From A Yellow Taxi To Global Business Success, with Sunny Kaila
Published DateAuthorDan Sullivan and Strategic Coach
Sunny Kaila grew up on a farm in India. Now, he’s a tech entrepreneur with a company based out of Jersey City, New Jersey, that operates globally, with offices in India and the Philippines. In this episode, Sunny talks about the entrepreneur motivation and experiences that have led him here.
Here's some of what you'll learn in this episode:
What it was like to move to the U.S. as a teen who spoke no English.
How Sunny moved from taxi driving into the tech world.
Why Sunny focuses on people, not money.
Where Sunny thinks his resilience comes from.
How The Strategic Coach® Program has changed Sunny’s perspective.
Taking the entrepreneurial path is not what’s expected of most people.
Farmers are entrepreneurs because they don’t get a fixed income.
As a cab driver, you have to earn the job every day.
Hard work is important, but you also need emotional intelligence to succeed.
Always be challenging yourself to do more smart work to achieve your dream.
You have to be a good CEO for yourself, focusing on your health and your family as well as your career and your legacy.
It’s always easier to earn money than to earn people.
What might serve you best is serving other people.
In entrepreneurism, there is always uncertainty.
If you’re a good leader of yourself, that has ripple effects throughout your company.
Strategic Coach® isn’t just for entrepreneurship; it’s to live a good life.
Dan Sullivan: Hi, this is Dan Sullivan, and I'd like to welcome you to the Multiplier Mindset podcast. My Free Zone success story today is Sunny Kaila and he's been in my workshops for about three years, starting with a 10x workshop, and I just got back from our annual Free Zone Summit. So he's in the workshop and I've been coaching since 1974, so I'm in my 49th year of coaching entrepreneurs. And everything I've done over the first 48 years was worth just having someone tell the story that Sunny tells and the way he told the story.
He makes reference in his comments about podcasts I did, and it's about the fact that entrepreneurs by nature are immigrants. To be an entrepreneur is to be an immigrant because you're generally leaving behind a whole way of life where the whole notion of being an entrepreneur is strange to people. Their notion is that, get educated, go to college, and they're going to come out and they're going to get a job. And used to be that you got a job for life with a certain organization and now it may be five different jobs, but it's all about getting a job.
And for some reason there's individuals who, there's a fork in the road very early in their life where they say, "I might get a job out of necessity, but I'm not going to stay with a job and I'm going to become an entrepreneur." There's the entrepreneurial immigrant stories and then there's entrepreneurs like Sunny who can tell, it's like the triple immigration story. So this all started as a farm boy in India. I just feel so rewarded and there's nothing I can tell you about what Sunny's going to say that Sunny didn't tell it better than I can tell it.
Sunny Kaila: My name is Sunny Kaila. I have a technology company. I'm a tech entrepreneur based out of Jersey City, New Jersey, right next to the Freedom Tower. But we are global operations with offices in Philippines and India. We do IT infrastructure management for small businesses through MSPs, like managed service providers, or IT companies that take care of IT for small businesses. We are the managed service provider of those managed service providers that provide service to SMBs. So to make it simple, a tech entrepreneur with the focus on taking care of small and medium-sized business’ technology. We all entrepreneurs have a very unique story to share, and my entrepreneurial journey started in 2003 in New York City.
But just to give you a little bit of background, I was born in India in a village at a farm, so I'm a farmer boy. And for farmers, you normally, really, maybe finish your 10th grade from your village school and then you just continue with your farm. And I chose a different path. I decided to come to America when I was about to be 18, so 17-and-a-half, and I couldn't speak English because it was all learning in my local language there. India was very different in 1993 when I moved to U.S. So it was just that bigger opportunity. A better life was my why of leaving my village in India and moving to U.S. And guess what? Where I landed from my village where it was hard to even get electricity, to New York City, right next to New York City, Jersey City.
And I'm seeing all these buildings and lights and I'm asking myself, "Hey, am I still on Earth?" It was hard to believe that there can be a city that exists on Earth, and it's just that contrast. So I landed in Jersey City, New Jersey, right next to Statue of Liberty in 1993, and I pumped gas because in New Jersey is whole time gas station service. That's the only job I could get because I didn't even have license yet. So I started pumping gas in New Jersey for one year because my father borrowed money to help me come to U.S., so I had to pay the loan off and I started making money, started living with a few friends from my village they were already living here.
