My father stirred the mattar paneer around the large steel pot that stretched from the floor to his sternum. He gathered the yellow curry in the ladle and emptied it into a smaller bowl. I grasped the handles of this bowl with one hand and brought it out into the langar hall, a community kitchen in a Sikh place of worship. I walked up and down the hall, offering paneer to the columns of people seated on the red carpet. My younger brother and cousin did the same; one of them carried a basket of roti and the other a jug of water. Over the next three hours, my younger brother, my cousin, and I would take turns serving roti, fruit custard, and salad. When my parents called, I would run back into the kitchen; I washed tomatoes for my mother to chop, rolled out hundreds of rotis for my aunt to heat on the stove, and cut blocks of paneer into innumerable small cubes for my father’s gravy. In total, we served over 300 people. We kids all had our small parts to play, and we played them with great fervor — after all, this was a service to honor my grandfather’s memory.
As my aunt ran around the kitchen in search of more paneer, as my mother helped us kids scoop ice cream for the fruit custard, and as my uncle celebrated each roti my younger brother buttered, I smiled. I felt bundled in a blanket of my family’s love and support. I knew that when it came time to roll up those red mats, to sweep the bits of food off the floor, and to lug the trash bags outside, I would not do so alone.
My family was my first team, but I have joined others — soccer, debate, and math teams, to name a few. My love for working with like-minded people has driven me towards entrepreneurship. The tiled floor of the langar hall was where I realized I wanted to start a business and lead a group of people. This passion arose out of the desire to recreate a childhood experience and later flourished into something much greater. In middle school, I downloaded all the lectures from a Stanford course on startups onto my iPad. In the wee hours of my Saturday mornings, I lay on my bed and watched as a professor explained that the ideal number of co-founders was three, pointed at a Venn diagram with insanity in one bubble and practicality in the other and claimed good ideas lay at the intersection, and told us to hound our employees for the names of every smart person they knew. Watching these videos was like uncovering a new world, and I pictured the late nights shared with a college roommate, doggedly sketching the prototype for an idea.
In the fall of my junior year of high school, I decided to start a company. We would have a personal relations department, research and development staff, and finance managers. One Monday evening, I presented my idea to my friends in a crowded dorm room and felt that familiar rush as their applause thrust me back into the langar hall. I envisioned a sleek company logo, an organized chain of command, and the same strength of shared purpose that had driven me to rinse dishes and wash cutlery, even after three hours of preparing food. We invited twenty-five people to join and asked them to divide themselves up into the departments. To my dismay, I couldn’t imbue our other members with the same zeal for the pursuit of a communal goal that I’d experienced with my family; by the winter term, only five remained. I consider this endeavor my first failed business. As I learned one Saturday morning however, many venture capitalists do not even consider entrepreneurs with fewer than three. I am well on my way.