Life, Change & Startup Service

For many of us, life happens in the background while we strive to live through our dreams of achievement and accumulation. For some of us, there is a pause in our lives and we suddenly start observing our life and living it.

I have been on this journey of observation the past couple of years. But recently, there was a major shift. As I’ve been watching my actions and simplifying my thoughts. In October 2014, along with Amit, I found myself at an startup event that was no less than ‘magic’.

Startup service for me was like a dream-reality sequence, unable to decipher what was real and what was a dream. But, philosophically I knew both were as valid as they come. The weekend was about ideas no doubt, but the spirit of cooperative participation and the intention to ‘give’ dominated. Each person who participated in the process was there for a reason, all with a personal journey story to share. Happiness, humility, love, gratitude, empathy, positivity, productivity, giving & accepting – all people at this 3 day event were about these things. Amidst all the love teams worked on their ideas with care, to convert them into actionable concepts / products.

There were folks with who the idea originated, there were other folks who were supporting them as a team, there were some other folks who were there as mentors. In all, everyone was happy to help each other with the goal of building something that could help each other by the end of the weekend. All of us worked on ideas ranging from Activity Kits for kids, workshops on mindful food preparations, education framework for kids, participative art installation activities, to products made of sustainable material like sugarcane fibre, and many more.  The people there were special with their own uniqueness and it was sheer joy to see each of them adding to the energy of that place.

All of them touched my life and something inside has changed forever. This was the first time I’ve been introduced to a concept like Service Space. Personally, with Morpheus Gang’s shift of focus from being a commercial accelerator to a community of entrepreneurs who participate by giving first. Interacting with folks of Service Space and first hand witnessing people living the ‘giftivism’ way of life; has reinforced my confidence in the path we have chosen at Morpheus Gang.

The event in itself was surreal, for me as i mentioned earlier. But the final few hours of the event were extra-ordinarily magical from what I perceived. It was endless exchange of energies, creating more and many more hugs. I am sure, it gave everyone an eternal hangover of love, like it did to me. And, my journey back home from Ahmedabad to Chandigarh via Delhi is what I call “my journey of realisations”! (More on that later!)

Here are some relevant links to know more about Startup Service: http://www.movedbylove.org/blog/view.php?id=349; Moved By Love: http://www.movedbylove.org/

Here’s a gem by Kanti Patel, that sums up the spirit of life!

 

Living Consciously

The more i travel, interact with people; the more i notice. Notice that we are all just breathing, eating, talking, doing, reacting – as if working of a script; a script of deeply ingrained propagandism, as it were.

The way we talk, walk, look. What we wear, eat, do. Where we go for a holiday even. Somehow mostly, almost every act of ours as a human race seems to be happening rather unconsciously. Off late, i’ve been stopping to ask questions to people around me. Quoting two examples:

We were visiting a friends place, he is almost like family to us. The conversation over green tea was kids (they have twins 3.5years  and i have a daughter 5 years). Suddenly, I heard him say things i’d never imagined he’d every. He’s been this big brother hero who had intelligent answers for everything. He was talking about how others in his family think that the kids should be at par with anyone else. He had quickly distanced himself from the issue and was now passing the blame of decisions to his partner and others in the family. Then there were talks of how cruel the school was, how incompetent the teachers were, etc. Which I agree to – I mean, tests and home work for 3.5 year olds, with questions like “Name 5 surface transport vehicles”. Ya well. So, somewhere in between, i could not hold it and asked them the question, that was obvious to me – “Why? As educated folks, who could question and bring about change, why are you doing this to your kids?” The answer i heard, though not explicit was – We want it that way, as this is the safe path to tread. It’s okay that our kids creativity or flair to uniqueness is being squashed; but peace is maintained at home!  Here, its beyond even asking them to think consciously. its almost suicide. Specially when people have the capacity of conscious living; but compartmentalise to do the most socially acceptable thing in a few matters.

In another incident, I met two good friends recently, who were all set to go to a lunch party. I was in a park with my daughter, they were stopping by to say a quick ‘hi’. They called and ask me to wait for them by the wayside, as they were not comfortable getting off the car. Why? They were not dressed suitable for a park and would mind if people took a second look or raised their eye-brows. During my conversation with them,  i asked a questions that seemed very obvious to me – Why wear something that you’re not comfortable with? Of course, there are arguments and counter arguments to this – every occasion has to be dealt with in a different manner, so the question is not valid. Its unfair that i am judging them, so on. All fair. And i am not judging anyone. I am only accounting an incident to bring about a larger point. A learning i’ve been experiencing.

