Book Review: Ikigai

In my recent memory, Japan has always held the crown for the longest living humans –  almost 20 years higher than the world average. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that Japan also has the highest centenarians per capita, i.e., the highest ratio of people that are over 100 years old as a percentage of its population.  

Within Japan, the island of Okinawa (aka The Land of Immortals) has the highest rate of centenarians per capita. Okinawa also holds the global immortality title as it has the highest occurrence of centenarians in the world 

The nutritionally dense but low calorieOkinawa diet is credited to be significant factor behind this phenomenon. However, the legend of Okinawans is more than what they eat, which is what Ikigai: the Japanese secret to a long and happy life delves deeply into.  

The word ikigai translates to “the happiness of always being busy, and it is the reason we get up in the morning. What is ikigai, and how do the Okinawans follow it is the concept that reverberates throughout the book.  

Here are my favorite highlights from the book 

  • Okinawans live by the principle of ichariba chode, a local expression that means “treat everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before.  
  • Eat only until your stomach is 80% full  
  • Most health problems are caused by stress 
  • The mind has tremendous power over the body and how quickly it ages 
  • If you keep moving with your fingers working, 100 years will come to you  
  • The last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way 
  • We don’t create the meaning of our life – we discover it  
  • We all have the capacity to do noble or terrible things. The side of the equation we end up on depends on our decisions, not on the condition in which we find ourselves.  
  • Accept your feelings. 
  • If we try to get rid of one wave with another, we end up with an infinite sea   
  • We shouldn’t focus on eliminating symptoms, because recovery will come on its own 
  • We can’t control our emotions, but we can take charge of our actions every day 
  • It is much more important to have a compass pointing to a concrete objective than to have a map 
  • Technology is great if were in control of itIt’s not so great if it takes control of us. 
  • The most important thing is to be disciplined in completing the cycle.  
  • If you are not truly being challenged, we get bored and add a layer of complexity to amuse yourself  
  • The most important thing is to focus on the journey 
  • Humor can break negative cycles and reduce anxiety  
  • A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell on the future  
  • The secret is smiling and having a good time  
  • Spending time together and having fun is the only thing that matters  
  • To live a long time you need to do three things: exercise to stay healthy, eat well and spend time with people  
  • Talking each day with the people you love, that’s the secret to a long life 
  • They celebrate all the time, even little things, Music, song, and dance are essential parts of daily life  
  • They ate an average of eighteen different food each day 
  • More than 30 percent of their daily calories come from vegetables  
  • Serving food on many small plates makes it easier to avoid eating too much 
  • An active body leads to a calm mind  
  • They concentrate on the things that they can control and don’t worry about those they cant 
  • To practice negative visualization we have to reflect on negative events but without worrying about them 
  • Worrying about things that are beyond our control accomplishes nothing.  
  • It is not what happens to you but how you react that matters  
  • Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful because those things resemble the natural world  
  • This moment exists only now and won’t come again  
  • To build resilience into our lives, we shouldn’t fear adversity  
  • Setback is an opportunity for growth  
  • Each moment will hold so many possibilities that it will seem like almost an eternity  
  • Life is not a problem to be solved  
  • Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you. 
  • Today is all you have. Make the most of it.  

6 Learnings after 60 days of WFH – for Founders

Yesterday was the 60th day since we shut down our office, but it feels much longer. Partly because of the roller coaster journey I have had with a concept that I could not understand, i.e., working from home. In the last 60 days, I have gone from hating to loving the work from home concept and from working myself to the bone to appreciating the freedom and higher productivity this concept brings to my team and to me.   

There are several posts on how to manage employees that are working from home, but very few focus their attention on the founder that is leading their startup through troubled waters. I had 6 distinct learnings that reshaped the way I thought about working from home: 

 

 

  1. Hyper-productivity has its limitations 

    I was guilty of indulging in this mistake for the first 30 days. Theoretically, I saved 90 minutes of commute time; therefore, I decided that I could take on more tasks and responsibilities. Thus, in addition to my duties as a fund manager, I was reworking budgets with our portfolio companiestook on the chief editor role for Artha’s blogs, and I was conducting multiple team calls a day to keep the team focussed and engaged. 

