Zindagi completes 4 years today. I’m joyous and proud to see what we’ve accomplished in our first four years, and excited at what lies ahead.
I look back at the last 4 years with gratitude to God for Zindagi’s success, and:
For having given me the courage to start this company,
And the strength to bear the defeats, disappointments, trials and tribulations that accompany entrepreneurship
And for the tenacity to carry on and consistently deliver world class solutions to our customers as we help them in their digital transformation journey.
Amongst you – there are some who were there when we started, some who joined us along the way, and some who had left, but returned to contribute with the skills and experiences they gathered working for reputed organisations during their time away. I thank each and every one of you for your contribution in Zindagi’s growth. I congratulate all of you on Zindagi’s 4th anniversary, and thank you for your continued focus towards customer satisfaction and excellence in services delivery.
2020: Corona Virus V/s Zindagi Technologies
I won’t mince words when i say this – the pandemic and it’s associated lockdown was a throat punch to our progress. Around me, I saw businesses closing down, employees getting laid off, salaries being cut, and a general uncertainty amongst the IT workforce.
For me, personally, this was the biggest test thus far of my character as a leader, and my ability to act under pressure. Customers were refusing payment for services delivered, and vendors / suppliers / landlords weren’t willing to discount their invoices. Work came to a standstill and new business wasn’t in sight. My topline goals for the financial year became impossible to achieve.
I came to office the day when lockdown restrictions were lifted in New Delhi. I vividly remember how Nehru Place looked looked like the abandoned backdrop of New York City shown in the post apocalyptic action thriller “I am legend”. Cars abandoned in the middle of the road, deserted barricades, roads littered with trash.
I had a choice to make that day – either downsize the company, or to rally everyone of you and hustle as though everything is normal. I chose the latter. As you all know – the pandemic didn’t cause us to take measures like pay cuts, delayed salaries or laying off anyone. If fact, thanks to the contribution of each one of you – we continued our efforts to support our customers so that their operations didn’t stop due to the global crisis:
During peak COVID times (A time where Cartons carrying Cisco switches were being quarantined for weeks outside the DC) – we ensured that the GST Network Data Center’s network fabric was augmented to handle 10x network traffic making it scale for the next few years.
When the lockdown had resulted in bringing the state bureaucratic machinery to a standstill and the term “Zoom Bombing” was being used in the same breath as “Video Conferencing”, We deployed a secure, on premises video collaboration solution for NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) so as to facilitate the communication and decision making of state officials.
When a large IT services company found it’s operations and service delivery floundering, Zindagi played a pivotal role by working 24×7 and deploying secure remote access SSL VPN services so that a workforce of more than 1,50,000 employees remained productive.
A company is as strong as its culture. Zindagi’s culture has a bedrock in the following tenets:
Customer Satisfaction: We exist because of our customers. Excellence in service delivery HAS to be our “North Star” goal.
Technical Superiority: The solutions we deliver should shine when juxtaposed to resilience disciplines such as availability, scalability, security, reliability, etc
Trusting the process: Every single thing in our business needs a process. I believe the more I can put my team (and myself) in a position to clearly understand what that process is, and how success will be measured, the faster and more effectively we will be able to scale. We are architects, consultants, creatives. Our skill is PDI (Planning, Design and Implementation). The proof of the process is results. Follow the process – results WILL follow.
Camaraderie and Esprit De Corps: The strength of the team is every individual member. The strength of each member is the team. Our culture is of camaraderie, respect and teamwork.
Extreme Ownership: Each one of us is responsible for our actions, accountable for their result and carries ownership of our mistakes.
What Lies Ahead
There really wasn’t a strategy when I founded Zindagi – just the belief that if we could put together a team of great people – we could combine our technical knowledge, automation skills, industry experience and a process oriented approach to deliver solutions that help meet our customers’ business and technical goals.
“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland
My vision for the future of Zindagi has the following objectives:
Zindagi to become a trusted advisor for our customers who can migrate, right-size, and manage their workloads in Public and Hybrid Cloud platforms so they can capitalize on the cloud benefits, focus resources on revenue-generating initiatives, and offload their biggest cost center — namely inefficient IT.
Focus on a strong performance management system which rewards good performance, helps improve productivity, and facilitates a path towards meeting the personal and professional goals of our workforce.
Strengthen the PMO (Project Management Office) and continue efforts to drive processes into everything that we do.
Deliver on Project Octagon and other Data Center and cloud projects in the pipeline.
