How to surround yourself with good people? Select Few, Avoid Many!

This year was very exciting for me. In the last 12 months I have lived in five cities across four different time zones, as I went on my mission to expand my company.This explains why I have been unable to blog as often as I wanted to! My company, uniRow Inc, now has people (employees, customers, partners) across 6 different timezones and three continents. We are still a modest team size, but one thing that glues us together is our strong belief in the company’s vision.

This post is not about my company’s growth. It is about how I have managed to stay efficient in this frantic activity by surrounding myself with good people. I followed a simple strategy – select few, avoid many!

Here is my definition of good people:

Individuals who help you grow positively through honest and often passionate conversations. They have clarity of thought and purpose in their lives, lead a healthy life and communicate without fear or malice.

While everybody understands the value of having good people in their lives, it can be challenging to control that as you speed through life and your job requires you to engage with people more. There is temptation to find company and the need to network constantly. Here are some guiding principles I follow to keep myself surrounded with great individuals – the key is to follow a mix of selection and elimination strategy!

Select Few: What to select?

1. Passion+Drive

I am a sucker for passionate people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Most entrepreneurs are passionate people who see the spark in their idea more than any one else and are willing to work hard enough to turn it into a fire. However, passion without action is meaningless. Be with people who believe in something significant and are living with the purpose to make that a reality. When you have surround yourself with them, your energy never wanes and you can build a great support system. If you can meet people from different walks of life (art, music, media, technology, whatever) it is even better. It opens up your own perspective on various things.

2. Knowledge

I enjoy being with people who have great knowledge of something. Someone else’s knowledge and experience can save you lot of trouble and minimize the trial-and-errors in life. Search for people who are successful. They can be scientists, musicians, technology geeks, business people, whatever. Learn from other people’s success and be inspired to chart your own. Their journeys will keep you motivated and more importantly it will help you see beyond yourself.

3. Honesty

Be with people who are honest – in their thoughts, expressions and actions. Identify people whose actions are consistent with their thoughts. Honest people can help you navigate difficult situations with better clarity and purpose. Having some honest opinion in your life can really help you grow better. I have been fortunate to have two great individuals, my sister and a dear friend, in my life who constantly help me with their honest analysis of life situations and difficult decisions I need to make. On the work side, my investors and advisors have been great people throughout my entrepreneurial journey.

Honesty is not just about doing your job right and not breaking rules – these are often fear induced. I am talking about honesty in your thoughts, behavior and staying true in circumstances when it is tempting to go the other way. Have some people around with whom you can can discuss things without any fear. It helps to dissect the situation at work or life better and continue to excel at whatever you do. More importantly be with people who follow this in their own life.

Avoid Many: What to eliminate?

1. Noise.

Not everything that happens around you is worth the attention. I was reading Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist, and I love the way he puts it:

You are going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there and you’re going to feel like you need to correct it. One time I was up late on my laptop and my wife yelled at me, “Quit picking fights on Twitter and go make something!”

The moral of the story is – be careful what problems you pick and that will automatically filter out people. I used to debate with my friends on socio-political affairs. I enjoyed that because it helped me see different perspectives. But eventually it waned because it is not something that I could really add value to today. I noticed that as I eliminated the noisy discussions, it automatically limited my interactions with people meaningfully.

2. Chaos

Some people thrive in chaos. They like drama in their lives and enjoy living/working in chaotic situations. This is a tough kind because when you first meet them, they appear very capable of handling difficult situations and making their way through complexities. These are traits that every entrepreneur admires and respects. However once you observe these complexities closely, you will find that most of that is their own creation. They avoid owning up their decisions, continue to make poor ones and often find a scapegoat when things don’t work out. They focus on people’s imperfections and spread their chaos around. Identify them and recuse yourself from their company.

3. Skepticism

Entrepreneurs particularly need to stay clear of this group. While everybody understands the need to stay away from the naysayers, it is not trivial to separate genuine criticism from negative skepticism. I have a golden rule to do this – does the person sharing the criticism have enough background in the particular domain? Skeptics can often go into a hyperbole and it is important that entrepreneurs protect themselves from unhealthy skepticism. Have your own failures, so that one day you can make your own success.


