Making Relationships Work

Ever so often, we ask from a relationship, before we give to it. Sometimes, it may be from a family member of friend. At other times, it may be from a work colleague or an acquaintance on LinkedIn.

Ivan Misner’s post on making relationships work makes you re-think…

In my career, a huge number of folks come to me and ask me to promote something for them. The thing is, the majority of those who contact me have never actually met me or had a previous conversation with me. They’ve never invested in the relationship, yet they want a withdrawal from it!

Before you ask for a withdrawal, make sure to make an investment, and build a deep referral relationship.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s not such an impossible ask to make a few deposits before we seek a withdrawal, be it at work or among pals.

Misner also includes a quick guide to questions that you should be able to answer with a “Yes” if you have a strong working relationship.

Useful stuff, don’t you think?

Financial Independence

“Financial Independence” means different things to different people. There may not be a universal definition for it, but it helps to understand the subject a little. I often mind myself debating these concepts with friends, and this post is my way of capturing some of my key learnings on the subject…

Tony Robbins captures the essence of Financial Independence in a five-point scale

#1. Financial security. This is achieved when you have sufficient passive income to cover the very basics in your life like the rent (mortgage), bills and basic food.

#2. Financial vitality. At this level of financial independence, your passive income can allow for more things like clothes, going out and having fun, and basic holidays.

#3. Financial independence. This is the level where your passive income is sufficient to allow you to have your current quality of life.

#4. Financial freedom. At this level of financial independence you can up-step your lifestyle to the one you desire.

#5. Absolute financial freedom. This is the level where money stops being an issue and you can do anything you want.

When I first encountered this, what struck me is that for Level One itself, Robbins speaks of a “passive” income that achieves these metrics. i.e. Income generated whether you show up to work or not. This may be via investments in real estate, securities or a business that you own – not one where you trade-off your time to earn money (as in a job!)

Now, if you are currently in debt and have little savings to show for your earning years, you may think that attaining even the first level with “passive” income is an impossible dream.

Why is that?

The Times of India featured an excellent article by Uma Shashikant on the (often mistaken) advice we give to our children when it comes to their future career, and financial goals. In it, Shashikant makes a very valid argument that “what is true of the parents’ world is not necessarily true of their children’s world.”

If you are an Indian, it is most likely that your well-wishers (parents included) brought you up on a steady diet of the age-old maxim: Buy a house!

Buying a house is not always “good advice”. It actually depends on a number of factors, including:

1. Your personal Life goals
2. Your current Life stage
3. The Rent vs Buy equation in your particular city / region

But, the social pressure to do it (for most Indians) is so much, that most do not take a step back and evaluate all the options more objectively.

The fact is, having a primary residence (owned by you) is not an “investment” for you – unless you’re willing to relocate to a far, far cheaper home/region at some point in your lifetime. If not, at best, it represents an asset for those you leave it behind for.

You may notice that I’m not even touching upon the possibility that the Real Estate market may represent a bargain, currently. That is irrelevant (or already factored into point #3 – Rent vs Buy), unless you are talking about a second home as an investment opportunity.

If you depend on a salary for income, it makes little difference if your current house – the one you live in – appreciates in “value” by several million. With increasing income, when we “upgrade” our lifestyle, it is often accompanied by moving to an even larger (read: more expensive) home with accompanying debt. And, that is precisely why you should think – ten times – before taking up a loan that you will need to service for decades to come.

In thousands of cities across the world (including in India), it is way cheaper to rent a house than to buy one – whichever way you crunch your worksheet. If you are not riddled with a huge debt at this early stage, and have the discipline to put away 15-20% of your (ever growing!) income in a sound Savings’ plan, you have a real shot at building a corpus.

Combine this insight with the Power of Compounding, and you may just be on your way to a significant “passive” income… And, that would be worth the reward, wouldn’t it?!

Entrepreneur Dilemmas

This post was also featured on YourStory

Start your own business, and you will soon discover that the life of an entrepreneur is full of dilemmas – ones that have no easy answers.

Yes, we may have learnt some lessons from the dot-com crash of 2000, and some of those learnings apply even today. But, the environment in which we operate is far more complex and dynamic than ever before. As a result, there are more questions than answers.

What compounds the problem is the fact that many entrepreneurs often have no one they can approach with such questions – friends and family may not have the business context or skills, and experienced mentors are hard to find.

