Yesterday at lunch with two super smart startup founders, we got talking about their pitch deck.
Pitch decks are super fun. I look at the nearbuy pitch deck every other week – trying to make it clearer, sharper, more succinct. And surprisingly find obvious ways of doing so, that weren’t so obvious before.
I told them – your first slide should be declaring who you are.
And you should be ok with it. Ok with what you you have written. Ok with who you have projected yourself to be. Ok with who you are.
That set me thinking. If you had pitch decks, what would your first slide say?
Would the world get it?
Would they see the same image when they meet you in person?
Would they agree with it?
Would you be comfortable with it?
The first slide of our pitch deck should be what we wish to tell the world. Not what the world wishes to hear.
Two emails – selling something to me – eyeing for my attention
Which one will get a response?
Which one went through more effort to write?
Which one will continue putting in the effort, despite the response rate?
If we don’t respond too well to lazy work, what makes us think that the world will respond well to ours?
Which one will you be today?
I am privileged that a lot of people write in seeking help.
What shocks me, consistently, is how few of them know what help they need
My standard response to most emails is my favorite question
“How can I help”
Here is the truth
No one will figure out how they can be useful for you. You have to do it for them, if you need them.
How can I help?
The question you need an answer to, before you seek help
Help doesn’t come from a spray and pray approach. That’s advice, you are mistaking it for.
People will help you only when you have helped them understand how they can.
Self driving cars
I am amazed at the pace with which this industry is being transformed. There isn’t any month where an incredible video doesn’t surface – from different companies – showcasing real life implementation.
Without knowing much about the technology – here is an admission I would still make.
It isn’t possible that everyone started to build this at the same time for us to see so much action happen simulataneously.
Instead, it seems that “someone discovered” that self driving cars was a possibility. And then the best brains lept at it to prove that they were the best brains.
Mankind gained from this competition, as a consequence.
The tools had existed. For a long time. And very few people bothered to look beyond.
Until one of them did.
And then competition took over.
The race to build something better and before led to attention towards the algorithm that could take over the tool.
And before we knew it – tools had become redundant.
The steps towards progress are clear
People. Tools. Algorithm.
Don’t stop at tools. That’s progress half done.
I signed up for Amy at x.ai last week. Had been resisting it for a while, not sure why. On paper it’s the tech I should jump at.
An artificial intelligence based calendar scheduler.
Oh. My. God.
The first few conversations were awkward. Especially marking her on an email with real people. Asking for her help to reschedule.
Slowly she began her magic. Replying to my requests
can you share full address of Sector 29 market, or you know the place. I want to make sure the two of you don’t miss each other
I replied with a “know the place”
At lunch day before (incidentally setup by Amy) my friend remarked
It matters how we speak to the AI tech today. Because that’s how they will talk to us tomorrow.
Last night I received the first week email from x.ai
It’s best to be clear and polite. If you think of Amy as a human assistant, you can’t really go wrong
We now have a responsibility
How we talk to AI today is how the world will talk to each other tomorrow
Customer service is a hard thing. Especially in India. The Indian consumer is one of the most demanding, and I would argue the most threatening as well.
It’s amazing how high the percentage is of customers emails to us that threaten to go to the consumer courts on their very first interaction. They haven’t even heard us out – but assume we don’t mean well. That’s why the threat.
It’s not personal. I now call it natural. It’s been hard wired in the consumers mindset.
And here is the biggest reason
For years, organizations including and especially the government have dealt us a bad hand. We have had to fight for our consumer rights. Rights as a taxpayer. Rights as a buyer of products and services.
So now our natural mode has become the fight.
Worse still, organizations have mastered the art of offering explanations for their actions.
“We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused”
No cool company
Don’t hint towards the fact that you MAY have caused any inconvenience. You DID!
Don’t apologize and be fancy about it. Say sorry. And MEAN IT.
Speak just as you normally would. You know, human speak
And DONT GIVE A WHY
Solve the problem.
Because guess what – the why may be right. The why may be true. The why may be genuine.
But the customer doesn’t give a fuck about the why.
They care about how you are going to help him. Not why this happened.
Templates have allowed customer service to scale. They are now able to be less empathetic and more robotic to a lot more people than before.
I continue to be shocked by how little people invest in their personal development.
