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
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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.
Yesterday, I did my 8th continuous weekly review meeting with Artha’s interns, analysts, associates, and heads of departments. I did a similar exercise during my last year at the family office and carried it forward to the first team of
Yesterday, I did my 8th continuous weekly review meeting with Artha’s interns, analysts, associates, and heads of departments. I did a similar exercise during my last year at the family office and carried it forward to the first team of analysts at the fund. Due to specific personal and professional commitments, I broke this habit until my EA reminded me of the benefits of that practice. I re-read Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager in October last year, and immediately, I restarted the weekly review practice in November, adding elements of Tony Robbin’s RPM methodology, something that I wrote about in my first post of 2020.
The format of the weekly review meeting is simple.
The meeting is conducted 1 on 1 with each team member for 30-45 minutes
Their direct reporting manager’s presence is a must
We first discuss the outcomes promised by the team member for the current meeting
If the team member misses their committed outcomes, they provide
Reasons why did they did not fulfill their promises?
How will they avoid this situation in the future?
What help or resources they need from us to get to their goals?
If a team member meets or exceeds their promised outcomes, they explain
Why were they successful?
How it felt to achieve their promised outcomes
How can they repeat this performance in the future?
How could they help others in performing like them?
What was their learning from this exercise?
Then the team member provides their commitments to delivering outcomes before the next review meeting.
The outcomes promised for the following week are recorded on a shared excel
It is updated during the meeting and shared in an internal Team’s channel created for weekly review
It is clear at the outset that this meeting is not the time to get specific things reviewed. I conduct weekly reviews to clearly define what each individual is doing for the firm and how their efforts get them to their outcomes and (as a result) help the firm reach its outcomes. Therefore the most crucial part of this meeting is the quality of information on the committed outcomes, therefore:
Be specific and quantifiable
Challenge the individual to continue to grow in different aspects of their job role. For example, an analyst working with me must commit to complete the following outcomes before the next meeting:
The number of deals that they will source directly from their efforts and input into Salesforce. During the review, they must
List out the deals sourced
Highlight the deals they like and why
The number of transactions that will be completed and move out of the active pipeline
The number of ecosystem events they will attend and during the review, they must
Give details on what they learned and how it benefits their job role
Give the number of events that they will attend over the next 30 days
Read a book, write a book review and distribute it internally for feedback
Prepare an essay, presentation, or report on a topic of their interest or on a subject that is essential for their job and have it:
Amended and finalized based on peer feedback
Present the final version for sharing on the AVF blog
List out activities that they are doing for the investee companies assigned to them and provide the latest news on them and their competitors
I like this style of review meetings because it separates the wheat from the chaff. It exposes the team members that are excellent at presenting an image of competence but are slowing down the team. The weekly review system compels them to show me how they are helping the team reach their goals and that they are improving themselves to take on more significant challenges.
As their leader, the periodic review allows me to figure out which team members are struggling, plateauing or spiraling down. I pay close attention to their weekly reports and their overall attitude during the meeting. It allows me to identify issues quickly, isolate them down to a lack of skill and/or understanding and/or environmental problems and create a plan on how to check the slide and get the team member back on track.
Unfortunately, this practice identifies a small subset as misfits for the requirements of the jobs or culture of performance. Those people will quickly find ways to avoid attending the weekly review, scheduling professional or personal appointments, or running away from any reporting that exposes them. I try to reach out to them to the best of my ability, but if the situation does not improve, I must let them go, or they quit. I do not take those losses to heart because a misfit’s departure makes space for some who can, will, and wants to run with the baton.
The new weekly review format has me excited, and the improvement in the team members is encouraging me to make it the central theme of my week. The most significant benefit of this exercise is that it connects me with the person at the frontline of my businesses. I can empathize with their struggles and those of the company and course-correct before things spiral out of control. It also provides me valuable information to decide when I should to press the accelerator or hit the brakes.
Once again I have blocked out a day a week to conduct these reviews, and I am teaching the leaders around me to start doing weekly reviews. It frees up the management from micro-managing and gives the team members the freedom to chose their outcomes and how they will get there. The go-getters love it, the pikers hate it, and the firm enjoys massive gains in productivity!
This past Saturday, I was at a IIT-Kharagpur as a panelist in their 2018 version of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. As an early stage investor on a panel that included 2 entrepreneurs and 1 corporate VC the different viewpoints we
This past Saturday, I was at a IIT-Kharagpur as a panelist in their 2018 version of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. As an early stage investor on a panel that included 2 entrepreneurs and 1 corporate VC the different viewpoints we provided to the same questions was eye-opening. At a point in the discussion the moderator, Flipclass founder, Vineet Dwivedi, asked why Indian VCs prefer founding teams versus single founder start-ups. He shared his own experience of having faced a lot of opposition while raising money. Donning the early stage VC hat, here are some of the reasons I support a team structure versus a single founder.
Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem vs global ecosystem
While the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India is improving by leaps and bounds, it is still difficult to start a business, run a business and even close a business in India. A founding team must manage a lot of core and non-core issues to be able to effectively run their venture. These are challenges that the current Indian educational setup does not prepare them for.
