Some promises i’d like to make as time moves towards the next day, the next year (its exciting, the unknown, the new – its always positive, isnt it?)
In 2013, I am not going to tolerate ill-treatment, disrespect of any sorts. I am going to make an effort towards making myself, my home, the people i love and the people i know more “aware”. I will exercise the powers i have as the most mature / intelligent race on this earth. I will strive towards making my house, workplace and other places i interact at clean of any vice or bad. I will raise my voice against injustice of all sorts or any lie; and stand by the truth, even if i be alone. I will try my very best to help make this world a better place to live in for me, the people i love, the society i belong to and my family. I will do all of this by starting with myself – bringing about a change in my mindset that will question typecasts, will debate right & wrong, and make an informed decision for the better!
I wish, everyone i know make a similar pledge to bring about a change, to make their lives better, to live intelligently and not as animals – carried away by glitz, material pleasures. I wish that we all get together as a community, leaving behind our egos & minor differences to make the much required difference to our immediate lives, to live a better life & create a world that’s as fresh as a new born perceives it – pure.
I’m going that path, are you?
So, i was talking to my dad the other day about philosophy and related things when he narrated this story to me. Trying to reproduce it as near to the original as possible, but considering its me, i have surely added my own dramatic flavor to it.PS: My dad is a theatrical guy too
The story goes…
“Long time ago, when my dad was just entering his twenties. He’d taken a few weeks off to visit Haridwar. Those were the days when he was this young active debater, well-read philosopher, someone who always won an argument.
While at Haridwar, he’d fill his bag with biscuits and some necessities at dawn, pick a direction into the forest and walk to return back to his base by evening.
One such day, while on his way, there was a sudden thunder & hail storm. He looked around to see a door, walked in to find shelter in front of an “ashram-like place”. As he stood there waiting for the rain to subside, a mid-aged charismatic man walked out to talk to dad. He was a sage.
The man spoke fluent English, was charming and well-learned. He invited dad inside his “kuteer” for some black tea and boiled potatoes. A few minutes into the conversation, my dad was talking to him about the philosophers of this world, the philosophies he believes in, whats right and wrong, etc. The man, just listened on.
After about 90 mins of what was almost a one-way communication, with my dad rigorously trying to prove his philosophical & spiritual prowess, the rain had subsided. So, my dad stepped up to take his leave, thanked the man for his company & food. The man walked my dad to the door to see him off.
When dad turned around to leave, he called out to him and asked, “I’d like to say something, will you listen?”
Dad said, “Yes, most definitely”
The man said, “I am really happy that at such an young age you are well read, versatile with many great philosophers and their works & have achieved quite a lot!”
“But”, he said “Don’t you think instead of following various philosophies and thoughts of others, it’d be best if you imbibed all of them to make a philosophy of your own?”
My dad stood there staring at the wise-man, who very quickly walked in and locked the door.”
Dad narrated this story to me and said, I learnt a very important less of my life that day. And truly, that’s the most important gift my dad has given me – this essence of life that i took on early in my life.
“Understand, question, debate and know various things, phenomenon and philosophies in your life, but never blindly follow any. You always have to make one that you believe in and is best for you!”
Watched Barfi! today. Shruti’s narrative, towards the end, describes the way most of us live our lives. Last scene: When Jhilmil gets onto the bed with Barfi, Shruti talks about how she always wished to live her life with her true love and die with him. That’s when she contrasts her life with Jhilmli’s and says, “Jhilmil did not calculate and fall in love with Barfi, instead it happened naturally and she went with the flow.” (Unlike her, whose calculations were the reason she found Jhilmil in the position she could have easily been in)
Sameer and I have been discussing this topic internally for many months now – about living life the ‘sub-conscious’ way. Both of us have lived life that way (mostly) thus far. It’s essentially trying to live life in its pure form, free and instinctive.
Though one could argue, in the movie, that both Barfi and Jhilmil were handicapped & hence it did not matter how they lived their lives. I’d say, there is so much we could learn, if we wanted to, from people around us who may seem handicapped / limited / incapable. The sensitivities are what matter, which completely capable and normal people would lack easily!
