10 years challenge… a journey and some perspectives

Circa 2009, this day I quit my decent paying, cushy (read: responding to RFPs and RFIs in the back drop of the 2008 October meltdown and live projects drying up and ensuring I am clocking 9 hour 15 minutes in office) job in Infosys. As I remember the last day was a bit emotional for me and armed with my camera I was happily clicking the wonderful sights of Infosys E-City (Bangalore) campus. My fairwell mail was ready the night before and all the exit forms filled up. Finally, I handed over my laptop and identity card and walked feeling a bit empty , but excited to start my entrepreneurship journey. Dreamy eyes and bookish knowledge of startups , growth and funding I marched into the sunset …..oops not exactly; but the 30 km long drive along a crowded and dusty Hosur Road.

Circa 2019, today as I head towards Manipal Academy (one of my clients), which is also near my last ‘salaried workplace’ can’t help those flashbacks. And in these ten years after two not so successful startups (one in service and one in product) I am now a Company of One for last 4 years. Working with a few clients in the area of digital marketing and mentoring a couple of others in my home town Kolkata.

And I pick up my pen..ahem keyboard to start writing again. With one more resolve to re-start on this wonderful habit. And what could be a good day to re-start.

10 years challenge?

Not exactly. I did not take up any challenge 10 years back — it was a journey which evolved , in three distinct phases. The 1st phase is where me and my partners thought of making the SMBs more efficient with our strategy, marketing and process consulting. And affordable too. The 2nd phase me and my college buddy thought of changing the world of online test preps and assessment. What eventually happened are two long books with multiple chapters of learnings.

And now that I am in my 3rd Avatar, and touch wood managing my bread and few lifestyle goals. And having crossed 40 and has probably become much more wiser. And confident. Now I align with having the ‘serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can (and should) and the wisdom to know the difference’.

And here some perspectives I picked up in the last decade

Last week I was just rattling some of my decade long perspectives to one of my mentees who in the recent times has got a big setback in his growth plans. Trying to make him see that life does not happen like the way we plan. And there are lot of things that we learn from others , books, videos , so called gurus and successful founders which may not apply to us at all. There are many ‘YOU SHOULD’ which garbage our thinking like:

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  • You should grow every year
  • You should network and expand
  • Customer acquisition should be your only goal
  • You should have a big team
  • You should ‘jack’ the books and save tax
  • You should not be attached to your employees — just get the work done and pay them a decent salary
  • You should go digital
  • Investors are must to launch you to the orbit

……and many more. But the way you interpret them, give the due importance (if at all) and then implement should be in YOUR way . Else you will be disillusioned.

Now that I have reasonably bored you with my long introduction I must admit that I distilled some guiding principles (a better way of putting ‘you should…..’) that will unlikely take you down when you are starting off..

Disclaimer : Some of these I have used to the hilt while for the others I was at the brink of actually implementing them, and will remain in my wish list forever for my subsequent avatars.

People

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I hate calling people as just resources. They are more like the engines of your success …and even failures. In my last 2 avatars I had some brilliant people who worked with us, each with their pluses and minuses. And some with eccentricities which only I can handle. My interaction with these people had some cherished moment both at work and outside the work . And a few blips which I hoped I could have managed better. And not that I was close to everybody — but I tried to make their lives better working with me. Many a times I failed , but a handful do appreciate even now . So when I get a call from a couple of my ex team members enjoying a few drinks and remembering our good old days and finally hanging the call by saying wish we could have been in the same team now, I feel a sense of elation. I know that at least for a few of them I must have done something right.

So the guiding principle is to connect with the important people in your team , know them well personally and help them to succeed in their work and possibly in life. Imagine if you train them right and empower them right , you can focus on important things which only you are good at. They are happy. You are happy. And business fosters.

Process

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My days with ICICI and Infosys made me learn and appreciate business processes. And that in a way helped me to become a process consultant to SMBs in my 1st avatar. There is often a resistance to process- even my partners felt that I was stifling their creativity and risk taking with the processes I set up in the 1st two avatars. I realised what matters the most in your approach towards process. It need not be a standard. It need not be cast in stone. And even creativity has a process (else DeBono wont have been so popular) . Process is important for any business from how you handle your customers or clients, how to manage projects or your payable or receivable to name a few. It takes away the ad hoc-ism and hence some risks from your business. And the reason business processes fail is because of lack of conviction and lack of customisation.

