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!

 

My funding picks from last week (w05)

There were 15 deals in week 5 of 2020 that were available on Traxcn, Inc42, and YourStory,
I sat with our funding team, and after some enlighting discussions, I have shortlisted my picks to:

Name: InterviewBit
Amount Raised: $20 million
Investors: Tiger Global Management & Sequoia India
What does InterviewBit do?
Edited from Traxcn: InterviewBit is an online platform for tech interview preparation. The platform offers gamified lessons with video tutorials, primer problems, and guided solutions for programming, scripting, databases, system design, puzzles, etc. The platform also enables the candidates to get connected with the right companies worldwide based on skills and preferences.
Why do I like InterviewBit?
I like focussed vocational plays. Last year I had picked out GreyAtom as a funding pick as it provided an upskilling platform for data science and web development employees. Therefore picking it isn’t a surprise that InterviewBit got selected even though the $20 million round from Tiger & Sequoia is bigger than a typical Series A round in India.
InterviewBit solves an exciting problem of finding, interviewing, and evaluating tech talent, which is the Achilles heel of the best of Indian start-ups. The CAC for such plays is quite high, but considering the 18-35 lakh rupee salary bracket they target, the rewards may outweigh the costs.
Only request – can someone create a platform for finance and accounting employees! 😊

Name: AdonMo
Amount Raised: Rs. 21.4 crores
Investors: Bace Capital, Astarc & Mumbai Angels
What does AdonMo do?
Edited from Traxcn: Adonmo provides an in-transit cab advertising platform for advertisers to reach their target audience. It enables advertisers to place their ads on top of the cab and select the target location and relevant time slots to display advertisements and track their ads in real-time. It uses a proprietary computer vision and hyper-local technology to identify its viewers and advertise.
Why do I like AdonMo?
It was unbelievable that I had created a business plan to provide contextual ads based on geo-location on top of taxis during a 6-7 months stint in Kolkata in 2012 or 2013. I had reached out to taxi-top display manufacturers in China who could provide the hardware required for this service. These plays were very popular for advertisers in Africa as most homes did not have electricity – therefore, taxi-top displays were the primary distributors of advertising. But AdonMo is precisely doing what I could not i.e., EXECUTE on the idea.
I am excited about AdonMo as it disrupts the hold billboard owners have enjoyed for several decades. A moving billboard provides better and deeper reach to advertisers with exhaustive reporting and must work out to be of much better value than a billboard.

Name: YoloBus
Amount Raised: Rs. 4.28 crore
Investors: Undisclosed
What does YoloBus do?
Edited from Traxcn: Yolobus provides an online-based platform for booking intercity tickets. Users can book tickets by giving details like location, date, time, etc. It offers features like real-time tracking, in-cabin Wi-Fi, Toilet, Pantry, CCTV cameras, etc.
Why do I like YoloBus?
There are several intercity bus services. So what is interesting about just another intercity bus service?
There are several intercity bus ticket booking platforms – So what is interesting about just another intercity bus ticket booking platform?
India is home to the world’s largest and fastest-growing middle-class population. India’s growth pulled 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016. It is only a matter of time before India’s per capita income will cross $4000 with and a majority of the Indians will belong to the middle to upper-middle class i.e., aspirational class.
This vast majority of people will have a very different consumption basket and preferences compared to the sustenance living Indian, and services like YoloBus cater to a growing section of the Indian audience.
While Yolo may get considered a bit ahead of its time, if it can keep its costs of operation and customer acquisition in control and sustain – there is a big market for it to capture!
One question, though – why are the investors undisclosed? The first time for me to see a release in which the amount gets disclosed but not the investors!  

