Every time I get an opportunity to review a book, I get excited. Not only because, it brings a unique experience of getting to learn something new, but also because I can read a new book before everyone else. So, this time when I was approached to review the book Irrationally Passionate, by Jason Kothari, I was super excited. Even in my tight schedule and ever-growing challenges in my corporate life, I was determined to take up this new challenge.
The Chess Board
The first glimpse of the book was, however, not impressive. It said, ‘My turnaround from Rebel to Entrepreneur’. Now, whenever I hear the term ‘rebel’ I tend to think of Naxalites and more often about urban Naxals. ‘Naxal’s (CPI-ML) have established themselves firmly as the rebels in Indian scenario, and with a comment from Karan Johar on the cover page what else I could think of. The first set of questions that came in my mind was why it was necessary to mention ‘rebel’ and why Karan Johar’s comment took to the front cover page.
Even if Karan Johar is a successful businessman in the entertainment sector, anyone connected to Bollywood can’t be taken seriously in a corporate scenario. So, with these two observations, the first impression of the book was not so impressive. However, the comments added at the back cover of the book from C-suite corporate leaders added some value and created some interest for me to open the book.
It was like a move in a game of chess that created a blurred vision about a strategist. A perception that makes one wonder what’s next, what’s inside. And the first thing I find inside was a hard-core negotiation over a chessboard by a young Gujrati kid Jason. It was indeed very hard to believe, but soon I realized that a game of strategy is just started.
Pressure Makes Diamonds
In the subsequent chapter, I see the young negotiator shaping into a strategist who could change the world. The superhero fanatic soon started showing his entrepreneurial skills when he started creating profitable business ideas through what he loved the most. Comic books.
But if his early childhood entrepreneurial skills showed anything of substance, we get to know his perseverance to learn different dimensions of business as he continued to work in odd jobs to sharpen his skills and learn new things during his summer breaks from school. As it turned out later that all the hard work has paid off. He was shaped into a true diamond in the complex business world.
Entrepreneurship – The Gym
As the story of Jason’s life unfurled, I saw how a determined mind could stretch one’s limit in all dimensions. In this aspect, the book Irrationally Passionate gives a clear picture that detailed his actions in real life. Pushing all his boundaries of physical and mental limits.
At this point, Jason’s story turned into a real representation of the old adage – ‘health is wealth’. He showed how he sharpened his body and mind and excelled in all areas after a brief spell of a negative lifestyle of a rebel. Many of us can’t think of reviving from that situation where he was engaged with shady Hong Kong gangs and was dragging himself into a darker world. However, once he was determined to turn around in life, he didn’t look back. His story and detailed anecdotal evidence showed his courageous nature above everything else. He was convinced to push his limits and to overshadow his darker side. In a candid manner, he went on telling the story of his personal turnaround that can motivate our youth reeling in the shadows of life. Many such youngsters can actually revive and bounce back to excellence and the experience gained from a high-risk life may be of immense help.
As Jason pointed out, Entrepreneurship is a gym where one can work out personal issues. Entrepreneurship needs the unique skillset that makes a man an all-rounder, very resilient from inside.
Pain is a Non-Factor
One of the biggest lessons an entrepreneur needs to learn is to handle pain. It is pertinent to see that he didn’t mention stress, probably we all handle extreme stress in our modern life. But what an entrepreneur goes through is something much bigger and more horrifying than just stress. It’s not only their own and their family’s lives that depend on them, but it’s the lives of all employees and their families and the entire eco-system that depends on them.
But this lesson that pain is a non-factor didn’t come easily for Jason. One of his life’s choices to learn martial arts in Thailand taught him the same. How Muay Thai, the Thai Martial Art taught him that lesson is unique and told in a beautiful manner. Indeed, those who didn’t experience such extreme conditions in life, can’t learn that pain is a non-factor and how to deal with pain when it’s needed.
Leaders and business turn around specialists can’t show pain and frustration in public as they risk losing their credibility to lead. Keeping calm and being cheerful at troubled times often make all the difference in one’s life. Jason has very well explained this in his book. His clarification showed how limits imposed on one is just an illusion.
Soon we see Jason’s life steering into a new direction as he started valuing his IP or Irrational Passion for entrepreneurship. His entrepreneurship journey that started as a kid in his Hong Kong school soon blossomed through a business case competition in Wharton. I used the term irrational because soon he jumped into an irrational venture of reviving a dead comic book company Valiant Entertainment.
His childhood passion for comics later grew him into a passionate entrepreneur who was irrational enough to jump into the venture without sufficient cash in hand. But if he didn’t value his inner passion and took the extreme step, probably he would not be able to emerge as a turnaround specialist. To say, he just turned around Valiant Entertainment would be a pure understatement. He revived it from ashes. And as Jason went on describing how he achieved such an impossible feat, it seemed nothing is irrational in this world.
That is why when we see Jason describing the auction process of Valiant and how he outbid his own limit and, in the end, lost only by a margin of $10,000, we understand that when the passion is irrational, history is made. But whether history could be made even after a loss was an epic story that had crafted a corporate turnaround specialist, Jason Kothari.
The ‘M’ Factor
In spite of doing the ardent research on Valiant’s liquidation papers and aggressively bidding for it when Jason lost in the auction, events turned in favour of Jason in a unique way. The Marvel guy who won the auction outbidding Jason by $10,000 was not interested in closing the deal and in an unexpected way, Jason got another chance to negotiate the price with the owners and then how a cash-strapped team of Jason pulled through their journey to turn around Valiant amidst a great turmoil was no less than a Hollywood Thriller movie.