    It was exciting and new the first couple of weeks, and I enjoyed working myself to the point of exhaustion because it kept all the negativity around the crisis out of my mind. However, hyper-productivity began providing diminishing returns the more I indulged in it. 

    It started with general irritability and slight distractions, but eventually, the focus on work suffered, and the list of tasks pending on me started to pile up. Finally, there was just a general numbness to all the work. The enjoyment of completing one task was quickly replaced by the groan of watching the tasks list continuing to expand

    became aware of the toll my hyper-productive avatar was having on my physical and mental health. Eventually, it started affecting my interpersonal relationships – at work and at home. With some sage advice, I toned down my hyperproductivity ambitions and focussed on quality instead of quantity. I concentrated on completing 5 tasks per day (nothing more or less) and utilizing the extra time to expand my knowledge horizon.

  2. Recognizing and dealing with Zoom fatigue 

    It was fun to be on an endless stream of Zoom calls. The meetings were shorter, I drank fewer calories, and I could do double the number of meetings. Then as Brad Feld put it, I started to experience Zoom Fatigue. I caught myself replying to emails, responding to internal team chats, or editing investor newsletters during these online meetings. I was there, but I was not present

    It did not help that I made my meeting schedule so tightly packed that there was no room for error; therefore, if there was an unscheduled call, it would be a couple of days before I could get back to them. 

    At the start of this month, I reduced the time I allocated for online meetings. Encouraged with the results, I have limited my online meeting schedule to just 3 hours a day from this week. This workaround will give me ample down-time to catch up with my inbox, tasks, and team chat – allowing me to be fully attentive during the online meetings 

  3. Taking a break 

    It is ironic that I would find it challenging to take a break from working while working at home. The opportunity to take a break (my TV) is less than 10 steps away, the bed just another 15 steps. Despite my intense working schedule over my 15year working career, I continued to watch at least 1 new movie a week on averageHowever, in the last 9 weeks, I have watched a grand total of 2 new filmsand I had to split watching each one over 2-3 weeks. 

    The fact that the opportunity to take a break was so close developed a false sense of comfort that I could take a break at any time. That time did not come because there was always something pressing that needed my attention.  

    Although it was late, the benefits of taking breaks finally dawned on me. A couple of weeks back, I took a 3-day weekend (I still ended up working for half a day), caught up with friends, and on my sleep. I had a fresh perspective on projects & a spring in my voice when I resumed work, convincing me that taking a break is an imperative undertaking for any founder.

  4. Setting boundaries 

    When we are done with work, we shut our laptops, stuff them into our bags, we commute back home, switching off all the work-related tabs in our minds and refreshing the tabs for our personal livesWhat happens when that commute is cut down to 90 seconds? 

    In my first month I was taking work calls from 8 am to 10 pm daily, I slept with work and woke up in it. There are several times in a year when VCmust put in those types of hours, especially when we are closing multiple deals. However, this was different.

    I did not have time to work out, I took tons of notes with a mental promise to review them but could not find the time to do it. Many a time, I could not remember what I ate for dinner and in what quantity! These endless hours started to take a toll on the team as well.

    I instituted a pm deadline on myself for all workrelated meetings. Everything that could not get completed by 7 pm would get pushed to the next day. To commit myself to this deadline, I started working out on cure.fit with a partner who would ensure that I did not miss workouts, therefore, ensuring that my work-day had an ending

    Without boundaries, the boon of working from home can quickly turn into a curse. Therefore, it is a good idea to schedule winding up and winding down activities so that there is a psychological boundary between work & home. 

  5. Schedule tasks into your calendar 

    There is a big difference between being busy and being productive. One can be busy all day but have nothing to show for their busyness at nightOn the other hand, productivity demands results, it demands focus.  