I bet there are more people with mutual fund SIPs than people who read 1 book every year.
Part of it is of course intent.
But the sheer number of people who wish to make a change but are unable to do so, if baffling.
My observation is that people don’t know how best to learn. Content and experiences are available to us in multiple modes. But our ability to absorb isn’t as diverse.
In my opinion, there are 4 modes to learn
We all react differently to each of these. Never mind the reasons.
Infact, we don’t react the same way all the time. For different lessons, our best learning mode may alter. Should alter.
The best way to drive may not be through reading.
But the best way to learn to code could be.
The other important distinction is between learning and getting better.
“The best way to learn is to do it” is the worst possible advice ever.
Sure, the best way to get better is to do it. But the learning, the foundation, the basis – cannot always be by doing.
Go back in time and we all will realize the number of occasions when we have succumbed to the “let me just start doing it and I will learn”.
We ended up getting bored or feeling inadequate and gave up.
So next time you wish to invest in a new skill
Play around with the learning modes. Give sometime to each. You may figure something else works better than what you thought.
Resist the urge to get into it right away before learning the base.
The best learners know that they need to be a different person each time they learn.
I sang more than 500 songs this year – and eventually recorded 30+. Might showcase some of them publicly for feedback
Wrote 197 blog posts
However, medium didnt do so well for me, which is a big disappointment. I really like the medium and one of my goals for 2017 is to move my blog from wordpress to Medium.
Instead, I shifted my focus to Linkedin and ended up writing over 50 posts there. Generated over 250,000 views
Quora continued well – logged a crazy 3.8Mn views this year!
Had 172 lunches with nearbuy colleagues – some unreal, unbelievable stories – some genuinely passionate and driven people – some inspiring to the hilt – some happy to the extent of being contagious.
Could manage only 4 vacations this year, much to the dismay of Ruchi. At a personal level, I worry that my need for a vacation seems to have completely gone.
Followed this for 2 weeks, I assume. And then was back to my normal self. This is an area where I have genuinely failed. However, one thing that I decided to follow was not bring my laptop home during the weekdays. Everyday I simply come back – not carry stuff back. One may argue that has increased my phone time once home, but not having the laptop does make a big difference.
When you are not practicing, someone else is. And when you meet each other, they will win.
This paranoia drove me in 2016. I double down-ed on the practice. To prepare for the right time, not knowing when it will come. Not worrying about it either.
This list is a compilation of the content pieces that stood out for me, in 2016. That helped me in the practice.
All this content was discovered by me in 2016. They could be (and most likely are) from an earlier year
One of the best books of 2016. Suddenly a lot of the things you observe everyday, but never question, start to make sense. Loved the parts about money and religion, particularly.
Hands down – the book of the year for me. It came at a time when I needed to read about this journey. Absolutely brilliant – a must read for every entrepreneur.
During Feb-Mar this book explained to me a lot about why I was feeling what I was feeling, and more importantly how to deal with it. Entrepreneurs – do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Explains the science of happiness better than anything else I have ever read. Much needed read, especially in today’s world of instant gratification and endless distraction.
The genius of this book cannot be expressed in words. If you believe in numbers and naturally gravitate towards them, this is the first book you should read. Hopefully the last you will ever need.
This book is like the matrix. No one can be told what the matrix is. One has to see it for themselves. Read this book. Please.
The title can be misleading – this isnt your run-of-the-mill self help shit. This book made sense – every page of it.
The simplicity of this much recommended book truly moved on. I haven’t read a lot of philosophy in life, but can argue that this book gives good reason to read more about life.
Brilliant book on how to drive organizational change, why its so hard and how you can effectively measure. For all managers and founders – this is a gem!
When in doubt, refer to the bible! Read this book almost everyday – a random page opened before I started my day. And each time it answered a question, as if it knew what I wanted an answer to.
2016 was the year of video for me. I consumed video like a maniac – shunned TV completely.
THE LAB: DECOY – A portrait session with a twist
Something I have always believed in, as a photographer – the actual subject is behind the lens
Why we should go to Mars
This is my prescription for whenever I am down. These 4 minutes defined a lot of my sentiments for 2016. Its nout about today – everything is about tomorrow.
10 ways to have a better conversation | Celeste Headlee
The simplest way to describe human conversations. So forgotten in today’s era. I am firm believer that in the future the single biggest success parameter will be the ability to communicate. This video starts that inner dialogue.
