14 Years of Entrepreneurship

A few days ago I completed 14 years of being an entrepreneur. I did a Twitter thread on it. Replicating here. I am grateful for all the attention it got, and the great responses I received. There are more people like me, going through the exact same struggles. And there are people who thought it was an inspiring story, and that of grit.

So here goes:

I complete 14 years of entrepreneurship today. Lots of feelings – from being joyously inspired to dredging the depths of despair- often on the same day! Here’s looking back at each year to identify the key state of business, and the state of my mind! 1/n

2005: Start up | Excitement

Co-founding Knowiz as a content services company. Co-founder is the brain behind it. I have no idea what’ll happen, or how. I trust her to figure it out. Each proposal is a high, each small deal evidence to a biz model. 2/n

2006: Hard work | Fun

More work comes in, and we deliver working late nights and super early mornings. We hire an office space and our first employees. Every project is challenging, but we overcome them. 3/n

2007: Hard work | More fun

More clients, more work. The team is growing. More challenges. And to keep the cash flow going, we still don’t take salaries. But we are still enjoying building the company. 4/n

2008: Not enough money | Worry

There are not enough projects to keep us afloat. Plenty of competition out there: from big wig mag companies to freelancers. We take on projects that are not core to our skills, but we still deliver. 5/n

2009: Recession hits | Stress 24×7

Clients back out from retainers, projects dry up. Media and IT, our focus industries, are badly hit. And so are we. One by one, people leave. From a team of 12, we are back to just the two of us. 6/n

2010: Co-founder quits | Fear

Co-founder quits, I pay her off with money I don’t have. Why? No real reason, but a voice in me that says, Keep going. Shouldn’t listen to voices, but I did. Start building a team again. 7/n

2011: Learning the ropes | Courage

I sign up for an entrepreneurship program that makes me see my blind spots. Also start exploring meditation and spirituality. Somehow find the courage to keep learning, keep going. “Just show up, dammit.”  8/n

2012: In debt | More fear

Not enough cash in the business, but I continue to find new projects. Hard to get retainers, but keep trying. Team puts up with delayed salaries, rallies behind me. I hide myself in the loo and cry. Often. 9/n

2013: Merger | Panic

Meet a spirited, high-integrity person who set up his agency in 2011. We eventually merge to become a digital marketing agency. I am in panic. Company financials are a mess, but he bravely takes it on. He believes in the merger, our values, vision. 10/n

2014: Inefficiencies | Stress

Business starts picking up, deals are now larger. Little tolerance for inefficiencies and incompetence, thanks to new partner. Working style clashes, client issues, cash flow: stress aplenty. Meditation keeps me sane. 11/n

2015: Another partner | Excitement

We set up a product company, with a new partner. Decline funding, decide to do it ourselves. We grow the service company, with new offerings, bigger team. Tough, but mostly fun. Joyful. 12/n

2016: US focus begins| Hope

Services stay stable, product development is slow. A client goes bankrupt, wiping off lakhs from receivables. Yet we persist. Shift focus to US market. New highly competent team change the pace and game! 13/n

2017: Heartbreak | Stoic

Year of heartbreaks. More inefficiencies. Fights. Partners say they quit. I hold them back. We plod through depression, lose key team people, deal with bad clients. US market improves cash flows. Ease, in sight. 14/n

2018: Ease | Free

Finally, with more clients across the world and a highly competent team, we hit ease in biz. Lots of projects, delivered well, continuous cash flow. I have phases when I don’t even know new client names: yeah, that good. New product idea. 15/n

2019: Measured growth | Detached

There is more ease in doing business. Cash! Team is growing. New product is out; could be a big one for us. Two more products taking shape. Tech team looks real good. Services growing well. But I am detached. Just keep doing. 16/n

Mine is not a story of success by regular standards; it’s simply a story of persistence. You can only persist when you know your Why. What’s ours: We are here to build a culture that enables people to be themselves and get better at that, and find joy in work. 17/n

You can only persist when there are people to support you: business partners, spouse, kid, team, clients, random strangers who help. And angels. And be grateful for that. 18/n

You can only persist when you have it in you to believe in light when it’s all dark around you. And get others to believe that there is light, we just don’t see it yet. 19/n

But you know my story is a story of success by my standards: we have clients who rave about us. We have super success stories of people who have found themselves at Niswey, and we know we are making many more. 20/n

We are focused on profitability, believe in measured growth, and in integrity and joy at work. We know our way of doing business is not the normal way, but we believe this is the new normal. We are successful, in those terms. To more success! n/n 

Liking the Company You Built

Yesterday I saw a person who looked quite like the founder of a much respected public company walking down the road. Something about the way they walked made me think for them: What if you don’t like the company you have built anymore?