    I learned an excellent productivity hack that has worked wonders for me. Instead of having a to-do list or a task list – I get my tasks directly scheduled into my calendar, thereby blocking out time to focusThe scheduled slots are limited to 30-45 minutes chunks, with a 15-mins break at the end for contingencies and to report to the team after the job assigned to me is completed. There is an excellent post on Effective Scheduling for more on this. 

  6. Take a vacation 

    It sounds ironic that I would propose vacation time amid an economic crisis, especially when we are working from home! However, a lot of founders have forgone summer vacations due to the way this crisis creeping upon us. As a founder, we must recognize that vacations are essential with several scientifically known benefits of what breaking routines do for our minds & bodies

    While there are minimal options for us to travel for a vacation, there are other ways to take a break from the world and give the body & mind time to recharge their batteries. The Washington Post provided an excellent resource for vacationing at home, aptly titled, The completely correct guide to vacationing at home.

    Oh! You will find the perfect vacation auto-response in my 18-month-old postPerfecting the vacation auto-response.

Setting Outcomes for 2020

On our last working day of the decade, i.e., the 27th of December 2019, I asked the Artha team to congregate in our conference room. At 5 pm, 24 Artha team members stuffed themselves into a space built for 8, and another 6 joined in from Ahmedabad on Zoom.
First, I enquired how many attendees had written down their resolution for 2020 – it was less than 10%. From that sliver, I picked on the newest hire, to share her resolution for 2020. Along expected lines, the newbie said, “I want to be fit.”
Thanking her for sharing their personal goal, and I also made a solemn promise that unless she changed how she worded her resolution, she was going to fail. She was shocked, but my reasoning was straightforward.
Her resolution was so generic that even a 100g drop in her body weight would mean that she had achieved her goal. Instead of pointing the finger at their colleague, I asked the team to utilize her example and replace their resolution setting or list of “to-dos” with plans to deliver outcomes that they wanted to achieve.
To help them understand the outcome setting concept, I showed a Tony Robbins video on the Rapid Planning Method (RPM).

As Tony says in the video, it takes a bit of effort to retrain oneself so that we make plans for outcomes, not activities. The good news is that the brain adapts quickly to the new system and starts to deliver fantastic results! I utilize the RPM method for planning and for my weekly reviews with team members that directly report to me. It takes some effort at the start, but I am amazed at the tremendous ability of the mind to find new ways and energy to deliver an outcome. It should not be a surprise that I am a big proponent of this planning method.
I even had a clear outcome for conducting this training. I wanted my team to internalize the message and put the outcome planning into action. Therefore I tasked each team member to share 3 outcomes that they wanted to achieve in 2020. The had to find 3 outcomes for the personal, professional, and social/charitable spheres of their lives in the next 4 days and share it on the company-wide group on Microsoft Teams.

Why share the outcomes publicly?
If writing the outcomes is half the battle, publicly committing to those outcomes is the other half – the winning half!

Because my team (obviously) includes me I, too, wrote down my 2020 outcomes. But in addition to sharing it with my teammates, I am sharing them publicly, today. I had done a similar but unfocussed exercise in 2018. Overall, it delivered fantastic results because of the pressure it put on me. Why then, I thought to myself, should I change something that is working!
So without further ado, here is my list of outcomes.
Professional

  1. Increase Artha’s assets under management to over Rs. 300 crores+ ($40 million+)
  2. Invest in 25+ new start-ups
    1. When I achieve this goal, I will complete a century of start-up investments!
  3. Pay-out bonuses of 60 lakhs+ ($85k) to deserving team members

Personal

  1. Go to Tony Robbin’s Unleash the Power Within with a family member and an Artha team member
    1. Besides, go for Tony’s Date with Destiny and Business Mastery workshops
  2. Author a book
  3. Complete 50 scuba dives

Social/Charitable

  1. Support a crowdfunding project every week (#FundingFriday)
  2. Set aside 2 hours a week to mentor a child (@mentormeindia)
  3. Build or Upgrade ONE school along with the Artha team

That’s the list for you to track and me to deliver, let’s roll…
I wish you a happy new year full of achieving outcomes!
1/2020

Let's talk about entrepreneurial stress

It has been fourteen days since VG Siddhartha took his life. In that time, the entrepreneurial ecosystem has heard arguments from several vantage points to understand the cause of the stress that led to his untimely demise. It is stomach-churning and thought-provoking stuff.

