I see incentives as an intersection of two traits

How predictable are they?

How accurate are they?


Do I know of them beforehand

Can I predict what they are

Do I have an understanding of how it works


Are they correctly measured?

Are they accurately delivered?

Are they tracked correctly?

If you think of a 2×2 matrix

The worst box clearly is the unpredictable-inaccurate box

This will lead to noting but resentment. And ultimately failure to drive the intended outcome

But the best isn’t the predictable and accurate one

In my experience, the unpredictable and accurate box drives the best outcome

As humans, we so want to settle

To capture the known

To make things predictable

And so with predictable incentives – it quickly becomes the new normal for those who hit it

And that depresses the impact, because the ones hitting it drive a larger sure Kd the performance.

In other words

“We are measuring your performance based on sales at the end of this month”

Predictable: if you hit the target you get 10% incentive

Unpredictable: if you hit the target you will get an incentive

This approach may seem stupid, because why would anyone be driven some undisclosed incentive scheme?

And surely – they perhaps won’t be

Until, at the end of the month when they see that you reward the ones that hit their target (and some always will)

Leaving the next months’ incentive as a surprise again

Variable rewards, changing rewards, dynamic rewards, surprise rewards

These types, when matched with accuracy, work like magic!

People react best when they are rewarded when they least expect it.

In 1983, a talented young guitarist was kicked out of his band. With apparently no warning.
Handed over a bus ticket and told to go back home, 2 days before the band’s first recording

On the journey back home, the guitarist, just as all of us, started speaking to himself
“Was this really happening?”
“To him?”

Apparently, the self-talk helped. By the time he reached his destination, he vowed to form a new band.
And do everything within his right, to be better than the band that had just fired him
Go on to break more records than them
Go on to make better music than them
Go on to earn more fame and money than them

The guitarist’s name was Dave Mustaine

The band he formed, went on to sell over 30Mn copies worldwide, making it one of the best selling bands of all times

Pretty impressive, huh?
Sweet revenge, one would say


The band that fired him, went on to sell over 130Mn copies worldwide
The band that fired him was Metallica

Was Dave Mustaine a success or a failure?

In a rare 2003 interview, Dave wept at the firing incident, STILL regretting the moment he was fired. Clearly feeling betrayed. He still carried the baggage.

Was Dave Mustaine a success or a failure?

As much as you dont want the world to define your success or failure, are you doing a good job of defining it yourself?

Rush hour

22 Sep

It takes me 40 mins to reach work everyday

Anytime of the day

The road is a smooth ride – traffic but not enough to stall.

A 30km stretch with no red lights.

But every now and then, someone with a sense of urgency will go berserk

Change lanes




Jeopardize not just their safety but that of others too

And invariably, at the end of the 30kms I have rarely found them to be ahead of me by more than a minute. Two at best!

Makes me wonder – what is it really worth it?

Risking yourself to gain a minute or two?

That’s life

When you start changing lanes, accelerating, braking, honking – you lose the perspective – what am I eventually going to get out of this?

All you focus on – is that I am doing this now and this is my present

The hare and tortoise wasn’t just a fictional life lesson

It’s an everyday affair

Two stories that somehow found a connection

I have been experiencing back pain persistently for 3 weeks now.

Because of which I haven’t been to the gym these past 3 weeks

And I have been missing it

Missing it – because that’s where I feel I prepared most for life, from a mental strength perspective

That’s where I get a lot of my life lessons

“No matter how much the pain, don’t close your eyes”

“Always look ahead, never down”

“To lose fat, pick lighter weights and do more reps. To build strength, pick heavier weights and do less reps”

“How you look at yourself in the mirror is how the world looks at you”

But every now and then you lose track of the important life lessons

To heal the pain, I went to a chiropractor yesterday. It was a great session.

Towards the end he made the remark “you look like he kinds who wants to prove that anything is possible. But do remember – whatever you do, make sure your body lasts for another 40-50 years”


Harsh reminder

It’s not about the goal for today. Even tomorrow.

It’s the process you adopt, that sets you up for life

Reminds me of a powerful anecdote

Two people – training super hard at the gym – get talking to each other

“What are you preparing for?”

“Oh the marathon. Next month. What are you preparing for?”


In a seminal 2002 study, 3 scientists put 12-month old infants through an experiment

Through a glass window, the infants saw a man enter a room.

