Sourabh and I visited Portugal this week for the web summit (we were exhibiting, yayy!) and it was a truly phenomenal week. Its one thing living abroad, it's a completely different thing going as a tourist. For one, you network a lot. As a local, you don't care much but as a tourist, a lot of things intrigue you and you talk to a lot of people.
We stayed in Lisbon for 5 days during the summit time and for the last two days, visited Cascais one day and Sintra on the last day. There are so many stories about my Portugal experience that I can literally write a book about it, but the one which tops my list is the trip back from Sintra to the airport.
Our last day at Portugal was at Sintra, and we had our final dinner at an Indian restaurant called the Picnic (you can take the Smiti out of the desh but you cannot take the desi out of the Smiti). The restaurant guys were amazingly courteous, they not only made a special 'indian-level' spicy curry for us, but also got us a cab in the city which gets almost deserted after 7pm. We took the cab and started moving towards the airport for our flight to India.
The cab driver asked us what we were doing in Lisbon, we mentioned that we came here for the web summit. He got pretty excited and asked us about our venture and whether the summit experience was fulfilling or not. As a courtesy question, Sourabh asked the driver if he's from Sintra. 'I'm from Sintra but was born in Lisbon', he said. Typically we observed that cabbies in Portugal do not speak English well, but this guy had really good English, so Sourabh mentioned that to him. He said: "I have good English because I'm an electrical engineer who had my own startup which had a revenue of four million euros."
"Whoa, what?" was our reaction. He delved into his tale post that:
"I ran a broadcasting company few years ago which employed over nineteen people. With the recession hitting Europe, my company went bankrupt. I had to eventually shut my company down. I lost all my money, all my investment. Having some money left in the bank through my successful years, I tried my hand at a gym post that. I opened the first women-only gym which had hourly classes in my city. The first day of my launch, I had 150 customers. One month post my launch, I had three thousand. It was finally working well for me and I opened another center. Few months later, the Portuguese government increased the vat from 6℅ to 23℅! These people are simply crazy. I along with many other businesses burned to the ground because of this. Once again, the little money I made was lost completely. I have three kids and a wife to take care of, and eventually I had to kill my startup dream and take up a job. The thing you need to understand about Portugal is, the salaries are really low. As a cab driver, I work 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earn 3000 euros a month, which is more than what I would earn as an electrical engineer in an MNC. Its not really the life I imagined at 50, but it helps me get by. My eldest child is working in an airline now as a flight attendant so she's on her own. I still support my two children and have been driving this cab since three years now. I don't buy a cab because some day, I wish to get out of this and do something honorable. Although the money here is good, what I have noticed is that nobody respects a cab driver. Age plays a factor too, and people have hesitated hiring me at this age outside the country. So I'm stuck here, and hope I can get out of this someday, which is why I do not buy a cab. Else I will be stuck driving a taxi forever."
We asked for his card as we left his cab at the airport. We told him that our Europe expansion plans are far away, but if they happen, we will give him a call. Chatting with him left me both motivated and depressed. How this man, once the owner of a million euro company, is down to his last pennies, but still fighting. I asked him if it was hard shutting his business down, to which he said, "It was the hardest thing. Shutting down was one part, letting go of 18 employees was another. I fired 6 of them and cut down salaries of the remaining. Eventually salaries kept reducing, you know, because there was no money, and employees moved on. In the end, the business simply shut down."
Nobody said life is fair. Obrigado, Portugal, for showing me that.