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Avoiding the Downside Vs Achieving the Upside

How to achieve success by focusing first on not doing the wrong things than doing the right things.

For the past few months, I have been taking Tennis lessons. It’s a group setting and all students are at the intermediate skill level. Last week, during a typical drill session, all of us were hitting the ball into the net more often than hitting it across the net. Finally, the coach paused the drill and advised us –

“Just try to hit the ball across the net. It doesn’t matter if it’s IN or OUT. If you hit it across the net, there is a 50% chance that at least it will be IN. And there is another 50% chance that your opponent might make a mistake. So you have a 25% chance to win a point.

But if you hit the ball into the net, there is a 0% chance you will win a point. Your opponent doesn’t have to do anything to win points. She just needs to wait for you to continue to make mistakes.”

Unlike professional players, who play and place their shots wherever they want, amateur players make endless mistakes of hitting the ball into the net. Professional players win points. Amateur players lose points.

As our coach advised, to achieve success (i.e. to win a point), avoiding the downside (i.e. not hitting into the net) is probably more valuable technique than achieving the upside (i.e. hitting across the net and IN the court).

It is a step by step journey. In every step, you first try to avoid your downside and improve your chances of moving to the next step. The better you get at avoiding your downsides, the longer you stay in the game, and the closer you get towards your destination.

As you get better at avoiding downsides, and as it becomes the skill, you transition from being an amateur to being a professional. And when you become a professional, you start controlling your shots and focusing on achieving the upside.

As you begin the journey, at every step, it is quite clear what downsides you should avoid going to the immediate next step compared to what upsides you should achieve as it becomes apparent very sooner what is not working than what is working. The downside always looks clear. The upside always looks hazy.


As a startup founder, I can also correlate this advice on how we should run our business. The step one is always about what to avoid i.e. what not to do in your business to reduce the risk.

Some examples of things I carefully avoided since we started Avoma

  • not starting a company without co-founders
  • not jumping to building a solution without extensive customer research
  • not picking up a small market, etc.

I believe to win in the hyper-competitive market, you simply need to figure out a way to stay longer in the game. As long as we avoid making stupid mistakes of burning cash too quickly, building products that no one wants, etc., we will keep increasing our chances of winning in the market.

As long as you systematically avoid the downside in your life, you will continue to increase the chances of achieving your desired success.

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Prioritizing your Schedule Vs. Scheduling your Priorities

How to achieve your goals with a popular prioritization framework

The other day I heard this quote while listening to a podcast episode:

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. — Stephen Covey

My instant reaction was — whatever 🙄! It sounds great to hear, but in the end, aren’t these two things still the same? The author is just making it catchy to remember it. And I moved on.

But it stayed on my mind over the weekend. I remembered it and kept thinking about it. I guess making it catchy to remember it actually worked!

So I decided to give it more thought and understand what’s the difference between these two phrases and specifically, what shall I get out of it.


The Prioritization Paradox

The phrase ‘prioritize what’s on your schedule’ seems to imply that you already have a bunch of tasks on your plate, and now you have to do bottom-up planning to shuffle them around in their relative order of importance and urgency. This seems to be more of a day-to-day execution mode.

On the other hand, the phrase ‘schedule your priorities’ implies you have an empty schedule and you think about your priorities first, then schedule them in its order of importance, and then come up with appropriate tasks. This seems to be more of a monthly or weekly planning mode.

The difference might sound subtle but I think there is something to it. Here’s another way of understanding it. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you want to slog through the laundry list, checking each item off, even if it’s not very useful and probably not contributing to your goals?

OR

Do you want to start with your goals, prioritize them and then focus on the most important tasks that will help achieve your goals?

Obviously, you will agree that it’s later.

This leads to a question — how do you decide what is a priority?

Making prioritization choices seems like one of the biggest challenges we face on a day-to-day basis both in our personal lives as well in our professional life.

Which task should I do first? Is this task relevant to my goals? Is it worth spending so much time on this task?

Unfortunately, not enough people ask these questions on a daily basis. Largely because prioritization is a complex task, but also because they aren’t aware of how to do it effectively.


The Eisenhower Matrix

There is one time management process I had heard a few years ago that I have been following it somewhat loosely, but I think it can help answer some of the questions above. It is called the Eisenhower Matrix. Using a 4-quadrants matrix below, you will categorize your priorities or tasks based on four possibilities of the urgency and importance of a task.

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate)
https://jamesclear.com/eisenhower-box

The great thing about this matrix is that while it’s best to be used for your monthly or weekly planning process, it can also be used for your day-to-day execution.

While it’s self-explanatory what each of these quadrants means, I will share how I use this process typically on a monthly and weekly basis.

Quadrant #1: Urgent and Important

These are the tasks that are urgent (maybe because I did not foresee earlier, or because some external event triggered it) and important (because something is dependent on it or something in which I have got the most context or knowledge about), I try to prioritize these as many as possible.