For me, many things are simple and straight. This is so because of the recent exercise i’ve been doing. The exercise of conscious questioning. As part of this, if i were to go someplace, i’d question the need to dress “appropriately”. Now, the question is “what is appropriate” “who decided it to be that way” “why isnt this better than that” “what is better anyway”. All these questions are important for me, coz if i dont ask them, i’ll be acting through my deeply ingrained conditioning that tells me – for some occasions dress in a certain fashion even if it means you are uncomfortable deep inside. Or because, there is this fear of not belonging or whatever else. And hence, doing this for years will make us seem comfortable; but deep inside that may not be true at all.

It’s been rather interesting to note the things i’d been doing without much thought. This conscious questioning process has pushed me to understand myself at a different level. Perhaps, brought me nearer to my true self.

I wish many of us tried to live life the Conscious way. Questioning simple things that we do; be it our personal decisions of dating someone, marrying, smoking, not-smoking, our concepts of having fun, Facebook usage OR what’s the real reason i am doing this job over the other, why do i eat this and not that; and so on!

We all claim to be the educated, affluent, civilised folks in this world. But many-a-times our actions are of the lowest degrees of human kind. The media these days is filled with incidents of such sorts. We are quick to openly dis-associate ourselves from such acts and spew criticisms. Criticise the people who exhibit such behaviour, question their upbringing, their culture, so on.

If only we all stopped to think. Exercised Conscious thought. We’d all understand that we are as much responsible for such acts as are those in the act themselves. We are a part of that unconscious or contaminated conscious that propels such behaviour. We are a part of that problem. No point distancing and being dual about it.

What if we all stopped a moment to look at nature, appreciated its beauty, thanked it? Respected everything around it. By respect, i do not mean referring to people as Sir’s and Madam’s. But truly, deep within felt one with each other and felt the gratitude for their existence. What if we could stop compartmentalising and being selfish and accepted everything as part of us? Much of what we do, think and are will change. I know. I have experienced it.

“You may say 
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

For this, all it takes is for each of us to stop living in this reactionary mode and start living consciously!

 

Good exists. You gotto believe in it!

Early December, 2013 I spent 4 days in Mumbai. As part of what i do, i travel regularly to Delhi-Mumbai-Bangalore. So, this was nothing special, but one of the regular visits before i’d head off to Auroville to end the year on a silent note.

A bit of a background: I’ve been kinda compulsive all my life and paranoid to making sure i have all my things intact. I’ve grown up with folks telling me i am carefree, careless, i don’t pay attention to things and maybe that (till sometime back) had rubbed so deeply off on me that i was nearing paranoia in making sure i was careful with things. And so, i’d check if i had my bags around a 100 times. Constantly touched my pocket to see if my wallet was around. Touched my ears to check if my earrings were intact and so on!

Over time, i had made patterns in my mind and mapped that with specific actions to ensure that i had secured all things i had with me when i moved from a place to another. For example, when i got into a cab from the airport the sequence was to put my wallet in my backpack > slip the phone in my pocket > place my rucksack on the seat beside me > pass my less used hand into the sling of my backpack and lug onto it, while i took my ride!

In the recent months, i’ve been in the process of deconstruction and reconstruction of myself. In that i’ve managed to let go of my paranoia, break the pattern and sequence, and be more free flowing; not worrying about losing things or even thinking that i am capable of losing things. I’d thought i had successfully overcome this old pattern and moved to being more light headed. But this was not tested.

Now: This time when i got my pre-paid taxi slip to board at the Mumbai airport, i was on a phone call. I boarded the taxi as i spoke on the phone. This was an evening flight and i was looking forward to going home to Andheri and spending a quite evening bonding with my sister-in-law, who i had not spent too much time with in the recent past. Work would resume the following day.

The taxi ride was interesting, as the driver and i spoke of many topics ranging from the monorail and metro projects to school fees and Salman Khan. I was dropped off at my destination. I thanked the man and disappeared into my apartment complex. This was around 6:30pm.

At home, post some catching up, Shweta (my sister-in-law) and i decided we’ll watch a movie at the theatre nearby post a quick “chaat” stop. Advantages of living in Lokhandwala, Andheri is that you can literally walk down to watch a movie! So by around 8pm we decided to leave, i stopped to pick my wallet up. And lo! there was no wallet.

Under normal circumstance, paranoia would have taken over. I’d have panicked. All hell would have broken lose.