Paper Boat presents Rizwan
This video became the benchmark for storytelling – at a brand level and at a personal level.
People relate to individuals, not to news.
Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace
Simon Sinek strikes again. And he is even more brilliant than before. If the Golden Circle explained why organizations are successful, this one explained how individuals can be.
Grace VanderWaal: 12-Year-Old Ukulele Player Gets Golden Buzzer – America’s Got Talent 2016
I was addicted to “Got Talent” youtube videos – recall watching every single golden buzzer video one random weekend. But this one stayed. It just stayed.
Elon Musk almost crying
Fuck, this broke my heart. And told me the honest truth. No change was ever brought about by keeping everyone happy.
Sachin A Billion Dreams | Official Teaser | Sachin Tendulkar
Just for that one line in the trailer. Just for that – this video will always stay with me. Just for that.
What Will You Stand For? – Motivational Les Brown Tribute
10 mins of absolute motivation. Loved every second of it.
Dasht-e-Tanhai. Meesha Shafi
This video defined music for me – the lyrics, the voice, the melody, the rhythm – everything is magical.
Am not going to describe them – instead strongly encourage you to read all of them
These are the most popular blogposts of mine for this year
This year truly tested me.
It started with a massive high – we had pulled off a remarkable Management Buyout in 2015, closed the year with the best sales ever and entered Jan 2016 with spirits and energy at the highest levels possible.
And then it struck!
The investment scenario had turned upside down. Funding dried up.
We were running out of money. And we had to ensure the company wasnt jeopardized because of the decisions I had taken. So we decided to go back to first principles of business and also conserve all the cash that we could.
Which meant taking some really hard decisions.
I felt responsible for all of it – for every job lost, for every benefit withdrawn, for every insecure face I encountered, for all the times I tried to pep things up but felt I was lying to my own self.
I WAS responsible for all of it – the low morale, the skepticism, the “you brought this onto us” look.
Admitting this, even publicly, wasn’t going to be enough.
I began to record my feelings. Everyday to work, I spoke to myself – expressly freely what I felt. It helped relieve the emotions, but it wasn’t enough
I had to get myself back. In order to get nearbuy back.
On one such recording sessions, I asked myself, “fuck, how is it that I fucked up so bad? So so bad? I was happy a month back, and now I struggle to find a reason to be so. As if I have forgotten what it felt like to be at peace”
And I thought…
Would it help to go back to that world? That moment when I was truly at peace with myself. What is it that I used to tell myself then? Maybe that would help?
So I spent the next week, wading through my content from the past. Blogposts, Quora, Linkedin, Facebook, Emails, Notes.
And it helped a lot. I found patterns. In my thoughts, my emotions, my words.
Patterns that I figured might help me get back on track.
And one of the content stayed with me.
My resolution for 2016, one of which was
Record at least 10 cover songs in my voice
I wondered why I had resolved to sing?
I wasnt a good singer. And was extremely shy of singing in front of public.
In the tough period of Feb-Mar, I couldnt remember what drove me to sign up for singing as a 2016 resolution.
So I decided to give it a shot, almost desperate for a solution.
And magic happened
Horrible at first
Tolerable by now
But I didnt care
I made it a ritual. Everyday after lunch, I used to walk on the office lawns, earplugs and sing to myself.
Invariably I would end up crying everytime, as I sang
The emotions didnt stop.
The healing didnt either.
I would look forward to driving, because then I could sing.
I would record what I felt were my best renditions.
Share it, not for feedback, but as as sign that I was coming back.
All I wanted to do everyday was to sing
In a month, I knew that this tough phase, while real, will not consume me. I will not allow it to consume me.
By April, I had myself back.
The act of singing, feeling my entire body emote to the melody, the lyrics, rhythm – made me go back to my original self.
The self that wanted to be free, to find meaning in my actions, to feel happy with my judgement, to stand by my thoughts.
The act of singing made me connect with my own self, more than writing, or photography.
Over the past 10 months, I have sang more than 500 songs.
The act of singing saved me in 2016
The year has been the hardest I have ever faced. It taught me the importance of making people feel secure, the importance of will, the power of faith and perseverance
and above all, it taught me that the only person who can ever know you well, is your own self.