Examples of this type of my tasks are: following up with a prospect on the proposal, preparing requirements for the sprint planning based on customer feedback, following up with a candidate with offer details while she’s also interviewing at other companies, etc.

Quadrant #2: Important, but Not Urgent

These tasks are important (because I need to be involved in it) but not urgent (there is still some time to do it). I tend to schedule these on later part of the calendar so that the urgent tasks are taken care first, and then I can start working on these as time permits before they become urgent.

Examples of this type of my tasks are: working on product strategy and roadmap, refining our vision and differentiation, working on new marketing copy and website pages, etc.

Quadrant #3: Urgent, but Not Important

These are the most crucial tasks that you need to manage properly as they distract you from working on your most important tasks. A natural tendency is to work on the urgent tasks without really thinking too much if they’re really important or not (i.e. are they going to move the key needle of your goal or can somebody else do this instead of you).

These tasks I try to delegate as it’s less important for me to be involved in it, and maybe somebody else is better suited to do it and probably can do it sooner than I can do.

Examples of this type of my tasks are: doing timely accounting, bookkeeping, and taxes, etc. I definitely suck at these, so I learned to outsource these to who do it better.

Quadrant #4: Not Urgent and Not Important

These items are mostly distractions. So I try to delay them as much as possible or ignore them completely. This definitely helps simplify and declutter my to-do list and not feel overwhelmed.

Examples of this type of my tasks are: surfing the internet during the work-time, attending many meet-ups and conferences, meeting people over coffee/lunch without specific agenda, etc.


While I use this framework fairly regularly, I don’t use any specific tool to categorize each task diligently in different quadrants. That seems like overkill to me and make it too time-consuming.

But just being aware of this framework back of my mind while I am planning a week or a month, I have found it to be useful to identify and plan my top priorities to do first vs schedule some later, and also delegate and ignore other things.

I hope you’ll find it useful too.

Efficiency is doing things right; Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Peter Drucker
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2018 Retrospective and 2019 Goals

My reflections on what worked well and what didn’t in 2018 and what I would continue to do and do something new in 2019.

I’ve started this practice a few years ago — to retrospect on the last year’s achievements, misses, and learnings and define the goals for the next year at the beginning of the new year. I have written about why I started doing this exercise in my previous post, but if I want to summarize it in one sentence — it would be — to be accountable and answerable.

But before I begin, wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2019!

Retrospective for 2018

Overall, it wasn’t a great year for me. Primarily on the family front, but also on personal and professional goals front. While I made satisfactory progress across many areas, there isn’t any particular accomplishment that I’m very proud of.

Let’s look into what went wrong along with why it went wrong in certain situations —

Family

The biggest loss

The biggest loss for me and my family was my dad passed away in May 2018 due to a heart attack. On one hand, it felt like it was a sudden death, on the other hand, it happened over 4 months.

He had the first heart attack and stroke at the beginning of Feb, which resulted in semi-paralysis and speech-loss. With his strong will-power, medication and the support of close family members, he recovered pretty well and was getting back to his normal life, but eventually lost the battle to another attack and passed away at the end of May.

Health

On the health front, I failed on most of my goals.

Workout
My key goal was to complete 3 routines of P90X-3 — that is 30 minutes intense exercise for 90 days — and repeating it 3 times in a year. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish the entire routine even once. I started it 3 times but ended up giving up in the middle after 4–5 weeks into it.

So in short, collectively I’ve worked out only for 3 months than the planned 9 months.

Meditation
Overall, I failed to meditate consistently. I did it only on a need basis — more like 1–2 times a week.

Food
Overall, I have been following good food habits like reduction in sugar consumption, eating less junk food,etc., but since I have failed in a consistent workout, I have also slacked in eating a lot healthier food.

Work (Avoma, Inc.)

On the work front, we have made great progress, but again, we failed to achieve our planned goals.

After raising the pre-seed capital in Oct 2107, the biggest focus for Avoma last year was to build the minimum sellable product and technology. We launched the first version of our product in beta in Sep 2018, launched our partnership with Outreach.io, onboarded some paying customers since then, and built a team of an amazing group of 9 full-time employees.

So overall, we made a lot of progress, but I still feel we could have done a lot more on the customer acquisition front. I think if we could have sped up our product execution to address some of the feature gaps and invested more in our Sales and Marketing initiatives early on, we would have won some more deals that got pushed to the next year and some deals that we lost to competitors.

Knowledge

Reading
I did a decent job in reading a book per month. The books I read are (with my ratings) –

Currently still reading:

Blogging
I failed miserably in this. My last year’s goal was to write a blog post per week. I only wrote 1 article about last year’s retrospective for this blog and 4 articles for Avoma blog.

Even though I had many thoughts and point of views to share, I ended up not prioritizing blogging over other important tasks at hand.

Learning new skills

Playing Guitar
This is something I had not planned for 2018, but ended up starting at the tail end of the year. I’m still a beginner (3 months into it), this has been one of the best decisions I have made to invest 2–3 hours every week to learn guitar.