So, coming back to our analysis of the sub-conscious living: Pondering about this, we also went about analyzing why some entrepreneurs do well whilst some others don’t; considering all of them have the same resources, opportunities and capabilities. That’s when we realized that the ones who do really well are the ones who live a sub-conscious life. These are the ones who do not overtly plan, or make mental calculations to figuring out – if i work on this idea, i’ll get funded over the other idea; OR i’ll do a Post grad in X school as it’ll fetch me a 10 figure salary; OR i’ll talk to this person over the other in a conference as he’s a speaker/ seems influential and the other is not, etc.
These are people who simply strongly believe in what they are doing and go about executing it in small chunks, making decisions of yea or nay as they come by small crossroads. Sometimes the yea’s work sometimes they don’t, when they don’t they quickly move to another decision. All of this happens pretty naturally – it just flows.
Now, the argument may swing towards – that’s a really wrong way of doing things. You’ll be running in circles if you just go by your instinct picking yea’s or nay’s. True that. But, if the initial decision making is so strong and one has internalized their decision of working towards an idea for the right reasons, then naturally or lets say sub-consciously they will make the correct decisions.
It’s all about the belief! If the belief is strong, then there is a definite quick tuning that happens in the mind which will help in making the right decision. This becomes a way of life. This, is what we call the sub-conscious way of life.
Of course, this is a very top level explanation of the sub-conscious concept, but i thought it apt to describe briefly after i watched Barfi! today. Coz life’s beautiful and happy when one lives an un-calculated life. Believe in something and go after it in a very pure/true way!
This is one of the posts i wrote for Money control’s SME Mentor section! View Original Post.
I have been interacting with many startup founding teams. Some of who have been building their product and are running a services outfit along side. Their point-of-view is that the services arm of their company will fund the product part of their venture.
Now, I am not against the idea of running a services company. I also buy the logic of startups bootstrapping & doing small-time consulting gigs or taking up short term projects to earn some revenues. Though, what bothers me is, product startups getting sucked into the services rut.
Let me list a few scenarios that I have come across to bring forth my point:
1. Two people come together to build a web-product. They brainstorm the vision for their product company. Figure out what they want to build initially and realize that they need some working capital to build a team, do marketing, etc. Also, they find out, what they have saved for this venture will not be enough to do all the above. The result – they decide on taking up services as a part-time effort. But eventually, the pressures of external commitment & delivery take major focus. Finally, product is sidelined & they continue to live-up to the services commitment.
2. Two people come together to build a web-product. They figure out what the initial plan of action should be. They realize they need more working capital, one guy opts to running the services part of the venture. The other guy begins to build the product. Eventually, the guy doing the services feels more important as he’s bringing the money in. The Product guy has a different point-of-view. The result: Either things fall apart and they part ways or the product guy is forced to shut shop and join the services part of the venture.
3. Two people come together to build a web-product. They calculate the amount of money they have for this venture. They work backwards to figuring out what they can achieve with the resources they have. They plan on building a minimum viable product and get as much usage as possible before they run out of money. They also plan on reaching out to friends and family to raise more money, once their product is launched, as they do not want to distract themselves right now. As Plan B, they will take on freelance projects for a few hours, if need be to make some money.
All the above scenarios are what I have come across during my interactions with startups. My advice to them is always: Focus is very important for a startup. Any distraction that has a tendency of slowing down your progress or distracting you from achieving what you want to do or are passionate about is best avoided.
Running a services arm is the most obvious thing to do, as it suddenly makes you profitable. But this path needs to be taken carefully. There is a danger of getting sucked into what you don’t want to do.
Scenario 3 is what I advocate. I have seen startups tread this path and have managed to either start making revenues from their product or have managed to infuse some money from friends and family based on version 1 of the product. Now, the choice is for you to make!
So, if you’ve noticed, i’ve not been regularly blogging off late. Well till date. I got carried away by @guglanisam’s persuasive talks and shifted to Posterous from WP sometime back. Like all relationships, all was well initially, until the Posterous team migrated to Twitter. Then on, each time i had a blog post to go live – Posterous would either be down or inaccessible. The result – I told myself, i’ll shift my blog to WP and then start blogging.
But, like many things, this migration took back seat amongst other tasks. Until recently, when, @ckjedimaster came into picture. He’s helped me not just in migrating, but choosing a beautiful theme & getting a favicon in place too! Thanks to him that I am back to blogging and on WP now. @CK thanks dude, i owe you!