So after a year when I got my license and I'm like, "Hey, guys, what's next?" They were all driving New York City Yellow Cabs after the gas station. So they're like, "Hey, you can make a lot more money by driving cabs." So I'm like, "Okay, where do you go for license?" So then I went to Queens in New York City to get my TLC Yellow Cab license. So I got my license and start driving full-time taxi, seven days, 12 hours a day, night shift, 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. I did that full-time for two years. So now it's end of '95 and that's when I'm like, "Father, I paid all the loan," and I bought him a new car. I was so proud to be that son where my father was the first one in the entire district to get a new car.
You're talking about '95, India was very different as back then, and that's when I'm like, "Father, I want to finish my school." I did my high school in India, so I wanted to go to college, bachelor degree. I happened to stop by a community college on my way to New York City before taking subway train. And I took that catalog, started going through this while my ride on subway to pick up my cab in New York City. And I saw there was a guy who could speak my language, Dr. G.S. Duggal. He can speak my language. I should go to him for guidance. How can I get into college? What is required? And so he was very generous enough to give me some time after a couple of visits to that community college to get an appointment with him.
And he guided me that, "Sunny, it's first you have to take ESL, learn English, take basic English, but it's good time to learn computers." And we are talking about January, 1996, when Windows 95 was just kind of really getting into every household, and America Online was very famous at that time, that dial-up modem type of stuff. So I started learning Fortran and C++ while learning English, so computer languages and English language I started learning in '96. I was there in that community college for about two years to get my English skills to a level where I could at least take college level courses. Then I transferred to NJIT. NJIT is New Jersey Institute of Technology. Good school for computer science, computer engineering. I graduated in 2000 December from NJIT with a computer engineering degree while driving cab on weekends. I did not borrow anything. I was not eligible for financial aid or student loan, so I had to make money to pay for my shared apartment and also save money for college to pay cash, and you pay lot more than a resident when you don't have the permanent resident. So I was able to really go through that with full-time summer, three months of full-time Yellow Cab driving in summer to save some money, and then remaining where my college was full-time taking 17, 18 credits every semester, and I was able to work part-time. So that's how I got myself through my computer engineering. 2000 comes, I was ready to move from taxi to tech. I'm like, "I want to stop doing taxi and do whatever I can to get into technology job."
So I got my first job in midtown New York City with a public relations firm as a system admin. So this firm was in New York City and they had a computer guy job available. The title was system admin. So I started working. I remember my first job and they were like, "We don't have enough budget." I'm like, "Pay me anything. I just want to start getting into computer job." And whatever they gave me, I accepted. It was like $29,000 for a computer engineer graduate from NJIT, but I was just looking for that first job and opportunity. 2000 to 2003 I just worked full-time. So after a year or so, because then money was not enough, I had now family, I got married in last year of college, and so I had to make more money.
And I asked my boss, the owner of that PR firm who I was reporting to, "Do you mind? Is there any conflict of interest if I start doing some computer jobs over the weekend, some projects, just to make some extra money?" He said, "No problem, as long as you don't do it for another PR firm." So I printed brochures at home, and if you know New York City in every single building there are hundreds of small businesses. So what I started doing was, during my lunch hour, I took this home-printer brochure called Kaila Consulting and I went to every single floor and left there with the receptionist that if you need a computer guy and you have a computer problem, I can only come after 5:00 p.m. or weekends, but I will charge you much, much less. So I started getting some law firms, some marketing firms, some staffing firms in the same building I was working because I had to be close to that building. So slowly but surely there are five companies, small businesses, they started using me with block of hours consulting fee. So they will pay me for 10 hours block and then I will start helping them weekends, whenever, and then I will start deducting money from there. So I was the computer guy for a few companies in that building, and then I start, I'm like, "This is great." So I started making a lot more money that way and I went to my boss, then, "I want to start my own business," and this is now about to be 2003, March. And I'm like, "I want to start my own business."
