Funding Friday – Team Vaayushastra

A group of students from  Fr. Conceicao Rodrigues College of Engineering formed Team Vaayushastra in 2012 to compete in SAE Aero Design East competitions. The students have competed well against teams from Georgia Tech, Michigan Ann-Arbor and Concordia to name a few and ranked 5th in the competition in 2017.
SAE Aero Design East competitions provide undergraduate and graduate engineering students the opportunity to work on real-life problems. Here is how the SAE website describes the competition:
First and foremost, a design competition, students will find themselves performing trade studies and making compromises to arrive at a design solution that will optimally meet the mission requirements while still conforming to the configuration limitations.
I love initiatives that encourage youngsters to innovate and take risks. I am contributing towards this project through Ketto.
Here are video highlights from the 2018 SAE Aero Design East competition:

Funding Friday – India’s Sons

Rape, whether done upon a woman or man, is a heinous crime. There is no doubt that the perpetrators of this ghastly act deserve the wrath of the legal, social, and economic systems. In the same spirit, falsely accusing another individual of a ghastly act such as rape is a crime that is as appalling, if not worse, than the act of rape itself.
Just think about the lives a false accusation destroys besides the credibility of the innocent.
The act destroys the families of the innocent, including women in the accused’s life, like his mother, wife, daughter, and sister. Even after the accused is proved innocent, his family continues to bear the ignominy of a crime that their son, brother, or father did not commit.
What makes the act of falsely accusing a man of rape sinister is that it affects the actual victims of rape when they approach the police and the judiciary. Judges and law enforcement are impartial but are (after all) humans too. When an accused is found playing truant with the law to meet with their malicious intentions, it casts doubts in genuine cases.
Therefore as a bad joke, the actual victim is subject to additional scrutiny due to the disgraceful actions of fake victims – subjecting the victimized to further victimization. This business of falsely accusing someone of settling scores or of extorting money must get highlighted, and the lawmakers get tasked with making provisions so that the false accusers get strictly punished.
I believe that any law should protect the innocent before it prosecutes the guilty; therefore I am backing eye-opening documentary by Deepika Bhardwaj, aptly named – India’s Sons. Deepika highlights the anguish of the victims of false rape accusations this ghastly act and how it is destroying the very fabric of Indian society. India’s Sons, is listed on Milaap.

I have backed Deepika in the past as she consistently highlights the anguish of the “forgotten gender” under India law with hard-hitting and compelling storytelling. Her last documentary, Martyrs of Marriage, went into gut wrenching detail on the misuse of Indian laws created to abolish dowry and prevent domestic violence by unscrupulous women. These women utilized these laws as tools of oppression against the husbands and their families. Martyrs of Marriage is available on Netflix.

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

Are entrepreneurs high performance athletes?

While I was in London last week, I was lucky enough to have fish and chips with Dr Marcel Muenster of The Gritti Fund. Marcel has had a unique career path of becoming a fund manager, he studied medicine in Germany, did a Masters from John Hopkins and was an entrepreneur before taking the plunge into becoming a fund manager. Since we were together on a couple of panels for a Family Office conference on alternative investment strategies, we got talking and realized that we have a lot in common despite our career paths having started in wildly different ways. However, when Marcel spoke about utilising his medical knowledge to get the best out of entrepreneurs, I was hooked.

Marcel is setting up a unique accelerator experience for entrepreneurs in the Middle East through The Gritti Fund. One of the important USPs for this accelerator will be that it will require entrepreneurs to work with a psychologist who will mentally condition their minds for peak performance. Marcel believes that entrepreneurs go through similar experiences as high-performance athletes i.e. the performance pressure, a roller coaster of highs and lows and the failures outnumbering successes by a long margin. Therefore, instead of treating the entrepreneurs like a herd of cattle he wants to carefully manage their psyche and bring out the best in each one of them.

I resonate with his thoughts because I have been on the entrepreneurship roller coaster several times as both an entrepreneur and seed investor. I have been through the months and years of sustained pressure and have seen my entrepreneurs facing the same. Many times, I can only watch as the entrepreneur makes a series of blunders due to the pressure that his entire ecosystem has put on him/her; it irks me to be a silent bystander in such situations.

It is serendipity that I am in the middle of reading the autobiographies of two widely successful athletes i.e. Michael Jordan and VVS Laxman. It is clear how the former’s mother and latter’s uncle played instrumental roles in protecting these athletes from parental, societal, friend-related and performance pressures. They built a kind of cocoon around them during their formative years and performing years and continuously steered them to maintain focus on their craft. A similar comparison could be drawn in Warren Buffet’s autobiography where his wife and friends built a cocoon around Warren so that he could remain lost in his world. Marcel had thought through about marrying both these concepts, it was one of the big ‘aha’ moments of my life.

31/2019

What a Bank Should Do for My Business

After what seems like an eternity, the relationship manager of one of the largest private banks in India sat down with me to understand my grievances with this bank. Recently, I moved one of our business accounts to a competitor bank and that triggered the RM of the current bank, to question why I was looking elsewhere. When asked, I pointed out the inconvenience of needing a specific certificate to be issued and installed on each device to be able to log into my business bank account. If for some reason I ever found myself without the certificate ordained devices, I was locked out of all my business accounts (which for obvious reasons is a hassle). While I am yet to understand how this process made it off the drawing board in the first place, the fact that one of the biggest banks in India was still using it, years after expiry, clearly indicates how little the bank understood about the requirements of a business today.

The RM promised that a completely revamped system was coming into place in 7-8 months and tried pitching the “support” that they provide for start-ups. As a response to this, I asked if I would have to continue to write physical letters to be able to change the address of my digital mailbox (aka email address). While he could not answer my question, I got the exact answer that I expected – to put it bluntly, large banks take their business customers for granted because of the lack of better options. While the start up support initiatives that banks put on marketing creatives look good, their backend continues to operate like it did in the 1990s. It is high time that this changes. Though the RM left with promise to do what he could, we both knew he was just a small cog in a big mess.

