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Category Archive : Lifestyle

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.

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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

How Would You Deal with Superstardom?

For today’s post, I had decided to write a book review. But while browsing through espncricinfo.com, I came across a brilliant piece of journalism on Virat Kohli, undoubtedly the most famous man in India. The journalist, Wright Thompson followed Kohli for a day and wrote about how Kohli dealt with his superstardom daily. He brought to light the two different sides of Kohli; the outside persona which is what the public sees and the inner, softer, a more personal side that he keeps concealed. The trials and tribulations of this Indian superstar are a must-read for anyone who dreams of becoming one.

Kohli has been an enigma for me. Although I do not like his batting (since it lacks the poetry I heard in Tendulkar’s stroke play), I love the way he responds to a challenge. Kohli always aims to dominate a challenge and invariably prevails because of his limitless perseverance that always lasts longer than that of the challenger. He never lets the pressure of a situation show on his face or in his body language, consequently helping him find the clarity to make tough decisions.

So, while I might not like watching Virat Kohli bat, I do love to watch him play. And after reading about him in this story, I seek to emulate him, just a little.

55/2018

Forgiveness Breaks the Fever from Verbal Venom

Last night I was out for dinner with some friends and we ran into a common friend. This person (let’s call him Person X) has been a family friend for over 30 years and in fact, his father is a very close friend of my father and my uncles. After the usual chit-chat, my friends and I got into a car and proceeded towards home. Kindly enough, one of my friends had taken on the onus of dropping everyone home, and since she lives close to my parents home, I was going to be dropped off last. My friend (that was dropping me off) received a message from Person X to call him immediately. Assuming that he was calling her about something important, she called him while I was still in the car and let the call connect through her car’s Bluetooth (she was driving).

Over the next 5 minutes, Person X proceeded to spew out all the venom about my family and me, that he had been keeping in his system for a very long time. It is pointless for me to delve into the details of the vilification spewed by Person X because it only points toward the obviously troubled state of his mental health. However, it was clear by the end of the call that this family friendship was over, at least for me.

As you can imagine, the disbelief of hearing what was said by a near & dear one, turned into seething anger by the time I reached my parent’s house and his venom had spread throughout my system by the time I reached my bed. I could not believe the things that this person had said, and I was trying to decipher the inspiration for spewing out the ridiculous B.S., accusations, and lies… and every time those words played back in my head they would only get louder.

I felt the urgent need to defend my family’s honour as well as my own reputation and initially, I thought that required me going to Person X’s house and forcing him to drink back his own venom with the added course of venom that I had prepared for him. However, better sense prevailed and somehow I got a few hours of fitful sleep. The break helped my mind relax but once the mind got whirring again the words from the previous night started to cloud my thoughts once again.

It was at this point that I remembered watching a video about a Holocaust survivor, Eva Kor who lost her parents and siblings within 30 minutes of arriving at Auschwitz. Fortunately for her, having a twin sister saved both their lives because they were needed for the experiments conducted by the dreaded “Angel of Death”, Dr Josef Mengele. Eva and her sister were physically liberated in 1945. The side effects of the experiments led to cancer and a painful death for her sister. Even though she had suffered so much pain and loss, at such a young age and for no fault of her own, she eventually forgives Dr Mengele and becomes an advocate for forgiving the past and moving on with life.

I made the correct decision to watch this video once again and it finally broke the fever from the verbal venom that was coursing through my veins. I realized that if Eva could forgive someone that had directly and physically altered the course of her life then forgiving someone for spreading meaningless gossip about my family and me was not an issue. In fact, I was smiling at the end of the video because my anger was all gone and it had become so easy to forgive Person X for his immaturity. My forgiveness has nothing to do with me forgetting what Person X did and he will forever be banished from both my personal & professional circles, but this exercise definitely helped me take back control and choose to move through this episode instead of getting further sucked into it. Let the past go and focus on the present.

It is going to be a great day now… that is for sure! 🙂

43/2018

Making a Case for Automation to Shyamu Chacha

I stepped into the kitchen last night to find Shyamu Chacha, our house help for over 2 decades, loading ingredients into the old kneading bowl to make bottle gourd parathas (lauki parathas). Just before he was going to add the water and go to town kneading the mixture, I inquired as to why he wasn’t using the food processor over his bare hands? The ensuing interaction opened my eyes into why most automation products fail.

The first objection that Shyamu chacha had was that he would have to clean the food processor’s bowl after kneading was done. I responded to his question with a question asking if the manual kneading bowl would clean itself after he was done with it? The look on his face told me that I had won round 1 of this interaction and out came the food processor from the cupboard where it was safely being preserved like my mother’s favourite china. I had won the battle, but the war was far from won.

Shyamu chacha started to load all the ingredients into the food processor bowl, complaining under his breath that he could knead the gourd faster than the bowl. I retorted by explaining that the point wasn’t to make the dough faster, but to do other things while the dough was being prepared by the machine. The second objection, cleared.

With the ingredients in the bowl and the processor plugged in, it took a flick of the switch to bring the processor whirring into life. All the house help and I were standing next to the machine looking at the dough being kneaded automatically. Although it was a fantastic sight for the technology nerd in me, for the head of the house help it was an absolute disaster. All the work in the house was now being held up to make dough! Coming to my senses, I dismissed all the staff standing in the kitchen watching, to go back to their work and instructed Shyamu chacha to move on to the next set of steps instead of watching the machine do its work.

This time before Shyamu chacha could have a disgruntled conversation with himself under his breath, I explained how the machine though slower than him (it isn’t) was still effective, as not only did it free up his time for other things, but it’s unlikely to make mistakes like a human might. Therefore, he can get more things done in a lesser amount of time with better consistency than before. It all made sense to him but there was still hesitation. I delved deeper and inquired further into this hesitation. Then came the truth. His real concern was that that the machine would replace his effort and he wouldn’t be considered as valuable anymore. I did not have an answer ready for him and therefore I drank a glass of water and went off to play with my lab, Max. All the while, I was deep in thought about his concern and how best to give him an answer that would relieve him of the thought that the machine was here to replace him.

After composing my thoughts, I approached Shyamu chacha once again. By now, the first parathas had been prepared and the aroma of freshly prepared parathas enveloped the kitchen. I picked up one of the parathas as exhibit 1 to put forth my argument. The point of the paratha making process whether manual, automated or as in this case, semi-automated, was that the parathas were prepared by him – not how they were prepared. Just because the process reduced the amount of manual effort required from him, it did not change the result and the fact that he still needed to be there for the parathas to be made. Therefore, instead of competing with the technology he should look at it as an enabler for him to increase his own productivity.

With the finely knead dough, the parathas were coming out well, and Shyamu chacha looked content with the result, therefore, offering very little resistance to my final argument. However, just like a tiny drop of water, falling on the same spot of a stone, makes a minor yet invisible dent in just one day but a significant indent over a year or decade, I too will have to keep making the argument how important it is to direct our focus on results & productivity instead of efforts and sweat. This isn’t a one-time lesson but a patient and focused effort into a behavioural shift which takes time, money and effort. Despite their best effort, due to a scarce supply of time and money, innovative technologies created by early stage product companies are not easily adopted.

If only, they all had their own Shyamu chachas to understand, why.

37/2018