Monthly stories on people we admire:

John W. (Jack) Lewis

Vinod Khosla

"I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature." John D. Rockefeller

First Lesson: Don’t Give up

One of my favorite stories of perseverance was told by Vinod Khosla, a successful venture capitalist, about his effort to get into Stanford Business School.

Vinod began his entrepreneurial life by starting a soy milk company at the age of 20 in India, his native country. His idea of a soy milk company came to him as a result of many people in his town who did not have refrigerators. He thought that the production of soy milk would be a valuable and needed product. But his dream of opening a small company was doomed because he had no capital and the restrictions of startup businesses at the time were harsh.

He began to set his sights on Silicon Valley, where he felt all was possible. His interest was in bio-medical engineering. Carnegie Mellon University offered him a full scholarship, making it easy for him to decide where he wanted to complete his Masters program.

His passion to go to school in the Valley remained. When he graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, he applied to Stanford Business School and was rejected. The admissions office suggested for him to reapply after gaining some work experience.

Second Lesson: Evangelism is really important when you are trying to get anything done. Especially if you have no right to have it.

Vinod gained some work experience in Pittsburgh and reapplied to Stanford the following year. Again, his application was rejected. He began to feel a bit discouraged and as a back up, he applied and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon Business School. However, his heart and mind was set on Stanford, so he called the admissions director and with tremendous passion, he persuaded the director to put him on the wait list.

Vinod was not done, however. He called the admissions office every day and began to establish a good rapport with the school’s other admissions staff that answered the phone. Sometimes he was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to talk to the director, although he was always full of polite excuses and did not offer much encouragement. Luckily, the other admissions staff in his office had become advocates on his behalf and they began to put in a good word to their boss.

Third Lesson: The admission director’s decision is irrelevant. Just tell him you are showing up, thank you very much.

Finally, the Thursday before final registration, Vinod called the director and said, “It is getting late. You have to let me in, because whether you like it or not, I’m showing up.” The following day, the director called and offered him a slot. Vinod, who was still living in Cleveland, was all packed and out of the door in a couple of hours. Since he had no place to stay for the first month, a couple of admission staff employees offered him temporary housing.

Vinod went on to become one of the leading venture capitalists in the country.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race."
Calvin Coolidge