As we step into the holiday season and welcome a new year, I hope you can sit back, sip cocoa (or a single malt) and enjoy all that you have achieved this year. Live, Love and Be Good! :)

What Entrepreneurs can Learn from 2014 Nobel Peace Laureates

2014 Nobel Peace Laureates

2014 Nobel Peace Laureates
[Source: The Nobel Peace Prize. Ill. N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media 2014]

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Both these exceptional individuals have had life changing impact on thousands of children, helping them get a life they rightfully deserve. If you are familiar with the problem of child abuse and child labor in South Asia, you will appreciate how difficult it must have been for both of them to walk down the path they chose.

What caught my attention was the two different traits their lives distinctly represent – perseverance and courage. While both have demonstrated super human levels of perseverance and courage, Mr. Satyarthi’s journey is more of perseverance and Ms. Yousafzay’s journey more of courage.

Similary, there are two kinds of entrepreneur stories – one of perseverance and another of courage. Throughout an entrepreneur’s life they continue to demonstrate both, but most entrepreneurs can be classified into one of the two. And there is much to learn from the both of these Nobel laureates.

The Persevering Entrepreneur

These are the entrepreneurs who identify a tough problem, dig their heels and toil till they have made a dent. Most of them like to stay away from the limelight and would rather stay focussed on the problem that they are working on. This is the story of Kailash Satyarthi’s life – an electrical engineer and former educationist who has worked for more than 3 decades protecting child rights and liberating thousands of children from abuse.To solve this tough problem and achieve the kind of scale, one needs great perseverance. When the Nobel prize was announced, most Indians had not even heard of him although many were aware of the program he championed all his life! That is how quiet a life he has led while still making a huge dent.

The persevering entrepreneur picks problems that are often not the current trend. They often pick Herculean tasks, identify long term goals and have the strength to hang in there in times of adversity.

The Courageous Entrepreneur

These are entrepreneurs whom life presents with extraordinary challenges and/or circumstances. Not only do they respond to these circumstances, they shape the future by that very response and continue to thrive. Malala Yousafzay’s life and the extraordinary circumstances she faced did not deter her resolve to promote girl education in the strife-torn regions of Pakistan. It made her more resolute and she rose up to the challenge and has since succeeded because of her outstanding courage.

The courageous entrepreneur is brave and is not shy to make her presence felt. She is not afraid to face adversity and wants to make a dent sooner rather than later.

If you are an entrepreneur, you will identify how these two traits drive us every day. In order to succeed, you must have both. But it helps to know what you are best at. It can help you find a problem more suitable to your abilities and values. Entrepreneurship is a long haul and there are no short-cuts.

You will have to be gritty! [5 Characteristics of Grit]

Be that kid with the LEGO blocks

I was talking to a close friend and advisor about the entrepreneurial life. We were talking about the evolution of an entrepreneur as the business meanders through different stages of iterations and growth. The need to continuously reinvent ourselves and why so many of us stop short of achieving our best.

I have to say, entrepreneurship has not been unbearably hard for me! Yes it has been very challenging, but definitely not unbearable. At no point did I ever feel that I should give up.

The truth is, I am just a kid with the LEGO blocks!

Source: LEGO on Wikipedia

Lego pieces of all varieties constitute a universal system. Despite variation in the design and purpose of individual pieces over the years, each remains compatible in some way with existing pieces. Lego bricks from 1958 still interlock with those made in the current time, and Lego sets for young children are compatible with those made for teenagers.

 

Six pieces of 2×4 bricks can be combined in 915,103,765 ways.

It is incredible what we can do with just six LEGO bricks. The skills that we build through our lives are our LEGO bricks. Entrepreneurship is a dynamic process where we try different combinations of these LEGO bricks; we keep trying until we find a shape that is perfect!

Entrepreneurship is being imaginative without worrying about failures; it is about trying different combinations before we find our very own perfection; and, it is about having fun while we are at it.

If you have seen a kid with her LEGO blocks, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you have not seen one, gift a LEGO kit to a kid you know and learn from her the joy of building up her imagination with abstract blocks.

