Be The Best Of Whatever You Are

It is increasingly clear that India will get back to work in the next 2-4 weeks. However, it won’t be business as usual. Some will get back to work earlier than others. Many of us will be out looking for jobs as the companies we worked for will try to rebuild themselves without us. The road to recovery will be long and hard, but each of us will have an important role to play as we help rebuild the economy.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned from this lockdown is that we are more resilient and self-sufficient than we give ourselves credit for. Another big lesson we’ve all learned is that when we are faced with impossible odds, the best response is to act – don’t stop to dwell on spilled milk.

There is a beautiful Douglas Malloch poem that I read in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living written by Dale Carnegie that captures the essence of that I would like to convey to those that are getting ready to get back to work or to look for a job:

 

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,

Be a scrub in the valley — but be

The best little scrub by the side of the rill;

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

 

If you can’t be a bush be a bit of the grass,

And some highway happier make;

If you can’t be a muskie then just be a bass —

But the liveliest bass in the lake!

 

We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew,

There’s something for all of us here,

There’s big work to do, and there’s lesser to do,

And the task you must do is the near.

 

If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,

If you can’t be the sun be a star;

It isn’t by size that you win or you fail —

Be the best of whatever you are!

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

Finding silver linings

The history of sports and wars is replete with moments of inspiration. The odds are stacked up against the underdog. Out of nowhere, there is a moment of inspiration. The narrative gets altered, the game has a new direction, and an inevitable defeat morphs into an unlikely victory. I’ve previously spoken about the similarities between entrepreneurs and athletes; therefore, it is a given that such pivotal stories show-up in the lives of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists too! It happened during this month.

We shut our office on 18th March, i.e., 32 days ago. I was jittery about the future. The world was teetering at the brink of collapse, our fundraising plans got thrown off its rails, and by the time we shut down the office, moved everyone to work-from-home it wasn’t clear if our portfolio (or we) would emerge floating or underwater (pun intended).

The weekend before the shutdown, we had had a riveting offsite that was chill. But as we rapidly shut down, there was an air of discomfort, even a distrust that whether our goodbyes were temporary or final. I could see that my people were in different stages of depression as they slowly trudged out of Artha’s Coruscant. The moroseness over the collapse of the world started making inroads inside the strongly guarded walls of my work universe.

It was serendipity that while my work world started to spin out of control, I was reading a Dale Carnegie’s, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. In chapter 6, How to crowd worry out of your mind, Dale talks about the importance of replacing worry with activity. He says:

We cannot be prepped up and enthusiastic about doing something exciting and feel dragged down by worry at the same time. One kind of emotion drives out the other.

In my context, the critical part was to discourage my people from dwelling in the bleak future and get them to start acting. I put up a schedule full of activity for the team (and myself), we took on new opportunities, and we began to collaborate multiple times a day on projects. The team initiated new projects – some relevant and some that I knew was irrelevant – but the vital objective was to keep them gainfully productive – so I approved them.

Even with our portfolio founders, we initiated plans to refocus their attention on the most relevant job at hand, i.e., survive! We worked with them to cut growth spending, shrink expenses, prepare new budgets, and focus no-cost growth opportunities. The efforts started to pay off results slowly at first but much quicker as the plans took hold.

Many founders discovered opportunities that were otherwise looked over, and a number of them started new business lines. The founders loved the proactive approach. However, there were a couple of founders that got shocked into inaction, i.e., they did not want to alter their course even if it meant taking their titanic into the glacier at full speed.

Thankfully our early warnings gave them crucial extra minutes to avoid hitting their iceberg at 22 knots, and they were saved from sinking to the bottom. It was a much-required reminder for all of us on the value of proper prior planning.

Needless to say, the first two weeks of working from home was akin to the chaos that precedes a war. I was up at 5 am (on most of the days) and slept at no earlier than midnight. But my mind was switched on 24/7, as keeping the spirits up for everyone around me became a full-time obsession.

I operated from a makeshift home office (that was previously a storeroom), it had a single window and an air conditioner that threw out hot air for the first week.  I itched to get out of the house, to the airport and fly to an unknown destination. I needed a break, but it wasn’t coming – at least any time soon.

In those initial weeks, I compared my situation to Bruce Wayne’s in The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce is thrown to the bottom of the pit with little energy to climb to the top. But Bruce finds the inner strength to conquer the well, and Bane (eventually). Comparing it to my situation, getting my team and portfolio founders moving was akin to climbing up the pit. However, ensuring that my founders and my team thrive in the face of an inevitable washout would be like conquering Bane.