I follow the company and know quite a bit about how it works, and how it has grown. I have a lot of respect for the company for the great things it has achieved. Yet, the founder’s body language made me do a ‘What If’ scenario. So this post is just my imagination going down some random rabbit hole. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. With that, let’s see where my imagination went.

What if you don’t like the company you have built anymore?

You began with the idea of a great offering, which became successful after some false starts, perhaps. And then the company grew and suddenly there were a lot of people in the company.

You realized that not everyone was behaving ideally, at least not your idea of ‘ideally’. So you had to figure out to communicate what your ‘ideal’ is. You built out the culture document and communicated it to the team. And it worked for a bit. But tremendous growth took over. Ideal couldn’t keep pace with Growth as it had its own way of dealing with things. A transgression here, a turn-a-blind-eye there…and pretty soon ‘less than ideal’ became a way of life. And the culture. As the company spilled over into other office spaces across cities and continents, the well acclaimed culture document became a relic. A great read, but a damn tough thing to do and practice.

Fifteen or so years later, as you address a company townhall or a partner’s meet, you know you have come a long, long way. So much has been achieved: much wealth creation for thousands, a growing ecosystem that has spawned more businesses and communities, rising stock price… So much! It’s nothing short of spectacular.

Yet, you walk back to your office desk, after the speech and pleasantries are done, a bit slouched, hoping no one notices you as you cross the road.

Did you, in that moment, come to face to face with the fact that you don’t much like the culture anymore? Outwardly, cool and great. Inwardly, cut throat competitive and non-inclusive.

Did you come face to face with the fact that while the communities got built around camaraderie, support and help, they are more competitive than collaborative? And that they are still not as inclusive as you would have liked them to be?

You sigh. Maybe that is the price you pay for growth. Great products…check! Great stock price…check! Great brand…check! Great culture…erm, no… And it feels like it was never possible in the face of growth and competition.

Why sigh? It’s the norm, yeah?

Deep down, something just feels wrong to you. Maybe it was a non-negotiable, to build a company you really, really like. But you didn’t know and hence got out-negotiated by Growth’s win-lose games.

Now you know.

So what now?

The Second Paradigm Business

The Second Paradigm

Author David Hrostoski (and his beloved Miriam Wagoner) used the term first, at least, as far as I am concerned. The term ‘Second Paradigm’ came through in the book, The Ascension Manual for Planet Earth, which is essentially a book by a Sirian (belonging to the star system Sirius) being, Burgiel, channeled by David.

The blurb about the book says, “While The First Paradigm is rooted in fending for oneself, The Second Paradigm recognizes that to take care of the whole is not only for the highest benefit of all life, including oneself, but is actually the only way forward as a species.”

The old paradigm has been all about taking, one that’s driven by the head. Take. Hoard. There’s not enough for everyone, so hoard. Don’t care about what happens to others or the planet, just take. Be cut-throat and competitive.

It hasn’t really worked, has it? Most people live in abject poverty, many don’t even have access to safe drinking water. The planet is crawling with pollutants, species are dying left right and centre. And the rest of us on the Internet, alive with our various health issues, are mindlessly binge-watching the brand new interactive content being served up. All along our hearts feel jammed, constricted. Is this all we are?

No, the old paradigm hasn’t worked.

So we need a new one, one which is about giving, one that’s driven by the soul.

As David and Miriam say, “We’re being asked to step forward as soul-aligned, highly-intuitive, and connected beings with deep trust in divine guidance and truth.”

Asked? Asked by whom?

Remember the unrest you felt after all the movies were watched, all the work was done, all the vacations were taken?

You’re being asked by that very feeling of unrest. When you found yourself utterly bored. When you asked yourself, is this all I am meant to be?

This post is not about taking you down that rabbit hole where you come of age, no no no. That’s your job, not mine.

I am here to unpack (it’s a word I learnt to use from David, possibly because I listen to every word he puts out by way of book, posts, social media posts, podcasts or videos) what The Second Paradigm means to my business.

When I co-founded Knowiz in 2005, my co-founder, Taru and I knew we wanted to build a culture of positivity and excellence. Times changed, good times turned to bad, we hit all the walls that entrepreneurship presents. Taru left to take up a job, while I chose to continue to run the (nearly non-existent) business.

Why?