Organizational Tradeoffs

It starts with the kind of organization you wish to build.

Some will advise you to build a Lean Startup while others will advocate the importance of thinking big.

A “lean” startup means bootstrapping your way to success, building on a Minimum Viable Product, and iterating based on real customer inputs. Thinking big, on the other hand, involves ambitious plans that need a fair bit of funding and large-scale thinking for them to succeed.

This issue assumes even greater importance if you’re not already flush with capital, since the “run way” you have to remain in business will be directly impacted by the choices you make in this regard.

So, which way should you go? Is being cautious better than being ambitious, when it comes to building a business?

Product Tradeoffs

It’s not just the organization – your product approach can significantly impact your chances of success.

A newly created product or service should either address a specific customer need previously unmet, or do it in a manner that is cheaper or better than current alternatives. But how good is “good enough”?

Should you labor over the details of every pixel… ensure that even the packaging is picture perfect? Or should you focus on the all-important shipping date, and risk rolling out a buggy or less-than-perfect version to paying customers?

Some will remind you that the earliest versions of Facebook or Google were far from ideal, while others will wax eloquent about the attention to detail that makes Apple products such a worldwide hit.

Which path is better? Which route is likely to bring success?

Market Tradeoffs

Simply building an excellent product is not enough – there are dimensions to your Market strategy that also need clarity.

A key question here is: How important is competition? Should you be focused on improving on the competition, or ignoring the competition and building something no one else has done before?

Peter Thiel advocates in ‘Zero to One‘ that incremental advances will only get you so far – what’s needed is to choose boldness over triviality, not just make incremental advances. But in the ‘Lean Startup‘, Eric Ries writes of the virtues of the iterative cycle of Build-Measure-Learn, and of continuous testing and experimentation.

So, who is right? Which approach will get you the glory and riches you so deserve?

Capital Tradeoffs

Even if you’ve figured out the answers to all of the above, there is the issue of the most important resource of all – Money.

Here too, the choices are as tricky as you can imagine. After all, every business has a limited amount of capital at its disposal, and often needs to make choices on how that money should be spent.

So, should you seek capital early on to ensure rapid scale-up, or delay external funding as much as you can, to retain ownership and control? Should you focus on Revenue, or place a priority on Growth and customer acquisition so that a competitor does not end up blowing you out of the game altogether?

What’s the best way to solve this dilemma?

The Journey Within

What should a business owner do when facing such choices?

Well, my learning has been that the journey is more of self-discovery.

Yes, it is important to learn how the ecosystem works, how business works, and how the economy is shaping trends that can be leveraged to your advantage. But, it is equally important to know what you are, and what matters to you.

That understanding of Self becomes your compass, when you seek answers to such dilemmas. That understanding, is how you separate the noise from the music, as you figure out the answers for yourself. And, that understanding informs your decisions, as you traverse the path that you alone must walk.

Lewis Carroll got it right when he said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

Yes, you will continue to face conflicting advice, and come across opinions of business leaders that make you question your own beliefs. But a true entrepreneur must stand his ground in the face of adversity and conflict. After all, the ones who change the world are “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels”!

May the force be with you.

Taking Stock: Year 1

It’s been one year since I launched “ThinkShop“.

Yes, this was my second stint as an entrepreneur. But, in many ways, the experience was completely different. Unlike the last time (which was more than 13 years ago), I was no longer a starry-eyed, young man, without a care in the world. This time around, I was a wee bit wiser, more mature, and understood a little better – what lay in store for me. But even I couldn’t have anticipated all that transpired.

Here’s a quick look at how Year 1 has fared…

  • Attended a plethora of business & technology events
  • Addressed hundreds of eager listeners via workshops and talks
  • Reached out to hundreds more via press mentions and articles
  • Met with a range of interesting folks from different industries
  • Signed up a number of clients, across domains
  • Worked on multiple projects, across platforms and solutions
  • Attended dozens of workshops on a diverse range of topics
  • Made connections & exchanged cards with hundreds of people
  • Experimented with different formats in the quest for a workplace
  • Worked more hours in a day (and week) than I thought possible
  • Stayed up nights “figuring out the answers” (work-in-progress)
  • Improved self-awareness, and discovered a little about myself
  • Learned to enjoy higher highs and deal with lower lows
  • Clocked more steps on my Fitbit than I’d imagined
  • Tried out a few pilot experiments to develop products & services
  • Collaborated with a few people, but had to part ways, soon after
  • Said “No” to countless things, ideas and people (ongoing effort!)
  • Learned of a lot of things, and realized how much I still don’t know
  • Traveled to places I’d never been to, including some that I had
  • Joined in a number of family celebrations and events
  • Did not miss a single important occasion related to my children

When I look back on the year gone by, it has been nothing short of living life to the fullest – making each day count.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Would you?