Playing Tennis
This is another thing that I had not planned for 2018, but also ended up starting at the tail end of the year along with Guitar. In Tennis also I’m still a beginner (2 months into it), this is also one of the best decisions I have made to invest 1–2 hours every week to learn tennis.

Goals for 2019

For 2019, I won’t be changing a lot of things from my 2018 goals — just a couple of minor changes.

Family

  • Continue to spend quality time with the kids, wife, mom and rest of the family on a daily basis— these times won’t come back again

Health

  • Complete P90X-3 routine at least 3 times
  • Meditate for 15–20 mins for 3–4 days/week
  • Continue to follow good eating habits — no/less sugar, no/less fried/oily food, more protein, more vegetables and fruits
  • Continue to sleep 7-hours a day

Work (Avoma, Inc.)

  • Achieve planned revenue goals for every quarter
  • Achieve product-market fit by the end of 2019

Knowledge

  • Continue to read 1 book/month
  • Continue to write 1 blog post/week — including both for personal and Avoma blog

Learning new skills

  • Play Guitar and Tennis reasonably well by the end of 2019

If you haven’t already done any retrospective for your 2018, then I would highly encourage you to take a moment and think about it and write down what worked well and what didn’t in 2018 and what are your goals for 2019 — even if you don’t plan to share it publicly, write it for your own benefit.


Once again, wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year to crush your 2019 goals!

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2017 Retrospective and 2018 Goals

My reflections on what worked well and what didn’t in 2017 and what I would continue to do and do something new in 2018.

I’ve started this practice last year — to retrospect on the last year’s achievements, misses, and learnings and define the goals for the next year at the beginning of the new year. I have written about why I started doing this exercise in my last year’s post, but if I want to summarize it in one key reason — it would be — to be accountable and answerable to the world about my new year’s goals.

But before I begin, wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2018!

Retrospective for 2017

Overall, it was a great year. I made satisfactory progress across many areas and I feel good about it. Having said that, I still feel I could have done better in a few areas.

As mentioned in my last year’s goals, my 3 big priorities were —

  • Family
  • Health (Exercise + Sleep)
  • Startup (Venture + Programming)

Family

On the family front, I enjoyed spending a great time with family in general.

Travel
We traveled to India, Hawaii, and Tahoe together and spent a great time with the extended family as well.

Daily routine
The most important habit I’ve been following for the last couple years that I continued even last year was — I try to be home from work between 5–6pm instead of staying up late till 7pm or so such that I can spend more time with the kids before they go to bed by 9pm. I catch up on work after they fall asleep.

Health

On the health front, overall I did decently well, but I’m personally not very proud of it.

Workout
My key goal was to complete 3 routines of P90X-3 — that is 30 minutes intense exercise for 90 days — and do it for 3 times in the year. Unfortunately, I finished the entire P90X-3 routine only once, and then for 2 times, I started the routine and gave up in the middle after 4–5 weeks into it. So in short, collectively I’ve worked out only for 5 months than the planned 9 months.

Sleep
Overall as planned, I continued to sleep well for an average 7 hours/day. Even though we had an infant baby and I had my ambitious startup plans, I managed to get a decently well sleep. Obviously, a lot of that credit goes to my wife! 🙂

Meditation
Overall, I had not planned to do meditation in the last year but learned to do a guided meditation, Pranayama and different breathing techniques to meditate well. I learned this in the 2nd half of the year, but managed to do 20 mins meditation in the early morning at least 3–4 days/week.

Food
As I started exercising actively, I adopted some good food habits too. Most importantly, a drastic reduction in sugar intake — for example, no sugar in Tea, Coffee, etc., but also, in general, less consumption of sweets. In addition, I’ve also increased protein intake mostly through plant-based supplements in smoothies/shakes and energy bars.

I’ve also seen, when I didn’t exercise as per the plan for the half of the year, I lost my control and ended up eating more junk food. So the lesson learned is — when you exercise actively, the guilt of eating junk food is very high.

Work

On the work front, I think I’ve made good progress, but again, I’m not completely happy with my own accomplishments and believe that I could have done more.

Startup
The biggest focus for the last year was to start my new venture. I started exploring the problem, solution, etc. since Jan 2017, finalized what I want to work on in Mar 2017, assembled the co-founding team in Jul 2017 and officially started — Avoma, Inc., and raised a pre-seed funding in Oct 2017.

We’re still in a stealth mode and have launched the product in private beta to a few early customers and iterating on our product. So technically while we’ve made a lot of progress, obviously, I would have wished this would have happened a lot sooner and we would have achieved a lot more things by the end of this year.

Programming
While my initial goal was to re-learn programming and launch a meaningful application by the end of the year, ideally for my startup only, unfortunately, I just learned different programming languages and frameworks but did not end up building a real-world application.