Back then my answer was, “I don’t know. Something in me says, I have to keep going!”

A few years later I met my current business partner and he asked me the same thing: I would have shut shop long ago, why didn’t you?

“Because this is a good thing. My people are happy. How we run the business helps people be who they are, and then become better versions of themselves. We stand by each other. Because we put our soul into our work, create good work. Something’s gotta give!”

But it was only in 2018 that I could clearly articulate why I continued despite the push back (there’s a term from David/Burgiel again!) from life. It’s because what I was trying to run was called a Second Paradigm business. It gives, it works from the soul, it creates space for others to be their authentic selves. And I didn’t want to give up building that.

 

What does The Second Paradigm Business look like?

I don’t know. I am still figuring out. But here’s what I know.

For a start, it means that the leaders of the business have to lean more into their soul, their intuition and take decisions based on what they are guided to do. So it’s not always all logic that rules. It will be what the intuition tells you to do, no matter what the logic says. Think back to the perfect person you didn’t hire, because something felt off. Or the perfect prospect you said No to (though it was really good money!). Or the merger that looked really bad on paper, but has panned out beautifully.

It takes a while to learn to trust your intuition, but the leaders will take on that learning, if they have already been answering the pings for a soul-aligned business.

The leaders talk in terms of Universe conspiring. Of mind-blowing coincidences or synchronicities. Even miracles.

Oh how sweet (some may sickeningly so)! In theory, it sounds all things nice. In reality, the leaders are just human beings on their own journeys. So when days are rough, there’s not much talk of a benevolent Universe or coincidences. There’s heartbreak, and anger and fear and hurt to wade through. Or lack.

But if one of the leaders can hold the space for the rest while the wading happens, the business can continue to evolve. Or if the leaders agree that while the spats and fights and disagreements happen, we will stay united in our purpose of building this Second Paradigm business.

And as the leaders align on this paradigm, I am beginning to believe that a compounding of energy happens, which is far more than the sum of the energies of the individuals. This attracts more people with similar energies to join the company. Clients too. And that’s how the proverbial flywheel moves.

 

So do I expect everyone in my company to be intuitive and giving, and all that?

I would sure love that. But for now, the answer is no. My expectation is that they be themselves. Of course, many people are not even aware of who they really are, so that can be tough.

But let’s look at giving. If there are unhelpful people on the team, then I will let them go, no matter how good they are. So that’s a basic criteria, a non-negotiable. Have people around who are helpful. Whether they are giving in terms of volunteering or charity, that’s not my charter, for now. If there are people on the team who want to be better at that kind of giving, the leaders must extend all support. And at Niswey, we do.

How about being intuitive? Some people are, some people don’t want to be seen as intuitive. That’s okay with me. But there are established scientific ways to tap into higher parts of you; or for the non-believers, ways to tap into knowledge within you which is not drawn out through memory or logic. Take flow, or being in the zone, for instance. If we can institute ways to get into flow at will, we would go a really long way into improving quality (and quantity) of work. Which will make any non-believer happy.

At the core of The Second Paradigm business is unity. The sense of oneness with all, the planet, all life. Because once we understand that we are one, we will never think of taking, we will only want to give. No, I don’t understand it yet. (Though we instituted Customer Oneness as one of our values more than five years ago. That was intuitive, don’t you think!)

A tiny little business, in a developing country, with all of 15 people in the team. Trying to be a Second Paradigm business! It may sound stupid to a lot of people (maybe they are the first paradigm-ers).

But as a Second Paradigm business leader, I know, we are enough. We are enough to make a difference, to ourselves, to each other and to the planet.

You Have Help

I have been on this movie watching binge for the last three weeks. Thanks to Youtube algorithms, movies kept showing up on my list and I kept leaning into my intuition to watch them. Some were forgettable. Most weren’t. And the one I just finished stood out. It’s called All in Time. It’s a 2015 release, and gets a 5.4/10 on IMDB. So I guess, you won’t take a second look. So in case you haven’t seen it, I have the spoilers.

Set in 1999, a banker at Lehmann Brothers quits his job to follow his passion of being a band manager for the band that he has been a fan of for years. Things don’t pan out as per his plans. The band is about to split, and he ends up with a mortgage, a beaten up car, and no girlfriend. All this is despite a ‘great’ idea to have a time traveller concert – you know in which people pretend to travel back in time to hear a band.

Twist? It turns out that actual time travellers turn out for the concert, which of course is a runaway success, with his new-find singer, as well as his old band uniting to thrill the audience.