But this time, i was super calm. I told Shweta – If i have to get it back i will. Then i quickly tracked my memory back to where i could have left it. It was in the taxi. By now, Shweta was a little unsettled. She started to look up for numbers to call, online. I told her, the taxi driver was a good guy. Maybe he has not realised yet, that i have left my wallet in his car. Or he has not got a chance to get in touch with us. I’ll get it back. Incase, there was someone else who boarded the taxi and decided to keep it and not hand it over to the driver, then it was not for me to get it!

Shweta, who knows me for a decade now, was unsettled looking at my calm nature – which was very unlike me. She managed to call the airport and get the taxi service complaints number. (I had handed over even the acknowledgement slip to taxi driver and i did not have the booking ID either)

I told Shweta, lets go watch the movie and if no one comes back with it by end of day, we’ll check with the airport taxi guys in the morning. But Shweta was adamant that we ride to the airport to check, so i followed her instructions!

We drove to the airport, checked with the taxi folks. They said, the taxi driver had not encashed for the day and they’d with hold his payment and contact us when he came by.

Meanwhile, I had called home and folks were concerned. I’d talked to Sameer to courier me my alternate Photo ID, as i was flying to Chennai three days later. Infact, my only concern was that. If i did not get my wallet back, what would i do for an ID to travel. Nothing else concerned me. Not the money in the wallet, nor the bank cards. So, Sameer, the smart guy he is gave me a suggestion – I went to the airlines counter at Departures, asked them if a photocopy of the ID would work as i had lost my wallet. They said yes. I went and spoke to the security head and he confirmed positive, under the given circumstance. Now that my flying out of Mumbai was covered. I dragged Shweta to have Chaat at the airport. We hung out there for a bit, missing the movie and drove back to Andheri to meet other friends.

Just as we reached home, my phone rang. The Taxi Complaints Manager was calling to tell me that the cab driver was infront of him with my wallet. I smiled as my faith/ belief was confirmed. I told the Manager to take some money off my wallet and hand it over to the driver as my token of thanks and gratitude, as he may not be waiting for me till i got to the airport. Also requested the Manger that if my wallet did not have that money to pay from him pocket and i’d pay him back when i met him.

We then drove back to the airport at night, picked the wallet up. Thanked the Manager and drove back home. While all this was happening. Not once did i panic. I saw that i had really changed and this tested it out.

Incidentally, i had a lot of money in my wallet that day; which is very unlike me, but was incidental that I had withdrawn a significantly large amount for something and that did not get used. All that money was intact.

In other times, i’d have felt bad, cursed myself for being careless, run and re-run the episode in my mind to figuring out how it could have been avoided if i had paid more attention to one specific action, so on! Wasting a lot of energy. Spreading a lot of negative energy. So on!

This time, nothing of that sort happened. It was all peaceful and good prevailed.

Amidst all this, one big thing that i learnt is that – it’s okay to lose. it’s okay to slip on a few things. I also for once was reminded of all the times that i have been opinionated about Sameer misplacing his things or losing his ATM cards (which btw is a joke now at TMHQ!) I realised how i’d feel bad about it and spread negative energy around me. It taught me – such things happen to all, when its meant to happen. So just go with the flow. Let go. But have faith. Have the belief that there are good people all around you. Think Good & Good prevails!

Superzoom. Tread Slow.

I’ve been away, far from the madding world (so to say) most of December 2013. I started my December first week in a series of meetings in Chandigarh and Bombay, amidst loosing and getting back my wallet in a cab in Bombay. (More on this later). I then headed out to Auroville (City of Dawn), an experimental township 20 mins North of Pondicherry.

I spent the first week at Auroville attending a workshop on Sustainability titled “Exploring a Sustainable Future” – a finely designed workshop that gave me an insight into the various happenings at Auroville, which we tag as Sustainable Projects; but which are indeed the “only way” to do somethings! This week, i had Amit Puri (The guy who gets things done at The Morpheus) attend the workshop with me. I think the workshop had the power to provide the impetus to make a Shift.

I then spent the weekend with my childhood friend Reshma, who i think was not convinced with the recent changes i have undergone as a person. I am sure, she still thinks I have lost it and is also perhaps saying silent prayers for me 🙂 (Is that right Resh?!)

For two and a half weeks after that I had Sameer, Abhishek (@gargolgy) and Sanaa comeby and we spent a lot of time with each other. I was initially supposed to leave Auroville around the 26th December, as two friends from my school were here in Bangalore, getting married. These two people, mean much to me and i love them a lot. But, I just could not get myself to get out of Auroville. The place has some magical energies that makes someone like me just stay there!