Now with this plush new theme, i am going to blog more often than i’d ever done! [Finger's crossed!]
I admire Rahul Dravid for what he is as a human being. As a cricketeer he’s perhaps among the very few who held the reference “A gentleman’s game” true till date. His simplicity, his focus and dedication are examples for many of us to refer to.
I was just reading the transcript of his retirement statement and when i finished it struck to me that here’s a guy who’s lived his life through a certain discipline, a discipline of dedication, passion and truth. Something he’s said as his parting lines are ones that’s relevant not just to sportsmen, but all of us across various professions, countries and cultures. Something if all of us tried to our best of abilities, the world would definitely be a better place!
My approach to cricket has been reasonably simple: it was about giving everything to the team, it was about playing with dignity and it was about upholding the spirit of the game. I hope I have done some of that. I have failed at times, but I have never stopped trying. It is why I leave with sadness but also with pride.
I see you leave with sadness Rahul, but i’ll always be proud of the fact that a person such as you represented our country, India!
Thank you Steve for showing me how life can be lived. To fearlessly make the most of all opportunities and seek opportunities where there is none. To push the limits of imagination. To dis-prove by doing. To live life each day as if it were my last!
Thanks for reinforcing the belief that a kick-ass product does its own marketing. That products are built to make life easier, hence make it an experience! An experience that end users crave for.
You’ve taught me a lot. Though i never knew you in person, though you were instrumental in making inanimate products, you spoke to me through your products. You told me that you cared about me. You gave me what i wanted. You surprised me by making possible what i thought would take technology many more years to achieve. You helped me gain confidence through your products. You made me look good with your products on me. You were the reson that people envied me
I am proud to be a round peg in a square hole. Thanks for the immense impact you’ve had on me, and will continue to have, without being obvious about it! You are a rock star. You are a hero. To me you are GOD. I will miss you.
We at The Morpheus love Steve and Apple so much that we recently borrowed the text of “Crazy Ones”, engraved it onto a plaque and gave it to the morpheus gang for inspiration!
I have always believed that Life can be led in a very transparent, truthful manner; without indulging in “corruption”. I have stood for what I have believed in. Followed the rule book, questioned it if seemed redundant or not relevant (its obvious with the fast pace that things are changing).
I have seen lot many people (friends & family) race past me in life, by taking shortcuts of all sorts – bribe and get a driving license without even being physically present there, breaking traffic signals & bribing the cop to get away for cheap, or evade taxes. I believe that these are short cuts they have carved in their lives.
As kids my sister and I were not ‘told’ to follow certain principles or do things a certain way, but we have parents who led by example. So, there is a lot you learn without being taught and there is a lot you have to live up to – the standards are self-set, happens automatically.
My dad, a civil engineer quit his PWD job as he could not fit into the system of accepting bribes, he refused to give in & he was pressurised by people above and below in hierarchy. He quit to embrace a noble profession – teach. Towards the end of his career, he was put to quest again – where his promotion was withheld to being a Principal, coz he was not the one with the “right connections”. Even now, he took pre-mature retirement & did not give in. Now, he is a peaceful man working as a television actor & living a senior citizens life.
I have learnt a lot from my parents who have not given into corrupt methods & measures of the society. To the best extent possible, even I have lived my life following the same principles. I confess, that I have given in a couple of times – I cannot forgive myself for it. Perhaps, I was too beaten down by the corrupt system.
Image Courtesy: IndiaAgainstCorruption website
Sameer & I have often discussed in length that right now if there is anything that is hindering India’s growth & progress to becoming a super power is its rampant corruption. I strongly believe that if the Jan Lokpal Bill gets its due attention on the floor of the parliament, we will have a respectable citizen ombudsman in place that will check the degree of corrupt activities. This indeed does not mean eradication, but does mean inoculation. So, maybe 10 years from now my daughter can get her passport renewed without paying the clerk money to get it in her hands (this happened to Sameer and we had to pay as we were leaving for Kenya in two days on work – the passport office did not dispatch the document even though we were on tatkal mode, as they knew that this renewal was important for us).