And then he figures out the the key people trying to support him through his shitty time are well, time travellers too!

That explains the 5.4. Yeah?

Not for me. I think it’s a great message for me today. That when you are going through your dips, your shit, your tunnel, there’s always help around. Well, some guys get lucky and have time travelers come to help them out. Some people like me believe in God, angels and spirit guides helping us out. And don’t forget, we get help all the time from our families and friends and random strangers.

Yet, when you’re in the tunnel, you’ll feel alone and helpless. But it’s only because you’ve forgotten that you are always being supported. This is the second time today that I have been given the message that I am not alone. So I feel compelled to write this post.

Think back on your hardest times, times when you thought you would die, times you thought it’d never end. What happened then?

About the time you thought your heart was splintering to pieces because the love of your life moved on? Sooner or later you learnt that you could love again. As passionately, as deeply. More calmly.

Do you remember friends who helped you through that time? The books you read that gave you peace? The lyrics that were the tuning fork for your tears to flow as you resonated with the music?

That was help.

Think about the time you cared for the elderly people at home and extended family, and then thought this phase would just keep going on and on? It ended, didn’t it? Some passed away, some are healthy and fit now. And all through, you did a good job.

Sometimes a neighbour helped, sometimes a family member, most times your home help put in more hours without even expecting to be paid for it. Sometimes a doctor at the nursing home called you by name and offered you food, as you prepared to be the bystander for the patient hospitalized. That was help.

What about the time you felt abandoned by a business partner and had to run the business all by yourself when you didn’t know how?

You just went to events and fortuitously found a person who got you into an entrepreneurship program, or met another person who would become an investor in your company. And then you would meet more people through them who would change the course of your business and life. You would find clients who support you and who send you notes to say that you’re a source of inspiration for others. You would find people on your team who will send you messages to say, ‘You’re my hero’, even after they have left your company.

And if you stuck with it long enough you’d even start finding evidence that the way you want to run your business (which is not what most businesses do in real) is the way ahead. And that’s because some people on the other side of the globe also think like you do. You’ll find help, even from the other side of the planet. And maybe, even from other planets.

So, in short, you have help.

But you may not even recognize it sometimes. In the movie, the protagonist is hell bent on winning his lady love back, when he gets to learn, if he did, he would only end up overshadowing her gift, never letting her find her place under the sun, however unwittingly. So he decided not to pursue her: he was helping her, even though her heart was breaking too.

Did you know when you were looking after the sick, you were learning how to be patient and compassionate? Which would stand you in good stead at a later time? Patience and compassion are good qualities to have, trust me on that.

Did you know when some people were ganging up against you, though you were in the right, was a help too? It made you see who was for you, and who wasn’t. Help.

We always have help. We probably don’t recognize it. And often don’t even acknowledge it, when it shows up, refusing to believe what the mind cannot comprehend.

We have help. We just need to open up ourselves to it and ask for it.

 

Decoupled Aspirations

Some of us have goals in life. Some have the plan to reach them, or to handle stuff. 

Sometimes it works exactly as the plan, we reach the goal and we are happy. Sometimes it works exactly as the plan, and we end up unhappy. 

Often it doesn’t work as per the plan. (There’s really no sure-fire method to making this work, is there?)

Often we find ourselves frustrated. 

“Things are not going as planned.”

“I haven’t met my goals yet! I am a loser!” 

“Why did this have to happen now? It was so not in the plan!”

I found myself having a series of these conversations last week. 

Co-founder, Abhinav and one of the team members, Nilanjana were having a discussion, and I happened to become a part of it. The discussion was about the current challenges being faced by her. And by the end of it I heard myself say, “You seem to have had a plan. And now things are not going as per the plan. In fact it has nicely blown up in your face, or so it seems. My guess is you are hung upon the plan going exactly as you want it to go. Can you loosen up your hold on it? Allow the plan some space to breathe and let it take its course?”

“In other words,” I said, “You know, be detached from the plan’s evolution?”

I was trying not to bring the Bhagavad Gita reference which many of us have grown up hearing: ‘Do your duty without any attachment to the results of your action.’ The last thing I want to do in the workplace is bring up stuff that has any reference to religion or spirituality. Especially to a team of millennials. 

And like a true millennial, she responded, “You mean like decoupled architecture?” (She has been writing on decoupled Drupal architecture, hence the question. Separate the backend from the fronted, so both have the freedom to do their job in the best possible way). Millennials can make innovative connections that will never occur to a GenXer like me.

I said, “Yeah, like that.”