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

My Funding Picks from Last Week (W48)

I am back with my favorite funding news of last week! I had shared my purpose in starting this weekly post, and I have received much positive feedback. Therefore, I was eager to dig into the top news from last week to share with you today.
Last week was a stellar week for fundraising, with over $1 billion raised. There is some deviation in that number as YourStory claims that the total was $1.18 billion, while Inc42* claims that the total was $1.08 billion. However, both agree that over 90% of the money comes from the $1 billion round for Paytm announced through VSS’ twitter handle.
However, Paytm does not fall under the parameters of an early-stage start-up; therefore, within the early-stage funding news for the week, these were my favorite:

Tripeur.com – $1 million from SenseAI, Better Capital, Patni Wealth Advisors, Incubate and Rajul Garg and Alacrity India

What is Tripeur?
Tripeur is a cloud-based corporate travel expense management solution. They utilize AI/ML technology to reduce corporate travel expenditure by 30% (as claimed) with better reporting and productivity gains for the travel admin. They claim to have served over 50,000 business travelers and booked 1.4 lakh trips for them through their online platform.
What do I like Tripeur?
I have slowed down investing in travel over the past few years, but it still makes up almost 25% of my overall investment portfolio. We evaluate travel start-ups as it continues to be a significant investment theme for AVF.
Within travel, I have found corporate travel to be the ripe space for disruption. I had identified corporate travel as the number 1 pain point to solve in my October 2017 post on the travel space.
While I haven’t utilized the Tripeur platform yet (I sent them a demo request over the weekend). However, I can speak from experience that a decent corporate booking platform can expect a very sticky customer base. They must provide access to the best prices with easy booking and cancellation options along with accurate reporting for the finance team.
These pain points are widely prevalent across all corporations, big or small. Therefore, people would readily refer customers to Tripeur if they can do what they promise, providing significant savings on CAC.
Tripeur could find much value in associating with many of my portfolio companies – Confirmtkt, Repup, OYO, VistaRooms, and others.

FirstU.in – undisclosed round from India Quotient, FirstCheque and Farooq Adam

What is FirstU? 
FirstU is an online platform that provides subscription-based periodic services for automobiles. Users buy monthly subscription plans and avail regular services such as vehicle inspection, repairs, washes, accident assistance, etc.
Why do I like FirstU?
Several start-ups attempted to solve the problems of the fractionalized vehicular maintenance space. Most of them tried to upgrade your neighborhood mechanic, but the cost of retraining and retaining them far outweighed the benefits provided to the revenue accounts. The few that have been attempting setting up a company or franchise-owned multi-brand workshops have done better, but even then, they continue to burn money.  Their LTV / CAC ratios are quite unfavorable as there is a long time gap between repeat services. Therefore, the start-up must resort to deep discounting to attract new or repeat customers.
I have written about my love for subscription start-ups as they develop the habit of their customers paying them. Once they form this habit, it takes a massive effort for a newcomer to “break” the psychological pattern of paying the same company. It creates the ideal “sticky” customer relationship. It is precisely the spending relationship that I love to see my start-up get into with their customers.
Once FirstU expands outside of Bangalore, I’d love to explore a B2B association between Everest Fleet and OneWay.Cab and them.

GreyAtom.com – $1.2 million from Montane Ventures, Pravega and Ritesh Arora

What does GreyAtom do?
GreyAtom provides a boot camp for learning data science and web development. The “students” work on real-world problems, get reviewed by their peers, which accelerates their learning curve. The claim to have upskilled over 35,000 learners with 87 percent making a career pivot of their choice.
Why do I like GreyAtom?
That working knowledge trumps the knowledge learned at a prestigious school is a known phenomenon. Therebefore the GreyAtom platform providing the workers of today the opportunity to upgrade and update their skills, but alongside their current roles is the need of the hour.
GreyAtom creates a win-win for the individual and the corporate. For the upskilled individual, it means better prospects at their current employer or the ability to switch over to a new role for which they were previously unqualified. For a corporate, incentivizing their existing team members to upgrade their skills would reduce attrition, improve job satisfaction, and reducing hiring and training costs. There is a lot to like about GreyAtom!
All I could wish for is that someone would come up with a similar platform to improve the skills for finance and marketing people. I’d be their first investor and a corporate customer for life!
*I am an investor in Inc42 through Artha India Ventures

My Jabalpur Visit Confirms that Bharat is Booming!

I was part of the final jury that was judging business models at a weekend hackathon in Jabalpur. It was a massive event with almost two hundred teams competing to build the best solution to different problems. I was impressed by the progress that some of the teams made in the short span of 40 hours.

