During high school (in 8th class), a new teacher, Kunal Sir, joined our school. He wanted to re-open school library which was closed since a long time. I volunteered for this task and as a reward got unlimited access to books. That was first time I came across great Marathi authors and their literary work.
Next thing I remember was the urge to write myself!
First experience of writing
I left my hometown in 1999 for higher education (11th-12th). I enrolled into Science which was only available in English.
As I could not speak English well, I felt isolated. This is when I started writing a diary. That way I had one companion I could talk to everyday in my own language (Marathi).
That was my first experience of writing. It felt good!
Journey as writer
In 2001, just before my 12th exam, I had a major accident. I had multiple fractures and severe head injuries. Nature of my head injuries prevented me from watching TV and fractures in leg prevented me from walking.
I resumed diary writing as I started recovering. I went ahead and wrote some articles for regional newspapers, some plays (fiction) and a collection of “charoli”. Charoli is a form of four-line poem. Char means four and oli means lines in Marathi.
Because of my work in newspapers, I got some fan mails (snail-mail). I wrote reply to each one but never posted them. I still have that collection and I call it “unposted letters”.
As I recovered completely, I resumed college in my hometown. By now I wanted to choose Arts for further studies and writing as profession.
But unfortunately I topped Class 12th, which is a very important exam in India. So I was given only three choices for my career – Doctor, Engineer and Chartered Accountant (CPA equivalent). I wanted to leave my hometown so staying back wasn’t an option.
Engineering seemed least boring!
Starting my first blog
In 2002, I moved to Pune for computer engineering course. I had to face English again. But my accident had made me mentally strong by now. So rather than running away from it, I decided to learn English.
I somehow did not like idea of a course to learn a new language. So I started watching English movies with subtitles, started reading English newspaper, magazines and books. Some times I used to call toll free customer care numbers of different service providers, only to practise English communication.
In 2006, in final semester of my Engineer, I started my first blog, Devils Workshop, thanks to a friend Anil Wadghule. I used to call him Anil Digital (it was his blog’s name then). Anil introduced me to blogging, WordPress, Gmail, Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, jQuery, Git, Github and almost everything that made a difference to my life in later years.
I did not know the meaning of word “blog” by then. But by now, I was in love with computers. So I liked the idea of having an online place to write.
It was crazy feeling that finally I could write and publish!
Taking Blogging Seriously
As graduation was about to end, I had to make decisions about my future. In India, we are suppose to do certain things at certain age!
I went to placement cell but I suddenly felt that I won’t fit into typical IT industry job. No one was bothered about job profile. Everyone was talking about compensation package and money. I felt suffocated and did not appear for any placement round.
Fortunately, my good ranking in GATE got me into College of Engineering, Pune (COEP) for Masters in Technology (yep tech again). It helped me buy 2 more years time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
These are years when I started blogging seriously and discovered Google AdSense.
When I came across AdSense and realised I can make a living out of blogging, everything started falling in place.
This is when I met WordPress! :-)
On 6 June 2007, I moved my blog to self-hosted WordPress platform.
I did not explore it a lot before moving. But somehow WordPress felt just right. That’s the kind of magic a vibrant community can have!
As I moved my blog using WordPress importer my blog’s traffic dropped. When I realized that, I panicked and reached out to the WordPress community for the first time.
I understood that I needed to do some customization to WordPress. When I checked WordPress code, I realised it was coded in PHP, a language I was not familiar with then!
So I spent sometime learning PHP. I published my first WordPress Plugin on 09 Feb 2008.
Using this plugin, I helped many blogger friends to move from Blogger.com to WordPress. I also customized my WordPress theme and did some more WordPress work for others for free.
This is time when college was about to end again but by now I already started making something like $150USD (about Rs. 6000) per month from blogging. This was enough for my kind of living.
As I topped from one of India’s finest institute, with 10/10 grades, I had many options. I had a job offer through campus placement and TIBCO – the company where I did my full year internship. Some VC’s were also headhunting me. But leaving all this aside, I choose blogging as my full-time profession.
Idea of making a living through writing felt more exciting!
Blogging to Freelancing
As I got comfortable with WordPress, I started looking for more WordPress development projects. There were many aspects of WordPress that I wanted to code on. I looked for those aspects when bidding for projects. I did not care much about cost.
My mindset during freelancing was – I need people to pay for things I wanted to learn!
It did not take long before I was overloaded with work. So I started looking for helping hands. I applied for company registration, rtCamp, in Oct 2008 – just 4 months after full-time blogging and freelancing.
The idea was not to create just another company but do something different with a different philosophy. I loved having a “round table” sort of flat hierarchy. I was a fan of the culture represented by the BarCamp, BlogCamp and PHPCamp. Hence the name rtCamp.
By August 2009, we shifted from my home to a formal office as a team of 6 co-founders and 3 employees.
India’s first WordPress-only agency was ready!
The “India is cheap” Stereotype
As a freelancer, my expenses were limited. So rather than looking at budget of a projects, I used to look at the nature of work. Most times I made around $200 (about Rs. 8000) from coding which was enough to meet my cost of living. I did not care how well I was getting paid or what people in developed countries were getting paid. Actually I never compared my earning with others or bothered if I was getting paid correctly.
But it all changed when I started rtCamp. Suddenly I had employees, their salaries, office rent and other utility bills to pay. This is when I decided to charge professionally, but still on lower end compared to what top agencies used to charge.
I was often told that India is supposed to be cheap!
Desire to stand out
I tried to understand the meaning of cheap. Not the dictionary meaning but what people perceive psychologically when they buy cheap stuff.
It turned out that people do not anticipate value or quality in cheap stuff. This means if you can prove exceptional quality, you will get the price tag you want.
I looked at Apple as an inspiration. A company which manufactures in China, like many others, but charges like no other.
I started focusing on quality. Rather than taking “cheap” work, we chose to stay “out of work” at times. We used that free time to release themes and plugins on wordpress.org. I used our company’s blog to share our knowledge. It was concious effort to show our quality and capability. It all started to pay off soon.
My old blog helped me in this tough period. It took care of some financial part. Also community around it helped me establish my new company’s footprint faster.
I feel proud to say, despite taking all these risks we could pay the salary of our employees on time. The only ones who needed to wait sometimes were co-founders.
I myself did not get paid for months. But I reduced my cost of living further by living on maggie (Rs. 20 for full meal) or even sleeping hungry sometimes. For 2 years I did not spend a single rupee on shopping. All new clothes I seen in that period were gifts.
In return I got to work on things I loved, the way I wanted.
It might sound like a struggle but it was fun!
Sometime ago I felt that the company I started did not make kind of money it deserve. I guess, by nature, I find the pursuit of money a little irritating. I think of it as noise. You shall not have more than what you need.
But rtCamp has earned a lot of respect by customers and community. I experienced this first hand during WordCamp San Francisco. On both days and even at the afterparty, many people from community walked up to me to just say thanks for some of our products and services.
I measure success in terms of impact our work is making!
As company I started matured enough to take its own care, I went back to the WordPress community to which I owe a lot. It was time to payback my personal debt.
I volunteered to become a co-organiser for WordCamp Pune.
Surprisingly, when I attempted to give back, I got something new from WordPress!
The multilingual nature of WordCamp Pune, inspired me to publish my Marathi writing on my personal blog. I will be soon publishing my first writings on my personal blog.
WordPress continues to inspire! Jai WordPress!