Decouple your aspirations from how they should work out. Have a plan, but don’t get married to it. 

And thus, we stumbled upon the term, Decoupled Aspirations.

Abhinav listened to the conversation, and later told me that the idea stuck in his mind too. He has read the Gita, but somehow this term got through to him better. 

I had forgotten that I had talked about the very same concept to a friend, also a GenXer, a few days earlier. She replied, a day after this Decoupled Aspirations conversation at work. She said it made sense to her. And i responded, “Yeah, only, we now call it Decoupled Aspirations.”

She called up immediately to chat excitedly, because “the term spoke to her”.

Well, in two days, three people had understood a difficult concept just because we put a different term to it. And a day later, the friend used the same idea to explain something to her 10 year old who sat crying that she wasn’t going to win the student election! It calmed her down.

Wonder why this is happening, this instant understanding? My guess is that decoupling gives a sense of separation of two things, and that leads to creation of some space. And maybe the idea of the space created gives the relief one is looking for. And the room for comprehension.

Comfort Zone Musings

A lot happened this week, personally, professionally. Nothing new in the life of an entrepreneur (or anyone, really!). And as I find a quiet moment on a Saturday, the thought that bubbles up from the past week melee is about comfort zones. Different incidents, different people, different settings—but the common thread is that.

I had been in touch with some people I shortlisted for an open position in our company. One of the key ways for me to judge ability, as well as initiative, is to send them a test to do. It’s not an easy one, but it’s not rocket science either. But to anyone without initiative or the hunger (we are looking for), it would feel like rocket science.

So here I was, down to my shortlisted three candidates.

One did it splendidly well, but had omitted to mention that she had already found another job. So she was out.

Another replied with a mail that sounded like a combination of lying and excuses. And when I followed up on what she said in her mail, she didn’t reply. Maybe she never saw the mail, you might say. I use Streak, so usually I know who has seen my mail, and how many times. So I know she saw my mail about the test 10 times, and the follow up mail once. She didn’t have the courtesy to say, No, thank you. Sadly, I seemed to have been proven right about the combination of lying and excuses. So she fizzled out too.

The third person saw the mail, and chose to not respond either. But when I followed up, she said she was in advanced negotiations for a job, and that it would be unethical for her to pursue ours. So that candidate went bust too.

So when all three candidates didn’t work out, I did what I usually do, which is question my modus operandi. Am I being too tough? Am I being too picky? Do I not want to close this position (what if deep down my subconscious is sabotaging the efforts!)? And on and on.

Then I looked at what I am trying to build. It’s cutting edge stuff, it’s not stuff for the faint hearted. It requires a toughness and staying power that many people don’t have. And while many freshers have this, experienced people exhibit less and less of this. They have defined their comfort zones and want to play in that. Comfort zone of not being asked hard questions. Comfort zones of known evils vs unknown evils. Comfort zones of working for a brand.

And that’s okay.

The other way to look at this is that they have defined their discomfort zones for other aspects of their life: maybe their personal lives push them out of their comfort zones quite a bit, so their work becomes their comfort zone. That’s certainly okay, isn’t it?

Some of us treps go into a mode of lamenting that people just don’t want to play outside their comfort zones. Just because we do, and many of our team members do, it doesn’t mean that everyone out there must either. It’s not their calling. So let’s drop the lament, shall we? And focus on the ones who do like to be out of their comfort zones at work.

Then there are others who play outside their comfort zones at work, and seem to go off-balance really quickly. When you extend help or solutions, they listen but come back and say, “No, thank you. My discomfort zone, my rules.” Sure, that works too!

Then there could be others who say they want to play outside their comfort zones, to learn more, to earn more. But if they are not authentic enough with their work, it starts becoming apparent that their ability to step outside their comfort zones is limited. And then it can become discordant, in terms of being misaligned on what one says and what one does. Is that okay? For them, perhaps. For a manager or an entrepreneur? Maybe, maybe not. For me, it’s not okay.

So what are my takeaways this week from all this?

  • That I don’t have to hyperventilate about people not wanting to step outside their comfort zones. If I want people who do so, I will just have to keep looking and find the right people.
  • That comfort zones come in all different sizes and shapes and forms. And I don’t have to insist that your comfort zone has to match mine.
  • That in case of an integrity issue with what’s being said, and done about comfort zones (or anything really), I want to question it.

On that note, I look ahead to a week that will need me to be out of my comfort zone quite a bit. Both at work and at home.

Cheers!