Various arguments attempted to place the cause of VG’s entrepreneurial distress onto a multitude of issues. His close political affiliations, the stress that different business bailouts had put on his balance sheet and even his battles with the income tax department. His balance sheet was funded using debt and private equity; therefore, the private equity guys were to blame as well. However, to place the blame on any one person or phenomenon is to oversimplify a very complex issue i.e., the effects of entrepreneurial stress. 

The one silver lining of this somber episode is that it has got us all talking about entrepreneurial stress. It is a real thing, and there is an excellent chance that an entrepreneur close to you is under this stress right now. Yes, even the most successful ones.

In the Indian ecosystem, a successful start-up founder is treated as a demi-god. The media can quickly relate that entrepreneur into a Tony Stark-type invincible personality – capable of resolving any situation and turning almost anything they touch into gold. The price of this success is steep because the lens of failure is brutal. Ask any of the high-flying entrepreneurs that witness a reversal of fate – the fall from grace can be cruel and lonely. 

The truth is that an entrepreneur undergoes the same level of stress as that of a high-performance athlete. Another reality is that this stress will not vanish. 

The first step to dealing with entrepreneurial stress is to admit its existence. This step is most difficult because it hacks away the cloak of invincibility that entrepreneurs take painstaking effort to build. However, unless we admit that this stress exists, we cannot act on its causes. Ray Zinn wrote a great post on Stress and the Entrepreneur that delves deeper into this.

The next step is to identify the factors causing stress. There are internal factors that the entrepreneur can control and external ones that they cannot. It could be the nature of the business (like running a stockbroking platform), an environmental factor (like the transit time from home to office) or a personality trait (like procrastination and putting off decisions). The factors that can be addressed, should be acted on immediately and earnestly. The factors that cannot be addressed can be overcome through several methods, which high-performance entrepreneurs utilize to channelize their stress positively.

Lastly, once the stress factors have been identified and dealt with, an entrepreneur needs to build a core group of people to fall back on. The people invited to this core (aka inner circle) play a critical role, and they need to be educated on the things not to do.  

This post is one of the toughest blogs I have written because I have had my personal experiences with entrepreneurial stress, which kept clouding my arguments. I kept reverting to the times in my career when I stared from the cliff of despair into the depths of failure. I know today what I did not back then. Even then, I sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and slightly burnt out. It usually shows up with the burning sensation in my eyes, persistent pain in my back and a marked drop in my physical stamina. 

Initially, I did not know that it was stress. When I could self-diagnose, I took a short vacation, reduced my meetings load or delegated more. The awareness helped with resolution. However, the VG Siddhartha episode has awakened me to change my stance from a reactive one to a proactive one.

So should you.

Video Of The Week: Fyre- The Greatest Party that Never Happened

This week’s video was recommended by Karishma so a big thank you to her!

Fyre is the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs to learn that scaling before having a miniaturized working model is akin to gambling with the business. It should open the eyes of investors, entrepreneurs, managers and employees that scaling is the easiest part of building a venture. The billion-dollar question that needs to be answered is – can your business deliver consistently and profitability at scale?

Fyre also answers the question of how doing too many things can eventually lead to doing nothing or (in this case) land you and your business in legal hot water. I believe that Fyre’s founder, William “Billy” McFarland may not have intended to defraud his customers (unlike his investors, who he definitely did). It seemed as though he wanted to do everything that his marketing campaigns had promised but just could not control the monster that he built. Eventually, he went against the advice of his key team members and kept up a charade that transformed him from a boy genius to Mr. Evil.