So, what did i do for over two weeks at Auroville? Nothing, actually. Just hung out with Abhishek, Sameer and Sanaa. Let a lot of random thoughts come and haunt my mind. Killed those thoughts, resolved a lot of conflicts within through those thoughts. Concentrated at the MatriMandir (It is a Physics marvel, actually), hung out at Cafes, ate at organic farms, and did some other things which may sound random, but were meaningful to me.

All my life, i have been “busy” doing something or the other. Which was nothing but keeping the mind busy, doing something intellectual, proving to myself that i can be super productive. For the first time in my life of 37 Summers, i spent quality time emptying my mind. Learning to de-clutter. Learning to slower my thoughts and focus on my innerself. Silence myself, figuratively speaking. I’d been reading some and interacting with a master – learning these concepts of silencing the mind, slowing the thoughts to focus on things that need to be worked on. But, had never taken time off to practice it to such lengths.

Auroville also provides that set-up where one can pretty quick go into the mode of concentration and deep focus – provided one is keen on silencing the thoughts and have the determination to do so. If not, a noisy mind is no good anywhere!

As i come back to the city today. To a noisy Bangalore, where i’ll spend the next 2 weeks. I know that somethings in me have moved. I have this strong conviction that it is important to Tread Slow – in thoughts. To understand the real reasons thoughts occur, stay with them for a while to recognise where they are coming from – are they a result of our deep, unknown conditioning or are they what would have have occurred naturally – something that was meant to be. And once this slow down begins to occur; then it becomes easy to superzoom. Superzoom is very important to achieve excellence in whatever we do, which intellectually speaking, we all think we have achieved. But only a clear, naturally inclined state of being can experience superzoom! The state of ability where one can quickly go into the depth of a subject and think through specifics like a master to invoke results of excellence. Steve Jobs had the ability of some such, to give an example. Examples simplify concepts sometimes. One other person was Ayrton Senna.

So, my Mantra as i come back to my calling / Karma, as it were is “Slow Down & Superzoom”!

Emotional dependencies with products you like

(Narrative tone)

All of us are consumers of innumerable products online and offline, every day of our lives. As humans, we naturally associate ourselves with these products and attach emotions to them. I am sure each of us have a certain usage pattern of the products we consume. All of these products evoke a certain emotion in us. Thus creating dependencies. I have been thinking about the dependencies we create for ourselves while using these products or otherwise. I have also been wondering about the impact these products have on us to change our behaviour patterns.

There have been many products that have impacted my life. I have over-indulged in some of them. Some have been sheer conveniences in my life.

When i had to fly with my infant child the first time ever, i was particular about flying a certain airline, as i trusted them. I thought they cared. It was their offering and the way they conducted themselves that made me have that dependency that my infant will fly safe with them!

I feel wanted, special and cared for when i hold an apple product in my hand or interact with one. It’s the sheer design and finess that its products exude that makes me trust it. The belief is that irrespective, the brand cares & will have built something special for my benefit. I am a blind apple products user for ages now.

For a long time i wore a certain Nike sandals which were near to bearfoot stuff you get these days, but the most comfortable pair of footwear anyone could wear. I have not found sandals that suit me as much till date. But slip into unhappiness even till date when i remember that product and dislike the fact that they dont make them anymore! Sigh.

Google Apps is another product that i am dependent on. Love the convenience that it offers for startups. Simple, yet life changing additions. It is more like people building these features were watching my expressions and experiences to tailor made simple additions for me. Be it the undo sent mail feature or the did you mean Sean instead of Shaun feature.

Twitter of course is a huge emotional punch bag for many of us, including me. Its a one way broadcast many a times for me to vent my anger, frustrations, etc. besides that other informative things it offers and i give back.

Inboxwhiz is a browser plugin for google mail that helps me stay in control emotionally. I am an compulsive email checker. More like, who the hell will mail me earth shattering information at 3 am? I am compulsive! So inboxwhiz helps me here. Its like a floodgate. I can determine when i’d like inboxwhiz to push mails to my inbox. Till such time it’ll withhold my mails from reaching my inbox. Initially, i was an emotional wreck almost, but now i am getting used to the fact that inboxwhiz holds my mails to show them to me thrice a day.

I have been testing a to-do app code named ‘Tyler’. Its stupid simple to use and i have figured out that any thing i need to do, if i tell tyler he’ll get it done! Thats more like blind faith. Thats a huge dependency i have, as i have begun to believe that Tyler App is the best way to handle to-dos and act on them.