Work on getting international projects for Cloud Managed Services
Continue to focus on employee engagement so that Zindagi becomes a great place to work where everyone is heard, everyone has clarity on their growth path, the good work done by you all is appreciated, and we all have fun along the way.
“‘If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.”
I believe I live a fulfilling life being CEO of Zindagi. I wake up every day knowing that what my team does is making a difference in taking this Country forward towards progress.
I look forward to moving into the new office. As some of you might know, we’ll soon be shifting into a new workspace which is more than double the size of the current one so as to accommodate the growing Zindagi team.
My mantra for the future is Growth and Scale. I plan for Zindagi to reach new heights of success and to cover a larger market.
“You’re on mute!”
“You’re on mute” – in the Webex / Zoom world that COVID created – those were the most common words that people on video conference calls either said or heard a lot in the last 12 months. Well, I don’t wish for us to be mute anymore – I plan to focus efforts on sales and marketing, for businesses around the world to know about our ability and skills, and how we can help them in their digital transformation journey.
From each one of you – I ask that you makeExcellence a habit. Invest time in learning new skills. Become the strongest advocates of our customers. Manage your time effectively. Schedule your tasks. Own your work. Do not be reactive, but proactively identify problems and mend them. Develop solutions that you are proud of for years to come. Develop strong working relationships both internally and externally. Ensure quality in your work. Focus on documentation. Ensure the flow of effective communication to all stakeholders.
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
Wishing us all a year of health, happiness and prosperity.
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Today, my daughter turns one, which means I complete one year of being a Papa-preneur. Somewhere in these 12 months, combing my daughters’ hair and watching over her while she sleeps became my favorite ways to spend my time.I smile the most when I’m around her. Every day, I look forward to spending time with my daughter. I consider each day I spend with her is a privilege. I remind myself of how grateful I am to have her in my life.
They say that all advice is Auto-biographical. Which means, all these words are meant for the Abhijit of 1 year ago. Here are some observations, realizations and learnings I have had over the past one year of being a dad.
Babies DO NOT break
Up until I became a father, I could never hold anyone’s child. I used to fear that I won’t be able to hold them the right way. After considerable hours of watching Youtube Videos on how to hold babies, and practicing on cushions – I mustered the courage to hold our baby daughter. It took a lot of time to get it right. At the end – I realized that babies do not break. We can hold them tight – just, let’s not try and drop them :).
Become Awesome at Swaddling – It’s good both for you and the baby
Put buffers in your schedule
Everything takes longer with a baby involved
Smiling is a universal language
When she was only a few weeks old, she could express her happiness by means of her smiles. No one taught this tiny little thing how to smile.
There’ll be tears
The first time she was administered vaccination, she was in my lap. There she was, smiling and cooing when the needle went in. It took her a minute to register the pain she had experienced; but she couldn’t cry, even though she wanted to. Her face turned red, and she gasped for breath. We both cried that day.
Making way for the baby!
Over the last 12 months, I’ve given away a lot of stuff that used to be a part of my work. Stuff like routers, switches, my play station, cables, etc are all gone to make way for her swing, her walkers, her toys, etc.
One of the many thoughts I had when I held her in my arms – was a determination to bulk up one day, and become huge; to act as a deterrent to any boys who would want to be friends with her. Still ambivalent whether I’ll go through with it though.
Portray an image of strength in front of her
I observed that if I ever fake a wail in front of her during playtime, she’ll start crying inconsolably. She expects strength from me at all times; I’ll try and live up to that expectation.
Don’t wear button-down shirts when lying down next to the baby
One day, she rubbed herself against my shirt buttons when sliding down my chest. I think the buttons rubbed against her eyebrows. No injuries – but since then, I made it a point to change into a Tee when next to her.
Get a phone with a good camera and ample storage space
Once you become a father – You’ll be clicking lots of pictures when capturing moments.
You’re the man!
I realized that, despite how hard a day I’ve had at work – my responsibilities do not end when I come back home. I owe it to my family to spend time with them, listen to them, love them, appreciate Aditi for the hard work and commitment she puts in to raise a good child.
How the mothers’ Priorities change
Aditi’s changed completely since she became a mother. Her life now revolves around Hazel. If we’re travelling, her handbags contain Hazel’s stuff – and not her own. When getting ready – getting Hazel dressed is her priority. That said, Aditi still finds time to work on our startup by waking up early to close her To-Dos. Even a small interruption when working can seriously impact productivity as the mind takes a lot of time to get back into flow.There’s a sign on my home workdesk that says “Please do not disturb if the light is on”. I’ve told everyone at home, that if this light is one – not interrupt me unless the matter involves fire or blood. Aditi doesn’t have that luxury when working. She’s constantly interrupted by the baby and she has to cater to her every need.
