Rules are not for CEOs

“I came to this country a day before 9/11.”  That’s how Raj began his story on starting a company in America.  Challenges were abundant; the country was heading towards economic turmoil and he was trying to establish himself in the 3D technology industry. Against the odds, Raj cleverly got his first client.

The Story

No customer was willing to move forward with any deal, especially with a technology that relied on innovators and early adopters in a time before the likes of YouTube.  Heartwood’s product was challenging the status quo.  As with any new technology in its nascent stage, it had less to do with convincing people to buy a product and more to do with changing people’s mindset about it.  Raj resorted to conducting keyword searches on Craigslist in hopes that he would narrow down potential clients.  He finally hit upon a posting for a company that specialized in forensic 3D animation. It sounded like a good fit for Heartwood but it came with a caveat.  The website required all candidates to fill out a form to be considered.

The part that caught Raj’s eye was a statement that said direct phone calls were highly discouraged and the caller would, in fact, be disqualified from consideration.  That sounded like a threatening enough deterrent for most. For Raj, the rule was made to be broken.  His logic was simple, yet refreshing – if everyone was forced to email their bid, no one was making any phone calls.  His could possibly be the only one and by breaking this rule, he would be breaking through all the noise his competition was creating.

Raj could not recollect his exact words from the initial conversation but he did recall using humor to break the ice.  Humor proved to be a powerful tool.   He knew he had about 10 seconds to get his audiences’ attention before he heard the phone click on the other end. It was a calculated risk and it paid off.  What resulted was a 45-minute conversation with the man who would soon be his first client.  Raj later found out that the client had received 230 email bids, none of which were even looked at after Raj’s call.

Lesson learned

Rules exist but they are not always meant for you.  In Raj’s case, breaking the rule allowed him to break through the noise and clutter of his competition.  Rules should not be seen as a stop sign, rather, as an opportunity to learn more about what others are doing.

About Raj

Raj provides a leading voice for the future of 3D Interactive Learning and Visual technologies. He believes in sandwiching great technologies together and therefore, leans more towards Innovation than pure Invention. In 2002, Raj co-founded Heartwood with Neil Wadhawan. Today, he splits his time between operating the company and on new technology development, his real passion. Raj loves the water. He swims and plays tennis between project deadlines. Raj encourages everyone at his company to live a complete life, sometimes dragging them away from their desks!




  1. Brilliant story, Raj. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you to arrive in this country right after 9/11 thinking you would start a business. 9/11 sucked the oxygen out of the air for businesses. Rules are made to broken. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I was, in fact, the guy who Raj called. My company, Forensic Arts, was looking for experienced 3D animators and the last thing I wanted was to have to field telephone calls from hopeful applicants. I remember very well when I got the call from Raj. Before I could blow him off or become irritated, he had quickly moved to asking me some technical questions about my business. This not only established that Raj had credibility, it also was a smart move because we all like to talk about oursevles and our desires.

    One of the things that really stands out in my memory is how he focused on the simple fact that the only way to really determine if something works or not is to try it. He kept assuring me that I had nothing to lose and that I should just give him one project to prove what his team was capable of. After some conversation, I outlined a couple possible prospects and by the time the conversation ended I had committed to Raj that I would figure out a test project for his guys to look at.

    Another very smart thing Raj did was to suggest that it would be worthwhile to sit down and meet over lunch. He walked that fine line between being charming and overly persistent and, frankly, by the time we finished lunch he had won me over big time.

    I also recall how in our conversation he was up front about the fact that he knew I had discouraged phone calls, but that he felt strongly enough about his company to take the risk of reaching out directly. His candor was very disarming and his confidence was evident.

    Raj and Heartwood became a huge part of our success. Moreover, I am honored to be able to include Raj among my most treasured friends. He truly walked the walk and is one of the brightest and most talented people I have had the pleasure to know.

  3. Those of us who know Raj would not be surprised by this. He embodies that enviable mix of brilliant innovator, smart businessman, adorable human being, and generous spirit.

    I’m particularly grateful to you, Mark, for sharing your side of this story. It really helps to understand the perspective of the client when reading articles like this. There are so few truly exceptional individuals in business…and so many who blindly follow instructions to the letter, never realizing that by doing so they are failing in the one arena we must all take to heart these days: demonstrating differentiation. It was great to hear what it was like on the receiving end. Thanks to all involved in this inspiring article.

  4. Wow guys, I have nothing to say except that I sincerely choked up a bit while reading this. We are nothing without gratitude, so expressing it in my own little way.

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