I became my best friend
Nowadays, we hang out together, singing :)
At toll booths, boom barriers reflect the behavior of most organizations out there.
Employees approach with ideas, advancements, experiments, wild bets at the toll booth.
Someone, supposedly capable but mostly simply a checker, is siting. Accepts some form of exchange – money in real world, ideas, presentations, data in organizations.
And the boom barrier is raised. Allowing for the employee to go past.
Before lowering itself again for the next employee.
Day in and day out – the same “process”. Multiple booths, multiple checkers, multiple employees. But all allowed one a time.
And then someone decided to introduce tags.
Something you do (upfront payment in the real world) fetches you a badge. Where you don’t seek permission anymore. The boom barrier is never lowered on you. Till you keep paying that payment.
Unfortunately, just as real world, less than 5% of the universe eve gets this tag. 95% still go through this painful sequential process.
It’s ironical – the toll road was built for a speedy, unrestricted passage. And then someone, to establish importance and authority, choked the system at the toll booth.
As a founder/CEO/manager – while you constantly aim to build toll roads, ask yourself how many toll booths are you also adding.
What will it take to give everyone a tag?
What will you give up? And what will you gain?
Does your organization really need a boom barrier?
Interviewed a super smart woman last evening. She is a visual designer. And while her work spoke for her talent and finesse, what stood out was an honest admission towards the end
“Creativity doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work really hard for it. It’s unlike the movies where one sit and creativity starts flowing”
I have spoken in the past about the difference between geniuses and artists. This conversation reminded me of the same.
Most talent in this world isn’t inborn. It isn’t natural. It has to be worked upon. Because it’s necessary for your definition of success.
The ones that come across as supremely talented are ironically the ones that believe they still have a long way to go.
People need to feel secure
In their relationships
At their workplace
People need to be told “I will watch out for you”
When times are bad
When times are good
People want to know that if they show up and give their 100%, they will grow as will the company
So far I had felt that security was a bad thing. It brought with itself entitlement. Complacency. Mediocrity.
This year told me that security meant being human.
I just returned from a fundraising road trip.
1 key learning
“So Ankur, what do you think of this player xxx?”
“I think highly of them, but they are not in the same space”
“But they can get into the space”
“Yes they can, but they won’t”
“But what if they do. They can get into anything, given the wave they are riding”
“I hear you, but I don’t share your enthusiasm”
“It’s not enthusiasm. It’s fear”
Most investors are scared.
Scared of competition
Scared of someone else with deeper pockets
Scared of how fast technology is changing
Scared of what if this doesn’t scale, this doesn’t become big
Scared of what they cannot understand
This fear isn’t without basis – I admit, but to me the pervasiveness of this emotion was striking.
These are people who are betting other people’s money in the hope of a return.
Fear cannot be the foundation of this.
That’s when it was evident – the investors with the Midas touch and the ones with not – is simple to explain.
Investors that invest on the basis of fear will remain in the business of entering and exiting businesses.
Investors that invest on hope, on courage, on first principles will build institutions along with the entrepreneur.
And if we are lucky, we will partner with hope and not fear.
When Vidur was 6 months old, we conducted a mental experiment.
Every night, when we put him to sleep, we played music. The same kind. Every time.
For about 3 weeks, we followed this regime. While putting in effort to put him to sleep. Effort that was visibly coming down with every passing day.
By the end of 3 weeks, we started to play the music. And saw “magic” happen.
He fell asleep by himself.
Today, at 6 years, he takes no more than 5 mins everyday to sleep. Mostly doing so by himself.
He has developed, what I call the 6pack abs for his mind.
The recipe for physical abs is well established.
Nothing similar exists for the mind. How do you get your mind to the highest fitness levels?
My realization is that the mind can be easily tricked. Its naive, almost without a mind of its own.
But we leave the fitness regime for the mind, to chance.
We leave inspiration to chance. A video here, a talk there, a quote somewhere. Not actively sought, but accidentally encountered.
We leave positivity to chance
We leave inspiring company to chance
We leave learning to chance
When, we can trick the brain every single day.
People who know me well, know about my fetish for superlatives
“Fuck, this is awesome”
“Something fascinating happened”
“It was magical”
“It’s such a splendid moment”
I am tricking my mind. With the choice of these words. It feels it’s actually something awesome. And feeds back that emotion. The circle completes itself.