I learned Python, Django framework, Javascript, React and Redux. I’m still not an expert in any of this. Since I was not an expert yet, I was being a bottleneck in our startup’s product development efforts while other cofounders were pretty strong technically. So I ended up getting out of their way and let them handle the end to end product development.

Miscellaneous

Reading
My last year’s goal was to read a book per month. While I read 10 books in the entire year, I must admit — I didn’t really read them each book per month. Sometimes it took longer to finish a book more than a month, and sometimes I read smaller books and could read more books in a month.

The books I read are (with my ratings) –

Blogging
My last year’s goal was to write a blog post per week. I failed miserably in this. I only wrote 14 articles in the last year. One of the challenges was — writing a thoughtful article takes around 5–8 hours per post. So sometimes even though I had a lot of lessons and point of views to share, I ended up not prioritizing blogging over other important tasks at hand.

Goals for 2018

In short, for 2018, I won’t be changing a lot of things from my 2017 goals— just a couple minor changes. My goals for 2017 were pretty decent, and I plan to just repeat those this year too.

Family

  • Continue to spend a good time with the kids and wife — these times won’t come back again
  • Don’t plan to travel much this year due to startup commitments, but prefer to spend more quality time on a daily basis

Health

  • Complete P90X-3 routine at least 3 times
  • Meditate 3–4 days/week
  • Continue to follow good eating habits — no/less sugar, no/less fried/oily food, more protein, more vegetables and fruits
  • Continue to sleep 7-hours a day

Work

  • Achieve revenue and funding goals for my startup — Avoma, Inc.
  • Take Machine Learning, NLP courses from Coursera
  • Build a real-world application — preferably relevant to my startup, but in case if that’s not possible, then a side project

Miscellaneous

  • Continue to read 1 book/month — preferably 50% fiction and 50% non-fiction (or at least non-business related)
  • Continue to write 1 blog post/week — including both for personal and professional (startup related) blog

If you’ve read until this point, then I would request if you have any suggestions to improve my thinking or to achieve my goals, then please free to comment or send me an email at aditya dot kothadiya at gmail dot com.

Also, if you haven’t already done any retrospective for your 2017 and planned your 2018, then I would highly encourage you take a moment and think about it and write down what worked well and what didn’t in 2017 and what are your plans for 2018 — if not publicly, but at least for your own benefit.


Once again, wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year 2018! Hope you all crush your 2018 goals!

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Why I Still Iron My Clothes Instead of Giving to a Dry Cleaning Service

And how it keeps me grounded, humble and calm.

It was a typical Saturday afternoon and I was lying on the bed thinking about what to do for the rest of the day. And I saw the stack of my shirts to iron has piled up in the corner. Looking at the size of the stack, I questioned, if should I iron these clothes at home, or should I give it to some ironing service.

After pondering for a while, questioning what’s my worth for an hour, searching for the closest ironing services on Yelp, I ended up deciding to iron the clothes myself only.

For the past 13 years that I have been living in the United States, I have NEVER given my clothes to any dry cleaning or ironing services.

In hindsight, it was mostly a cost-conscious decision in the early days. It typically takes me 5–10 minutes to iron a shirt. So on average, I can iron somewhere between 6–8 shirts in an hour. With $2/shirt, I was saving somewhere between $12–16/hour. And that’s not a lot saving considering what would be my hour worth.

Over the period I questioned if I am spending my time on the “right” i.e. “high leverage” activity, and instead if I should just give this work to a someone who’s specialized in this job. But every time I decided to give this work to an external service, I would get an inertia of searching for a place, commuting to drop the clothes and then again commuting to pick up the clothes, etc. Considering it would take at least 40–50 minutes in total just to give it to an external service, I would end up doing at home only.

And every single time I iron my clothes at home, it reminds me a story of an ironer from my small hometown in India.

The story of a an ironer from my hometown

I remember this ironer who used to come to our house to pick up all clothes, take it to his home, iron them, and then deliver back to our home. He ran this home-based pickup and delivery service for a couple years until he got enough customers from our neighborhood where he became the de facto ironer for most of the homes.

Eventually, he outgrew his business and built a small 3 ft. x 3 ft. iron sheets based shop near our house. It was a very tiny shop. It didn’t have anything other than — his ironing table, coal-based iron, and a kerosene lantern for the night. Now he stopped coming home, and we had to drop and collect the clothes at his place ourselves. He ran his operations from that shop for a couple years.

He again outgrew his business and bought a small 10 ft. x 10 ft. shop in a shopping center of our neighborhood. He then upgraded to an electric iron, had a light and a fan, 2 ironing tables, hired one additional helper, etc. His business was still growing. He looked very happy and satisfied with his hard work and the progress he had made so far.

All of this happened between my 6th grade to 11th grade. And one thing that did not change in these many years was — the person.

He was still the same hard working person I had seen him on the day one. He was still doing the ironing work himself every single day. He still had the same level of humility and humbleness even after achieving so much success.