Now, as i indulge in all these products happily. There is one thought that shakes me off my skin – what if they decide to shut shop? Wrap up? Change it completely? What if? (I have goosebumps typing this line out, imagine if they actually said – thanks for being a great user, but its bye-bye time!)
More recently we have seen a few good products bite the dust. TunglePosterous, Summly and Google Reader. Imagine, if facebook sent you that bye-bye mail? What’ll happen to all those people who you think you are in touch with coz they are on facebook? What’ll people who use it 12 times a day on their phones do? It’ll be chaos, mayhem almost!

Though I am emotionally charged and anxious as i write about this. It intrigues me to know the impact such incidents have on the user’s mind, emotions, behaviour? I am assuming its like waking up one day to realize that the imaginary friend you played with most of your childhood was not there any more. Happens when you grow-up suddenly! It’s like how the narrator realized that Tyler Durden was his imagination in Fight Club. I am sure, its like losing a close friend, a relative or a pet.

Living in a voraciously consumerist society, we are breeding many abnormalities through the products we build for all of us to consume. I am sure we are getting more and more emotionally dependent on gadgets, web products and other physical products that give us the emotional satisfaction whilst we use them.  As, it will break our hearts, make us more insecure, push us to depression and perhaps product separation rehabilitation – who knows?

So, have you had a product heartbreak yet? What’s it like? OR do you think i am over-reacting? Your thoughts would be great to have as inputs.

Some vows!

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?

Lessons of life!

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!”

Good Deed Done, eh?!

This post is a personal experience – a rarity on my blog, but this one deserves it!

I’ve been re-living my childhood for sometime now. All those who are parents can relate to what i say – with a 15 month old at home (Sanaa) – looking at the world in her perspective is a whole new learning for me! (As adults, how we forget – we learnt most of our basics just like our kids are doing!)

So, with the little one around i’ve found that my perspectives on a few things have changed mildly and in some cases turned overtly sensitive. But, this incident just brought back memories of when i was a school kid.

A bird couple – Myna’s toiled hard the past weeks to build their haven in the open duct we have in our balcony (we just don’t use that kitchen, hence the exhaust duct is just a duct). Sometime last week, i heard chirps of baby birds and i was super excited. Tend to parallel incidents and life stories (thats the dramatist in me, i guess) & so, even here i paralleled it to the birds nurturing their lil ones to us & Sanaa. I kept showing Sanaa the Mama-Papa birds and she learnt to says ‘bird’ ‘coz of that.

This morning, i heard these birds cry in horror. Their chirps were strange, very harassed. I went out into the backyard to look up to a staring cat. I shooed him away and i assumed these birds were threatened by the cat hovering around. Later when i went up, i though i’d just check on if all is well in the balcony. To my horror, i saw a fledgling lying on the ground – almost suffering.

I went into flash-back of my childhood, when Sparrows had laid eggs in the attic of my bathroom and one morning, a little chick had fallen down. I remember my dad warning me not to touch it with my bare hand – we’d carefully slid the little one onto a cardboard sheet and placed it back near its nest. My sis & i were happy that the little one was accepted back and not killed.

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Experience advised me and i got to action. But the only hitch was – the nest was too high in the wall. So, i picked the little one up, made a make-shift sleeping pad for it by converting a tray and lining it with soft cloth & placed the little one in there. I was hoping the parents will pick the guy up and back home. Sadly, a couple of hours later, i did not see it happening. The parents were still hassled & confused! And the fledgling was tired & losing energy. It was almost immobile and i for a second thought i’d lost the little one. (sigh!) I fed it some water and it seemed to gain energy, but that was just not good enough!

I took things in my hand, got Sameer and Sanaa to aide me in my cause. While they guarded me and my stool from attacks from the parents, i restored the little one back into its hole.

Now, all kids are united. Parents are happy. They dint push the little one out to die (thank goodness!) I was super satisfied that normalcy has been restored. Felt good that i settled the minds of the parent myna’s. I looked at Sanaa and thought to myself – Good deed done, eh?!

Breaking News: 1 year and MVP is still growing (& strong!)

A little over a year ago, when Sameer & I quit our jobs (again!) & set out on our journey called Morpheus Venture Partners, I could hear whispers in the sidelines…. Some shouted out loud on our face (I love the sorts who are upfront!) Many of them supported us of this decision and thought early stage eco-system in India badly needed something like this.  A few thought we were fraud & just trying to take advantage of innocent entrepreneurs; some thought that there was not much value in what we were doing, a lot of them thought entrepreneurs need money not advice… and so on…

I’ve always done what i have strongly believed in & so was the case with MVP. Not that we had the entire thing  planned out in our heads. We started with a loose model; something that could be of value to start-up entrepreneurs, we were open to learning, tweaking as we learned and executed. But our focus was and will continue to be to give the best and excel in what we do!