One of our 1st client proved just that when the founders rallied behind the process creation with full conviction and introducing a few changes to suit their styles. In the last 9 years they moved from a 12 crore company to a 100 crore plus one and now being partly acquired by one of the most well know Japanese conglomerate.

So the guiding principle is not only to have the process in the important aspects of the business , but also evaluate the same from time to time so that it does not become a roadblock. It should enable you , not disable you

Legal and Statutory

I am pretty stubborn at this. Whenever statutory and legal fees and taxes had to be paid , I did it well in advance in all my avatars . Sometimes to the annoyance of my other co-founders. Here is the belief which had driven this action- in business you need to focus on things which adds value to your people and customers. All these legal and statutory things are not worthy of any headache. Get a good professional to take care of it and get done with it. Having said that the laws are not clear always . This approach reduces the risk, but doesn’t eliminate it. I remember receiving a tax notice after 6 years of the original transaction. And we thought we had taken care of that. To cut the long story short between me and one my ex-partner we paid it with penalties and focused on important things of our current life.

So here is the guiding principle , get a good chartered accountant (pick up somebody from reference), align him or her with the business that you do , make it clear that you don’t venture into the grey areas of law and you would rather not save money on such ploys . At the same time be prepared to receive occasional notices and pay a few penalties.

Learning

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This is my favourite topic and probably requires one or several blog posts in future. This is one thing which in a way pumped those ideas and adrenaline which is needed to keep me striving for more. And being in a rapidly evolving world of digital marketing where algorithms, targeting options, response to creatives is changing every now and then, I have to keep learning…all the time. As they say mistakes are great teacher, and I had committed many.

You must be asking: How are these relevant?

Well , they are.

I save my clients and my mentees loads of cash and heartburn by preventing them to commit the same mistakes. And this is one thing no body can take away from me — learning. Learning from my act and from others.

However the guiding principle here is the egolessness . (This is a part when I become spiritual …ha ha) . If you think that you know everything and there is no need to learn (because you are born sage or something) ….well hope you realise your mistake soon. Learn as if there is no tomorrow, learn from everyone or everything that touches your life (but with pinch of salt) . Contextualize, connect the dots and apply when you think it is right.

Growth

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This is a new topic which otherwise I did not plan to include when I started writing this blog. But then as I started writing two recent incidents came to the fore.

The 1st one is wonderful book by Paul Jarvis which just got launched and I managed to get a copy after 3 weeks wait for some crazy reasons which I did not bother to investigate. Its called “Company of One” (now you know what inspired the term I used in the introduction ) — it was an AHA moment- that I am not the only one who is questioning the reason behind growth.

The second one is : Over the past 2 months discussions with my mentees and few other founders has been centred around growth. And now that I have crossed 40 with a few grey hairs peeking through the black I justified myself to ask them the question — why do you want to grow? And grow to what? They gave answers but those lacked depth.

“Growth , because thats what our investors want” — I get that. Its their business to drive you to grow or perish. And you cant do much.

“Growth — because I want to retire at 40” — err? ….and do what after 40? You don’t like the work you are doing now? You don’t enjoy it? I guess then you need to do some serious soul searching?

“Growth because I have the potential and market has the need”– this is also my reason. But at what cost? Health, sleepless nights, deteriorating quality of interactions with the loved ones? Or because you want a fancy villa, a Merc and a some super exotic vacations? Actually if such ambition is the raison d’être then in today’s world you don’t need a ton of money to achieve that.

“Growth because I want to make the world a better place to live in for everybody” — Salute to you , may your tribe grow!

The guiding principle is to ask yourself- Growth at what cost? Can you effectively manage growth? Or you lose your sleep, health , family time, mental peace ? And then decide what you want to do. And you need to keep asking the same question to yourself from time to time.

Whew .

If you have reached this part….thank you for reading.

Yep, I need to write more on these 10 years odyssey and hopefully it will help a few.

So what else do you want me to write about? Drop in your suggestions , comments, your experience and of course your counter perspective

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