When I woke up this morning and replayed the interaction in my head, I had serious doubts whether the relationship manager could do even 10% of what he had promised. Therefore, I created a wish list of what I would like my bank to provide in order to have me and my business as a customer…  

  1. Single-day opening and shutting of bank accounts
  2. Business savings accounts to park excess monies
  3. Painless and easy ways to obtain a corporate credit card
  4. Seamless processes to add/edit/remove employees from company accounts
  5. A smart and all-encompassing mobile application
  6. An automated overdraft facility based on corporate credit history
  7. Easily accessible innovative lending products
  8. Quick and simple access to company investment accounts to park excess funds (in mutual funds or other investment products)

Do you have any to add?

17/2019

Entrepreneurial Ego…a Necessary Evil?

Vinod shared an interesting post inspired from a talk he gave at an event in Nagpur, on Sunday:

I read the article shared in that post this morning, and it was quite powerful. Let me state that I am not in agreement with the massive extrapolation of $1 million in 1878 to a $900m in 1930s. There is a gap of more than 50 years in which many things could have happened. Also, let’s not forget the fact that Sam Andrews died in 1904 so he would not have been around to enjoy his gain!

I do agree with Vinod that an entrepreneur must exude certain confidence, spunk and calmness under pressure. But most people are not born with such qualities so a ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude is required in the early stages which could be shrouded in a fake ego. However, an individual can quickly lose awareness of the fake ego and it can be replaced with a real one when success gets into the place it shouldn’t – the head.

But the one quality that has been consistent in successful entrepreneurs in our portfolio is their ability to drown the ego and ask for advice and help from people that can push them to get better in their role as an entrepreneur, manager or networker. They not only remember the advice given but also provide feedback on whether that advice is working for them or not and ask for pivots.

The creation, nurturing and growth of ego takes the entrepreneur away from the exact qualities that made him/her great in the first place. Therefore, I agree with Vinod that a fake ego is required but the entrepreneur should have a person who can act as their totem and remind them if they have gotten lost in the very thing they created.

16/2019

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

Scheduling a Weekly Visit to Menlo Park

I have inculcated a new habit of listening to podcasts during my morning routine replacing my old one of playing loud music to get me charged up for the day.  
Today I heard Robin Sharma’s podcast – The Secret of Massively Creative People and loved his suggestion to create a “Menlo Park” i.e. a place where one can disconnect from the world and give way for the creative side to express itself.  
When I started thinking about it I realised that my best work, especially the things that require me to concentrate viz. investor updates, blog posts, long emails, developing or understanding complex financial models, etc. have all come while I was completely disconnected from the world. I was either on a long flight or holed up in a hotel room.  
This powerful suggestion has me deeply enveloped in thought and I am strongly motivated (and encouraging entrepreneurs) to schedule a visit to Menlo Park every week. 
Would love to hear if anyone has tried doing this and what results they were able to accomplish.  
92/2018

The Journey from 500k to 5 Billion Demolishes 5 long-held Startup Myths

It has been over a week now since the news of OYO’s $1 billion round and ascent to unicorn status became official. This is a huge accomplishment for Ritesh and the entire Indian start-up ecosystem as the new round’s purpose is primarily to expand OYO’s reach outside India, something very few Indian start-ups can boast of. I expressed the enormity of this moment in a quote to Ananya Bhattacharya of QZ.com.
OYO’s journey smashed many myths that founders, investors and journalists hold strongly about start-ups. I took the last week to decide the 5 most common myths that can be done away with, for good.
1. The first-round valuation is important to set the floor for later rounds
OYO’s starting valuation of less than 3 crores was not an obstacle in its journey to become the 2nd most valuable Indian startup. The important thing is that Ritesh was able to EXECUTE the plans and ideas that he pitched in his fundraising presentations.
P.S. OYO did well even though we invested in their seed round in tranches… it did not affect any of their growth rounds of equity, obviously!
2. Founders should save equity for later rounds
It is important to note that: 75% of zero, is zero. Unless there are multiple term-sheets being shoved into a founder’s inbox giving him/her stronger negotiation leverage, founders should just focus on raising enough capital to execute the objectives set for the round and investors should provide value-adds besides the capital. Founders that under-raise or hold long drawn-out negotiations for better valuations are doing themselves and their startups a disservice.
3. IITs/IIMs degrees is a pre-requisite for startup success
It is well known that Ritesh did not go to college and got a $100k Thiel Fellowship for choosing entrepreneurship over a college degree.  His journey is a testament that even the best education is useless if it cannot be applied in the real world that we live in. I enjoy working with humble founders like Ritesh who; work hard, study hard and are teachable over conceited founders that expect royal treatment for the degree(s) that they hold.
4. Only deep-tech and hi-tech startups get the big bucks or those with a truly unique idea
The real beauty of OYO’s success is the simplicity of its business. Since none of the incumbents were paying attention to the gap in the budget accommodation space, it allowed OYO to swoop in and leave them in the dust. OYO’s initial premise was to provide a clean room, free breakfast and free wifi at an affordable price – that’s all. The execution required hard-core sales and marketing prowess and strong leadership aided by technology, not the other way around.
5. Founders should not pivot or that will destroy their startup
It is important for founders to have a flexible business plan so that they can address the changing needs of their target market. Ritesh pivoted Oravel to OYO rooms, Harsh Shopsense to Fynd and there are many such success stories that started out very differently from where they ended up and they all teach the same lesson – be prepared to change the action if the outcome is not what was expected.
91/2018

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