about his devastating Olympic loss in 2000, said
“Biggest of victories come after darkest of moments and after the toughest moments come the sweetest ones.”
Losing the Olympics was never part of the story he envisioned for himself. He had to pick himself up and put the pieces together. It was not easy but he recollected his coach saying “It’s not how hard or how many times you fall, but it’s how quickly you get back up”.
Whether it is a debilitating defeat at the Olympics or the numerous surgeries he endured, whenever knocked down he made it a point to get back up again and refocus. This led him to win the All England Open Badminton Championships in 2001, completing the circle of everything he visualized. With his characteristic humility, he offered one more nugget of his learning
“Success doesn’t come when you want it… but when you deserve it.”
Pay It Forward
Gopi was not content with the personal successes he achieved in his career. He realized how far he had come with his only assets: hard work and positivity. He didn’t have nutritionists, expensive coaches, best of equipment, or physiotherapists, all of the advantages a world-class team feels entitled to.
Gopi saw the untapped potential in young India and resolved that they should not be constrained by the lack of facilities or access to world-class coaching. He put his mind to helping kids realize their potential and broke the ground at Gopichand Badminton Academy.
Despite support from the then Chief Minister of AP, Chandrababu Naidu, Gopi was in dire need of more funds to finish his half-built academy. He faced innumerable hurdles, rejections, and even insults during the process. He finally decided to risk it all by mortgaging his house; thanks in large part to his family who stood behind him supporting tremendous sacrifices. Speaking about the risks we need to take and the decisions those risks enable us to make the implored to
“Be in that uncomfortable zone… risk everything to go out there”
Under his tutelage, India got some of its most celebrated sportspeople most notably P. V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. This happened only because Gopi believed firmly in paying it forward. And in doing so, he paved the way to make Badminton relevant to a billion people.
For India’s billions to realize each of their aspirations we need more leaders like Gopi from all walks of life. His story is powerful and inspirational. The lessons we could glean from his story have universal appeal. It highlights the need for leaders, in all spheres, to be well-rounded and give back to the society they live in.
At Kstart and Kalaari, we are committed to giving back to India’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and fostering more collaboration amongst all stakeholders. Enabling entrepreneurs to realize how dreams come true and their aspirations, thus realising India’s aspirations is a worthy goal.
Kstart’s #BillionAspirations Summit is one such attempt to share learning with the startup ecosystem. Other topics at the summit included Leapfrogging to Cashless Economy, and Blazing a Trail for the Next Generation.
Note — Kalaari or Kstart is not an investor in the above-mentioned startups.
Disclaimer: It is strictly an independent opinion of the writer, not representative of Kstart or Kalaari.