Ideal gifts for new parents
When all my friends became parents, my gifts used to comprise of toys for the baby. I’ve now realized that out of all the things we received, the items we’ve used the most this last year are:
A Soft, warm Blanket
A ‘Rye’ pillow for the back of her head
A ‘Baby Bather’
A Kangaroo pouch
My parents are the happiest I’ve ever seen them
Every day I see my parents laugh gleefully at Hazels’ silly antics; and she comes up with something new each day. There’s this new thing she’s started doing – where, to demand attention from someone at the dinner table, she tilts her head sideways at a 90 degree angle and smile the most infectious smile. Attention Seeker! 🙂
It’s an amazing feeling to see them so happy. Hazel’s first words, BTW were DaDa (GrandPa).
Books to the rescue
One of the most overwhelming aspects of impending parenthood, I’ve discovered, is the infinite amount of advice people would like to give you. These range from “the advantages of making the baby taste honey the moment they are brought out of the nursery” to “Why women should smear Ghee / purified butter all over their heads and keep it that way for 40 days”. Reminds me of gym buffs talking Bro-Science on the “new all-natural way to gain muscle mass”. It’s difficult to sieve out fact from opinions.I spent time reading a few books on parenting which gave science based advice based on brain development research and neuro-science. The one I’d recommend the most to all soon-to-be parents is “Brain Rules for the Baby” by John Medina. You’ll learn about actionable ideas such as Why staring at television screens uptil the age of 5 can stunt brain growth; or why Avacados and other fatty foods are good for the baby’s brain development, or how raised voices can impact their brains.
After becoming a dad, I had the realization that my career is no longer about my own path – but about what I’m going to leave behind for my kids. For the first time, I felt that there was something more important at stake.
Time Management is my friend
“You’ll only get to see your children growing horizontally”
A business acquaintance cracked this joke when I’d broken the news of my impending fatherhood. What he meant was – I’m so busy in growing my business, given my work hours, I’ll only be able to see my child when she’s sleeping. This scared me. I didn’t want to be the guy who isn’t around to see his child grow up. But at the same time, I have a company to run. My work schedules were extensive, and the travel is exhausting. True Story – One day, after having lived out of the suit case for over a very tiring week (travelling between Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Aurangabad), upon waking up in a hotel bed, I couldn’t recollect where I am. I had to flip the coasters under the glasses to see which city i am in. I decided to make changes so that the company goals are met and so that I can spend time with my daughter. These changes involved – waking up at 5:15 AM every day, following the GTD method of prioritizing my day, maintaining a Bullet Journal to track my work days, following pomodoro timers to induce stress to finish work faster, etc.Zindagi’s office is walking distance away from where I live. These days – I try and finish off work early in anticipation of spending time with my daughter.
People wasting my time
It’s a sad feeling when people waste my time by inviting me to marathon meetings, or meetings where I can’t add value, or where I’m made to wait for meeting which have a pre-scheduled start time. It’s sad because of the realization that this time could have gone into my having worked on either growing the company or spending time with family.
Of course I look silly playing Peek-a-boo. I do it any way!
When talking and playing with her, I carry no inhibitions. I vary my pitch, use facial expressions and use a sing-song voice when I talk to her. It’s wonderful to see how she responds to my baby talk. When she listens to me so intently, I half expect her to respond with an intelligent remark. Well, maybe ‘Aat, aat, aat’ is just that – in a different language that I don’t understand.
Take care of myself
Be it while driving, your diet, risk-taking – I’m trying to become extra careful. I joined a gym once again – I couldn’t “find time” for workouts after becoming an entrepreneur. I realize that she’ll need me for a long time. Being a healthy and happy dad is the best gift I can give to her.On the point of exercise – you’ll need to work on upper body strength a lot. There’ll be a lot of lifting, carrying, swings – Shoulder Presses guys!
Re-learning and rehearsing nursery rhymes
Your little girl falls asleep on your arm – all softness and need. And you understand that for all your sacrifices and changes, there is no better place in the world for a man to be in.She loves it when I sing her nursery rhymes and lullabies. I always give myself a pat on the back when I can make her fall asleep while singing. Here are the lullabies that my mom sang for me, and the ones I now sing to Hazel.
