talk to your skeptics

their feedback helps you hone you message & your work

startups and innovators encounter skeptics on a daily basis. most of them like to point at the umpteen shortcomings of your concept (or solution) and how the status-quo or the 800-pound gorilla in your field is better.

i am certain you are thinking “trying to create something new and change the world is hard enough ! … now you are telling me to listen to my skeptics ?!? …are you crazy?”

however, I have found that these skeptics often give invaluable feedback that you rather get from them, than your customers. Use them as a litmus test to help calibrate your solution !

It is because the skeptics are right about some things that they are so wrong about the whole thing. Simon Cox, The Economist

the genesis of my short post was this quote from Simon Cox in the book “Economics, Making Sense of the Modern Economy”, 2nd Edition, The Economist Newspaper Ltd.

Simon gives me hope !

Fight on my friends.

in flight shopping is a relic

Earlier this week, on a Go-Air flight from Delhi to Mumbai, it struck me how much of a relic the notion of onboard shopping has become.

Come to think of it, the average domestic or continental international flight is probably 2.5 to 3 hours in length. What kind of urgency could strike an individual to want to make a purchase for something that will eventually still have to be delivered via mail.

I’d rather get off the flight, and use a smartphone app from Amazon or Flipkart of Myntra to seek, find and order whatever it is I’d want. 

The sheer convenience of one of these services knowing my payment preferences, remembering my shipping address, and giving me rewards points in one place is far greater than choosing to buy onboard a plane.

It is time for the airlines, and mail order catalog companies to evolve, me thinks.

Making big decisions


its not about choosing the defaults

Each of us typically make one or two big decisions about our lives every so often. For example, which career to choose? whether to buy a house or not? finding a life partner, or deciding where to take a big vacation. The implications of each of these choices is varied, but one thing is common — the defaults are well laid out for you.

Defaults are what you are supposed to choose. Thats what normal or good people do. It is what society expects you to do, and will shower you with positive energy when you ‘stick to what is right’.

Fred Wilson wrote a thoughtful article about Foursquare and their deliberations to decide the future of their business.

don’t let conventional wisdom force you into making decisions you don’t need to make and you aren’t ready to make, particularly about very big decisions that you will be living with the rest of your life

I find these words extremely valuable in times of ambiguity and lack of a clear way forward.

You are told that the default choice works, despite being either unprepared or in gross disagreement with it. Some times we do it for loved ones, and at other times we refrain from rocking the cradle.

Its not about spending more time with big decisions, but about spending enough to iterate and not be afraid of making an unconventional choice.

Recently, I made the choice of moving back to India after having stayed in America for a little over a decade. Many friends, colleagues, relatives, and general observers were quite baffled by my decision. I made the choice within the context of what is important to me, and that is what matters most.

Do what you think is right for you.


photo credit: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/

Annual Reviews

so what did you do all last year?

Every year in January, many of us sit down with our bosses, supervisors, and mentors to review the year past. Often these reviews are institutionalized (read:required) by our organizations, and closely tied to financial incentives (bonuses). Through the years, I have found these reviews to be a great look-back mechanism for what I achieved (or didn’t) in the past year. In conversations with friends and colleagues though, I have found that many of us don’t like these reviews as much as I seem to. So, I thought I’d write a short post to share my point of view.

Realizing that every organization does reviews differently, encapsulating thoughts on the subject instantly starts to look like multivariate calculus to some. I distill reviews into the following measures for the individual:

  • Have you defined the right measures?
  • Are you making progress toward your long term goals?
  • Do you like your organization and your team?
  • Does your manager really care about your career?
  • Was it a good year or a bad year?
  • How did you perform compared to your peers?

These are the questions I’ve asked myself, my team, and my organization every year. Some of these are obvious questions, and others are not. For example, the measures change through different stages of our career, life-stage, and external circumstances.

For organizations on the other hand, annual reviews are a good way to recognize, reward, and retain their top-performers; and at the same time introspect whether they have the right mix of people to meet the goals of the business.

How do you think about reviews? … like em? … hate em? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Note: this is a repost from my blog, and was originally posted in Jan 2013

Mentors – your aides in career navigation


I often find myself deeply confused and unclear about navigating life and career decisions. These may range from simple things such as whether to take on a project at work?, or broader questions such as what geography do I want to be in 10 years from now?


No matter what the question, it is quite challenging to step outside of one’s own bubble and see the forest from the trees. What makes navigating these crossroads even harder is that the consequences of most such decisions may only be evaluated over long periods of time. All of us face these questions regularly, and am sure each of us has devised unique ways to find answers.


I constantly turn to my Mentors for guidance and direction when faced with multifaceted decisions. They (my Mentors) are the only way I am able to understand what is going on beyond my own life stage, industry, financial circumstances, geography, career track, and ideologies.

Surround yourself with mentors who not only share their life experiences but also challenge you to think about dimensions you may not have contemplated. Having an insight into what lies ahead, or how people in a different industry think about the same decision is invaluable.