In front of the man was a large “something” with a huge button

The man banged his head into the button and lo behold – there was confetti like stuff in front of him

Several men entered, banged their head on the button and the same “magical show” happened


The infants were then introduced into the room

And their natural response was

To bang their head against the button


And then the scientists added a twist

Same setting

Instead, the men entering the room had their hands full – holding bags

And they, yet again, pressed the button with their head

Several men repeated the same

Hands full with bags

Pressed the button with the head


This time now – when the infants entered the room

They surprisingly didnt use their heads to press the button


They used their hands to press the button :)


Pause for a minute and think about this


And translate this into real life

How often do we see people in repeated action

And begin to believe that its only THAT action which will yield THIS result?

It is only when we see the constraints of those people, do we recognize that our natural response could have also caused the same result

We just didnt try


What people do doesn’t matter
Its why they do it, that does


11 Sep

Most of us have been raised to admire the extra ordinary

To be inspired by them

To be in awe of them

To want to become them


Most of us have been raised to be ordinary

To be average

To follow the herd

To take the path already taken

To admire is easy

It’s easy to watch great people

It’s easy to see how they did it to listen to them

But it takes a lot to become them

And we haven’t been taught how

As if it’s something we had to be born with

Consistently put yourself into situations others have only watched and admired

An overwhelming majority of emails and messages I receive end broadly the same way

What do you think of the idea?

Am I on the right track?

How should I plan my life?

What’s the best advice you can give me?

And my personal favorite

Want to pick your brains on this



This form of help-seeking is lazy, at its best.

When we ask such questions, we may think we are being considerate of someone’s time

But if the opposite person truly values their time, then this approach is frustrating

You expect someone to navigate through your story, your circumstance, your context, and then distill all the thoughts into one or two powerful implementable points?

Because you asked?


Try this the next time

Be. Ruthlessly. Specific

And relevant


That shows you have a problem

And you have taken the effort to narrow down the reasons

And have identified someone who could help

And are respectful of their time

While aware of where they can help and how


If you get a response, you know for a fact that you have a conversation going.

With a sense of purpose.


For all the times you ask for generic advice

Someone who could have helped, chooses not to

Here is a view to life

That is conclusively true

Our brain is a muscle

That requires training

Training that it rarely gets

Because it’s the hardest thing to train

And life is not a bed of roses

It will be hard, supremely hard

At times, or most often

But hard for sure

Just as much as it will be easy or enjoyable

Here is a contrarian view to life

That is also conclusively true

To prepare for these hard times

You have only one route

Train your brain

And to train your brain for such times

You have got to pick up the things you hate doing

And go fucking do them

Hate waking up early?

Wake up early

Hate eating healthy?

Eat healthy

Hate approaching new people?

Approach new people

Hate studying?


Because when you do things you hate

You don’t win some tactical battle

You prepare yourself for those worst moments

That will surely hit you

So that you don’t fall apart

Don’t protect yourself

Prepare yourself

When you are dining at a restaurant, or relaxing at a spa, or getting pampered at a salon – the cost of that service is usually ridiculously low compared to what you end up paying.

So we argue we are paying for the softer aspects

The ambiance

The treatment

The expertise/quality of the experience


Ever wondered then – why does the experience diminish if the one serving you gives you the impression that they don’t care?

Why do unhappy servers affect us so much, when it’s not them that we are consuming

An unhappy server serving the best tasting food – not good enough

An unhappy masseuse delivering the best quality massage – not good enough


Here is my prediction why

Because at a subconscious level, we are also paying for that individual’s inability to enjoy life, at that precise moment

When we are sitting having a nice meal, the server is serving us. Not enjoying.

When we are getting a lovely massage, the masseuse is not enjoying

All the occasions when we are being served and enjoying, the server is NOT enjoying.

They are serving us.

Which is why, when we see someone unhappy, we feel our money wasn’t put to use.

And we hate that, don’t we?


If you are in the serving business, each time you truly show that you love serving – people will feel wonderful being served.

If you are in the people business, each time you truly show that you love people – people will feel wonderful being themselves

This post is meant to spark a conversation – I am genuinely seeking help on how to build a gender neutral workplace

This women’s day, I shared stats about women representation at nearbuy.com – a piece that went “mini-viral”
Share of women: 34%
Share of women in tech: 29%

Impressive, I assume


However, here is the reality

This month, 3 women colleagues – great at what they do, had to leave because of a change in their personal situation (got married in a different city or husband is moving to a new city).

In each of the situations, they wanted to continue working with nearbuy – and we tried to figure out options (remote work etc) but couldnt come up with any elegant situation that didnt harm work or their ability to grow.