Be that kid with the LEGO blocks!

Fourteen Things in 2014

Fourteen things I hope to witness this year.14

  1. Greater Participatory Politics
  2. Younger Politicians
  3. Better Weather
  4. Lesser Aid, Greater Development
  5. More Social Capitalism
  6. Cheaper Organic Food
  7. Longer Phone Battery Life
  8. Faster Internet
  9. Better Enterprise Apps
  10. Fewer Theoretical Developers
  11. Better Javascript Developers
  12. Deeper JVM Understanding
  13. More World Changing Engineers
  14. An Indian Technology Company Scaling by Selling to Indian Companies – I had to write this one, however impossible it seems! :-)

Giving Your Product Release a Name

uniRow SeabiscuitWe recently released the next version of uniRow – which we have named Seabiscuit.

The name was perfect for this release for the following reasons:

  1. This version is a quantum jump in performance, design and experience from the previous version.
  2. We are a small team working hard to deliver top quality results.
  3. We wanted the name to represent passion, endurance and an ability to surprise.
  4. There is competition in our market and that makes us run faster.

Seabiscuit (May 23, 1933 – May 17, 1947) was a champion Thoroughbred racehorse in the United States. A small horse, Seabiscuit had an inauspicious start to his racing career, but became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during theGreat Depression. Seabiscuit was the subject of a 1949 film, The Story of Seabiscuit; a 2001 book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand; and a 2003 film, Seabiscuit, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Give your product an amazing name, here are some reasons why you should.

  1. You have worked hard on it, show it off – within reasonable limits of course.
  2. Google uses Desserts to name Android versions, Apple names Mac OS versions after the big cats. Give your product a character.
  3. You are building a company along with the product, let the name represent what your company stands for.
  4. Be a trend-setter. There is a fair chance that other companies in your sector are running down numbered versions, do something refreshing.

Your product is your baby, give it a name. Don’t name it with a number. Well, unless you are George Costanza!

Making Digital Education Work In India

Internet is a great enabler. Is has an ability to make quality education accessible. A teacher can share her knowledge with thousands of students. While this sounds grand, like most things, execution and interaction is the key. The hottest thing after e-commerce in the Indian startup ecosystem is education. If VC investment were an indication of the value of a sector, education would definitely be among the top 3. The question is how much of value have we created in this space?

When I started Samuday Technologies, my intent was to build a great product that could enable better collaboration in areas beyond the enterprise – such as education, healthcare and CRM. About 10 months into the company, I understood that problem in Ed-Tech – low (actual) adoption rates among students. We realigned significantly at that point. While you can build the coolest and smartest softwares, usage levels are going to be frustratingly low because students and teachers are swamped with existing problems.

One of the reasons for low adoption is expecting significant change in user behavior. I am a big believer in building products that fit into existing workflows instead of expecting changes in user behavior and workflows. Here are some of my learnings from my experience in the education space.

Continue reading

UnPluggd 5 – July 7, 2012

We are attending UnPluggd 5 in Bangalore. This is a great opportunity for startups and technology enthusiasts in India to huddle together.

More About UnPluggd

Meet India’s promising startups/entrepreneurs at Unpluggd on 7th July at Bangalore.

At the heart of every great business is an idea, a leader, a vision and most importantly – unmatched execution.

At Unpluggd, we bring stories of how entrepreneurs brought new perspectives to problems, industry, employees and community. The executional challenges, roller coaster rides and importantly the jugaad element : all of this + demo of India’s most promising technology startups.

Of course, UnPluggd, as always, would be an awesome opportunity to meet the others in the startup ecosystem – be it investors, geeks, potential hires, CXO or fellow entrepreneurs.

When: 7th July, 2012. Saturday, 9 AM to 6 PM.

Where: MLR Convention Center, Brigade Millennium Campus, 7th Phase J.P.Nagar, Bangalore – 560 078.

URL: http://www.pluggd.in/unpluggd

Time to show love & cheer for Indian Startups. Register at  http://www.pluggd.in/unpluggd/block-your-unpluggd-seat/