Hush, Little Baby…
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…
Five little ducks…
In the jungle…
You are my sunshine…
When Johnny comes marching home…
Old McDonald had a farm…
Oh my darling Clementine…
Row row row your boat…
Do Re Me…
This old man…
London bridge is falling down…
If you’re happy and you know it…
Que Sara Sara
She doesn’t need constant entertainment
It took me time to realize that she doesn’t need to be entertained all the time. As long as she has her toys around her – most of the time she’s fine fiddling around with them. In fact, I realized that boredom leads to creativity. One day, I saw her figure out how to drop the shapes into the openings in the cylinder.
Occasionally, I like humming songs from old Hindi movies. She’s enamoured by these songs. She’ll stop every thing she’s doing to listen to me sing. This, despite my being a horrible singer :).
Keeping your mobile phone away
I try not to take calls when I’m around my daughter. However, this is not always possible. The call could be from a customer about something urgent. Or it could be from a prospect I’m pursuing who’s responding to my sales calls.
Multi-tasking while putting her to sleep
There are times when I need to research and prepare for a client meeting the next day. If the baby is demanding lap time – I multitask. The “Text To Speech feature” of the eBook reader on my phone can speak the text out to me. Alternatively – I can consume content on Safari Books, Youtube and Udemy at 2x speeds – streaming into my ears while I hold her in my arms and swing side to side.
Hold on tight, and do not blink!
I get frustrated at times when I’m trying to work and find her asking for my attention, yanking my headphones, protesting for me to lift her in my arms. It’s at these moments I remind myself that while the days may be long, but the years are too short. This phase will soon be gone. She’s growing up so fast that I’m too afraid to blink 🙂
They say that fathers are their daughter’s role models; that girls look for a reflection of their fathers in the man they wish to marry. That puts a lot of responsibility on me to prepare her for the world, and to show her by example what it means to be ‘Good’, at home, in business, in my actions towards others. My daughter is too young to know about her father, but I’m hoping that if nothing else – my life would teach her that it’s never too late to start out and pursue your dreams; and that if you do what’s required, your actions will help you fulfil that dream.
This blog post started out as an internal memo I wrote to Team Zindagi – but some of it’s been adapted to suit my blog audience.
There aren’t a lot of times I can recall when I give up on something I’ve started. But after becoming a Systems Engineer for Cisco, I was really close to putting in my papers.
I had recently moved from professional services to systems engineering (someone who now had a Sales KRA) – and I genuinely sucked at closing.
In my previous role a professional services engineer, I could get by doing my job, by knowing just two or three technologies really well. But as a Cisco pre-sales guy, I was expected to sell “anything Cisco makes” – which was a lot.
I’ve always been a perfectionist – “If it’s not upto my satisfaction – I’ll not deliver it.”
As a result – I couldn’t cope up with the job’s expectations. I started missing deadlines. Many of my presentations went lack lustre. I became a liability for my sales counterpart.
I had recently gotten married AND gotten enrolled in a executive MBA from Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University – which demanded mandatory attendance 6 days a week!
I wasn’t able to give proper time to any facet of my life – my marriage, my studies or my job. There were occasions where I’d go from office to my MBA classes, then take a cab to the airport. The next day, upon returning to Delhi in the evening – I’d attend a 3 hour lecture before going home.
When in the class room, I was working on compliances and cross-references, responding to RFPs, replying to my mail, creating BoQs – while all the time thinking – Sure buddy, THIS is how you’ll pass Cost Accounting 101.
The pressure had gotten to me. Something had to give.. and it did. I had to decide and let go of one of these facets of my life. I quit my MBA – something I had worked so hard to get into 😢😢.
“You have to be so disciplined that even your distractions become focused.” ― Onyi Anyado
The above experience got me thinking about how to incorporate discipline in my work day, get better at time management and how I can accomplish more in the time allotted to me. I realised I had 5 facets to my life: My personal fitness, my education, my family n friends, my work, and my future / stuff I want to achieve; and I needed to allocate time for each facet.
This message is an attempt to distil my learnings and encourage you to try the tools I use to achieve peak performance.
A special thanks to my friend and (then) sales counter-part in Cisco (Mr. Arpit Goyal – Brilliant sales guy; the Zig Ziglar of our times) because of whom I had my eureka moment to make this blueprint.