Synchronicity: How Good Things Happen

Ever turned back to look at your life and realized that where you stand today is a result of meaningful coincidences? Back in 1920s Carl Jung came up with the term Synchronicity to describe “events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related.”

Ever looked at the synchronicity in your life? Here’s a look at some of mine.

I have a degree in architecture, largely unused, because I switched careers soon after I started working. So it was a waste, you might ask? No. During my five years of pursuing my degree in architecture, I made lifelong friends, and also came face to face with who I really was, for the first time in my life. That was value enough for me.

But 16 years later after I graduated, I would meet a person who would give direction to how I thought about myself and entrepreneurship. I met Darshan in 2011, when I joined his program on entrepreneurship. How did I come to meet him? Through my Architecture classmate (and lifelong friend), Virender.

And sometime in 2012, I remember sitting at a self development workshop Darshan was leading (and I was finding phenomenal value in), and telling him, “This is why I had to do Architecture. So I could meet you!” He smiled.

Meeting Darshan was the start of many synchronicities in my entrepreneurship life. I was at an IT SME event, in 2012. During one of the sessions I attended, I heard a person from the audience ask a question. What he asked, and how he articulated it, drew me to him. And I ended up exchanging cards with him that day. That was Rahul, the founder of an open source IT services company. He went on to be coached by Darshan and take his company to new levels of growth.

Rahul and I kept in touch, exchanging leads for each other’s businesses. Rahul was really interested in what I was trying to do (and had empathy for my entrepreneurship distress) and soon hired us for content development for his website.

This is where things turn interesting.

Darshan invited me to the launch of his new program for startups. At the launch, I listened to the startup founders talk about their companies and what they were trying to do. I particularly remember a youngster talking of heat maps and engagement rates, and his previous startup failures. I thought nothing of it.

But synchronicity wasn’t about to let go.

I ran into him again at a networking event. We ended up chatting for a long time that day over tea and snacks. That day I probably got to know his startup was being incubated by none other than Rahul.

Still I thought nothing of it.

One thing led to another. And one fine day, Rahul figured he was having the same type of conversations with me, as well as his incubatee. He said, why don’t you two collaborate and come to me with a single pitch?

And that’s how Abhinav and I started working together. Many collaborative pitches later, we merged our companies, because we realized it would create phenomenal value for our customers. 

Today, we are building, not one, not two, but three brands, along with Dhiraj, who joined us later as a co-founder for our product.

Synchronicity!

Here’s another stream of meaningful coincidences.

Both Abhinav and I had adopted our way of doing marketing to align with the principles of Inbound Marketing, made popular by HubSpot. In 2013, when we merged, we had pipe dreams of being the HubSpot of India, not really knowing what it even meant.

In 2015, as the largest inbound marketing event on the planet, INBOUND15 opened in Boston, a handful of us stayed up nights curating content around it. Through the next four days we created content based on the sessions being tweeted about and Periscoped. And before the event was over, we had over 20 blog posts live.

Our intention was to be able to report live on the event, so inbound marketing professionals who were not in Boston could find content on INBOUND15. Nothing beyond that. There’s a sense of community and giving which is inherent to inbound marketing. We were just practising that. And we really had no Call to Action for all that content. Not till Abhinav realized we had hit pay dirt (3X our normal traffic from the US), and overnight our white labeling services page went live.

And as always, we didn’t think too much about it. Till a few months later, when we thought it might be a new business opportunity waiting to be tapped. And that’s how we landed up at INBOUND16, trying to talk to US inbound marketing agencies, if they would be willing to outsource to us. YES! Said many.

But it was a serendipitous meeting with Douglas Burdett who runs the Marketing Book Podcast, that would change things for us. He was generous with his advice, and connected us to a company who had tried white labeling and then closed it down. We ended up speaking to one of the co-founders, who too was generous with her advice. We likely shortened our learning cycle by many months, if not years, because of that call with her. At the next INBOUND, we ended up meeting her and her partner, and soon after they became our client!

Synchronicity.

Today we are HubSpot partners, and we have multiple white labeling clients across the world. All because we thought it would be cool to virtually cover INBOUND two and a half years ago! Meaningless back then. Now it is feels like a meaningful coincidence. We are not the “HubSpot of India”, but we are among the only two tiered partners in the country. And we are building our own content marketing tool, so we may not be way off. Who knows!

Eagerly waiting for more synchronicities!

Pink Floyd, Tom Peters and Me

Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war

For a lead role in a cage?

– Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

Today, when this song came on, I settled into it. And allowed it to take me where it would. There are songs that serve as reminders of certain phases in your life.  Some songs bring with them forgotten feelings…whiffs of something precious, happy or sad.