Part one is done, and I am 100% confident that we are on course to overcoming our Bane.

I’ll get back to you on that.

21 Point Action Plan to Corona-Proof Your Startup Dream

Calling the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis is a gross understatement. It could be a crisis for the established business ecosystem, but it is the equivalent of a tsar bomba for the early-stage startup ecosystem. If all of us do not act quickly, the entire venture capital ecosystem is staring down at years of effort, getting incinerated in a matter of weeks.

When the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, announced the Janta curfew, he talked about blackout drills and wartime curfews to a population where the majority hadn’t witnessed one. It was a reminder of a dark 15-20 period when India went through several wars with Pakistan & China. That ignited a mortal fear in me as well.

I feared that this crisis could destroy the decades of work that it took to provide confidence to young graduates to convert themselves from job seekers to job creators. We had to show years of results to convince Indian & global investors to pour money into startups via venture capital funds, angel networks, superangel syndicates, and venture debt funds. All this effort all this sacrifice, of the tens of thousands of people that make up the entrepreneurial ecosystem viz. over 39,000+ founders, 10,000+ angel investors, 500+ VC funds, several visionary politicians & government officers is on the brink of collapse.

However, real entrepreneurs are problem solvers, optimists, and overachievers. Any challenge, even something that challenges their mortal existence, will help an entrepreneur find another gear within them. As they say, even in adversity, they only see opportunity.

My team and I started to sound out Artha Venture Fund’s founders on the business impact the coronavirus pandemic was about to make a couple of weeks before lockdown. We asked our founders to create new budgets to account for the onset of nuclear winter in the fundraising world, bring their expenses down to the bare minimum, and to show patience along with courage at this time.

It has not been easy to convince the optimist in them to slow down for now and conserve energy to speed up later. Last week we put all our heads together on a zoom call to chart out an action plan for saving their dream – their startup.

I summarized the call in a 21-point action plan to save your startup memo for the founders. My team went a step further to make it into a beautiful & impactful presentation. In the spirit of joining hands during this adversity, I am sharing that presentation with you:

 

It is important to remember the immortal words of General S Patton:

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Together we will win the coronavirus fight in our homes, in our businesses, and our minds. Let’s roll!
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Founder Playbook: Getting ahead of Covid-19

The aftermath of the pandemic spread of the Covid-19 virus has hit financial markets where it hurts the most – their ability to bank on the future.

These are unprecedented times as countries close their borders, the Italian government shuts down businesses, and schools, colleges, and universities are shutting their campuses and moving classes online. The disruption in business and how it will get conducted in the near term has created a tectonic shift that is rattling global markets.

When the most capitalized financial market in the world starts oscillating like a 5-year-old getting on a swing for the first time – it is time to sit-up and take notice.

Even we felt the tremors far away, i.e., in the venture capital ecosystem. Sequoia’s calling Covid-19 spread The Black Swan of 2020. This spread is dangerous, and the situation could spiral out of control – quickly.

Therefore earlier this week, Vinod and I had organized a conference call with Artha Venture Fund’s founders to address this growing situation and to work out how we could get ahead of the problem. Here is a brief synopsis of how our founders are tackling this issue (thank you, Arvind, for these notes):

  1. Do not panic but stay vigilant
    1. Keep an eye out for a demand drop in the next 3-6 months
    2. Respond to it quickly and decisively
  2. Remember that a typical downcycle in VC lasts for 18-24 months
    1. Survive this period, and you will thrive when the tide is back
  3. Investors are tightening their belts
    1. Be prepared for long delays in fundraising
    2. Drop-off in valuations
  4. Prepare fresh budgets
    1. Be conservative in revenue estimates
    2. Cut unnecessary & discretionary spends
    3. Find ways to control the burn, i.e., increase revenues or cut the costs
  5. Despite your best efforts if you envision run out of money in the next 6-9 months, then
    1. Raise an additional buffer right away and extend your runway to 15-18 months

As an optimist contrarian, an economic upheaval offers the best opportunity to gain on the competition. One must remember that people will continue to consume goods and services, but the way they consume it is going to change – temporarily.

A founder must watch the customer’s consumption patterns closely, prepare to pivot the business to serve his customer base, and capitalize – even in these adverse business scenarios.

A note: I do not attempt (in any way) to disregard the seriousness of this virus. The severest impact of this is on the part of the population that has pre-existing medical conditions. To me, it means that entrepreneurs are in the higher risk category due to entrepreneurial stress they undergo (I have written about in the past). The recent turmoil is just adding to that stress.

Therefore stay calm, stay positive, keep your ears close to the ground but keep your hands clean and off your face. 😊