Bombay to Udaipur

In April 2011, we embarked on our first “long drive” from Bombay to Goa. In May 2012, we once again attempted the same trip, this time older and wiser. Then, came some months of back trouble, which reached such a low that I did not think I would drive again. However, having made a full recovery this year, high on the agenda was a drive to Udaipur…

I was told by friends who had done it before that the Bombay to Udaipur journey is longer than Goa (approx. 800 kms each way, instead of about 650 kms), but easier to do. In any case, we decided to make the most of the road trip, and not stress about reaching Udaipur before sun down. So we planned a halt at Vadodara, both ways.

That turned out to be a good decision since Vadodara is a nice, clean city that resides roughly halfway to Udaipur. You also have the option of breaking journey at Ahmedabad, which is roughly an hour’s drive further north from Vadodara.

Here is the log from our trip… Bear in mind that, depending on your starting point, milestones may vary by 3-4 kms. Also, our goal was to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. Therefore, these logs will reflect that attitude in the stops we made.

  • Departure @ 6.10 am from Powai, Odo set to 0 kms
  • Stopped at Kamat’s @ 76kms, 7.45 am for breakfast (30 mins)
  • Other milestones: McDonald’s @ 162 kms, Hotel Tulsi @ 171 kms
  • Sugar and Spice food plaza @ 198 kms with clean loos
  • Other milestones: Sugar and Spice @ 243 kms, McDonald’s @ 262 kms
  • Stopped at Hotel Swagat for lunch @ 276 kms, 1.30 pm (45 mins)
  • Arrived at Vadodara around 3.30 pm, 410 kms
  • Started next morning at 8.15 am, towards Udaipur!
  • Breakfast stop (30 mins), 10.30 am  at the start of Ring Road (Many hotels and loos)
  • Stopped at the Vintage Car Museum (1 hour) @ 519 kms
  • Stopped at Hotel Landmark for lunch at 2pm (Bad loo) @ 175 km before Udaipur i.e. 587 kms from Mumbai
  • Multiple petrol pumps seen soon after crossing the Rajasthan border @ 648 kms
  • Reached Udaipur at 850 kms, 6 pm

On the whole, the roads were smooth and the drive was pleasurable. The journey on the way back was somewhat less eventful…

  • Departure from Udaipur at 6.20 am, Odo set to 0 kms
  • Stopped for breakfast at Hotel Aashirvad, 103 kms, 7.45 am
  • Other milestones: Hotel Ashish @ 122 kms (bigger and better), Hotel Asopalav @ 138 kms (biggest!)
  • At 10 am @ approx. 32 kms before Ahmedabad, we took a detour via Gandhinagar, to visit the Sabarmati Ashram
  • Stopped at the Ashram @ 257 kms
  • Joined the Ahmedabad expressway again @ 270 kms, at 12 pm
  • At 349 kms, 12.50 stopped at a sad food court about 15 kms from Vadodara to fill fuel and reached the city soon after
  • Departed next morning at 7.10 am, 385 kms
  • Breakfast stop (30 min) at 9.05 am at a big food court with nice loos, CCD, etc. @ 507 kms
  • Also, Sugar and Spice @ 560 kms, and a big Kamat’s @ 637 kms
  • Stopped at 12.20 pm at Hotel Ahura (45 mins) for awesome Parsi food @ 691 kms (on opp. side of the road)
  • Reached home (Powai) at 3.10 pm with 810 kms on the odo

The stretch from Udaipur to Vadodara was even better, since the detour via Gandhinagar meant that we bypass the only stretch that has two-way traffic. Driving through Gandhinagar was also an experience worth doing!

A common lament across all my road journeys remains the woefully inadequate facilities we have across the country, when it comes to washrooms and clean water.

A new phenomenon we encountered during our Ahmedabad to Udaipur to Ahmedabad stretch is spotting a number of vehicles that looked clearly ‘lived-in’, and carrying multiple passengers, but without any license plates! So watch out in case you get into an accident with one such dubious vehicle.