Ambition in the face of mortality…
“It’s difficult to say at this time.There may be a chance that you’ll survive and live through this”
I learnt that my time here is limited. I got a harsh lesson that terminal illnesses are not something that happen to “only to other people”- I’m not immune!… no one is.
I always used to get pissed when my time was being wasted by anyone; and I hated it when I lost money. After one year of living like a vegetable staring at the ceiling above my bed, and after spending a fortune in medical expenses, I realised that neither my money, nor my time is truly mine. It can be taken away from me at any time. I learnt not to bother about small setbacks. “This too shall pass” is no longer a trite colloquial phrase for me.
I realised that I can never undo the memories of all the bad things that happened to me. Instead, I need to accept that these memories are, forever – a reflection of who I am.
I made my peace with the “absence of certainty in life”. If all I am is life’s sparring partner – then so be it. I’ll take life’s best punches – and I’ll stand up and raise my gloves after each fall, right upto the point I am knocked out. I’ll keep learning new things, keep doing new things, keep seeking new adventures until my time’s up.
I realised that life, indeed is beautiful – That until I die, I am still living, and that I’m lucky to have been given a chance to be here.
I realised my mind can be trained to unshackle itself from the limitations it imposes on itself.
I realised that others in the past… people who would have been no different than me – would have worked really hard for me to be able to live the way I am living; It’s only fair that I strive to contribute in whatever way I can, till the time I can.
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”– The Bible
Lesson: Give it away for free
“Bhai, tujhe dhanda karna nahi aata”
Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.Remember at school other students preventing you from seeing their answers by placing their arm around their exercise book or exam paper.The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves.Eventually you’ll become STALE.If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish.Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.Ideas are open knowledge. Don’t claim ownership.They’re not your ideas anyway, they’re someone else’s. They are out there floating on the ether. You just have to put yourself in a frame of mind to pick them up.
Lesson: Be nice… to everyone, and never break trust!
“TRUST . TECHNOLOGY . TRANSFORMATION”
I’ll try each day not to be an A$$.
I’ll be consistent in my conduct irrespective of who I talk to – be it at home or in office.
In each relationship I maintain, be it with family, customers, partners, co-workers or friends – I’ll maintain a positive balance in the “Relationship Bank Account”
We know how regular bank accounts work – you make a deposit, save some money – and you withdraw money when you need it.
A relationship bank account is an account of trust instead of money. An account of how safe you feel with the other person.
Covey talks about 6 major ways to make deposits and avoid withdrawals:
1. Understanding the individual:
Seek to understand first than to be understood. When speaking to someone, don’t just wait for them to finish so you can speak. Learn to listen, concentrate and emphasise with how they feel.
2. Keeping your commitments:
Don’t break promises you’ve made. If you have to meet someone at 10 AM, be there at 9:55 AM. If you’ve committed to complete a project by a certain date – put your heart and soul into ensuring you honour that commitment. Living up to every word that comes out of your mouth goes a long way in building up the emotional reserves required to maintain a relationship.
3. Clarifying expectations:
We can’t expect others to know exactly what we want. Communicating our expectations clearly and succinctly helps build trust between individuals.
4. Attending to the little things:
Small courtesies, kind words, words of encouragement, genuine smiles, a little extra effort, doing something “you didn’t have to” – all these things build trust.
5. Showing Personal Integrity:
- Integrity is the moral floor on which trusting relationships are built. When we consistently operate with a sound moral character, it makes it much easier for others to trust and believe in us. Nothing is probably more damaging to a relationship than lack of integrity.
6. Apologise sincerely when you make a withdrawal:
As humans, we’ll make mistakes that will lead to withdrawals from the bank account. Knowing you were wrong, admitting you were wrong, and apologising sincerely prevents wounds from festering and gives them a chance to heal.
Nicety when negotiating
I’ve been called for a negotiation meeting at 9 AM, and made to wait in the lobby till 4 PM with the occasional message “Sir toh abhi busy hain, aap ke liye kuch laye…chai piyoge?”
The value of my services have been be-rated and scoffed at by the “bad cop” in the room.