And now, one year later, we’ve just announced 10 start-ups as part of our Third Batch and expanded our team. Read Release Here What does it mean to me, as a Partner and one of the founding members of MVP? A whole freakin’ lot!

Indus is a super cool dude, who has entrepreneurship in his blood. The match in attitude, wave length between the team is superb! [Picture this – Indus lives in Bangalore, travels in the local bus, walks some distances to get to a meeting and yet he has all the energy to deliver!]

Thanks to Ankit of Instablogs via whom met Indus & engaged him as a pro-bono Subject Matter Expert for MVP companies. At MVP we had no plans or thoughts of expanding the team in any which way, partly because we ourselves operate like a frugal start-up & partly also because we were unsure about the role of a new team member. But, the guy he is Indus – we just could not, not have him on board! 🙂 Superb human being, great attitude, exceptional humility! With him on board MVP has grown stronger by bounds and leaps! Indus, Thank you! 😉

We were 10 companies strong till June 2009 and the learning with them was immense. Each one of them – Ankit, Nandini, Sumit, Lalit, Sahil, Siva, Rajnish, Varun, Namit, Himanshu, Rakesh, Waqar, Riz, Jay, Sarab, Vaneet & Ishu – are rockstars in their own right. Thinking big, executing fast, fearing not to fail, fighting and fighting through! Thanks guys for giving me an opportunity to associate with you. (okay this does not mean you’ll not see anymore of me!)

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Collage Courtesy: S P Hari

The Current Batch now has 10 companies and I personally believe each one of the founders is exceptional. They have a passion, they’ve dared to dream, they are focused.

Adscoot‘s Suyash, stands for hours in the major junctions at mumbai to learn traffic patterns and measure footfalls!

EasySquareFeet‘s Ashu & Snehesh are the most positive people i’ve seen! I can see their smiles through the phone when i talk to them (serious!)

Viv & Hari of InterviewStreet are two rockstar techies who are consciously & fast learning other skills to take their product to market. They have the passion & drive to make things work!

Shashank & Abhinav started on Naabo right out of college – the freshness in approach & the passion they bring with them is infectious.

Arjun of Picsean is an engineer, but his passion towards photography is amazing! He’s a good friend & i’ve seen his focus and smart work in his past ventures. His attitude to learn is commendable!

Robin of ReachTax is a star CA, but i love his humility and the motivational skill he has to make his entire team perform month after month!

Pankaj & Gaurav quit their fancy paying jobs to work on Retail Vector. Focus, quick work and frugality of life is what they are committed towards as they scale this venture!

The first thing that stood out when i met Abheek first was such an young guy and such maturity & humility. (Often age and humility dont go too well). This guy was 7 years old when he started putting Lego pieces into perfect ensemble & several years later, he’s using them at RobotsAlive!

I loved their designs and the quality of tees – Rahul & Mohit of Scopial have their focus completely on “Quality” “Design” “Niche”! They sell tees one could die for! Check a sample out here

I read about these guys in a print article & the next time we were in Mumbai, we met Jayesh & Karthik of VeriCAR. Two guys crazily passionate about automobiles & trying to solve a problem i was once a victim of! I love their attitude and their approach to things. They love getting down to basics and doing things themselves.

I am already having a lot of fun interacting with the current batch and looking forward to more fun, chaos, fights, fails, wins & whole lot of late nights!

Now, with all this happening – a whole lot of learning, association with the best of the lot, new challenges, lots of sense of humor & innovation. I don’t really have the time to think if MVP is a success or failure. But what i do know and will continue to focus on is “work harder”, “create more value”, “excel and achieve mastery”. And for evaluations of where we stand – let that be for the skeptics to comment on, while i play on….  & spread the madness!

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Influencing the influencers

The following writeup was written for I.T. magazine. Here is the published link – Finding and Influencing the Influencers

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In today’s world, with over thousands of advertising messages reaching out to us and with attention spans decreasing rapidly; with the lines between PR and Marketing blur; with the entire Social Media buzz and Social Marketing coming into play. It has become very challenging for startups and new products to reach out to the initial users and influence them to create a brand recall and recognition in their minds.

For a startup, company or brand (for ease of read I will use the word startup to mean all these three entities) it is an on-going, ever evolving process to build its identity, increase recall and recognition. With increased clutter in the world around, it is very important for startups to clearly identify who they are reaching out to, what the message is and the impact of the communication.

How does one reach out?

