One of the best things about life is that we never have to stop learning. We can keep accumulating knowledge, gaining new skills and fresh perspectives as long as we wish to seek it. The people in the world who accomplish the most are those that have discovered this, from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs who have both spoken about the importance of continual learning.
Indeed, the ancient philosopher Socrates is purported to have said that he was only wiser than others because he recognized that he knew nothing himself. When it comes to entrepreneurship, those that lead best are the ones who can admit that they don’t know everything and act accordingly. Entrepreneurs also set the tone for their companies, and by exemplifying a thirst for knowledge it creates a trickle-down effect that encourages the entire organization to operate in the same way.
It can be a humbling and daunting thing to realize that the world is made up of an infinite amount of opportunities to learn, but doing so is key not only for running a successful business, but for leading a fulfilling life. In order to “suck out all the marrow of life” as put by Henry David Thoreau, we must never lose our inquisitive nature. Always looking for new things to learn means always improving oneself, bringing new awareness and lighting new paths forward.
A self-declared lifelong learner, the life and career of Vinod Gupta is an apt example of what a continuous quest for knowledge can bring. Today an investor and philanthropist who has built two successful companies from the ground up and donated millions towards causes that promote education, Gupta moved to the United States with less than $100 to his name and started his first company with nothing more than a small bank loan and thousands of Yellow Pages. By staying inquisitive and keeping his mind open to new ideas and experiences, Gupta has been able to become an American success story.
An early focus with influential figures
Gupta’s father, the local physician in the small Indian village that Gupta was raised in, impressed upon him the importance of learning from an early age, both in school and in life. He would personally tutor Gupta after school in math and science, and his father’s passion for the subjects as well as his job providing healthcare in a rural area lacking many modern day conveniences such as electricity, roads or even running water inspired him to similarly follow his interests.
After graduating high school Gupta went on to attend the technical and research university IIT Kharagpur, moving over 1,700 kilometers from his tiny village to a bustling metropolis. Having grown up in a rural area, Gupta was initially interested in the intersection of technology and farming and studied agricultural engineering for his undergraduate degree as a way to improve the lives of those he grew up around.
It was during this time that he met Dr. Bill Splinter, a visiting professor from the United States. He became a mentor to Gupta, encouraging him to continue his studies at a postgraduate level and after earning his bachelor’s degree he decided to attend the University of Nebraska where Dr. Splinter taught for his master’s degree in agricultural engineering. His family borrowed money to pay for his plane ticket, and he moved across the globe to Lincoln, Nebraska with a single suitcase, $58 dollars and an abundance of curiosity.
Following curiosity for new ideas
While Vinod valued his education in agricultural engineering, after moving to the United States and observing the opportunities available in business his interest was piqued. He quickly succeeded his master’s degree in agricultural engineering with a master’s degree of business administration, and after earning his MBA he moved to Omaha, Nebraska to take a position as a market research manager for a mobile home manufacturing company.
It was not long into his time at his new job that Gupta was asked to put together a list of mobile home dealers known nationally for marketing purposes. Upon realizing that the sources currently at his disposal were incomplete and outdated, he decided to order every single Yellow Pages available in the United States and compile a comprehensive list himself. Unfortunately, the volume of thousands of phone directories soon began to disrupt his office and his boss told him that he could keep the phonebooks but he would have to work on the list outside of company hours.
Moving the books to his garage and working painstakingly through nights and weekends, Gupta was able to complete the list and first offered exclusive rights for it to his company. However, the company declined to purchase it and instead Gupta reached out to thousands of retailers across the country and within weeks had over $30,000 in orders for the list. Realizing that there was a hole in the market for small companies without the ability to dedicate large amounts of their budget toward marketing, Gupta quit his day job and founded his company Business Research Services as a continuation of the original project.
It was Gupta’s commitment to learning that saw Business Research Services become a success. He constantly looked for new markets to enter, first creating lists for industries such as motorcycles, bicycles, boats, cars, and tractors and then moving away from vehicles completely until just over a decade later the company had the entire Yellow Pages in its databases. Operating a data company during the time of a rapidly developing internet, Gupta also had to remain flexible and continue learning about the ways in which the transmission of information was changing and marketing directions were shifting as the internet grew more prevalent.
The company went on to go through several name changes as its scope continued to grow and the internet influenced its direction. When he took the company public, Gupta again maintained an attitude of openness as he learned to navigate shareholder expectations and develop growth more rapidly, and he began to make strategic acquisitions of competitors, adding a consumer database and database marketing services. After building an international brand with revenues of over $750 billion over the course of three and a half decades, Gupta decided to leave the company in pursuit of new challenges.
Maintaining your passion
For Gupta, always seeking new perspectives and learning new skills is a way to stay passionate about your career. From his investment firm Everest Group to his new company Infofree, through focusing on learning he has been able to find success and enjoyment in his career and return those successes to others through his philanthropic work.
Gupta has said that he reads at least two hours a day. Whether that be the newspaper, online publications relevant to his field, books by other entrepreneurs or even fiction, it is the process of taking in new information and expanding horizons that builds innovative businesses and lives that are fulfilling. There are a number of different ways to find success in life and entrepreneurship, but no matter which is right for the individual it is imperative to always keep learning. To stay hungry, motivated and driven it is Vinod Gupta’s belief that a lifelong commitment must be made to education and growth.