I’ve been “salami sliced” – where my offer is broken down into small components, and then concessions are sought for each one individually.
Always be nice! I tell myself – it’s this guys job to treat me like this. He may be the nicest person in the world, but he’s just doing this in the interest of his company. I’ll not let the pressure get to me – I’m here to offer my services to them, and I’ll do so like a gentleman.
I know the worth of what I’m offering. As a provider of best in class professional services, I know this market and I’ve seen what the competition is offering – I’ve seen projects fail because they were given to someone who picked it up and sub-contracted, who further sub-contracted – thus resulting in total lack of ownership, no accountability, missed deadlines, and unhappy customers. I make sure I articulate this politely and unapologetically.
Refer the above lesson “Give if away for free”, I have had the chance to test the value of my services. I, therefore, know my “walk away” price – the point below which I won’t make a decent enough margin for all the effort my team will put into this. If I’m pushed beyond that price, I politely refuse by stating that its unfortunate that we can’t work on this deal, and that I hope we can work together in the future.
Trust and Temptations
My journey so far…
May I ask you to take a moment to apply these three questions on yourself:
- Have you ever looked around at the way things are being done – and get the feeling that you can improve them, change them, influence them so that they’re better? But then you feel that you can’t – because you’re too confined by your responsibilities or your job… or that taking such an action would bring you out of your comfort zone?
Do you still “love your job” the way you did when you started? – Or, has it become a monotonous drag that you’re too scared to let go of because of the steady income?
Do you find it unacceptable that someone else can decide that your time from 9 AM to 6 PM each day is worth a pay check of X Rupees? Would you rather work for yourself and thereby increase your earning avenues?
The tipping point…
“Yaar, Kuch Apna Karna hai ”
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”
“A Services Company.. Really?”
The first discouragement I got when i started Zindagi out was – “Why a services company? Aren’t there enough of those? You’ll just be a commodity! What value will you add? Make a product instead!”.
All the above points are true and valid in their own right – being a services company is hard work; the competition is steep; the margins aren’t all that great; reputation is everything; it’ll take years to build a reputation of being a quality service provider – and you’re going head first competing with the behemoths of the service industry.
Despite all of that, I went ahead with a services venture anyway. Why? Because I saw the potential to do things better. To convert requirements to scalable, resilient, cost-effective solutions. To choose the right products and, wherever required – to develop bespoke solutions to meet customer requirements.
Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs on challenging status quo:
“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world.
Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life.
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)
I’m working towards some ambitious goals for my company for the next 2 years. Some of them are:
- Make Zindagi a company where the team is self-motivated, and where innovation and creativity is encouraged and rewarded.
- Build a reputation for Zindagi – one that represents Honesty, Competence, Commitment to customer success and the ability to execute consistently.
- Contribute in making India grow by working on the planning, design and implementation of all ICT components of Smart Cities.
- Build an easy to use, vendor agnostic, modular, policy driven IT Automation product.
For everything I think I do right each day, I feel there are perhaps a 100 things i feel i could have done better. Each day, I’m learning how I can serve my customers better; how I can build a better team; how my company can contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country…
The intent of this series of blog posts titled “Kuch Apna Karna Hai…” is to share some lessons i learnt along this journey so far; maybe some of you will find them useful when discovering your own path. Good luck!
Lesson: Avoid taking advice about entrepreneurship from family or friends
Mum’s been a teacher all her life. Dad – a doctor. There was no one in the family to advice me on how to run a business.
I live in New Delhi. If a group of researchers were to be asked to identify the top 10 cities in the world that nurture technical entrepreneurship – I find it highly unlikely that my Dilli would make that list – perhaps Silicon Valley and Bangalore would be somewhere close to the top.
I had no idea where to start – Do I want to become a services company? Do I want to make a product? Should I become an online reseller?
Wait for a few more years
Gain some more sales experience
Get an MBA first
Don’t do it – you’ll most likely fail. You’ve got stability in your life – why take the stress? why break the equilibrium? Why take the risk?
- You’ll not going to do anything that hasn’t been done before… nothing impactful will come out of your efforts – why bother?