In the current market scenario, for any business, it makes sense to look for channels that have high viral effect, has low customer acquisition cost, has the potential to build high degrees of trust and awareness.

1.       Founders as Brand Ambassadors:
It is important for founders to channelize their efforts towards constantly building an identity for their startup and themselves as ambassadors. Constant interaction and discussion about the startup and business offering, candid sharing of opinions and thoughts on varied topics, communicating the USP and key messages about the startup – all these come a long way in helping the early adopters identify with you as the founders and the brand at large. This also helps in building awareness and trust towards the startup.

Vijay Mallaya of the UB, Kingfisher group and Richard Branson of Virgin are great examples of founders as Brand Ambassadors. These two have worked their way up in building and expanding their business empire, constantly promoting their products and offerings. Appearing almost naked for a key business announcement at the New York Times Square, flying gas balloons that are Virgin branded, personally sending out messages to all their travelers on Kingfisher and living a lifestyle that reflects the brand – these guys have done it all and constantly re-invent themselves to reach out to and make an impact in the users minds.

2.       Reaching out to the initial users to build trust about the startup:

For startups, it is important to engage in constant dialogue with the early users. The initial users, called the “early adopters” are creatures that associate with your offering for varied reasons. It could be because:

a.       they try everything that is new

b.      they are curious about the offering as it’s a related domain they are working on

c.       the startup is their neighbor

d.      they love to give their opinion on various things

Just about any reason. But, interestingly the “early adopters” are those that take on to a new offering easily, are candid about their feedback, have more patience than the normal user to try & test the product or service, help fine-tune, and most of all these are the ones who talk and propagate the startup.  Therefore, it is important to reach out to these people fast, create a feedback channel, interact with them regularly and improve on the offering based on their inputs.

3.       Influencing the Influencers:

While interacting with the early adopters or the influencers, it is important to constantly communicate with them and ensure that they see constant evolution in the business offering. Keep the influencers interested and influence them by way of fine-tuning the offering, making it sticky for them to talk and promote the offering further. These early adopters have a very wide circle of influence in the society. There are a section of people who are constantly observing the early adopters to try and test something, give their verdict for them to start using the products.

While at madhouse (Madhouse Media, one of the first organized movie rental services which was acquired by Seventymm in 2007), the one important task I had at hand was to continually seek out avenues and opportunities to reach out to, and establish a feedback loop with the end users, by way of direct interactions or through other mediums of communication.  Sameer (co-founder of Madhouse Media) and I did this to establish trust among the users about the founders – the people who are executing the idea. We did this to spread the word about our business. We did this to ensure that people saw us as authority in movies, recommendations and movie rental business. As founders who knew what their business was about. As a business that ‘cared’ and did everything to make it easy for the users.

Where & how does one find these influencers?

1.       Media: This has been a vehicle for over ages to reach out to a large audience, no doubt. But what this channel does is to interact with the early adopters first, who have influenced the rest of the society! The messages sent out via these channels have successfully created brands, heroes, patrons and most of all trust in the world.  This channel includes print media, radio, online media – blogs, news sites, social media tools like Twitter, Facebook,LinkedIn, etc.

Many people recognize Basecamp of 37Signals, because of their blog signalvsnoise. The founders wrote about things that mattered to them on their blog and started sharing their experiences with a set of readers, who would later become the early adopters of their business offering. Their blog and their presence in the online world helped in creating a strong recall factor among the minds of people who were in the online world, the early adopters for Basecamp.

2.       Public Interactions: This tool is one of the oldest and is deemed successful since Aristotle’s time. Public representation of the brand and its ambassador has a long lasting impression on the end users, increasing the chances of recall, recognition and loyalty. The channel includes Demos, Presentations, Talks, Mixers, Meets, Tweet-ups, Other face to face communication

The more you interact with people face-2-face, the better it is for you to make a lasting impression.  Interact with the early adopters, the opinion leaders, the influencers. Engage with them intellectually, challenge their notions, allow your views to be challenged. Many successful personalities are people with good interpersonal skills, presentation skills, with the talent to reach out to and convince people of their thoughts – Hitler, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Obama, to name a few…

So, how exactly does one influence the influencers?