And he said, "Sunny, I am not going to let you do that unless you promise that you can operate from this office, this building, so that you can be close to me. And here is the contract for what you are doing right now on W2. I want to be your client." And he loved me so much, my work ethics and everything, and he's like, "I want you to be my IT company as well." He was paying about $66,000 at that time, and immediately he said, like, "Here's an agreement in writing and you can be my consultant as well." So then it was a good start and he said, "My win is that if you are in the same building, at the same floor," he gave me free office as well, he's like, "Don't get space. My servers go down, my systems go down, you are right next to me. So my response time will be great in comparison to me hiring another company, then you get a free office. But you got to be here, operate from here, so that you are right next to us and you're going to be taking care of us personally." I'm like, "Sure." So that's how my income became just a good start that I could hire, with the surplus of extra money, I could hire another tech. So I hired a tech, then two techs, three techs, and now we are 600 plus techs that are together working to make an impact in this world. And it's really people-focused journey, really earning people and not worrying about money because money always followed with that mantra that I followed.
And that's my entrepreneurial journey of moving from taxi to tech in the probably center of the university city called New York City. Now we are a global company with global capability to deliver IT support services, IT infrastructure services to any English-speaking country in the world. What I know right now I did not know at that time, it was just an immigrant, just that drive and hunger, that grit to just make it in America. But it was at that time that hustle, because you leave everything behind. So my friends, my family. My son is now about to go to college and I was that age. Just sending him to a Ivy League school here is a struggle that he's going to move out of our home.
At that time, just leaving your parents was a big deal at that age when I left India and my friends. So it's just now you left everything behind and Dan always talk about that immigrant journey. And for me, I think that they also call it immigrant curse that that becomes sometimes blessing as well. So it was just that immigrant journey, that first generation coming here and just doing everything that I had to do, working hard to earn and live that honest living. I think that's where that overall resilience came from. So, overall, farmers are always entrepreneurs because there's no fixed income for farmers. And growing up, I started working when I was very, very young, about 12, 13 year old, started helping my father, grandfather doing agriculture and a lot of manual agriculture was there.
So every day after 3:00 p.m. when I used to come from school, I used to go with them and really, you work for four to six months. At that time there were only two seasons, and you work for four to six months and then you probably earn some cash from what you sell from the farm. And it was that entrepreneurial spirit as a farmer, and then as a taxi driver as well. I mean, my gas station job was the only job where it was hourly. With the Yellow Cab you pay a flat fee to the Yellow Cab Company where you're leasing from. At that time it was $100 you pay for 12-hour shift per day. Whatever you made extra is your money. So with that $100 that you pay to them, you fill your gas tank and then any extra that you build, so you kind of wake up to Dan's words, "unemployed every day" as a cab driver.
You got to really earn that job every single day. So that gave me a little bit an opportunity as a farmer and then a cab driver to build my entrepreneurial muscle now that I reflect back on this, where that hustle and that entrepreneurial spirit came from. So it's that desire, drive to hustle, and also that muscle was already developed as a cab driver and a farmer, that entrepreneurial muscle to take risk and wake up every day unemployed. So I follow this mantra now that I think a lot about this journey and to pay it forward, especially with my kids. What I share with them, what I teach them, my advice for them and people around me, my friends, is, dream big. And then work hard and smart.
That hard work is important, but you also have to be a little bit more emotional intelligent side, that really with the hard work, always with a big dream, challenging yourself how you can do a little bit more smart work to achieve that dream, to live that dream. And then being a good CEO of yourself in terms of focusing on your health and focusing on your family as priority two, focusing on your career, priority three, and priority four is legacy. So my wheels, my pillars are these four, being a good CEO of myself before I lead others, so that's my overall what made me who I am today. And it's more people-focused, that my father, when I left India, he said, "It's always easy to earn money than people."