Early this year, we lost 2 more colleagues to similar circumstances

And I know (as of today) of 3 more such cases before the end of the year

We lost 8 women colleagues, extremely capable professionals, because they got married or their husband moved cities
In 10 years I have encountered only 1 case of a male professional leaving their workplace because of his partner.


How am I supposed to deal with this?
I needed suggestions from the audience – how do I build a gender-balanced workplace in light of the above situation?

PS: Dont need to hear “this is the reality” – I am not looking for validation. I am looking for ideas


Nike and me

29 Aug

In school, I was fascinated with Nike, the brand

I knew it as “Niek” back then

And all day long, on every blank space possible – I used to draw the swoosh and sketch “just do it”

I decided that if I ever get a tattoo it will be the swoosh, on the mount of my palm.

Never managed to buy a pair of Nike shoes though. Never had enough money early on and by the time I did, other similar brands came cheaper!

Last year, I read Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight, founder of Nike.

Hands down the best book of last year. Possibly across many more years.

It rekindled my fascination with Nike, the brand.

I wondered what it would be to run in a Nike

I wondered if it was true, what Eisenhower (founder of Nike) said

This birthday, Ravi gifted me a pair of Nike shoes.

One of the most thoughtful gifts ever :))

And I was so excited

For my Monday run

Yesterday, I wore the shoes

Didn’t feel any different

Walked in them

Didn’t feel any different

Started to run in them

Felt the same as my Puma

Ran for 3Kms

The Nike didn’t feel any different

Then I looked at my timer

What every time takes me 18 mins to run, had taken me 15mins

So instead of running at 10kmph I had ran for 12kmph

I had gained 20% in a day.

On a day when I felt there was no difference

My mind was telling me something that day

But my subconscious had been listening to something else for years

Guess who won

It all boils down to the story you have telling yourself all this while

And if there was none, today’s story will win!

There was a time when content was not democratic

There was a lot of effort put into production. But distribution was almost dictatorial.

Set TV hours for each show.
The TV shows were decided by someone else
Their timings were decided by someone else
Their content was decided by someone else
Same for movies
Same for songs
Same for news
No one got to make them.
No one got to chose what to consume
No 10/20/30 second edits – either you consume all of it or you dont

People hated it.
I can understand why

So then came the biggest technology intervention that few talk about



Content today, is a reflection of your interests, your reactions, your engagement.

Its constantly tracking you, and delivering freshly baked content to appeal to your senses.

To get you hooked!

Creating mini-you in the guise of that news item, that movie edit, that user-generated song, that viral forward


This scares me

Personalization is wiping out the ability for us to form opinions.

Technology was meant to help us see things from a different point of view.
Instead, machines are working to make us more and more enclosed in our worlds.
Making us believe that its the entire world


Thats why books are unique
A colleague mentioned this yesterday
I love books, because they are not personalized
They werent written for me. They were written by someone.

So we have no choice, but to consume the perspective of the author.
Accept or reject – but consume first.

Which is far better than being supplied stuff that endorses my point of view and never allows for a different one to set in.

Personalization is not a boon
The more you will read, the more they will feed
You won’t become a better version of yourself
You will become an inflated version of yourself 

To work on my neck and cheek bones, I got two bricks, placed them on top of each other, wrapped a cotton cloth around them and created a sling knot.

Idea is to hold the knot by biting it with your teeth. That puts pressure on your cheek bones. And if you make your head go up and down, it works on the back side of your neck.

So everyday, I walk from home to the gym with two bricks hanging from a cloth piece held between my jaws.

People give me the looks

People in the gym ask me what’s this all about

People are intrigued

The responses are quite funny, ranging from “is he mad?” to “wow, look at him”

The attention to this unusual thing, is quite amusing


My cheek bones are pretty much still there

It might take 2-3 months, even more for the effects to show

There might be no effects at all

Another reminder of life

Unusual things will get you a lot of attention

And that attention will make you believe you are on the right track

But it’s not the attention that influences the outcome

Stop measuring the success of your outcome, by the attention your work gets.

2 traits define people who work with you




Despite the best interview processes and intent, there are errors that creep in.

And it’s super critical to take a hard stand on such errors

I have never regretted firing someone. I have only regretted not doing it early enough

The easiest are people who are neither capable nor compatible.

Such cases need deep honest introspection. How did they get past the system, the checks, the balances.

Irrespective of seniority, my experience is that it takes no more than a month to find such people.

Take them out on the first day of the second month!

Next are people who are not capable but compatible

These individuals need attention. Training. Mentorship. Guidance.