Lessons learned from the ironer

And every single time I iron my clothes at home, I still remember him. I remember his journey, his hard work, his success, his humbleness.

Ironing my clothes keeps me grounded and humble. It makes me appreciate the journey of hard work to reach to your desired destination instead of being impatient and taking shortcuts.

But you might question if we would not have given our clothes for ironing to him and instead if we would have done it ourselves, then he would have never built his business. So if I give similar work to the local businesses here in the United States, then they could also build and flourish their businesses.

And I completely agree with that. The only rational argument I could use in my defense would be — the unit economics were very different for similar services in India vs here in the United States when I started working in the United States. And now, it has just become a habit.

I also find ironing my clothes a relaxing and meditating activity. You are focused on one task and are trying to do your job well done. Sometimes I also listen to podcasts or music or watch a movie on TV. That way the regret or concern of if I am spending my time on the right activity does not become a concern anymore.

There is also a sense of satisfaction after finishing ironing with the sight of a neat pile of freshly ironed clothes.

Closing thoughts

By any means, I am not saying this is “the” approach. This works for me — even though financially or opportunity wise it may not be a wise decision, but I’ve learned to find a good meaning out of this activity.

I hope you may also find any such activity that’s not worth doing yourself purely from a financial perspective, but may inspire you or just bring up the good old memories.

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Another Side of The “Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand” Story

Or why instead of following it blindly, it’s time to modify it a bit.

I’m sure most of you have heard of “The jar of life — Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand” story. If you have not, here is a quick refresher.

The original story

A philosophy professor once stood before his class with a large empty jar. He filled the jar with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full.

The students said that yes, the jar was full.

He then added small pebbles to the jar and asked again, “Is the jar full now?”

The students agreed that the jar was indeed full.

The professor then poured sand into the jar and asked again.

The students then agreed that the jar was finally full.

The professor went on to explain that the jar signifies one’s life.

The rocks are equivalent to the most important things in your life, such as family, health, and relationships. And if the pebbles and the sand were lost, the jar would still be full and your life would still have a meaning.

The pebbles represent the other things that matter in your life, such as your work, school, and house. These things often come and go, and are not permanent or essential to your overall well-being.

And finally, the sand represents the remaining small stuff and material possessions in your life. These things don’t mean much to your life as a whole and are likely only done to waste time or get small tasks accomplished.

The metaphor here is that if you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles. This holds true for the things you let into your life too.

If you spend all of your time on the small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for the things that are actually important. So in order to have a more effective life, you should prioritize important things in your life and then worry about pebbles and sand at a later time.

I believed in this story. And I had actually put it into practice in my both personal and professional life too.

Another side of the story

But there is another side of the story too that no one has told you yet.

While practicing this theory for a while now I’ve realized that — if I always try to focus on the most important things or goals in my life, then I would procrastinate the other tasks that seemed a lower priority.

But over a period, these lower priority tasks would start piling up. And the more I delayed taking care of these tasks, the more inertia it built up to complete those tasks.

The most harmful side effect of delaying lower priority tasks was, the longer the list of such lower priority tasks grew, the more stress it started adding to my daily routine.

The problem with focusing primarily on the most important things is — since they’re the most important things in your life, they also take longer to complete and more bandwidth to accomplish. And because you’re constantly swamped up with the most important things, you would never get to the lower priority things in your life.

And at some point, I have decided to stop following this mantra of prioritizing the most important things first. On some days, I would start taking care of the lower priority tasks first. This way, as the day starts, I would check off a few things off my plate, and then in the second half of the day, I would work on the important tasks.

The benefit of taking care of a few lower priority tasks first was — it would start building the momentum. There was a sense of achievement and progress. And that momentum would actually help me to work on the important and difficult tasks with much positive mindset.

So instead of following the rocks, pebbles, and sand story blindly as it was told, I would recommend to modify it a bit where instead of filling the jar with only rocks first, and then pebble, etc., you could fill it with few rocks, then few pebbles, then some sand, and then again few more rocks, pebbles and more sand. This way you’re making balanced progress in all areas.

Another approach you can consider is — at the macro level (monthly or annual), prioritize the most important things, but at the micro level (daily or weekly), keep it flexible as per the situation and needs at that time.


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The Delusion of Success and Failure

How Success and Failure are dependent on each other and are also tangled with each other.

I had shared this brief thought on LinkedIn the other day, but due to their number of characters limit for the post (BTW, it’s 1300), I couldn’t explain the thought in detail. So expanding it here.

The Context

A few days ago, I met a founder, who was very smart both academically and intellectually, and had raised a solid Seed round from Valley’s top-notch VC firms, but after 2 years of execution, they had to shut down the company.

In her own words, they failed to achieve a product market fit. They had built an innovative solution, which was looking for a problem.

In her defense, it’s not that they didn’t know how to identify a problem. She had read everything about Lean Startup, Customer Development, Paul Graham’s Startup essays, etc. and had done extensive customer development interviews. Despite all of this, they still failed.