The Executive Director of Jabalpur Smart City Limited (also the organiser of the event), Mr. Chandramauli Shukla encouraged the audience of over 400 budding entrepreneurs to work with the government. He committed to the top 30 teams that the government would be the first tester or consumer for their solutions, since they were working to solve problems that had been put forth by the government itself.

There was a palpable energy at the venue, and the teams presented with confidence regardless of their preference of language. It was powerful stuff.

Even outside the venue, Jabalpur is a town on the move. The city is getting a rapid upgrade with the implementation of multiple projects under the Smart City program. Roads are being concretized, filthy lakes are being cleaned and beautified, garbage bins are being given RFID tags and the data from them is being analysed. There are multiple but unheard-of restaurant chains like Chai Sutta Bar that are choc-a-blocked with teenagers. The city will also get an autonomous traffic management system soon. I was told that the citizens have responded positively to all these developments and I even met people who have moved back to Jabalpur after emigrating to developed countries like China!

What I saw was a stark contrast to the image I had in my head of a Tier 3 start-up ecosystem like Jabalpur. I was pleasantly surprised.

Just under a year ago, I had written about the transforming effect that Jio and GST would have on the Bharat that exists beyond India and the importance of positioning my VC investment gun on start-ups that cater to these underpenetrated ecosystems. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to visit the start-up ecosystems of Bharat like Udaipur, Kharagpur, Kanpur, Goa, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Mysore, Guwahati, Indore, Surat, Raipur and now Jabalpur. During my visits, I witnessed the wave of change that is taking place with my own eyes and I cannot emphasize any harder (as I already have before) that the next wave of start-ups will come from Bharat. However, after the visit this weekend, I realized I have underestimated the speed and the size of that wave.

A truly Mera Bharat Mahan & Jai Hind moment for me. 

9/2019

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

Is Hong Kong's Octopus Card a Model for Mumbai?

I am in Hong Kong attending the Rise 2018 summit.  This is the first time I walked out of the Hong Kong airport and my expectations of this city were based merely on what I had heard about Hong Kong from the people who live here. Little did I know that I was in a for a surprise.
The first thing that I noted about Hong Kong is the lack of digital penetration when it comes to modes of payment i.e. digital wallets, debit cards and credit cards are useless here as Hong Kong thrives on cash as a medium of exchange. My first experience with the lack of digital options started when I tried to get into a cab from the airport to go to my hotel but was denied service as I did not have any Hong Kong dollars on me. I had to go back to the ATM inside the airport so that I could pay the cab service.
Another incident took place when I was trying to buy some groceries from a store at the MTR station and the store didn’t accept any of my cards.  The experience at the bakery a few doors down wasn’t any different. It was a surreal experience considering how deep the digital payment players have penetrated the Chinese and Indian lifestyles and since Hong Kong is supposed to be the gateway to investing in or out of China I just expected digital payments to be universally accepted here. In fact, this peculiarity stumps even the local expats, especially those that often visit China and I think it is a phenomenon worth further investigation.
While I spot an opportunity for a smart founding team to penetrate the Hong Kong payments market, they could face fierce competition from a local closed loop card called the Octopus card. This closed loop card is just like London’s Oyster card or Delhi Metro Smart Card in that,  it allows the user to deposit money to utilise the public transportation infrastructure. However, the interesting thing about the Octopus card is that it is an acceptable mode of payment at most pay points that did not accept digital payment mediums. Take for example this morning, I ordered an amazing breakfast smoothie at the local breakfast place, the cashier would not take my credit card but they had a reader to accept the Octopus card. I found the experience weird and brilliant at the same time.
It made me think of creating a similar closed loop payment ecosystem in an Indian metropolis like Mumbai or Delhi. A payment card could be used to access the public transport infrastructure, pay at stores, maybe even pay tolls etc. The card (like the Octopus card) should be partly owned by the local government so that there is a strong trust with the consumer as well as the merchants accepting the card. To ensure a seamless experience, the card will require an able tech team, an ambitious entrepreneurial team and a strong network infrastructure.
However, the transaction data, the fees from merchants and interest from the balances on the cards could create solid revenue streams. Introduce the ability for banks, P2P lenders and NBFCs to provide the consumer & the merchant credit based on the transactional data and it is a serious business!
57/2018