Wax wings and entrepreneurial dreams
On September 22, 2022, I was sitting in a cafe after dropping my daughter to play-school, facing a cross-roads in life. A day before, I had applied for GST registration for Talini, a fashion brand I was planning to start with my wife. It was originally meant to be a side hustle for me, but I was miserable at my job and began to wonder if we could scale up Talini quickly so I could quit. It wasn't a very practical plan, but I had to do something, but I had no clue what.
I had received an ADHD diagnosis 3 months earlier, which had rewritten the story of my whole life. I was still grappling with what it meant, but understood one thing - boredom kills if you're wired like me. As I sat there with my coffee, the name Icarus came to mind out of nowhere. I knew the broad contours of the story, but didn't remember the details. I looked it up, and wrote the following in my journal:
"Icarus and Daedalus attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that Daedalus constructed from feathers and wax. Daedalus warns Icarus first of complacency and then of hubris, instructing him to fly neither too low nor too high, lest the sea's dampness clog his wings or the sun's heat melt them. Icarus ignores Daedalus’s instructions not to fly too close to the sun, causing the wax in his wings to melt. He falls out of the sky, plunges into the sea, and drowns. The myth gave rise to the idiom ‘don't fly too close to the sun’.“
Everyone loves this story, but I have my doubts about it now. A father who wants his son to neither fly too low nor too high? Warns him not to stray but to follow his path to the light? Daedalus seems to represent the chains of establishment, the death of ambition. What if it was all a lie? What if the melted wax and burnt feathers were just after-burn, like rocket stages that are left behind when the true vessel breaks free?
What if the story of Icarus is just one told by people on the ground, who never dared to fly but looked at the debris and told themselves it proved they were right to stay on the ground? Maybe the sky is full of Icarus and his predecessors; maybe they tell different stories there.
A seed was planted in my mind, and a month later, I was in another cafe, trying to write when I overheard someone at the next table talk about getting diagnosed with ADHD, and his plans to build a startup around it.
I worked up the courage and butted into their conversation to say hello. Over the next few weeks, we started meeting regularly and made plans to start a company that would help people get diagnosed and get support. The plan was that I would work on it on the side, and quit my job once we are ready to pitch the idea to VCs and get funding. It never worked out that way. Meanwhile we launched Talini at an apartment flea market, and got just one sale.
None of it was enough to leave my job, but I made a folder on my computer called the 'Icarus Project', and started assembling my wax wings bit by bit.
I tried to line up freelance gigs that would give me financial security, but the more I spoke to freelancers, the more I realised it didn't work the way I thought it did. They all had stories about finding great gigs unexpectedly after they quit, but not before. Courage, I concluded, was the price of admission to this world.
I kept trying to find that courage, but found only anxiety. I had a wife, a child, a home loan, and was about to get into one more. Every financial decision had been made on the basis of my rapid career growth over a decade, and the belief that it would continue uninterrupted. I had not anticipated how miserable I would become in that career path, although my ADHD diagnosis helped me understand why.
One day, I had a dream that helped. In it, I was riding a metro train, and was freaking out because I knew the bridge we were heading towards had collapsed. But I seemed to be the only one to notice, and no one else would look up. They told me to calm myself and sit down. 'This is the same train we ride everyday', they said, 'we'll be in it tomorrow too". Unconvinced, I scrambled to get off the train and jump on to another one, but someone started telling me to wait, because there's a better train and a safer crossing coming up. My panic grew till I jumped without waiting further, because it was stupid to wait on a train that was headed for the abyss.
There were other 'omens', although I don't believe in them. I used to park my car in a specific spot and walk to the cafe after dropping my daughter, and one of those days, I just went inside the gate, then another gate and found myself in a beautiful park. I was parking right outside it for 2 months, but had never realised it was a park. Sitting there on a bench, watching the sunlight stream through a canopy of leaves, I saw the blinders I had put on myself, and thought of all the beautiful things I might have found if I had stepped off the beaten path for 5 minutes.
I found my courage, piece by piece, inch by inch, writing stuff down, thinking of earlier days when I had a chip on my shoulder and nothing to lose. I wasn't the same guy anymore, but I wanted to be. I had long believed that courage is a choice you have to keep making, and never gets easier. That might be true, but I realised that it did get harder when you were out of practice.
In the end, I made that choice. I sent my resignation a day after I went to Goa and signed my second home loan. I sat there in the bank's office, looking through pages and pages of legalese explaining exactly how they would ruin me and take everything back if I didn't pay up. I signed it, and sent the email the next day.
I slept well the day I pulled the plug, but there were several nights before that when I woke up in a panic at 3 AM, went back to sleep after promising myself I'll give up the whole idea, woke up and found courage again.
After 10 years in market research and wanting to widen my horizons, I managed to add writer, marketer, brand strategist to my bio. I ghostwrote opinion pieces for CEOs and even an ex-speechwriter to a major world leader in big newspapers, worked as a marketing consultant for a couple of SaaS companies, as a communications strategist for a major non-profit, and did copywriting for a jewellery brand. I got articles published with my byline in a popular branding and design magazine, and ended up joining Everything.Design, a branding & design agency to start and head a semi-independent division called Everything Strategy. I spend my days doing things I love, writing, thinking and working with other creative folks, who respect my boring research background.
My first entrepreneurial venture Talini is still in early stages, but we now have a website and online store (check it here), some repeat customers, and even got scammed for the first time, which I hear is a milestone in this line of work.
Did I reach where I wanted to? Honestly, I don't think I ever had a destination in mind. Just before I quit, a friend told me a story about camels in the Rajasthan desert getting so used to being tied up, that they wouldn't run away even if the rope wasn't there anymore. I'm not that camel anymore.
Today is Day 365 of the Icarus Project.
I didn't strike it rich, or become very famous, but I have survived. My wax wings have been singed, and taken me dangerously close to the ocean a few times, but they haven't melted.
As year 2 starts tomorrow, I have absolutely no idea what's coming or where I'll end up.
That, I think was the whole point.
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