While it’s one thing to learn these things in theory, it’s a completely different ball game to follow it in practice.

Failure?

Meanwhile, I kept thinking, did she really “fail”? And failed from what perspective?

If you consider her entire career span is just 2 years, then yes, probably she has failed.

But if she’s still early in her career, then in my opinion, this is just a setback. Her entrepreneurship journey is not done yet. She can come back again with a new venture and be successful next time.

You could argue that she failed to return investors’ money.

But again, if she had executed with her best effort and intent, then those investors will most likely back her again for her future venture, which could be wildly successful too.

Success and Failure — Dependent

The boundaries between success and failure are diminishing now.

Many times you become successful in future after you face a failure. And many times you fail in future because success goes too much in your head.

Success and failure are pretty much dependent on each other.

If you failed to achieve your desired objective, but keep the right attitude and rise up again, the chances are you have more drive and are better prepared to achieve it this time around than the first time.

In that founder’s case, if she keeps the positive mindset, and decide to start her next venture — (it need not be immediate as she could take a job somewhere and learn more skills as well), then a combination of her on-job training and her lessons learned from previous failure, she would be much better prepared for the next venture.

Similarly, as we’ve also seen in many cases for celebrity people, if you achieve too much success too early, chances are you will lose it all if the success goes too much in your head as with the success, your behavior, priorities, and expectations change.

I just saw this tweet from Alok Kejriwal on my Twitter timeline today morning — it’s very relevant and consistent to the point I’m making here –

Success and Failure — Tangled

On the other hand, we classify “failure” as if everything was lost and there was nothing to gain.

Failure can be absolutely devastating if you look at it from only one perspective.

But if you look at your journey to achieve any objective and the number of other things you gained before you failed in achieving your core objective, you will realize that it’s not a zero-sum game.

In that founder’s case, I could argue that while she failed in her core objective, she had achieved success in other areas like — learning lots of new personal and professional skills, building strong relationships and network, etc.

I’m not saying that we should take pride in failing and nonetheless celebrate it because we learned something.

In fact, I argue that you could be considered failure too from one’s perspective while you’re wildly successful from many’s perspectives.

I’ve known some people who’ve achieved great financial success, but at the cost of some health issues, family problems or some kind of personal sacrifice.

In that founder’s case, I could also argue that there are actually thousands of other people of her age who took more stable, less risky, high paid salaried career paths. So financially they are successful, but from one perspective, they could be considered as a failure too because they didn’t take the risky route she took and didn’t gain those valuable skills and relationships, etc.

Conclusion

So the best way is for us to confront these failures as much as possible early in our life as we do successes too.

And we should treat these failures as more of temporary setbacks in our journey than calling it an end.


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The Long Distance Driving And Living Your Life

And how these two things are similar.

This weekend I had been to Lake Tahoe with my family (wife, two kids, and mom-in-law). While driving to the Tahoe and also while coming back, there were moments where all family members had slept in the car for some period. When everyone is sleeping in the car, I get my alone time to talk to myself a.k.a. “deep thinking” :).

I love driving, especially the long-distance driving. It provides these opportunities for thinking about the future, retrospecting about the past or doing some deep thinking about topics of interest.

This time the topic of interest was — the long-distance driving and its similarities to living your life.


Driving — when you’re in control

When you’re driving a long distance, there are a few times when you experience that you are in total control of your driving — its direction, speed, experience, etc. You have multiple route options to choose from, and once you choose a route and start driving, there is no other car in front of you, so you can decide to drive fast and get to the destination sooner or decide to drive slow and enjoy the natural beauty around you while driving.

Living life — when you’re in control

In life also, you might notice that you have similar experiences. There are a few times when you have multiple options in front of you so that you can choose what you want to do in your life (e.g. professional career). You can decide how fast or slow you want to work. And accordingly, you also decide if you want to achieve your goal as fast as possible or enjoy what’s happening around you while achieving that goal.

But these are rare moments, where you are in full control of your journey and life.


Driving — when you’re NOT in control

Most of the times, you will experience that you are at the mercy of other factors — the drivers in front of you, the drivers next to you in the nearby lanes, the weather conditions, etc. It is even more evident if it’s a single lane road. You can’t speed up even if you want to. You try hard, but after a while, you realize that there is no option other than being patient and just following the driver in front of you.

Then you start enjoying the slow pace while looking around. And sometimes you get used to the slow pace that you forget to pass the car in front of you and continue to just follow it.

But sometimes you still have it on your mind that slowing down was a not a permanent state but a temporary compromise. And as soon as you find a passing lane, you take that opportunity and overtake other drivers in front of you. As soon you get the lead, you are back in control to drive at your own speed — until you hit the next set of drivers in front of you.