Especially when you're living in a country like America, the most entrepreneurial country and probably the richest country on this earth, then money shouldn't be a problem if you do the right thing. And it's really, for me, what served me well is serving people. So, I mean, I talk about big dream and then hard work and smart work and then being a good CEO. So now when you really look at this and the obstacles, there will always be uncertainty. So, Dan talk about certainty, uncertainty too. Now at that time it was, just coming here, there was a lot of uncertainty because there was no clear path for a village boy who cannot speak English to just leave that comfort zone of my home or my parents at that age. That was a lot of uncertainty. Embracing that uncertainty, that was a challenge. But then the overall, really, kind of taking risk or having that ability to deal with uncertainty. Similarly, when coming here with the gas station and taxi, I did not drive a car. We didn't have a car. It was just my bike, like manual bike. That's how I used to go to school. We didn't have a car, we didn't even have a motorcycle or scooter or anything. And it's learning even how to drive here without having a car because I didn't have a car in Jersey City as well, and my roommates didn't have it, just kind of taking some classes from the school that you learn from to get your license.
And then just having that courage and having that kind of, I don't know what it is, but it's more, "Okay, I'm just going to go to the cab company where they lease and rent, and then start driving," and start driving in New York City. So that's, again, uncertainty and courage. So courage, uncertainty, that always have that courage because then, now I'm the best driver. People are like, "How did you learn this?" We have to step into that uncomfort zone. That's how life works, and people where they do that with having the courage to step out of your comfort zone, having that mindset to hustle and do everything that's possible that they need to do to work harder than anyone around them, that automatically I think takes care of uncertainty because your brain will start working on solutions to get there. I mean, I don't speak from stages and public speaking, and just having that courage about three years ago to start my own podcast and English being my second language, now I have released 300 plus podcasts and we are the top podcast in our industry. That's helping my business, that's helping a lot of things. So it's really having that, Dan's 4 C mantra, that having the courage and then commitment to the new capability, and then building that capability will give you the confidence and that confidence will give you more confidence to build the next capability. I think that's what I want to share, what I am learning more and more from Strategic Coach, how to do it well.
The best thing that happened to me, getting to know Strategic Coach. I do one dinner with a mentor, one with mentee, but I find different people and I learn from both. So I was with my EOS implementer, I took him to dinner and I normally ask them a question, "What are you learning that I should learn?" And he said, "I just became part of this wonderful organization called Strategic Coach. You should consider that." And that's where I started searching and I'm like, "Let me check." And he made an introduction and 2020 was my first exposure to Strategic Coach. And the best thing that happened to me was Strategic Coach in the last three years. And why I say this? Because it just changed everything that I do, the way I think, the way I go about scaling my business, the way I create my culture at work and at home.
So the biggest impact on me from Strategic Coach is my mindset, is my perspective. Because your perspective is your world, how you view the world, and the way my overall thinking changed because of Strategic Coach workshops and the tools that Dan gives us. It had really made me think about my thinking and how I view this world, how I think about stuff, and it is such a positive impact on me. It just added so much value to me because everything started changing around me when I started developing those mindsets that Dan talks about. When I really want to talk about how to live a good life, Strategic Coach is not just only for entrepreneurship, it is to live a good life. These are life skills, like Experience Transformer. My kids use it, how to fail forward, how to fail effectively. They use that.
It was so impactful that my team loves it. I not only involve myself, but I have my team involved with Strategic Coach tools, and the way our culture transformed. The transformation in the last three years as a business, any angle that you look at from people, process, and the way you overall think, build leadership layer, our culture changed in a much, much positive way because the mindsets—Positive Focus, Experience Transformer, you are either winning or you're learning type of mindsets. It gave people psychological safety at work that it's okay to make mistake. All we have to do is when there's a major mistake that we made, we don't win.
All we do is pull this Strategic Coach tool called Experience Transformer. Let's fill it out how we're going to transform our experience, just as an example, like how a tool can change culture. But the biggest impact, like if I have to describe my impact on me by Strategic Coach, is the way I think. It gave me the ability and framework to think, and the result is my mindsets. I'm in a position to make a bigger impact on people because I'm leading myself lot better with Strategic Coach thinking and Strategic Coach tools. And when you lead yourself well, you are better CEO of yourself, which now Strategic Coach is expediting my journey with me being a better CEO myself. Then I'm creating those environments and opportunities around me with my leaders, and it's like a ripple effect throughout the company that there is a shift in our culture. Because of Strategic Coach thinking and tools, I am a better human being today.