If done right, they can win. But organizations need to have the will and more importantly the patience to see them through

In my experience, these individuals can be identified in 3 months. And I would give them another 3-6 months to upskill. Else unfortunately counseled out

Capable but not compatible is a tricky one.

My personal experience – such cases never work out in the long run.

These are hard to conclude, extremely painful to execute and you will almost always want to live in denial.

In my experience, these take easily a year to surface.

Doing the right thing requires immense courage

To me, these decisions is the hallmark of a seasoned entrepreneur or manager

In the long run, compatibility is greater than capability

Let a capable person not tell you otherwise!


People who think of themselves higher than you think of them

They don’t want to grow.

They think they have already done everything

They have a misplaced sense of self worth

Developed largely by their own minds

Not by feedback

Hold on to

People who hold you to a standard much higher than you hold yourself to

They genuinely want you to win

They see in you a much higher order than you do yourself

And they act as the motivating mirror

Always showing you not who you are

Rather who you can be

The most dangerous kinds

People who think of themselves higher than you think of them AND hold you to a

higher standard than you hold yourself to

These individuals give you the impression they wish to help you.

They give the impression they want to fight with you

Not to make you a better version of yourself

But to make you lose

To tell you that even at your best, you are only a shade of who they are

(Most so-called mentors fall in this category!)

Knowing the kind of people around you, is the first step to improving yourself

Eliminating the toxic ones is the best step to improving yourself

Independence Day

16 Aug

Patriotism is when you like your country for what it does

Nationalism is when you like your country irrespective of what it does

Are you a patriot or a nationalist, when it comes to your startup?

Vidur (my 6yr old) has been learning the piano for a year now.
And he is really good at it.
He can read and write notes
And usually understands new notes faster than anyone in class
And then plays it by memory
Has also started creating his own music.
Which doesn't have much sense, but sounds peaceful when I hear it

There is one thing he hates though
And that worries the shit out of me!

Two words can predict someone's professional outcome accurately

Hard work

Think of a 2×2 matrix – talented (yes or no) on one axis and hardworking (yes or no) on the other

The worst is of course no talent and not hardworking
But the one after that is talented but not hardworking
Because the hardworking but not talented guy will any day beat the shit out of the talented guy

Hard working people know how to convert their hard work into talent
Talented people are poor. They only have their talent!

People use the term as if it's interchangeable. But it's not.

The titles are of course different
Founder – founded the company
CEO – runs the company

If it's the same person with both the titles, it is supremely critical to know the distinction

And I was made to realize it again day before

Founder – executes.
He knows what it takes to build the company, has a view on the market and the product.
Thus, a review meeting turns into a workshop
Where he identifies a problem and rolls up his sleeve to solve it

CEO – delegates.
He knows he has the team to build the company, bases his views on what his trusted people tell him, has his ears to the ground but knows that he cannot be the one fixing things
Thus, a review meeting remains a review meeting
This should be looked at again.
This is great
What drive this conclusion?
Yeah, we all agree this doesn't work. Fix it!
When he identifies a problem, he trusts his team to find out how to solve it
And he ensures there is nothing in their way, to do so

The important thing then is to know when to act as a founder and when to act as a CEO

During a founder conversation, don't become a CEO
During a CEO conversation, don't become a founder

It's been precisely 2 years since we became nearbuy from Groupon

And I honestly didn't expect such high and lows when we started on this journey.

In my head, it was a lot more stable and a lot more predictable
Instead – it was 2 years of fascinating highs and terrible lows.

And in the middle of all of this – the key is then to manage your own narrative.
What is the story you tell yourself every single day

Managing one's mind remains the single biggest determinant of startup outcome

Everything else – market, funding, team – is a manifestation of your thoughts

How you stand in front of your team, your investors, your customers and your vendors – is how the startup stands during the journey

Reminds me of one of the important statements in the Hard Things about Hard Things

I have come to realize that the physical and mental self are two different beings.
Almost independent.

The physical self seems to have no mind of its own (no pun intended)
It loves to sleep
It loves to eat
It loves to laze
It love comfort

The mental self clearly has a mind of its own, but suffers from severe peer pressure and social influence
What will the world say
I know I can do this but am I good enough
I should eat this; I shouldn't eat this

Overtime, the biggest realization is that the mental self's thoughts are extremely contagious
To your physical self
And to other mental selves

In other words,
How you think
Influences your physical self
And influences the mental selves of others

If you now know that you are the source of a "virus",
What would you choose to spread?

Hat tip: calm is contagious