But this song isn’t like that. I don’t have a strong feeling attached to it. But it does take me back to a time which I can now say was the start of something that redefined me forever.

I started really listening to this song around 1999 or 2000. I was a copyeditor for a computer magazine back then.

I would listen to the song often. I savored “Can you tell…a smile from a veil?” and “Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?”

And then I hit that bit, “Did you exchange a walk-on part in a war for a lead role in a cage?”

It just caught my fancy for some reason. It intrigued me. And I found myself writing it on a piece of paper and pinning it to the board next to my seat at work. I would look at it from time to time. One of the bosses even peered at it once, and immediately went behind a veil. He knew he was in a cage while all he wanted to do was wage wars. I could see that, for him. But it didn’t seem like a thing that should have been about my life, my work. I probably saw it like a poster…something out there in bright colors on a wall. But outside of me.

At the time, my main reading consisted of books by Tom Peters. Of course my usual diet of Richard Bach was there, and some bit of Gary Zukav too. But it was Tom Peters who was taking over my imagination. I had no idea how what Tom wrote made any difference to what I did at work day in and day out. But it made me happy to read his books: The Pursuit of Wow, and The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations.

Today as I listened to the song again I allowed myself to register this: that time of my work life—with 4-5 years of work experience—was sowing the seeds of what would happen five years later. I would discard the lead role in a cage for a walk-on part in a war. Except the walk-on part would become the lead role, but certainly not in a cage.

It is not nice to call entrepreneurship war. But whether I realized it or not back then I was stepping into what would be as consuming, as damaging, as exhilarating and as strategic and tactical as war.

Maybe Pink Floyd planted that seed in my head all those years ago. Or maybe I already came pre-planted with a seed which Floyd then watered everyday. Whatever the case, I know this verse was a catalyst. And Tom Peters was showing me the right ways of being a professional, of being a company.

You connect the dots by looking back, to paraphrase Steve Jobs. Yes, while waging wars you are just doing your best to take the surprises out of uncertainty. But once you have come some way you can start seeing how the dots connect.

Pink Floyd. Tom Peters. Entrepreneurship.

When I said no to a lead role in a cage. And no, I didn’t exchange my heroes for ghosts!

Thank you, Pink Floyd and Tom Peters!

Allowing it Through

When you are a doer, you just keep doing. And doing, then doing some more. In fact when you are not doing, you feel like something’s off.

Sometimes you might hit a place where you’re running on empty. Even then, you just do, without even having to think much, or feeling passionate or anything really. When I hit that phase recently, and spoke to David Hrostoski about it, he said it felt like I was at a point of contraction right before a big opening.

Maybe, maybe not. But today when I look back on these past few weeks, I think it was just my mind getting out of the way for things to rearrange themselves in some order. So that I would not be driven to ‘fix’ or ‘force’ things into shape.

It made me think of a specific discussion in an entrepreneurship program I had attended many years ago. It had a really great format—entrepreneurs facilitating conversations among participants to answer questions that would bring phenomenal breakthroughs, which if allowed by the business owners would change their businesses as well. The session facilitator spoke about how sometimes solutions come when we have had some quiet following an intense time spent researching, exploring, doing, failing, experimenting, hitting walls, and so on. It’s the quiet—maybe a nice long sleep, or a walk in the park, or a relaxing bath—that brings us that little insight that is needed to allow all the pieces to fall into place. This happens more often than we realize. Call it the Eureka moment if you want. But probably it is not always that dramatic as Archimedes had us believe.

Back in December 2017, if you had asked me what 2018 looked like for me, I wouldn’t have been able to say. I would have been able to tell you some bits here and some bits there. But a cohesive picture? No. Not only did I not seem to have the grasp on the road ahead, I didn’t even want to talk about it. I was okay to listen others talk about it, and just listen. Not give inputs. I guess it was a probably frustrating time for my co-founders, but they let me be.

We had our team offsite in the first weekend of January, and the vision for the year ahead was laid out by my co-founder. Nothing new for the co-founders, as we practically live the vision everyday. But putting it together for the team to be able to see it as we did was important. I went through his vision document. And as I mulled it from the team’s point of view I was able to come up with the key themes to keep the team aligned for the year. It just took me a few minutes. Of course we would still have the task of translating the themes into each person’s day to day work, but that could be done over the coming few weeks. But at least we had a vocabulary for everyone to align to, to use in their work, to use as their North Star for the year.