Lesson: Before starting, get your finances in order…
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”
Over and above the planned business budget – Save at least a years’ worth of cash for your family expenses.
Learn to live in a “college student budget”.
Determine how much you’ll need to spend per month for such a lifestyle.
Multiply afore-mentioned amount times 12.
Your savings will go out of the window if you’re not covered.
PLEASE do not buy ULIP and Endowment plans – go for term insurance!
Get health insurance for your parents and yourself. Yeah – your company provided you medical cover as an employee – but now you’ll need to cover for yourself… bummer
Get your home and car insured.
It’s best to go in without any financial baggage. Before putting in your papers, try not to have any financial burden – no car loan, no home loan, no personal loan, no education loan.
This blog post is a copy of a short message I sent out to the Zindagi team a few days back. The intent was to encourage my team to venture out, take risks and build things; to not be scared of large challenges that seem daunting at first.
Zindagi is a young team – comprising of bright young minds all looking for the proverbial lever to move the world. I believe it’s my responsibility to groom these minds, by pushing them so they discover their strengths and capabilities, by working on exciting projects and cutting edge technology.
These past months, the Zindagi team executed some fascinating projects:
- Worked on designing the data center and WAN for a large smart city
- Deployed a pan-India IP Video Surveillance system covering around 600 medical colleges.
- Deployed the Data Center and LAN for the head quarters of the entity responsible of handling the unique identification of each Indian.
– I’ve always loved building things, and i’ve always enjoyed fixing broken things.
– For example, I was very young – 3rd standard i think, when i saw an article in a science magazine to make a “Crystal radio” – i just followed the steps using Mica stone, coil and wires hooked on to the faucet and the TV antenna.
Hearing Vividh Bharti on my own battery-less radio gave me so much joy – it’s hard to describe!
– Any gadget, any appliance, any device that my dad used to buy – the first thing i did was to read the installation manual and get the thing to work.
– I used to love opening up the gadgets such as radios and telephones – some, i was able to put back together to it’s original state – some, well – not so much. Mom still winces when recalling memories of me and my screwdriver.
– This curiosity of wanting to see how things work… this sense of wonder of knowing how something is built… the delight of being able to fix something that’s broken.. These feelings are what have driven me towards the direction i’m pursuing in my life.
When I hired you, each one of you – all that i was looking for was this – whether or not you and I share this same sense of wonder. I saw it in each one of you. Please don’t let lack of confidence hold you back!
Team – While I’m sure that it’s a comforting feeling to know that you have a senior member of the team who can help you out – your safety net, your mentor… I request you, rather, i challenge you – get out and try to do your work without that safety net. There’s nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it. LET GO of the fear that you can’t do the task on your own. Shake yourself out of your comfort zone – don’t take a step back and look for help if you’re entering unchartered territories. Do you think that this team would have existed if I would have decided to stay in MY comfort zone?
“Ships are safer when in the harbour – but that is NOT what the ships are built for!”
All I’m saying is – the feeling you’ll get when you complete the task on your own – is far more comforting than the one you’ll get when you decided to fall back on someone else’s assistance. I’m not saying that you shouldnt reach out to help – but before asking anyone else – Ask yourself – Have you given this your best shot? Could you have done / tried something else? What additional info / knowledge / skill / experience does this other person have that i don’t?
When I was in Cisco TAC, my team members used to ask me – “How is it that you know this technology so much more than we do? Did you go through some additional trainings?”. Honestly, I used to give them the same gruesome and gory example i’m giving you guys here – see the link above – it’s the final scene from the Matrix. See how Neo enters Smith and rips him apart to smithereens! That’s my take at learning technology – RIP IT APART! Know everything there is to know about that topic! Become NEO guys!
Finally, here’s some motivation from my favourite movie franchise at all times. It’s my “27th kilometer clip” – i used to listen to this when i was on the 27th kilometer of a full marathon – when every ounce of my body was telling me that i can’t finish! It still has that effect on me.
Keep moving forward team.. take risks, make mistakes, learn from them – that’s how you’ll evolve as a person! And never ever loose that sense of wonder in anything that you do!
Your very proud colleague,