Everyday when you wake up, you have a choice
Tell your mind I am going to make you happy today
Ask your mind to make you happy today
Something has changed on Uber maps. My home address, when pinned, reads the name of the colony next door.
So this morning I found my driver wandering in that colony. Called him to check.
“Sir – but you entered the name of this colony, so I came here”
“I didn’t enter that. It was Uber who picked it up”
You see what I did there?
I defended myself. With a fact, yes. But I did defend myself.
And I asked myself – why did I do it? What is it that I was trying to achieve? Prove that I am not a moron? Prove that this was a factual error and not intended? Prove that I am better than this?
Guess what – no one cares a fuck!
When the work isn’t done, we offer an excuse. A defense. And let’s assume that the defense is valid.
That still doesn’t mean anything. It didn’t get the job done.
And yet we offered the excuse as if it could replace the desired result.
No one cares a fuck!
Our excuses does not mean the work got done. Instead it conclusively proves that the work wasn’t done.
An excuse is the distance between where you are and where you could have been.
Is perhaps the only rule of fund raising as well
“Don’t waste your time with explanations. People want to hear what they want to hear”
And that means – prepare for what works for them. Not what works for you.
On second thoughts – this is the first and only rule for life.
Last evening, at a team dinner, a much loved colleague remarked
“We don’t have assholes in the founding team”
He didn’t mean assholes. Instead, he was using it interchangeably with attributes such as taskmaster, autocratic, “shut the fuck up and get this done” DNA.
I felt at peace within, when I heard this. Because over this year I have come to peace with the fact that I am not this guy, will never be, and won’t allow the culture at nearbuy to exhibit this ever.
Early this year, I wouldn’t have been. I may have even agreed.
I was consuming content at a crazy pace and almost everything was telling me that the best founders in the world – the Elon musk, the zuckerberg, the jobs, the Jan koums – are all “assholes”.
That’s how the media projected them. No bullshit, taskmaster, abusing, “why the fuck are you wasting my time” – mercenaries in every sense.
It was after I studied them deeper, read between the lines and dissociated the media interpretation from my observation, that I realized they exhibit behavior similar to how I think
If something is required by tomorrow evening, don’t ask for it to be done today.
Don’t let your bad planning become the reason to fuck someone’s planning
Don’t make things bigger than what they are. Always project the truth. Not the exaggerated version.
Seek the truth, because that’s the only absolute. Don’t seek opinions. Or views. Or judgement.
And don’t stop until you find it. The team then aligns itself around the truth and not around the happiness or pleasure or an individual.
Give people the freedom to think and approach you with no hesitation
Encourage people to challenge established norms, within or outside
Push them to find the simplest way to complex problems.
Push them to take risks. And don’t reprimand if it fails. No one sets out to fail.
You can be disrespectful towards the situation, the circumstance, the moment. But never the person.
“Fuck this shit” is different from “fuck you”
Mediocrity is not an absolute. And this isn’t easy to digest.
People aren’t mediocre. They appear to be so in certain circumstances. And if those circumstances are the prominent ones in your world, then they will always look to be mediocre. In some other circumstance, they may shine.
Let go of them. Don’t persist with them. You will rarely win.
The easiest thing to build today is a company.
The hardest thing is to build an institution where people love to come to work.
Asshole founders don’t create institutions. They merely start and run companies.
I was told of a WhatsApp group last evening by a colleague
Upon getting added to the group, you can send in a request for an Uber ride, identifying the pick and drop.
Someone will respond with a quote less than the price Uber quotes.
You transfer that amount through PayTM to that number.
The Uber is booked, driver/cab details are shared with you.
And the world lives happily ever after.
Now if you were Uber, you might be livid. Someone’s fucking with you. Gaming the system. Exploiting loopholes. Let’s go get them.
If you were Uber, you would engage. Enter their world and understand them. Clearly a bunch of folks have multiple free rides that they sell for lesser. How did they land up on them? Is there a pattern? Something I can learn for the future?
No one gets up in the morning saying I will fuck someone over today.
But if they do, it’s because they saw something that you chose to ignore. Or worse still dismiss.
Open your ears to the ones who fuck around with you, and you might have less of them.