The offsite went well, and we have been having some great conversations since. And we are also working on drilling down the yearly themes to daily work.

While the vision was clear and is in the process of getting clearer for all, we still didn’t have the year’s sales numbers locked down. During the course of a day earlier in the past week, my co-founder asked if we had to discuss something related to automation for sales. I said no, but I did need help figuring out the sales numbers. So we went into the conference room and sat for maybe less than an hour. And emerged with sales numbers that looked realistic, yet a stretch for us. It all just fell into place. These numbers had always been a struggle for us in the past years to arrive at, but not this year. They just came through. And it happened without any drama, any excitement, any debates, any raised eyebrows. Smooth and easy. And both of us believe in it too.

Why? What was different about this year?

I just think in the past few months we had already done all the hard work, the debates, assessing the highs and the lows, looking squarely at what was working and what wasn’t, what we wanted for the company and what we didn’t and so on.

When the quiet happened, all of it just cohered into oneness. And it all just felt right. All we now have to do is keep doing things as per the vision, the themes and the numbers. And correct course when we see things going off track.

So now I am back to doing. Just do. Because, for now, I have allowed the real ‘what needs to be done for the company’ to come through.

How Much is Too Much?

Some of us, especially entrepreneurs, have the capacity to take on a lot. Often take on a lot more than we should. And over time we get really good at it, and if more comes on, we might even take some more on. Or there will come a point where you say, “No, this is my limit. This is where a line is being crossed. This is it, this is too much.”

So how much is too much?

I don’t have an answer for that, because every person’s ‘too much’ is different, because each of us is different. Let’s look at questions that may help you answer your “How much is too much?”

Like many others on the planet, I have been propelled into an orbit where I am discovering new levels of integrity to lean into; or you could say I am finding parts of me that don’t feel integral to who I am. Which means I feel compelled to drop masks that feel completely stupid to keep wearing any longer. Or when I start writing posts for this blog, I say a whole lot more than I would usually say. There are blog posts that haven’t been uploaded here, because they are too honest, too raw, too much of my wading through troughs. It makes others comfortable. Or it gets some others to worry about consequences. Me? I don’t worry, I am not sure there are enough readers of this blog to really make any finite dent in the universe. But if it makes my people uncomfortable, then I will simply align to that, for now. So that’s the first question, and one that I will be dealing with for a while. How much is too much of honesty?

The first weekend of the year saw us have our lovely company offsite. We had a day of great conversations, discussions, drinks and dancing. The conversations continued over the week. One of the things that came up was that we don’t communicate enough. And one team member even pointed out that the co-founders need to be talking about their challenges to the team a lot more. We had another team discussion this week, in which the co-founders shared their experiences openly. It is not that we have not done this before. It’s just that we went a few notches further. More vulnerability, more rawness displayed to all. Is there a thing like too much display of vulnerability?

Here’s another one. You start a company with a certain focus, to really bring about a change in a domain you know you can make a difference to. And you do whatever you have to, to make it work. It builds, it grows, it stalls, it puts you through tremendous debt. And one fine day, you get funded. Nice! Now you have the wherewithal to make it bigger, and wider and deeper. And you do. Then the investors say, “Go buy that company out, because you have similar audiences.” You protest, but they insist (they are invested in that company too). So you agree to it. And then slowly (or maybe suddenly) no one is talking about that domain you were passionate to bring a change about in. How much interference is too much?

Here’s a really common one. You have it pretty good: a good job, money, a friendly spouse, a couple of great kids. You tick all the right checks: hang out with friends, take the vacations that look great on social media, banter with family and extended family, contribute to social causes, and so on. But somewhere deep down, you know this isn’t what you signed up for. When your best friend asks, “How are things?”, you often say, “Boring!”. How much is too much of boredom?

So many questions one can ask oneself.

How much abuse is too much? Emotional? Verbal? Physical?

How much of being taken for granted is too much? “She will do it for you!” “She won’t mind!” “She can do it by herself, she always does.” “She is a superwoman, she will manage.”

How much of helping others is too much? Thin ice, there. But a worthy question to those who can’t say No. And I know many of those; I have been there myself.

How much fear is too much fear? Of self, of others, of what others think?

How much carbs is too much carbs? Pass me those fries, please.

How much?

So it comes down to this: Where do you draw the line? Do you even know there is a line? And if you choose to have the line crossed, do you know why? And are you truly okay with that?

Whatever you answer to any of this, there will be naysayers. What will you do about that, especially if you have that ‘too much fear of what others think’?