This brilliant, moving and shocking documentary is available on Netflix.

21/2019

Nikunj's Wedding and a Business Idea

Over the last weekend, AVF Associate Nikunj married Chandni in a beautiful and intimate ceremony that took place in Vapi. The newly-wed couple looked like they were made for each other and I wish them the best for their married life together!

A bunch of us from Artha attended the nuptials, witnessed many memorable moments and made some amazing memories that included dancing on the streets of Vapi.

One of the things that struck me during the wedding was the omnipresence of the camera crew during the ceremonies and many other moments. Since they were right in the front, they got the best view of everything that was going on. It caused the people behind them to strain their necks just to get a glimpse or end up with a partial view of what was going on.

The obstruction caused by the camera crew who were capturing moments for future viewing actually took away more from the moment than their work could deliver in the future, because:

  1. There was no way that the camera crew could have covered all the angles
  2. 99% of the people that attended the wedding won’t be watching the wedding video. In fact, many of them were trying to capture the moments on their own cameras!

Camera crews are present at almost all Indian weddings and corporate events. The 3-4-person teams usually charge up to 25-30K per day which shows that there is a large enough budget. I do not need to establish the number of weddings or events that take place in a country of 1.2 billion people that have such video crews – so there is a sizeable market to figure out a better solution for!  

Nowadays, everyone owns a smartphone with a decent camera. Hence, it could be a good idea to find a way to aggregate the photos, classify them based on time and place, curate the best ones and eliminate duplicates to provide a wholesome view of the event.

This collaborative project would lead to an amazing collection of some of the never-before-captured moments. It will also give the guests a feeling of having added a personal touch to the special moment of the bride and groom. Quite a power pull. Lastly, it would ensure that all attendees get a full view of every moment of the event.

I did a simple Google search to see if there were any companies working in this area and I found a list of companies curated by Shutterfly but none of them were building it for the Indian audience… maybe it’s time someone did!

15/2019

How I Write My Daily Blog

Several people have written to me asking how I find the time to write my daily blog post, a few even speculated that I have a copywriter who writes these posts for me. One person went so far as to ask for my copywriter’s phone number but to their dismay, I had to admit that I write my own blog posts.

I usually write my blog early in the morning when there is little to no disturbance and I can easily replay the previous day in my mind. Thankfully, I have a photographic memory so I can always find a single event or point from my previous day that I want to elaborate on or find a different perspective on, and I then take 30 mins to write about that topic without the pressure of making sense. During my daily writing-roll for 60 days in 2018, I would write a post in as little as 15 mins.

Once the first draft is scribbled, I re-read it and make edits before sending it out to Karishma & Nikita who are co-editors for my blog. While neither have been entrepreneurs yet, Karishma comes from a finance background while Nikita doesn’t. This sparks a great balance of debate/ learning and queries during our editing process. Oftentimes, after reading my post, they ask questions about certain theories, terms and viewpoints to ensure that the blog caters to both founders and investors alike and even a general reader from a completely different field. This discussion helps both, Nikita and Karishma, to understand my thought process better (and faster) than anyone else in the team, which subsequently helps make them better at their roles in the organisation.

Once they have edited the blog (usually takes about 30 mins) I sit with them for 15-20 mins to read and discuss their edits. We collectively choose an appropriate picture for the post and then post it from my WordPress account. The entire exercise takes about 90 mins out of my day, and even less when I get into the habit of doing it every day.

And to those who asked WHY I write a daily blog?

Let’s leave it for another day…

5/2019 

It Took this Infographic to Fully Appreciate 2018!

2018 has had its fair share of highs and lows, and it wasn’t until my team summarized our progress through the year (personally and professionally) that the all-encompassing scale of this year was visible, and what a year it has been!