As Jason puts it, Money isn’t the goal behind such irrational entrepreneurial drive but only a byproduct. In his own words, Money flows to value. When you create the latter, you get the former.
But it’s only an entrepreneur who would understand this, not a common person. That is why when Jason tried his luck with another M factor, Marriage, he failed. Very few girls responded to him and after knowing his financial status, even they lost interest.
But that didn’t stop Jason in his journey to bring back Valiant. He has described his strenuous journey elaborately that can teach life lessons to wannabe entrepreneurs and business leaders. And he described his success Mantra as in-person Meetings – another M factor that he described is the key to succeed in new businesses. This can be a good lesson for today’s social media nerds.
The ‘C’ Word
But even if the business flies, as an individual, even an entrepreneur wants to share his feelings with someone. Jason did as well. His Indian relatives tried finding a match for him. Finally, the Cupid strikes and he finds his love in Anaya.
His Courtship period with Anaya was shortlived too. Anaya soon was detected positive for Cancer and the evil ‘C’ word did the inevitable. For some mysterious reason, Anaya left him without giving any meaningful explanation despite Jason standing by her during her difficult times.
This was the real testing time for Jason and his pain management. His description of how managed the pain is worth reading for everyone who suffered relationship turmoil. He not only bounced back stronger, but this time took the revival challenge through another ‘C’ word – Comics.
..and history was made for Valiant Entertainment.
Jason described in a riveting manner how he successfully turned around Valiant before exiting it and showing up in India to take stock of new options available there. If until now we have seen history created in American Comics sector, the next phase of his life showed how the Indian real estate sector saw his magic.
In this phase, we learn how he managed a market study and sectoral analysis even before meeting some interviewers for an informal discussion. A gem of learning for any young graduate aspiring for a job. He took stock of the entire Indian market, and some other relevant markets as well and found strategic options for the Indian housing segment.
While reading this, it never felt like I was reading a boring story full of business jargons; rather it felt as if it was a lesson for everyone’s life. This is how you take stock of the situation at hand. Without reading the book thoroughly, however, I wouldn’t have realized this.
‘Full-Stack’ of Perceptions
Jason’s story of turning around businesses tells us one more important point about managing ‘Full-Stack’ of perceptions with all stakeholders. As he described the details of turning around India’s Real Estate giant Housing.com we see him managing perceptions of people including the employees who he had to lose their jobs for business purposes.
Not so long ago, we heard the restructuring story of Maruti Suzuki in Noida, India where a Maruti HR executive was beaten to death by some irate employees. Yes, restructuring companies and asking some people to leave do create burnt relationships unless it’s done professionally, and perceptions are managed well. This book gives us a detailed account of how he managed to do that in Housing.com and effectively divested some of the company’s non-profit segments while managing ‘full-stack’ of perceptions.
Then we find the Snapdeal turnaround story and successful launch of Snapdeal 2.0 based on a business plan that focused on the company’s core strengths while keeping its weaknesses at bay. The stories of divestment of FreeCharge and Vulcan Express came for different reasons but based on the same core principle.
But reviving Indian e-commerce company was not easy for Jason. Snapdeal, that dreamt of being India’s Amazon, was reeling under several operational inefficiencies and high overhead costs that needed to be shredded. But the challenges to the e-commerce industry as Jason has shown in this book and different models he has explained can even keep non-businesspersons guessing about how much market intelligence these nerds really need to gather before they can decide on one strategy. Snapdeal 2.0 has changed a business model, but the analyses done to arrive at the best model can drive one crazy. Rightly, it was codenamed within the company as Argonauts, in my words – Ergo Nuts.
The book Irrationally Passionate shows us how an ace business leader thinks and focuses on value creation for the customers. As Jason rightly puts it, the interest of entrepreneurs is not in making money but in creating necessary value for the customers and solving herculean problems. The fun and excitement of entrepreneurship lies there and not in making money.
The book, in simple terms, creates enormous value not only for business leaders and young MBA grads but it is a valuable read for ordinary people who may be working in companies going through restructuring or needing a restructuring. While business leaders are there to think through the right value creation method for an enterprise, it’s the ordinary workers who need to understand the need as well.
This is because while restructuring do take away some jobs in a very short term and most often without sufficient notice, in the long-term it creates enough value for the retained employees. If this does not happen, then the whole company collapses, and everyone loses their jobs.
In the end, Jason gives his success mantra to the wannabe business leaders and entrepreneurs. We understand that it’s not easy to turn around ailing businesses because competition and marketplace laws can be major deterrents. As Jason puts it, having a winning team and following some golden mantras can drive any entrepreneur to success.
After reading the book, while I turn around and look at my experience, I find a never before experienced pleasure and an enormous learning experience. Even as a business grad from a premier business school in India, I didn’t have such an in-depth idea on business restructuring. The business acumen needed for such transformations is really commendable. This book goes beyond being a pure business gem. It is for everyone. Only after reading this book, I realized how my different unrelated experiences shaped me.
In short, Irrationally Passionate by Jason Kothari is not only enlightening but it brings a practical perspective of life through a very riveting and engaging story that many thrillers fail to provide.