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.  

Entrepreneurial lessons from 36,000 feet under the sea!

Image Credits: @Buck_Taylor_ on Instagram

 

Entrepreneurship is an inspired action. Many people equate entrepreneurs as business people, and that assumption could be valid most of the time, but it does not work vice versa. Therefore, an entrepreneur can be a businessman, but not all businessmen are entrepreneurs. There is a big difference in the mental model, as businessmen are analytical thinkers, while entrepreneurs are possibility thinkers.

Yesterday, I read a fantastic story of entrepreneurship, published in the New Yorker, Thirty-Six Thousand Feet Under The Sea. It is a story of Victor Lance Vescovo attempt to become the first person to reach the deepest points in the earth’s 5 oceans. He called this attempt the Five Deeps Expedition. Vescovo got another first along the way.

He covered the most considerable vertical distance (64,869 feet) without leaving the earth’s surface getting the Explorers Grand Slam, i.e., he is the only person in the world to have successfully summited Mount Everest (2010) and plummeted to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench (2019).

The New Yorker story covers the ups and downs of Vescovo’s entrepreneurial attempt in a gripping narrative. It reminded me that, like entrepreneurship, there is minimal room for errors when there is 36,000 feet of water above your head, the pressure is immense literally and figuratively.

Vescovo’s story will resonate with budding entrepreneurs and reinforce or answer several questions. Here are a few of them that it did for me

  • Hire for attitude
  • Perfection is the enemy of progress
  • Half done is well begun
  • You can throw money at the problem, but that will not solve it but the will to do it will!

 

Silver linings: Lighting up a revolution (with a pair of binoculars)

I am continuing on the same thread upon which I wrote last week, i.e., Finding Silver Linings in this lockdown.

Yesterday we completed 40 days of working from home. Amongst several pivotal moments that define the turning points for Artha, sparking off a blogging revolution is definitely the most satisfying one.

For a very long time, I tried to convince my team to start blogging. I tried several approaches, showed them how my own blogs helped me express myself creatively and develop a robust network & following. However, the fear of getting criticized publicly made the team members shy away from expressing themselves – whether I offered them a carrot or the stick in return.

I could have got their blogs ghostwritten, but I wanted our blog to be genuine expressions that resonate. After several frustrating failed attempts, I threw in the towel. I stopped pushing the team to write because even when they wrote blogs due to the fear of disappointing me, they were half baked as the attempt to writing them was.

Then the lockdown took place. With commute times dropping to a few seconds from the hours endured earlier, a few members decided to utilize the extra time to creatively express themselves.

As the editor to our blog pages on Medium, any team member that completed a blog for publishing would assign a task to me. I had to review, make final edits, and approve their blog to publish from our Medium publications. Most of the time, it would be weeks, and even months before I would see assigned tasks in my editorial bucket. But things changed quickly.

Within the first week of working from home, I got notifications that I was assigned 2 blogs for publishing! This is interesting, I thought.

The first blog was published on Artha Venture Fund’s blog page. Farhan wrote a playbook for anyone that wants a VC job, i.e., Breaking into VC.  He frankly shared his personal journey of hounding my inboxes until he got me into meeting him face to face. He impressed me enough with his enthusiasm to secure an internship at Artha. With a foot in the door, Farhan converted the opportunity into a full-time role.  Farhan offered his playbook as a model for others to emulate. His post received a fantastic response with 300+ views in 3 days on our otherwise dormant blog page.

Unbeknownst to me, Deepanshu wrote and published a fantastic blog while sitting on his la-z-boy chair at his home in Delhi. Deepanshu’s take on the new work paradigm aptly called Corona: Ghar se Kaam KaroNa, We did it, did you? got published at the appropriate time and it lit up the Artha India Ventures blog page on the same day that the AVF blog saw a massive spike in its activity.

Farhan & Deepanshu’s unrelated but perfectly timed efforts sparked off a content creation race in Artha. They (thankfully) weren’t shy about the attention that their blogging debuts brought to their LinkedIn inboxes. It made others jealous and smashed the glass ceiling that kept the team from expressing themselves. All of a sudden, every person at Artha was lining up to write whether it was partners, principals, legal associates, junior analysts, even our interns!

There was so much content to review & publish that our internal PR team had to put everyone on a publishing calendar. Every team member got assigned 1 day a week to post their efforts on the company blog. I blocked out an hour a day to review the final drafts before publishing. But when I look at the list of blogs waiting for my review, even a couple of hours a day will not do justice.

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson. The thrill of competition drives a person harder than the fear of retribution. I tried igniting a creative explosion within Artha with the right intentions but the wrong strategy. Eventually, the age-old tactic of replacing my stick with a pair of binocular to keep up with the joneses got me to my long-held goal of creating a thriving blogging culture at Artha. That is a silver lining for me to cherish!