2018 in a Nutshell

Armed with this data, I’ll be evaluating and sending out the hits and misses for 2018. I will especially keep in mind the misses when planning my goals for 2019. I will be sharing my list of goals for 2019 within the week because I truly believe that unless one announces their goals to the universe, there is very little chance of actually achieving them.

That’s it for this year, see you in the new year!

104/2018

Perfecting the Vacation Auto-Response

I have been finding ways to manage the dual stress of entrepreneur and venture capitalist through 7-day breaks with the simple objective to ensure that

  • I am (almost) completely off my digital devices
  • I have time earmarked every day to read books
  • I am disconnected from work, especially my emails
  • I am pursuing a hobby or spending quality time with family

So, as I write this blog post from the departure lounge at the airport, embarking on my 4th 7-day quarterly break I am excited about the benefits these breaks have provided me. I return from these breaks with my creative batteries recharged, armed fresh perspectives on solving issues within Artha or the portfolio we manage and (most importantly) my energy levels are renewed and restored to 100%.
However, a major stress factor for me before (and after) these breaks is the massive pile-up of emails that I am supposed to go through once I am back. I thought that my auto-response emails that inform the sender that I am out of network and my replies will be limited until I am back would reduce the influx. However, I would also come back to a bigger email problem than I had assumed and I would get hounded by people in the first 2-3 days after I was back in the matrix.
I realised that the issue was that the auto-response implied that as I soon as I was back I would be responding to those that had sent emails in my absence which wasn’t going to be the case. Therefore I needed to try something new. So when I read a post from Brad Feld from 2015 wherein he talked about dealing with the same issue that was plaguing me, I was all ears!
Brad’s post was refreshing because it puts the onus of being on top of my priority list, on the sender of the email, not the receiver. I believe that the approach is brilliant but for someone of Brad’s stature especially as Indians are highly affected by the tone of something more than its intent. I deliberated over this for most of the evening and I decided that I should test whether my fears are grounded in reality. Therefore if you are one of the people that emails me in the next 9 days you will receive an immediate response that will say:

I’m checking out for a vacation until the 24th of September, 2018. I’ll be completely off the grid.

When I return, I’m going to archive my inbox so I’ll never see this email. If you’d like me to read it, please resend it after the 25th of September, 2018.

If you need something urgently, please email sandesha@artha.group and she’ll either help you or get you to the right person at Artha Group to give you a hand.

Cheers!

Anirudh A Damani

I am going to test out the hypothesis that those that really wanted to reach out to me will make the effort to reach out to me on the 25th of September and if their issue requires an urgent resolution the competent hands of Sandesha will be available. In essence, I have made the decision that the renewed energy I bring from the 7-day breaks should be expended on my portfolio companies and my team instead of cleaning up my inbox!

88/2018

Why Founders Hammering Each Other is Important

In business, it is important to demarcate the line where friendship ends and “foundership” begins. When friendship becomes the rockface that does not allow negative feedback to flow within a founding team, it is a sure shot recipe for disaster.
Therefore, it is extremely important for the founding team to schedule a time every week to have a candid feedback session where problems plaguing the company and individuals’ business challenges are discussed openly. These are going to be sessions where there will be finger pointing, criticism, disagreements, heated arguments and maybe even a few tears, but the objective is to achieve what is best for the company without pandering to individuals’ egos. They may not conclude the solutions to those problems in that meeting, but with the problems laid out clearly for everyone, each founder is now aware of the issues and can start to think of ways to resolve them.
Sometimes founders require the help of an outsider to initiate these meetings. It could be a mutual friend, a mentor, a board member or even a family member that all the founding members trust. This person could also be responsible for mediating conversations and deciding the right course of action in case there is an impasse and the founders should be ready to accept his/her decision if it comes to that.
Strengthening the conversational muscle may take time, there might be some uncomfortable moments and an uber number of reasons to discontinue the process. However, I must tell you that there is nothing more exciting to investors and employees (current and prospective) than a founding team that self-analyses, course corrects and keeps growing without outside intervention.
62/2018