Unlike American universities that offer (don’t play the name game) undergraduate programs in entrepreneurship, preparing young talent for the challenges an entrepreneur may run into – the Indian education system does not have that luxury.
The current Indian education system only prepares talent to enter a specific department (finance, technology, etc) in an organization. It does not provide them with entrepreneurial qualities that are needed to run multiple departments in a single business or even manage delegated HOD’s.
Therefore I get better sleep at night, knowing that I am investing in a team that has the diversity to secure and grow the different facets of a business versus betting on a single founder that isn’t equipped to deal with all the issues and may be overwhelmed by trying to juggle too many things at the same time.
2. Flexibility required for pivoting
Many of the early ideas lack market validation and are therefore prone to pivot drastically. Therefore, I would rather back a team that has the bandwidth that would permit this quick pivot in case the initial thesis isn’t validated by real data from entering the market.
3. Lack of quality talent
It took me almost two years to find the right CTO for Artha Energy Resources, so I understand the trouble that a startup goes through to find and retain the right kind of talent. As soon as raw talent gains experience and matures, there is dime a dozen established and well-funded companies that are willing to offer tons of money and perks to swindle (I used this word because sometimes the benefits of being with the smaller firm are much larger than a bigger paycheck) it.
I have witnessed co-founders leaving their startup for better opportunities from a competitor after having delivered a fantastic product. So, betting on a single founder increases the risk of my investment. I would rather diversify that risk by investing in a team.
4. Equity hoarding by Founders
It is a unique trait of the Indian entrepreneur to want to hoard all the equity. This alienates key talent that is needed but will not work for anything below the general market salaries that are being offered. The only way to attract this much-needed talent would be to give them generous amounts of equity in the company.
I cannot invest copious amounts of money in the early stages for founders to be able to pay market rate salaries for experienced talent that is required, without accounting for it in larger equity positions (read: Investor math). Instead, I choose to put together a team of people with enough talent to reach the set targets and prevent them from jumping ship by providing an amount of adequate equity while keeping the salary bill affordable.
If a single founder showed maturity in farming out equity to deserving talent, I would prefer working with a single founder with a strong team, rich experience and the incentive to perform.
In a startup ecosystem that is gradually maturing, I am certain that my preference of a founding team over a single founder will be challenged and may even pivot with time. I look forward to facing my theory being stretched, smashed and even replaced. 14/2018
I thought of writing this post almost two weeks back when I saw the movie for a second time but it would have given up key twists of the plot that would ruin the experience of those that hadn’t seen the movie. I (now) believe that most of the moving going population has seen the movie so it is an appropriate time to share this.
Bahubali 2: The Conclusion has become the highest grossing Indian movie of all time. I have watched the movie twice and it is a thorough entertainer. An engrossing story line that goes through several twists and turns before leading to its good prevails over evil conclusion with lavish sets and mouth gaping action scenes. I must concede however, that many portions of the movie were little no..er very farfetched even for someone like me who leaves logic at home when I watch a movie. However much the laws of physics were distorted the end product is a spectacle!
Since the movie revolves around the quest of becoming the king of a mystical and powerful kingdom of Mahishmati so there are several lessons that an entrepreneur can learn and apply to their own quest for the mystical unicorn.
Under promise overdeliver
A common theme of the movie is the massive promises the characters keep making, at the spur of the moment, to each other with no prior planning on how those promises will be completed.
Sivagami promises Bhallala Deva that he will marry Devasena without consulting Devasena about her wishes. Devasens refuses to marry Bhallala Deva which puts Sivagami in a tough spot and she makes a series of mistakes heal her ego that ultimately culminates in Bahubali abdicating the throne and the evil Bhallala Deva becoming king.
Overpromising entrepreneurs consistently disappoint their team members, cofounders, investors – even their customers. So, it is important that entrepreneurs err of the side of conservatism and overdeliver on their promises – not the other way around.
Praise publicly criticize privately
Devasena calls out Sivagami on public platforms on multiple occasions, even going to the point of calling her a person with limited brain capacity. That forces Sivagami to respond to her public humiliation by pushing away Devasena and Devasena’s husband (Bahubali) from herself and the throne and it ultimately ends up with Devasena & Bahubali being banished from the kingdom and later to the widowing of Devasena.
Public platforms should not be used to air out as events can escalate quickly to devastating and undesirable outcomes. Entrepreneurs could utilise private spaces for criticism so that even if the events escalate the outcomes can be controlled and both sides can rectify their mistakes when hot heads cool down.
A public platform is best utilised for praising each other and showing unity.
Bahubali follows his stepmother’s (Sivagami) advice by standing up for dharma even if that meant he had to make her promise to Bhallala Deva of getting Devasena married to him… Shockingly Bahubali does not remind Sivagami that he is following lessons that were taught by Sivagami when she was training him for the throne. Not communicating the logic behind his decision, Bahubali leaves the door open for Sivagami to make up her own assumptions and she flies into a rage asking Bahubali to give up his throne triggering off a domino effect that ends in ruin for the Mahishmati kingdom.
