Robert Chatwani is an entrepreneur and businessman who has developed a unique and inspiring approach to finding one’s path and purpose in life. Through the sharing of his life story and powerful insights, you will learn skills to find your path.
Early Life and Career
Robert is a product of two ambitious parents that immigrated to the United States in the 1970s from India. They settled in Chicago, Illinois, establishing Robert’s roots in the Midwest. He stuck around Chicago for most of his early life. He started his career and went to school at DePaul University, where he studied economics and Japanese while he was trying to decide what path he wanted to take.
Curious and looking for a spark, he finished his undergrad studies in Japan, falling in love with the culture and with the idea of international trade.
After graduation, he started in management consulting which gave him a broad look at various sectors and clients within many industries. He found himself being drawn to purpose-driven companies that have something they truly care about, and how these companies build real relationships with their consumers.
Robert emphasizes the importance of allowing yourself to explore during your early developmental years as you find your path. He states that uncertainty breeds opportunity and that not knowing where you’re going next will ultimately open you up to new possibilities that will take you places you never thought you’d go.
Turning Passion Into Entrepreneurship
Robert’s first real job was a consulting position, and that is where he learned that he was passionate about building something from the ground up. He liked the idea of starting something from a concept and seeing it through the launch and ultimately the growth. Although it didn’t seem like the smart or expected path, he decided to take an entrepreneurial risk.
He left his consulting job, placing value in the pursuit of his dreams.
In 1999 and early 2000, he and his best friend Sameer Bhatia started an online marketplace called MonkeyBin. Robert stressed the importance of having the right people on your team when you’re taking on a new challenge and knew his best friend was the right person to go into business with.
The idea of MonkeyBin was this it was a site all about bartering, where people all over the world could trade goods. He had seen this work at a micro-level on his college campus and knew it could work as a larger concept.
The challenge to this was creating a cash flow. They raised several million dollars in a few months to get started. After a year or so, they realized they just weren’t making much money because people didn’t want to pay transaction fees. A company called Barter Trust reached out asking about Robert’s corporate bartering algorithm they used to allow multi-party trading. This was the start of many software deals that ended up making the two of them more money than the initial plan for the site ever did. They ended up selling the software assets and closed up MonkeyBin.
Around this time, he was offered a position at eBay. Robert talks a lot about the importance of allowing yourself to pivot in your career. He says permitting yourself to pivot will allow you to open yourself up to new and better opportunities you couldn’t have dreamed of before.
Pivoting in His Career
Robert knew that he was super passionate about the concept of an online marketplace. He loved that it was all about people to people trading and that people all over the world could buy, sell, and trade from anyone.
This was exactly the kind of company eBay was, and that’s why he jumped at the opportunity. He was hired by eBay to help build out the platform and network for the company. After initially thinking he’d only spend a few years at eBay, he ended up staying for 12.
He recognized that eBay was what he called a high-growth environment. He was part of a team that was innovative and open to new and exciting changes and opportunities. Robert worked many positions throughout his time at eBay, and in all of those positions, he was able to create himself.
He learned that working in an environment that encouraged growth was the ticket to opportunities.
Turning Passion Into An Actionable Plan
When Robert was in business school at HAAS, a pivotal moment happened that turned out to be one of the seminal moments of his life. His best friend and co-founder Sameer Bhatia was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at just 32 years old.
This his Robert hard, and he wanted to be there for Sameer in whatever way he could. Sameer’s path to recovery was not as straightforward as anyone had hoped. He tried chemotherapy and radiation therapy but it all failed, leaving no other option but a bone marrow transplant.
Sameer is of South Asian descent, making his chances of finding a bone marrow donor match just 1 in 20,000. Their immediate thought was to take him to India for the transplant where he would have a better chance of finding a genetic match, but unfortunately, India did not have a bone marrow transplant registry at the time.
Not only were his chances of finding a donor low, but he also needed to find one within 12 weeks. This was a startling reality for Robert and Sameer. The way Robert saw it, they had three main options. They could do nothing and hope for an eventual match. They could do something by asking their friends and family to donate in the hope that they could be a match. The third option was that they could go big, and register 20,000 people of south Asian descent, forcing the math to be on Sameer’s side.
Needed a bone marrow match within 12 weeks.
They chose the third option. Robert was taking creativity in innovation and marketing class at this time and thought about dropping out of school to pursue this task of helping save Sameer’s life. When his professor found out what he was doing, she encouraged him to stay in school and use this project as part of his studies. Her encouragement inspires Robert to this day.
They dove headfirst into this project and hosted 470 bone marrow registry drives all over the country.
By the time they were finished, they got 24,662 donors in the Be-the-Match registry.
Sameer and another friend who coincidentally also was diagnosed with AML both ended up finding matches from the donors that were registered through the team’s efforts.
Sadly, both Sameer and their other friend passed away a few months later when their cancer relapsed, but the power of what they have all done together rippled through the country, eventually providing matches for hundreds of patients awaiting transplants.
Allowing Your Purpose to Define Your Path
Robert’s belief about defining one’s purpose in life is all about discovering not what you want to do, but why you want to do something. He encourages people to write out their purpose, stating that putting it down on paper makes it a tactile act that feels real. His specific purpose is “building meaningful businesses that create hope and opportunity in the world and do it with high performing teams.”
This purpose is what he calls his North Star. It is what guides him in all decisions, big and small. He says that finding your North Star, or your life purpose, not only will guide you to what you do want in your life, but it will also guide you to what you do not want in your life.
His advice is to align everything you do in life with your why.
The Importance of Having a Supportive Team
Robert speaks about how important it is to have mentors and coaches in your concern who you can lean on when you’re looking for guidance during your time of discovery. He calls this a board of advisors and a board of directors. His thought is that companies have a board of directors, and people should have them in their personal lives as well.
These are people that give you the unedited truth, telling you what you need to know to make your best decisions. He stated that these people should not always be giving you the answers, but that they should be able to guide you toward your truth.
Building a board of advisors means finding people in your life that you look up to and admire for one reason or another. These people should bring you different perspectives and know you in different capacities, so you have a well-rounded support system.
Tell these people that they are meaningful to you, and ask them if they will help you. You’ll have to state your goal, what they can do to help, and what you can offer in return. Robert says that usually, people think there is a finite time to these relationships, but they can often be powerful and lifelong.
They should bring you clarity and guidance in times of decision and pivot.
How To Be a Leader In Uncertain Times
Robert believes that in these strange times we’re living in, that leaders are prepared to handle the stress and difficulty because of resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. Establishing resiliency looks different for everyone, but he thinks that there are a few common principles that apply to all of us.
First, we must honestly and truly do what we love. Next, we must do things that create energy for ourselves. While we’re creating energy, it is important to surround ourselves with other people that create energy. On top of that, eat well, exercise well, and spend your time wisely. He believes that all of this will lead to resiliency.
Leading a Life of Purpose
Robert’s basic ideology is all about finding your passion and your purpose and allowing it to guide you in life. He believes it will increase happiness and productivity, as well as benefit the world as a whole. If you want to hear more about Robert’s story and his life’s guiding principles, be sure to check out the podcast episode here.
What Is Your Purpose?
Robert’s ideas about values and passion and purpose are inspiring and insightful for each of us. Have you taken the time to find your North Star in life? What guides you each and every day? Do you have a board of advisors that helps to guide you in your pursuits?
Share this with your board of advisors and talk with those closest to you about their passion and the “why” behind what they do every day. You’re sure to be inspired again and again by the energy the people in your life create. Let us know how it goes.