As you think about Mentors, here are my thoughts on who to surround yourself with:

  • a peer in your industry
  • someone whose life/achievements you admire
  • a family member
  • someone in a different geography than your own
  • someone much younger than yourself
    (you are the
    present, they are the future)

Keep in mind that cultivating a Mentor/Mentee relationship takes time and diligence. You want to be selective in finding Mentors who are genuinely interested in you as an individual, and this takes time. An ideal mentor is someone you have known for atleast a couple of years, and is someone you would love to have a beer with.

Your relationship with your Mentors is a two-way street. You have to pay it forward and share as much as (and perhaps more) you wish to learn.

Think of a person without mentors as a sailor relying on astrology to cross the seas, and a person with mentors as an Admiral with the support of sophisticated GPS satellite navigation and mapping to assist him. The Admiral has a much better lay of the land and the many pitfalls and traps on the path to his goal.

Be the Admiral.

I hope you find Mentors that help make your life more interesting, and at the same time be sure to share your own perspectives with others who could benefit from your experiences.

(Special thanks to Aakrit Vaish, Dev Khare, and Tomas Tunguz for their feedback)

the curse of 10%

a 10 percent improvement means that you’re basically doing the same thing as everybody else. You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly.

the curse of 10%

Larry Page succinctly described, in the above quote, the 10% growth syndrome that companies get into and miss out on doing great things.

Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely challenging to run a large company and motivate the team to work towards a common goal of 10% growth, but at the same time our business leaders owe a debt to society to attempt great things with the resources at their disposal

I hope more business leaders and politicians would see the roles the way Larry Page does.

You can see the entire interview with Larry Page in Wired mag here.

Reacting to competition

As an innovator, you are often ahead of the curve in introducing products and services to a market.

Then come the battery of fast following competitors who copy your capabilities, or yet others who say they’ve already got what your latest and greatest innovation is.

How you react in these situations can often make or break your leadership with customers.

Making a better product isn’t the end of the story: market it better, deliver it better, support it better, and make the usage experience better, be honest, and be human !

Take your advantage to the next level by out executing your competition across all aspects of your solution, rather than fighting with copy cats or looking at their tactics.

Competition is a good thing, and in most markets buyers will gravitate to the best overall package.

startup culture — where does it come from ?

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One of the most mysterious elements of startup culture is question that Naval Ravikant posed in his tweet above.

So, where does it really come from ?

Culture is mostly intangible at the earliest stages, and tends to be dictated by the relationship amongst the founders (or the founding team). In my time at Feeva, and my startup project at Virginia Tech, the culture of the group could primarily be described as a function of the relationship the group shared among themselves.

At the same time, culture morphs at various stages of team size and the product lifecycle of a startups offering. In the very beginning, everything pretty much happens around the one and only conference table (if you have one that is) and all decisions around hiring, strategy, fund-raising, marketing, tactics, etc are made. I think this changes at somewhere around 15 people or so, when the company needs to start to institute a basic abstraction of decision making by a few for the collective. This evolution in a young companies life (or need for change) is a seminal moment for the long term culture of the company.

And naturally, a company and its organization continues to morph at 50, 250, 500, 1000 employees and upwards and onwards! It is critical for the founders/founding-team to think about their culture at each of these stages to define how they want to make decisions and conduct business. In the long run, the relationship between the founders/founding-team really drives the culture of the company.

There are umpteen examples of this: Google (with its college campus lifestyle), Facebook (the hacker way), Twitter (and its emergent chaos), my own experience at Feeva (though not public), and several others out there.

what do you think?

sharing my digital book library

One of my favorite things to do in college was to take a long bus ride to Christiansburg, VA on the weekends to visit the Barnes & Nobles bookstore and spend a few hours there. I generally managed to drag a couple friends along, and we would spend the time on the bus (30 minutes each way) to talk about the books we were excited to read, recommend books to each other, and what it is that we were hoping to run into on this trip to the bookstore. It was a magical time !

Much has changed in the world for that experience to come back around though. The primary force for change has been the Internet, and how it has transformed the process of access, acquisition, and conversation around books & reading as a social activity. E-books have brought many good features to reading, but they have also led to the demise of physical bookstores. I, in particular sad about this, as I had blogged almost a year ago.

As with all paradigm shifts, some affordances of the prior paradigm need to brought along for their core value. The new world of books, reading, and contemplative thought needs to afford the following: showcasing a book collection (personal libraries are social places), sharing highlights and quotes from books with friends, and having conversations around books and articles

I am ecstatic to share that there is a new service called Findings, that enables many of these features in a flawless fashion. You can share clips from articles you read on the web, highlights from books you read on your Kindle, and even display your entire library in one nice-looking collection !

Here is a set of links I’d like to share with you:

Library — collection of digital books (physical books coming soon)
Highlights — from the books in my library (directly from my Kindle) 
Wishlist — of books I am looking to buy & read soon (from Amazon.com)

Now, the last thing I am looking for really is a cool way to project/showcase my digital library in my office + home !

How do you share what you read, and how do you stumble into new content?

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Alok Bathija, Neel Uppal, and Faiz Munshi for being my accomplices to the Barnes & Nobles during our college days. Steven Johnson for his awesome writing and being one of the thought-leaders behind Findings; John Borthwick and the entire Findings.com team !