Many entrepreneurs (and people too) have a habit of delivering partial messages expecting the other side to understand what has not been said. This gaps in communication leads to decisions made with limited understanding therefore results can wildly different than anticipated.
An entrepreneur should communicate to the point over overcommunication so that all the members of the team are on the same wavelength as the entrepreneur’s train of thought.
Get rid of cancer on the team quickly & aggressively
Kattappa knows that Bhallala Deva and Bijjaladeva (Bhallala Deva’s father) are plotting to kill Sivagami and even though Kattappa knows that information he does not divulge that to Sivagami letting the negativity foster around the palace. The father-son duo join hands in spreading their tentacles to execute their plans by recruiting key personnel and distorting reality for Sivagami, ultimately leading to decades long tyrannical rule that ruins the kingdom.
When white blood corpuscles do not attack cancerous cells, they will lead to formation of tumours which ultimately overwhelm the defences of the body and kill the body. Similarly, members of the venture who are making the lives of other team members difficult through the spread of discouraging messaging, undisciplined work styles or questionable ethics should be cut out from the team quickly and effectively.
Letting them fester around the venture will turn even the good & productive team members cancerous.
Don’t boast about your plans before they are completed
Bhallala Deva succeeds in hoodwinking Sivagami to the point that she orders Kattappa to kill Bahubali. Bhallala Deva watches Kattappa kill Bahubali and desecrates Bahubali’s dead body whilst boasting about how he outsmarted everyone to get to the throne and get Bahubali killed. Kattappa narrates what he hears to Sivagami who gets on a mission to protect Bahubali’s son in fact she sacrifices her own life to save the newly born child. The child (Bahubali II) avenges his father’s death by first killing Bhallala Deva’s son and then Bhallala Deva himself.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch is a phrase taught to all of us in school but many times entrepreneurs that taste initial success let that excitement ride up their medulla oblongata into their brains. They boast about their success in the media, throw massive success parties and start drinking their own koolaid.
All the attention leads to them taking their eyes are off the ball before they realise it the competition has caught up with serious momentum. The competition eventually eats up the space that the entrepreneur should have dominated but all that remains are the remnants of what could have been a great venture.
Keep your plans under wrap until they are completed is a key lesson that all entrepreneurs will be well advised to follow.
Don’t make decisions under duress
The movie has many scenes where the characters make decisions under stress and at the spur of the moment.
Sivagami orders Bahubali to give up the throne for Bhallal Deva because she feels offended when Bahubali scolds her for making a promise that she cannot deliver on. She makes an emotional decision on the spur of the moment that is against the wishes of the kingdom that she rules on and against her own earlier decision that was well thoughtout. Sivagami’s impulsive decisions leads to the assassination of Bahubali, her own death, ruins the flourishing Mahishmati kingdom as it falls in the hands of a soulless tyrant.
There are many occasions in the entrepreneurial journey that the entrepreneur may feel pressured to decide on a matter and to make it immediately but I have found that that is rarely ever true. Infact the decisions made under duress ultimately come back to bite the entrepreneur in the butt and years of regret. So, it is important that all the facets & tenets of a decision be thought of before making move because a move once made cannot be taken back!
I was at the VentureCatalysts HQ last night heading a workshop on a subject that I love talking about – “So you have raised funding… now what?”
One of the points I brought up during the session was the importance of
I was at the VentureCatalysts HQ last night heading a workshop on a subject that I love talking about – “So you have raised funding… now what?”
One of the points I brought up during the session was the importance of setting boundaries with the team by using the word “no”. The squeamish attitude of the founders made it clear that the act of giving rejection was a new experience for most of them and while it was good to hear it is dangerous to implement!
It is common for new entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, etc to agree to the team’s or team member’s suggestion so that they are well liked as the leader of the team. That strategy may work for a short while but it can quickly become fatal for the organisation if the team looks at the leader as someone without a backbone i.e. who will agree to anything.
The leader’s duty is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organisation and not in his/her selfish interest to be well liked. Instead of trying to win a personality contest the leader should be interested in the leading the team to the promised land by rejecting an idea that isn’t in the interest of the organisation. Secondly, a well intentioned rejection gives a good idea of the equation the team member receiving the rejection, has with its leader.
As a founder, entrepreneur , manager and even in their personal lives, a leader is frequently rejected, the promotion they didn’t get, the investor who wouldn’t agree, the client who wouldn’t sign and the list goes on. The leader picks himself up from the rejection dusts off the hurt and gets up to face up to his next challenge – why then do you treat your understudies with kiddie gloves?
Well rounded teams, well funded organisations and the best of intentions have been destroyed by their leaders becoming “yes” man. A leader should be as comfortable rejecting someone as they are agreeing with someone and if saying no puts the fear of losing the team, then team has an unhealthy equation with its leader.
Rejection is as much a part of life as is acceptance so get in the habit of saying “no” and start it off like I did to the room full of founders by.. yelling NO at the top of your voice!