On Wednesday, 17th August, 2011. It was day 2, Anna & his teammates were retained in Tihar Jail (by now, Anna had detained himself & was adamant that he will leave without any condition levied on his fast unto death protest). Sameer, Abhishek & I set out to contribute towards “our” cause for an hour to the Rally Ground, Sector 25 in Chandigarh. There was Section 144 in Chandigarh as was the case in rest of India. At the rally ground, the coordinator asked us if we’re ready to volunteer, we agreed.
We geared ourselves with posters of India against corruption, communication material, pasted stickers on our tee shirts & set out to spread the word. What I witnessed in the next 80 minutes was pure MAGIC! We stood with the posters held by our chests, smiling on the road dividers at a busy Sector 36 & 37 junction. We were 3, each took one divider & stood there spreading the word, asking people to participate by going to the Rally Ground.
The police patrol jeep followed us in less than 15 minutes. The cop started questioning us, asked us to disperse if not he’ll have to take action. Sameer & Abhishek were interacting with him. I did not stop to engage in talk, without wasting time, I continued to stand by the junction displaying the India Against Corruption poster. The police patrol jeep sped away after watching our activities for about 20 mins.
The reactions were varied:
- Uncles, aunts, grandparents all waved at me, made eye contact and said “shabhash” good job. Some said, “good job. we are with anna”
- Youngsters, college going kids, school kids – all of them cheered me in their own way. some smiled, some nodded, some waved, some showed thumbs up.
- Rich, poor, people walking, ones in cars, those on bikes and even auto-rickshaws – all of them made eye contact. Acknowledged my message.
- One uncle came up to me and said, “Good job beta. Keep it up. the entire nation is with anna & so am I”
- Many people stopped to know more, some specifically asked if we were staging a protest or if there was some activity happening as they wanted to participate too.
- A press photographer came a took our photos too
- Three people asked me to go stand by the shade & spread the word (it was between 12 & 1:30noon that we were there, as it was lunch time and high traffic. This particular day was warm as it had rained a lot the previous night.)
- A gentleman came by, stopped his car in front of me, approached me & said “You are doing a great job. I want to do something too. What can I do for you.” He went to the boot of his car, opened it. Picked up a bottle of “Slice Mango”, came to me and said “Please accept this, something that I can do from my side”. I refused initially, saying I was volunteering. But he pressed saying, “you are doing a great job, I am volunteering too & want to help in the cause”. I was moved & accepted the juice bottle. He had gone around the roundabout and offered Abhishek & Sameer a bottle each, this I got to know later.
Those 80 odd minutes, on the street, spreading awareness in a very silent / peaceful way was the most enriching time of my life. I have supported various causes, done street plays to spread awareness on issues/topics in the past. But this was different, very different. I was proud of what I was doing, super confident, never did my smile wane off – it was a proud smile actually. I also realized that what I stood there for mattered to each and every one who passed by. I saw integrity in their gestures, I saw resentment against the corrupt system, I saw faith in Anna Hazare, I saw positive hope & a confident attitude among people. The experience was a “high” of another sort.
When we got back to the Rally Ground we saw a few people who had taken information with us there. Later that evening, we saw many others we had interacted with participate in the candle march along with their friends. (grass-root level word of mouth in play).
I was proud, full of energy & glad that I am contributing to a cause I believe will change the face of India. Thanks Anna Hazare for knowingly or unknowingly evoking the confidence of standing up to ones own rights amongst us Indians!
I am traveling across 3 other cities in the next week & I will take time from work to raise my voice against corruption in support of Anna Hazare. I want to be a part of this historical movement, a change maker, someone who can proudly narrate stories of my growing up years – when I grow old.
Choosing what to focus on after getting started can be rather confusing for the startup founders. In most cases founders lose out on crucial time, right after starting, by focusing on wrong things like fund-raising, team building, deep market research, building a fully functional product as their first release to go public!
When a startup gets started, it should have 4 things:
1. A founding team (or a founder ) committed to making things work against all odds
2. An important problem that impacts a significant set of customers, and hypothesis for the potential solution(s) that needs to be proven right or wrong
3. Have skills to hand-create solution to the problem, combined with the initial subject matter expertise in the domain they are working on
4. Some basic money to survive and work on the problem / solution
The above ingredients are usually a resultant of:
· An ‘ah-ha’ moment of finding the right idea / problem to solve
· A natural coming together of a team which has one main goal – solving the same pain-point
Once the problem to solve is identified, the team should spend time in figuring out the best way to executing it. So where does one start, anyway?
