Life on the Google campus was a dream. There is a reason why the company tops the employee-satisfaction charts year after year. Consider the perks – free drops and pickups, gym facilities with personal training, showers with solar-powered hot water and Biotique bath products, spa vouchers, access to the latest tech gadgets (whether for beta-testing or as Christmas gifts) and international travel to Google offices abroad.
The cafeteria boasted a chaat counter, for crying out loud. And while I thoroughly enjoyed watching Lingaraju climb a coconut tree to serve us fresh nariyal paani, the all-day counter at my new job was a complete trip!
My first quarter in Hyderabad gave me a reality cheque – not just in the form of lower pay but also on where I stood in the larger scheme of things.
I had upended my career from Wrigley to Google expecting to be catapulted to a position where I could fully utilise my creativity in selling the company’s digital ad products. And spend the remainder of my waking hours sending emails to Larry, Sergei and Sundar about all the amazing ideas I had for them!
After orientation, it dawned on me. I was one amongst hundreds of incredibly talented, hard-working and well- trained individuals who had been selected to do exactly what I was hired to do. I was no longer the management trainee, I was an account strategist. My job was to optimise AdWords accounts for major clients based in the US ... on behalf of their Google Account Managers (based abroad as well). At least at Wrigley, I got to sell gum to the consumer. Here, my job was to optimise the Excel sheet that would eventually be used by my foreign colleagues to sell ads to clients.
Am I complaining? Certainly not. Very early on, everyone knew that I was that guy who asked a lot of questions after a brief or training session. In the most chilled-out office in the country, I stayed back till 2 am because, well, clearly, I had something to prove (namely, that quitting Wrigley wasn’t a childish mistake). My new co-workers in Hyderabad were confident that I would ace my quarterly review.
My very first Google appraisal was a video call with my manager based in Gurgaon. I was made to realise that while the company appreciated my sense of enthusiasm and my need to submit a hundred product ideas to Google’s product managers across the globe, they were dissatisfied with the quality of my work. By that, I mean the stuff I was actually hired for.
If my ratings did not improve in the next quarter, I would be asked to resign.
As it turned out, the Excel sheets that I was sending my colleagues in Chicago were too basic. Clearly, I needed to focus on my core job before I could even consider doing anything else.
I wanted to continue working at Google more than ever, so the appraisal pushed me to work harder. In just the four months that I had spent there, I had already learnt a lot about systems, operations and sales. It was obvious to me that there was opportunity for professional and personal growth. So, I found myself incredible mentors within the organisation to advise me on the quality of my work and to navigate the tricky rating and appraisal systems at Google.
It paid off because, at the end of my third quarter, I was offered the much-lusted-after position of an “In-Market Account Strategist” at the Mumbai office, a role that not only allowed me to directly sell ads to the Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) sector companies across India but also consult with them on their overall digital strategy.
The joy of educating the chief technology officer of State Bank of India on the potential of the internet, and to be taken seriously! The role allowed me to build castles in the air and ask others to construct them.
Through it all, the intrapreneur within me flourished. Thanks to a lot of support from my team and flexible HR policies at Google, I was also using my spare time on projects not related to my core function. These projects ranged from creating an unofficial team within the organisation that volunteered time to consult with non-governmental organisations on how to optimise their Google Ad Grants to a forum called “Ideafactory” which encouraged all Googlers to submit their Moonshot ideas.
Born in Hyderabad, NGO Consultants was my way of merging something I was great at (AdWords) and finding a way to convert that into social impact. Basically, we were helping NGOs make the most of the free ad credits awarded by the Google Ad Grants programme. While several NGOs had won the grant, very few were successfully using it to their benefit. Our intervention would make them eligible for even bigger grants from the company.
Ideafactory, on the other hand, was my Trojan horse. During my first few months at Google, I had realised that it’s hard for a non-engineer on the lower rungs to gain the attention of senior engineers in the company. Imagine how many emails or suggestions these product managers get! I thought, if I start collating ideas from multiple Googlers, with a stamp of approval from senior leadership, then maybe someone from the L-team might actually open one of my emails and maybe, just maybe, one of my many ideas would bear fruit.
Working for Google gave me some of the best professional experiences of my life, but eventually, these side projects were unable to give me the dopamine fix that I desperately sought. Working a nine-to-five job as an account strategist wasn’t cutting it, even if it was at the best company in the world. I was looking to satisfy an entrepreneurial itch, and this led me to pursue projects in my personal time.
That’s how The Bohri Kitchen was born.
Excerpted with permission from How I Quit Google To Sell Samosas: Adventures With The Bohri Kitchen, Munaf Kapadia with Zahabia Rajkotwala, HarperCollins India.