Here is the list of the 25 blogs we have published on our blog pages in the last 33 days

Date Blog Name Author
24-03-2020 Breaking into venture capital: A brief playbook Farhan Merchant
24-03-2020 Corona: Ghar se Kaam KaroNa, We did it, did you? Deepanshu Sidhanti
27-03-2020 From Polo to Venture Capital Dhruv Thadani
31-03-2020 21 Point Action Plan to Corona-Proof Your Startup Dream Anirudh A Damani
01-04-2020 Book Review: ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek Gauri Kuchhal
02-04-2020 Humanity First: Hyderabad Man Distributes Free Food Outside Hospital Sandesha Jaitapkar
04-04-2020 3 Takeaways After Evaluating 200 Startups Farhan Merchant
07-04-2020 Book Review: ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie Gauri Kuchhal
07-04-2020 Week #14: What are our investee companies doing this week? AIV Team
10-04-2020 Silver lining in the dark cloud — Looking up after 22 days of home arrest Shweta Tripathi
10-04-2020 From selling my startup dreams to buying into the startup dreams of many more like me Deepanshu Sidhanti
13-04-2020 MERC Listens — Part 1: Impact on Industrial & Commercial consumers Animesh Damani
15-04-2020 5 things I have learned after 365 days in Venture Capital Dhruv Thadani
17-04-2020 Gordon Ramsay Would’ve Been a Top Tier VC Farhan Merchant
17-04-2020 Flashback Friday: My first startup investment — United Mobile Apps AIV Team
18-04-2020 Week #16 Investment Update: The coming of age for Farm to Fork startups? AIV Team
20-04-2020 Finding silver linings Anirudh A Damani
21-04-2020 My experience of lockdown & work from home Piyali Das
22-04-2020 Book Review — ‘The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership’ by John Maxwell Gauri Kuchhal
21-04-2020 Drawing parallels. Similarities between parenting and investing in early-stage startups Deepanshu Sidhanti
23-04-2020 Impact of the lockdown on the power sector Animesh Damani
24-04-2020 Work from Home — Boon or Curse? Aakash Javeri
24-04-2020 Flashback Friday: CarveNiche Technologies Anirudh Damani
25-04-2020 Week #17: AIV expands funding to SEA AIV Team
27-04-2020 10 things I learned from my 5-year startup journey — Executive Assistant to COO Sandesha Jaitapkar

Sponsorship Sunday: Savety – The Instant Smart Water Tap

 

As washing your hands for at least 20 seconds has become an essential duty and on an average a person washes their hands at least 10 times, can you imagine the amount of water lost?  A trillion liters!

As the global community responds to the COVID-19 led pandemic lockdown, there has been an increasing emphasis on public health strategies. WHO promoted several health initiatives like keeping a safe distance from each other, staying home, and most importantly practicing proper hand hygiene by washing your hand with soap for at least 20 seconds.

But can we imagine the amount of water wasted as we leave our taps open? We are busy lathering our hands with soap and scrubbing it with great intent; we are wasting precious freshwater.  While you may think you’re taking the right steps to prevent yourself from COVID-19, even touching a tap can be unhygienic due to cross-contamination between users in social places like hospitals, hotels, schools. Railway stations and other cultural areas where self-hygiene is in dire need.

With an urgency to change this situation, Vishwanandh Fego Maladi, founder of Feel Good Innovations, created a campaign called “Savety – The Instant Smart Water Tap.” Savety is an IoT smart water tap that saves the earth by containing a water crisis while also protecting us from the dreaded COVID-19.

With the help of Savety, we can prevent a water crisis by converting your manual taps into automatic taps in just 30 seconds.  Savety is very user friendly and easy to install, plus you don’t need a plumber or any additional equipment and can be fixed in just “30 seconds”.

The reason I like the idea behind Savety is that:

  • It reduces touch pollution
  • It has a first-class water efficiency energy saving and environmental protection
  • It has a simple design and is adaptable to various home styles
  • It has a one-time charge for 3-4 months that lasts for 6 hours
  • It is water and energy sufficient and will, in turn, reduce your total bill in dwellings

As we crusade against COVID-19, let us also remember to practice having good hygiene first. Let us learn to conserve and protect ourselves and the earth and the same, or we may end up with age-old saying

Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink;

Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

You can contribute to this Savety – The Instant Smart Water Tap hosted on Fuel-a-Dream

 

Funding Friday: Humanity First

In the middle of this horrific crisis, I found inspiration in the efforts of Mohammed Shujatullah, a student of Sultan Ul Uloom College of Pharmacy in Hyderabad, who created the Humanity First Foundation. Mohammad serves free breakfast outside 3 government hospitals to the poor that are struggling to make ends meet.

How he started a life of giving is best explained in his own words:

It all started with a thankful “gesture to God” for passing an examination.

“I had a backlog in one of my papers. I had decided to feed ten hungry people if I successfully clear the backlog. It was my way of thanking Allah. I succeeded, and then I fulfilled my promise,” says Sujathullah. “But then, something happened,” he continues, “the experience of feeding the hungry changed me entirely. I felt at peace.”

March 22nd was his 1240th consecutive day of providing free breakfast outside Niloufer Hospital to 800 people every day. Then March 24th shutdown threatened to disrupt the noble and critical work that Mohammed undertook, but the Telangana police allowed him to serve 1000 people a day and continue his work.

Sandesha and I support a cause every Friday under our Funding Friday initiative. However, Mohammad’s selfless act made such a profound impact on her that it ignited the writer inside her. In a surprising turn of events, she wrote a beautiful piece:  Humanity First: Hyderabad Man Distributes Free Food Outside Hospital, which we proudly shared on the Artha India Venture’s blog yesterday.

Whether you decided to contribute to Mohammad’s campaign is truly up to you, but you must see the video below to sit in awe of the truly inspirational work this student is doing. Sandesha, myself, and several of our team members have already contributed to this initiative; you too can contribute at this link on Milaap.

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