Living life — when you’re NOT in control

This is exactly how our life is. It is dependent on many other external factors — your family responsibilities in front of you, the constraints of society you live in, the larger economic market conditions, etc. And sometimes you are at the complete mercy of any one of these factors. You have high ambitions and plans to move fast but can’t do it even if you want to. You try hard, but after a while, you realize that there is no option other than accepting the responsibility, situation, and constraints in front of you.

Then you start enjoying your life even with these constraints. And sometimes you forget your ambitions and get comfortable with the current life.

But sometimes you still have that dream kindling in your mind, and as soon as you get an opportunity, you seize it and make some progress towards your ambition. And now you are empowered to take in charge of your life, make your own decisions, decide your own speed of execution — until you hit the next set of responsibilities and constraints in front of you.


Driving — when you’ve a responsibility

Another interesting thing that happens when you’re driving — especially with your loved ones (family or friends) is — now you’re responsible to drive them safely.

They trust you and know that they are in safe hands and are free to enjoy the natural beauty around or take some power nap. And it’s very likely that you won’t be able to have the same fun as they can have. You can’t take your eyes off the road and look around for a long time. You can’t just close your eyes and take some power nap.

But when you look around and see that your loved ones are sleeping well, or having great fun, then you don’t feel anything less than proud and happy of your responsibility to drive them safely.

Living life — when you’ve a responsibility

This also happens in our life too. Sometimes you’re responsible to take care of your family — it could be anything — financial, health, or any kind of support, etc.

They trust you and know that you’ll take care of them. And with your support, they might be able to enjoy their life again. And it’s very likely that you may need to work hard or sacrifice few things to give them that support, and as a result, you may not be able to enjoy your life to the fullest.

But when you look around that your loved ones are having fun, you don’t feel anything less than happy of your responsibility to take care of them and supporting them in any way you can.


Hope you agree with these observations. The main take away from these observations could be—sometimes it’s ok to drive fast when opportunity exist, sometimes it’s ok to drive slow when needed to be, and you should feel proud and happy to support the responsibility at hand even though you personally can’t have fun.


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How To Deal With Stress

A friend called me recently out of nowhere and asked — “Dude, how do you deal with stress while running a startup? I feel so stressed every day and want to know how do you handle it”.

We don’t talk that often, so I was surprised to receive a call from him and on top of that, was even surprised to hear that he wanted to talk about stress!

Quick background — he’s a first-time founder running a B2B company. He’s solving a good problem, has built a great product and technology, has raised some money, and has already got some marquee customers onboard.

But before jumping to answer his question, I probed him to give me more context — What does he mean by he is stressed? How exactly does he feel? What is the current state of his business because of which he’s feeling stressed?

His primary concern was — he was getting too anxious about the deals taking a lot longer to close. Some days things go well, and he’s close to closing a deal, and the next day it all goes south with lots of uncertainties and delays making him anxious. This anxiety was causing more problems as he was not able to focus well on other business priorities. In the end, he was not finding things were under his control.

With this additional context, it helped me understand his situation, but I also felt it wasn’t just about this one issue (“deals not closing faster”) at hand, but a more holistic approach to how he was running a startup.

Obviously, running a startup is hard. It’s a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs — and probably there are too many downs than ups. There is always something that doesn’t work as per your plan. There is always something that takes the twice amount of effort, cost and time than you intended.

So the first thing I told him was that he’s not alone. Most of the people who are running a startup are also in the same bucket. Everybody has to experience this rollercoaster ride.

The only advantage an experienced founder might have over a first-time founder is — how they handle ups and downs and deal with the stress in those situations.

Since I had thought about this for a while and had been practicing few principles in my day-to-day life quite actively, I shared my perspectives with him. After talking with him, I realized these principles are not only applicable for people who’re running a startup but for any working professional who is experiencing the same level of stress and anxiety at their work. I am sharing these principles with you so some of you might find it helpful.

There are many ways to deal with stress, but at a high level, I think about it in 2 ways –
1. Strategic guiding principles
2. Tactical tips

1. Strategic guiding principles

These are some of the core guiding principles about how I operate in life in general. These are more important than the tactical tips.

1. Have a long-term perspective

Most of the things I do in life have a long-term perspective. Any project I start, or a resolution I make, or a deal I sign, or advice I give to other people — always have a long-term objective or benefit associated with it. Very rarely I have optimized something for my short-term gain.

And since most of the things have a long-term perspective, naturally I have the right expectations set from the beginning — the timeline, the kind of outcome, or the effort required to achieve it.

And since my eyes are fixed on the long-term objectives, even if I get any setbacks in the short-term or failures on the way, it doesn’t demotivate me. While I do get disappointed when things don’t work out as per plan, it doesn’t stress me out much as I know I’m in this for a long haul.

2. Focus on your efforts

I’m a strong believer of I can only focus on my actions and efforts to achieve the desired outcome. But, unfortunately, as we know, the outcome will not be based on only my actions and efforts. There will be many other factors that are not in my control, which will play a role to determine the state of the outcome.

