Sunil Bharti Mittal may have made big bucks out of the mobile telephony revolution in India, but the man says it was a saga of struggle, fight and the "mother of all battles." When he began his entrepreneurial venture in 1985, he was "ignored" and "laughed at" thereafter, before the "fight" erupted in the telecom sector leading to what he calls "mother of all battles" from which he came out "fairly successful," he said. Sharing his thoughts with students and faculty of Indian Institute Management, Bangalore, at a convocation function, the Chairman and Group Managing Director of Bharti Enterprises said: "I am a new age entrepreneur. I believe I represent the changing face of India." "When I came out of college in 1976, I was told by all my friends and people generally older and guiding me in my hometown in Ludhiana that the pole-positions…the grand-stand positions have already been taken up by those who mattered." There were large business houses, and the public sector had a huge grip, he recalled. For a young, struggling entrepreneur with very little capital, who has just come out of college, the space was indeed very limited, he said. "But somehow the heart was not willing to accept. And one had to push on and push forward with every little opportunity that one got in one's life." Mittal said the period — 1976 to 1985 — was a period of great struggle, of great pain but one of great learning. "Learning that I could not take from B-school because I went straight to business after university… I picked up on the streets. I learnt my lessons on the streets and at every opportunity, tried to assimilate, gather, absorb some of the practices that were required to create an enterprise." He said he saw his first battle with "big boys" in 1985-86 when he first launched India's first push-button telephones. "My romance with telecom started in 1985." "Mahatma Gandhi once said: 'at first, they ignore you'; these were the times when I was being ignored." "It's important that at this stage you be ignored. Because spotlight at an early time of your lifecycle does not give you any extra advantage but certainly puts you at a great disadvantage." "Gandhiji said: 'then they laugh at you.' In 1992, Mittal said he applied for mobile licence — India's first attempt to provide mobile telephone services. "I felt we had the passion to deliver India's first mobile phone services. Many thought otherwise. We threw our hat in the ring." He said 1993, 1994 and 1995 saw some major litigations around this area. Our first licence was awarded in 1995. "Bharti got a licence to provide mobile telephony in Delhi. People were still laughing. Because this was supposed to be a business with very deep pockets." It was only later that he realised that this business needed "large monies". Those were difficult times, Mittal said. "When it came to providing mobile services in the rest of the country… it saw the awakening of all those who missed in round one." "Everybody who missed out in the first round… large industrial houses to many others came and jumped in round two. Bidding that happened in that round edged out almost all entrepreneurial initiatives. The bid went at Rs 85,000 crore and this was in 1996." "Most of the bids were picked up by people who had less knowledge about this business," Mittal said, adding, Bharti then expanded slowly picking up the circles of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Chennai followed by Punjab and Kolkata, among others. "Then the juggernaut (Bharti) started rolling," he said. "Then they fight you. Then the big fight erupted in the telecom arena. They had ignored us, they had laughed at us and the fight had begun. And we were willing to fight this battle out because it was truly the mother of all battles." Mittal said the company believed that "if the business is about people and customers and not about money and technology, it thought it can win the war." "After three years of fight, we came out fairly successful out of this. As Gandhiji said, those who try hard with lot of passion, eventually win."

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