What to focus on?
When a team gets started, there are far too many things to take care of. Focusing on things that do not matter may happen unconsciously or unintentionally. The one guideline that perhaps will help in choosing one task over the other maybe in asking the question “How big is the impact of the task I’ll do to the lives of my potential/existing customers”. This is true not just for teams that are starting out, but all startups across (even helpful for executives in large companies in prioritizing their tasks).
Simply put, a startup should not spend anytime in things that do not impact its end customers / audience, as getting their attention and making an impact early is important.
Broadly classified, early stage startups should focus on only 3 things and keep the customer in mind at all times:
· Engage: It is important to engage with potential customers to convert strangers to friends. First, think of who these potential customers are going to be. Every section of potential customers will have an early adopter category. These are people who are quick to use a product that seems useful, quick to give feedback, are largely forgiving and have a sense of what else is there in the market in the same domain. These are also influencers who will bring other users to your product. Look for such influencers in the potential customer segment you are going after. Reaching out to them, engaging in a dialogue will help in building a community that is listening to you or giving you attention, even before the initial product is launched.
How do you reach out and start a dialogue with them? Today, there are various cost-efficient or no-cost avenues of reaching out to strangers and making friends. Startup teams can simply start with their own blogs & establish their authority over the problem they are trying to solve. Social networks, micro-blogging sites and relevant online / offline forums are good start points to engaging the potential customer initially. Let the communication be focused to reach out to a few, strong followers. Do not spread thin. It’s not about spamming a list of email ids; but reaching out with your thoughts so that people who are interested will organically engage with you.
A startup building efficient ways of securing servers for businesses can engage with their potential customers by organizing seminars or events that teaches people how to secure their servers by themselves or how to pick the best tools for that job. These events should be designed to give the potential customer a lot of value. This will lead to building of confidence, trust and respect about the product/brand/startup in the minds of the potential customers. But, at not point should these avenues be used to sell directly. The idea is to influence and hog larger mindshare, so that they pick you when they have to make a buying decision. Like how McDonald’s is for burgers!
· Build: The first version of the product/solution that a startup will build must be something that aims to solve an important / acute problem for a specific set of small potential customers. It can be incomplete or imperfect. What is built can be a small part of the large problem the startup is trying to solve. But, it must be something that can be executed quickly and with the resources available within the startup team. It’s important to build and push out to early adopters.
The scope of the initial product must be narrowed down to a very myopic level. This minimum useful product must have one compelling reason for customers to use it. If it’s scrappy and looks alpha-like its fine (in fact the early adopters prefer it that – so that they can help you polish it).
Remember using the initial versions of the internet? Connecting the modem to a telephone line, waiting for dial-tone, dialing in multiple times before it gets connected! As early internet users, we had all the patience of dialing a hundred times and endlessly waiting for pages to load – only because that was the only way to connect to the internet!
· Sell: Once you have a quick and dirty version of your product ready, reach out to the customers you’ve engaged with and sell it to them. Here sell does not necessarily mean in exchange for money; it also means getting end customers to use your product. It is important to get as many customers to use your product to get constructive, relevant feedback to build on the next version.
It is important to start selling early. To reach out to potential customers, pitch them the value proposition, sign them up to use the product / solution. The earlier a startup does this, the better, as they have real audience to validate their product and give feedback.
Though there was multiple email applications, most of us flocked to get beta invites of gmail. This was because google had engaged with us and had enticed us enough for us to get wishful about the ‘invite only’ gmail. Or do you remember signing up as a test user for any of the products in the market today? I am sure you’ll be able to relate to the value that test users like you could provide to a product that’s being built.
The above 3 things are always iterative and can work in parallel. Engage while you Build, Sell & Engage.
In all building a great product is a slow, iterative and painful process. It’s important to believe completely in what you are doing, when you get started, but be agile and keep an open mind to change as you go along. Focus, Engage, Build Quick, Interact, Sell, Get users, Engage, Build again, Sell again, and Repeat all.
Note: This post was written for Silicon India, sometime in July 2011. You can find the published link here.