And if there are things that are not in my control, then why I should be stressed if the outcome doesn’t result in my favor?

As long as I’m completely honest with myself that I’ve given my best efforts, then I don’t worry and overthink about the outcome. I accept it as it is. But if I know that I fell short in my efforts, then I recognize it as my mistake and decide to focus on not repeating it next time.

3. It’s not critical, unless…

I firmly believe that we’ve been misusing the “critical” word a lot in the corporate world. Unless you’re dealing with someone’s life, it’s not truly critical. It could be important, and some of those things could be urgent, but still, it’s never critical unless someone’s life is at stake.

So next time you hear someone telling you a particular project or deal or deadline being critical, just hear it being “important” and give your best shot to respond it in your best capacity, but don’t stress out as if somebody’s life is in danger.

2. Tactical tips

Now on the tactical front, there are a lot of great tips on how to reduce stress on a day to day basis on the internet. I follow below tactics — some of them quite regularly and some of them on a need basis –

1. Being disciplined

I don’t shy away from touting myself as a very disciplined guy. The more disciplined and organized I am, the more sanity I have in my day-to-day routine. That, in general, keeps my day-to-day stress level at quite low.

2. Writing things down

I typically find myself stressed when I’m thinking about too many ideas, planning for future, contemplating on past, etc. Writing down all those ideas and to-do tasks in whatever crude way help me clear up my mind.

3. Focusing on one thing at a time

I avoid multi-tasking. My experience is — trying to do more than one task at a time just adds more stress. And very rarely it’s necessary.

4. Spending time with kids

I have two daughters (5yrs and 1yr old), so spending time with them every day either in-house or outside in the park always helps me realize that there is more to life than just work.

5. Exercising

I’ve been doing P90X-3 routine intermittently. But every time I do it regularly, it helps me to gain both mental and physical strength and confidence. If I can’t do proper exercise, then just a short walk in the neighborhood also helps to gather my thoughts.

6. Meditating

I use guided meditation app to slow down myself a bit. I find instant benefits if I slow down my breathing, and focus on the present by scanning the body or on breathing. This helps me to reduce my anxiety.

7. Talking with my wife, family, and friends

In the end, just talking with my wife or close family members or friends about what I’m working on and what challenges I’m facing helps me crystallize my thoughts and sometimes gives me answers that I was looking.


I hope these strategic guiding principles and tactical tips will help you too dealing with your stressful situations.


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12 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business Venture

A framework to choose which problem you should solve

Yesterday I met few friends after many years. After everybody sharing their whereabouts, it was my turn to share what I’m working on. I explained I’m working on a new venture and also shared the details of the problem we’re solving. The first question one of the friends asked was — “why did you decide to solve this problem?

It was a great question. As they say, as a startup founder, you should be able to answer these 3 questions with high clarity and conviction –

  • Why this? (Focuses on problem statement and opportunity)
  • Why now? (Focuses on market and technology landscape)
  • Why you? (Focuses on founding team)

The good part was, I had thought a lot about why I want to solve this problem from various perspectives, so it was easy to answer my friend’s question.

So I thought I should share a framework with you all that I used to decide which problem I want to solve.

As mentioned in my previous post

I researched and brainstormed a couple of problems extensively, discussed it with other people too, and eventually decided to solve a problem that I faced every single day in my professional life as a knowledge worker, and is also applicable to pretty much most of the knowledge workers in the world.

I want to fix the productivity and information loss problem that happens during every “meeting” — the necessary evil of a corporate life.


While it was a simplistic overview of why I picked up the problem that I’m currently working on, here is a list of questions I used to choose the problem I want to solve and start my next business venture —

  1. Do I personally face this problem? If yes, do I face this problem very frequently and how frequently?
  2. Do other people also face this problem? If yes, how many such people exist? Is it a very large population?
  3. Do I have the basic understanding of the problem and the solution domain?
  4. Is there a lot of progress happening in the larger space of that domain?
  5. Do I have initial thoughts on what will be the differentiation compared to competitors?
  6. Is it a hard problem to solve such that it will not be easy for too many competitors to enter into this space?
  7. If I make it affordable and at the same time deliver high value, will people pay? If yes, who will pay and how much will they pay?
  8. Will a single user receive a value from this solution or will it require more people using this service (e.g. entire team or organization) to receive basic value?
  9. How will I sell this solution? Can I sell this using bottom-up B2C2B model or will I need a typical top-down enterprise sales model?
  10. How will I distribute this solution? Are there any viral/referral distribution opportunities? Are there any platforms/partners that I can integrate with to distribute this solution?
  11. Do I believe by solving this problem, will I be making a positive impact in many people’s lives and the world a better place?
  12. Finally, if I fail to solve this problem, will I learn something new that will prepare me for the next wave/demand in the technology space?

The current problem I’ve decided to solve met all above requirements and had very compelling answers for each of the question.

I hope this framework and a list of questions will be useful to you too to choose your next business venture.


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