1.       Timeliness: Repeated updates that reach out to the early adopters, via:

a.       Announcement of important progress in the business offering or startup

b.      Reiteration of what the startup stands for and what the founders, promoters vision is

c.       Constant updates on relevant business related topics

As part of madhouse, Sameer and I continuously kept in touch with many people – people in the media, people who are early adopters, people who are bloggers, people who are influencers in the society. We made it a point to interact with everyone – big and small, as we believed that there is learning from everyone. Specially, with the early adopters – we kept in constant touch, informing them of our progress. Involving them in discussions specific to madhouse and otherwise. Connecting them to others. We entered into long-term relationship – not inferior or superior, but as equals. This worked well in creating a long term relationship. And our keeping in constant touch was – informal regular mail interactions, commenting on the writers articles, blogs, placing that friendly call once in a while – with an update, question, connection or just simply “Happy New year”, meeting them up when we were visiting that part of town or city or for that Friday evening beer. Bumping into them and spending quality time during mixers, conferences, bar camps, etc.

2.       Quality: Communication that has value, creates trust and exhibits the brands and the ambassadors authority over specific areas of expertise

a.       Authoritative write-ups about the field of expertise

b.      Analysis, projections, predictions in the area of expertise

c.       Taking a ‘stance’, which the startup and the founders  will stand for and project

I love Jason Calacanis, Seth Godin, Paul Graham…. Why? Coz all these guys have a view point, are articulate about it and provide useful insights, challenge my intellect and give me more to carry away each time I read their blog,  writeup or an article about them. This is what we tried to do as part of Madhouse. Sameer particularly, as he was the external face of madhouse – practiced and still practices “Quality”. We had our view points and made sure we express them on various forums. Madhouse stood for “legal rentals” “stood for doing things the right way” “stood for organizing the rental business in India” “stood for quality home video experience” – we made sure we expressed our view point and what we stood for in our words and actions. We also wanted to share our experiences as entrepreneurs and so we did, each time we met an entrepreneur, a blogger or in our personal blogs, etc.

3.       Dialogue: Create a channel of dialogue exchange with the early adopters. Listen to them, question them, find out how things are every now and then, make sure you dig deep into what their impression is about the business offering, how they use it, what they think needs to be changed, show them your concern, show them you care!

At madhouse our goal was to never miss a movie delivery or deliver the wrong movie. We constantly kept in touch with our initial users to get feedback from them. If we missed a movie or slipped on our service for what ever reasons, we would send a small little cake with a sorry note. This came a long way for us, as these early adopters who saw us sweat it out and pay attention to detail, spread the word and helped us grow our customer base later.

4.       Innovative Methods: Find the most economical and innovative methods of reaching out, use smart techniques, but not overtly obvious ones.  Especially, these days with the social media channels, reaching out and creating a buzz is rather inexpensive, if done well. Be on the look out for venues to reach out, it could be the blogger you meet in a mixer, a journalist who is a friend’s friend or just you who’s active on the social media channels. Best marketing is the one done with no spend!

Who’s got to do it?

Of course YOU – as the founder, promoter, CEO, stakeholder – you have got to do this. It’s an ongoing task, it helps immensely and the returns are immeasurable. No outsourced firm, No internee, No management hire can do it for you. It is very important for a startup to have the main stake holders put in the efforts of spreading the word for their startup and build a social image for them. As an entrepreneur, among the many things you do, you do this too. If it does not come naturally, you lean to doing it. It is of utmost importance that the stakeholders interact with the influencers and early adopters. This established a connect with them, makes them build trust, helps you share the vision of the company with them and for all you know, you can find your potential investor, partner or employee in them!

When we started madhouse, Sameer & I did all the work ourselves, from taking orders on the phone, buying movies, packing them to delivering them to the users doorsteps, and this came a long way for us as a company. We knew exactly what it took to doing these tasks helping us build good processes and training the employees. It helped us establish a relationship with the early users; get first hand feedback from them. We were the ones who stood there in the mall and sold those initial memberships, interacted with people who did not take the membership and understood their concerns, fine tuned the sales pitch and re-sold to the apprehensive ones! We were the ones who were there in conferences, barcamps, mixers representing madhouse, talking about the concept and getting feedback. All this helped us establish madhouse as a brand among the influencers, who in turn became spokespersons for the brand!

However, above all this, it is important that as founders and stakeholders while doing all the work, we are:

1.       Humble, as humility disarms

2.       Honest, as it helps us win people over, build trust and create deep relationships

3.       Fair, as this is the best way to run a business

4.       Quick to accept mistakes, as this is another good trait that makes people like you. Everyone makes mistakes; the one who accepts it and changes is a winner!

In any society, the early adopters or influencers are the ones who have their antennas activated to receive and accept new things. As founders we must take care in building solutions that solve a problem or address a need, then it sure will get noticed by these early adopters who will give you the advantage of candid feedback and help you improve on your business. So, keeping your ears closer to the ground will help you improve and spread the word through these sneezers!

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