Sandip Maiti - The Best Coders Often Do Not Come From the Best Engineering Schools. They Just Hack the System (Co-Founder - Experience Commerce)

I was a failure in formal engineering, but here I am running a modestly successful creative-led digital business. The skill to learn and thrive is intrinsic in all of us. Maybe it finds better expression in some. If companies can identify perpetual learners while interviewing, they can solve the recruitment puzzle.

Tell us about your background, journey, and upbringing.

I was born and brought up in the city of Kolkata in West Bengal. Though I live in the big city, I remained connected with my roots in a remote village (where I could trace my lineage back to 8 generations) in Medinipur District. I was fortunate to receive the best education at a leading Christian Missionary School, where peer pressure tipped me to pursue engineering. 

I got admitted to IIT Varanasi where I soon realized that it was a disastrous decision. I could not successfully manage the transition from parental controls and with the newfound freedom of campus life, I graduated sadly at the bottom of my class. 

The gift of the gab came to my rescue and I found placements at companies where I had the luxury of flirting with different disciplines and ultimately settled on sales. However deep inside there was a calling to discover the world, and a dear friend acted as the final trigger that led me to hop on a flight to the USA. 

The admission to one of the top graduate schools came as a lucky break after my dogged pursuit with the college admission tests. I was liberally aided by some senior professors who were pleasantly surprised to hear about my all-new passion for academics. Case Western Reserve University was the springboard from where my life took on a completely new turn.

When and how did you get clarity on what you wanted to do?

I enjoyed my professional journey in the USA. My penchant for sales took me across the length and breadth of the big country, often on road trips that lasted an entire day. That helped me get a fresh perspective of the country and helped me avoid being entrapped in the 'ghetto' life enjoyed by many Indians. 

At the turn of the century, I gave up my green card and came back to India. It was difficult to find my bearings and I drifted from one organization to another. I was always an ideas person and it was natural for me to spot trends early on and drive seed ideas to fruition. 

I was always developing ideas for others and something bothered me deep inside. Then came the calling that it was time to give shape to some of my own ideas. From there was it was the usual journey of any startup. I was sure that I wanted to solve simple consumer problems while they shopped. 

I believed we were entering an era where brand experience would drive commerce. We named our startup - Experience Commerce. That was circa 2006.

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What does your typical workday look like?

I work from a remote farm in Bengal most of the days now. Blessed with broadband connectivity and Amazon/FedEx at our doorstep, there are no logistics challenges. I wake up early before sunrise and try meditating or listening to sermons demystifying the Advaita. 

The Alexa echo show usually has my calendar on display, and I spend the early hours of the working day writing out content (decks or mail) that needs deep thinking. I like to keep a lot of free time to pursue random thoughts. My only focus now is to slow down even more and work on only those businesses where we can add disproportionate value.

Several global companies have come out and thrown their support behind not needing a formal education. What is your opinion about this?

I believe in the unlimited potential of every human being. Formal Education often boxes up people and steers a course that may not enable one to thrive. The best coders often do not come from the best engineering schools. They just hack the system. 

I was a failure in formal engineering, but here I am running a modestly successful creative-led digital business. The skill to learn and thrive is intrinsic in all of us. Maybe it finds better expression in some. If companies can identify perpetual learners while interviewing, they can solve the recruitment puzzle. 

Yes, there are people more gifted than others in terms of creative or analytical ability, but it the 'learning ability that can push the underdog to deliver more than the uber 'talented'.

How do you handle someone who has lied on their resume?

I encourage all such people to pursue the path to egress, at the earliest opportunity.

What are some of your typical challenges and how have they evolved over time?

I am filled with unbridled optimism whenever I encounter new recruits. I am also extremely disappointed with them when things don't work to plan with them. This "swing" is my biggest challenge. I have tried to work on it over the years - how to practice restraint when assessing talent and give him/her time to flower. 

I think I have been somewhat successful at the late stages of my professional life. Getting emotionally attached to a conflict situation, where my entire being is obsessed with how to encounter it, was one of my other big challenges. I used to go nuts in my pursuit to emerge victorious in any conflict. 

I have learned how to detach, thanks to my pursuing the knowledge of Advaita. Conflicts can be managed far more peacefully when you know you are squabbling over issues that are temporal in nature. I have learned that the art of surrendering is far more powerful than winning.


What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs looking for funding or those eyeing the top job?

I am clueless about how to get funding. I never managed to get some though I clearly believe I had far better ideas than many. That was my Achilles heel. Raising Money is the primary skill you need as an entrepreneur. 

One needs to be obsessed with raising money, whether it from your own resources or F&F network, or Angels. I am also clueless about how to land the top job. I have very little experience in corporations, as I have always worked in small start-up-type units.

Which is your favorite book and why?

I have had many favorite books over time. As my interest continues to shifts with passing years, it is hard to put my finger on one. At this point in time, I am obsessed with the study of Consciousness, our ability to discover altered states of consciousness using psychedelics, and why there are strange parallels we can draw from the world of Quantum Physics to Advaita. 

"Waking Dreaming Being", by Evan Thomson, deals with the study of self and consciousness at the intersection of neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy, would stand out amongst the many others I am browsing through these days.

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