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Chandeep Chhabra

It was Chandeep Chhabra’s breakthrough opportunity, and he was blowing it.

Chhabra recounts the story. The year was 2013. He had barely begun his new life as a freelance Excel trainer and consultant when he got a hot tip from a friend. “She used to work at a very large financial services company in India,” he recalls.  “And she says, ‘Hey, we are looking for somebody who can teach Excel to our people. But don’t tell HR that I told you. You can make a cold call.’”

Miraculously, Chhabra’s cold call landed an interview. Within the meeting’s first minute, though, he feared he was in over his head.

“‘Who have you worked for in the past?’ she asked me. ‘Who are your clients?’ I said, nobody. ‘Are you Microsoft-certified?’ I said, I’m not. And to every other question that might build my credibility as a corporate trainer, I said, no, I don’t have this, I don’t have that, I don’t have whatever may be.

“Finally, she asks me point blank: ‘Why should we hire you?’” Chhabra remembers taking a very deep breath. “I said, I’m really good with Excel; I can solve problems and I can teach it well. If you don’t like my work, do not pay me.”

From that day to this, Chhabra’s Excel career has flourished. Through his company Goodly, he has become one of South Asia’s top experts in Excel and Power BI, providing training courses and creating dynamic dashboards and reports for Indian companies large and small. His blog and YouTube videos have built a worldwide following, and he has recently become a sought-after speaker at international Excel events.

Growing up in Jaipur, India, Chhabra had some limited exposure to coding—learning a bit of QBasic and FoxPro in school. Like many kids, he saw computers mostly as a way to play games.

Then, while earning a commerce degree and an MBA, he was introduced to Excel. “I remember I was given a project, to build a customer lifetime value model or something like that. I actually found that model a few days ago in my computer. And I realized I was calling it a model, but all of the numbers in that spreadsheet were hard-fed,” he chuckles.

After graduating, Chhabra landed a job at an investment bank in Mumbai. During a course in financial modeling, he discovered a knack for Excel formulas. He also found himself in an office surrounded by other budding Excel hot-shots. “Ten hours a day, we would just spend on Excel, plus probably one or two presentations in a week. When you’re in that competitive environment where you’re competing with other analysts as to whose model is better, you learn a lot of tricks of the trade. If I saw a fancy thing one of the other analysts implemented in his model, I would try to implement it in my model as well.”

After three years with the bank, Chhabra personified the ideal of an aspiring young Indian man, with a steady job and a fiancée. And then the roof fell in.

“The investment bank that I was working with stopped paying us because there was no business and they withheld our salary for three months,” he recalls. Fortunately, he had the seeds of a Plan B. “I was earning a bit of money beyond the job on the weekends, doing some freelance stuff like teaching people how to work with Excel and finance. So I already had a small supplementary income.”

Chhabra thought he could likely leave the bank and turn his weekend side gig into a full-time career, but he knew the move would raise eyebrows. “In India it’s literally a sin to leave your stable job and start something on your own,” he laughs. “That’s what the old people would probably think.”

Still, his girlfriend had a job, and Chhabra sensed there might be no better time to become an Excel consultant. And then, with a huge boost from his historic cold call and interview, his word-of-mouth client list began to snowball. His career was off and running.

Early on, however, Chhabra realized he was still getting by largely on bravado. “I learned how much I didn’t know,” he remembers. “For example, I still did not know pivot tables. I used to solve everything through formulas because in financial modeling, you need to be really, really good with formulas. If someone asked me a pivot table question, I would steer away and suggest a formula to solve the same thing.”

Like many wannabe Excel gurus, Chhabra turned to YouTube—and promptly discovered Mike Girvin’s ExcelIsFun. “His one-hour video on pivot tables changed my outlook towards Excel.”

By 2016, Chhabra had become confident enough to enter the Excel World Championship. But, yet again, the experience taught him his own limits. “I was knocked off in the third round,” he says, “because there were Power Query and Power Pivot questions in that competition. And I had opened up Power Query for the first time in that competition. I had no idea what Power Query was.”

True to form, Chhabra quickly became a devotee of Power Query. “Imagine an accountant or HR professional who has to clean data repeatedly, day after day, week after week, whenever new data comes in,” he marvels. “If they get to know Power Query, it’s massive.”

Chhabra recognized the massive potential of Power Query and Power BI, and has since shaped his freelance career around them. Along the way, he has found himself invited to prestigious international Excel events—first, the 2024 Global Excel Summit, and now Bulgaria Excel Days.

Did that young kid in 2013, freshly out of a job, anxiously searching for his first big break, ever imagine he’d travel the world as an Excel expert? “Never in my wildest dreams.”

His secret to success, however, came out of that first momentous meeting. “After that, I made sure that every assignment, every training session, every interaction with the client becomes a stepping stone to get the next one.”

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