At a VC Circle Start-up meet in Gurgaon last week, interesting stories were un-folding all around me. Still-in-college kids were busy shaking hands with anyone with a badge which said "Investor" or "Media". Every young person there was launching an app which was solving a problem. Since everyone has read enough on the net to know that you can't get a cheque anymore by citing a wow market size, solving the problem has become the buzz word.
All those who resembled 40+ years of age were the lawyers, consultants and investors at this conference. All those who looked not a day over 30 had already launched a start-up or were on the verge of doing so. The very impressive Ritesh Agarwal of Oyo Rooms, himself all of 21, spoke of the average age of his 1200 employees - it is 25. The new-age digital party that I got a glimpse of in that one day had very little room for oldies.
No wonder the high-achieving 40-somethings are an angsty bunch today. There's a sense of disquiet amongst those who've not yet jumped from Brick-and-Mortar to the high-voltage world of digital and e-commerce. Such unrest was missing even a year ago. In fact, they were still an envied species who had sailed through premier institutes in the newly-liberalized India of the 90s, taking over dream jobs.
Over the last 20 years, the lives they built were fairy tale material, admittedly with a lot of hard work. They climbed the corporate ladder with average salaries touching 1-crore plus. Their families expanded to include one or two inevitably high-achieving children top-ranked schools. Holidays, weekend get-togethers, milestones birthdays were lavish celebrations, and mailing addresses got plusher every five years as they upgraded homes.
Now though, this cushy world has suddenly turned upside down. Many of the traditional businesses the 40+ are employed in are struggling to grow. Brick-and-Mortar (could anything sound fuddier-duddier?) organizations are busy trimming, coping with their own question mark - what next? The once fast-track careers of many in senior management positions are coming to a full stop. Meanwhile, the world's money is moving to the pockets of 25-year-olds with sexy ideas.
To a bystander like me, there is pain ahead for both sides in the upheaval. The young entrepreneur can ideate, conquer technology and launch disruptive businesses quickly. But he, she and the investor will soon realize that scaling and creating sustainable businesses requires experience. The mighty fall of a young entrepreneur who blew up Rs. 50 crore on a marketing campaign for a startup earning less than two crore of revenues has made enough headlines.
In some ways, realization has dawned. Flipkart made headlines for hiring a McKinsey Director at million dollar salary. Quikr hired a very competent 40-plus friend of mine, topping his MNC salary and adding ESOPs to it.
But not everyone is working at McKinsey, or will get head-hunted that easily. As a close observer of placements at IIM Ahmedabad, to being a spouse of a successful 40-plus, to now, when I'm hunting for the right talent for NDTV Digital ventures, it's been a personal full circle. So I'm going to conclude with a few comfy words for those who've crossed the 40 milestone - you're needed, your skills are needed. I offer you three Rs:
Re-calibrate your expectations of being paid a whole lot more. Forget the days when every job move meant a cushy 20% jump and sign-on bonuses.
Rethink your work attitude. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and learn from 25-year-olds who will be your bosses. Throw out the expectations of a work-life balance. This new high-tech world is a slog!
Refresh your skills to face a rapidly changing digital world. Soak up mountains of knowledge freely available on digital businesses, attend relevant conferences, enroll for online courses...In short, do whatever it takes to hit the ground running, as and when you jump on to the e-com wagon.
And if you are sure you want to ride this roller coaster, do it now. Hunt for opportunities. Befriend investors and entrepreneurs. Don't wait for head-hunters to get you.
Finally, if none of the above makes sense, simply make peace with your lives. You have enough money, a job you hopefully enjoy and presumably, some time to golf. You could also keep your fingers crossed for traditional businesses to get their mojo back, as the twenty-somethings become more passe. Those fingers, however, may cramp.
(Manisha Natarajan is senior vice president - corporate affairs and senior editor - real estate at NDTV.)
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