That day, sitting next to me in the Cisco office in CP, he asked me to prepare a BoQ for a customer and put his wrist watch right in front of me. The pressure induced by the needles of the wrist watch made me finish off the task in 1/4th the time I usually took for making a BoQ for such a solution!
I keep giving you challenges every day and see you rise up to the occasion to face them head on. You’re not afraid to work on new tech; you use your analytical muscles to solve problems and build solutions that make this great country smarter and closer to technical excellence. Genuinely – I see you all with a sense of pride – every day watching you grow as a team is a pleasure.
That said, seeing you operate each day, I see a team that’s capable of a lot more but not able to achieve peak performance.
We tend to be lackadaisical at times – Knowing your calibre – Work that can easily be finished in X minutes, usually stretches to hours.
When there’s a clear list of prioritised tasks in front of you, sometimes I see you gravitating towards the task that’s neither important not urgent (but perhaps provides you a technical challenge that excites you).
At times like these – the “engineer” in me wakes up and my immediate knee-jerk reaction has been to roll up my sleeves and dive in to help out and fix the problem at hand.
However, I believe that a “I’ll do it myself” is not the right attitude for me to take as a leader. I know my team has the right talent and It’s my responsibility to channelize it so that we succeed jointly as a team.
As CEO of Zindagi, I find a lot on my plate each day. The emails, SMSs, Whatsapp messages, voicemails, etc – they can get really overwhelming at times. As you know, I’ve parked my fitness regime for sometime. But despite everything; I do believe I am able to find time to mentor you guys, spend time with family n friends, to study and learn, and to grow this company.
“What I do” is more important that “How I do it”. What’s the point of being effective if you’re not efficient! For every task assigned to me – I always look at the opportunity cost; and what is their expectation in terms of my responsibilities. I then juxtapose it with my current list of tasks and determine how I can find time to complete the additional work.
Three times a day, at scheduled times (10:00 AM. 1:00 PM. 3:00 PM) – a reminder goes off on my phone asking me – Are you being productive or just being active?
I agree with Tim when he says “Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.”
I force this question on myself – Am I just inventing things to do, to avoid the important stuff?
I study my RescueTime report to see what are the top three activities the I use to fill time to feel that I have been “productive”
There’s a post-it note next to Mom n Dad’s photo frame on my working desk that reads “If this is the only thing you’ll accomplish today, will you be satisfied with your day?”. This small note acts as a constant reminder to me, to be “effective” rather than efficient!
I do not multitask. I CAN’T multitask. I pick up one task at a time focus on completing that before moving on to the next.
Your work laptop is just THAT – a tool to get WORK done.
For the past few months, I have been goading you to respond to a bot on Slack everyday at 8 AM. This bot asks you four questions, collects responses and shares them with me:
How are you feeling today?
What did you Achieve yesterday?
What will you Achieve today?
What’s blocking your progress?
Honestly, this is not a way for me to track how you’re doing so I can do your performance appraisals. The purpose of automating this questionnaire is to give you a chance to list down your priorities for that particular day! This is so that you “attack the day” and accomplish all those tasks which you enlisted in the 3rd question.
Do not EVER open the lid of your laptop screen unless you have a clear list of priorities and tasks that it’ll help you achieve.
Remember, a carpenter uses his saw and hammer to get his work done, a gardener has a hose and a hedge trimmer. You, my friends – have your laptop.
When you’re in front of your work laptop – Work! Don’t have Facebook or Whatsapp open somewhere in the background – Sign out of any non-productive applications which pop up unnecessary notifications. I’m myself guilty of having gone down the rat hole of scrolling through status updates simply after clicking on a ostensibly benign notification asking “Did you see X’s comment to Y’s post?”
Turn off all notifications and distractions – focus on the work at hand.
Challenge yourself on every task you perform. Set deadlines that are “impossible” to achieve
Imagine that you’ve planned for this amazing vacation with family which you’re really looking forward to – it’s your well deserved time off, where you’ll have fun with your loved ones. The last thing you’d want is for a customer or a co-worker to call you up while you’re enjoying the cool ocean breeze (or fresh mountain air, if you may).
If you work for a corporation, you’ve applied for a PTO (Paid Time Out) well in advance.
Now, tell me if this sounds familiar and if you can relate – a few days before your planned holiday – your productivity, focus and performance are at their peak! You make every effort (most of which are successful) to ensure that all emails are answered, all leads on salesforce are closed, your inbox reaches zero count, etc – basically, you do everything you can to close all items you’re responsible for.
Why does this happen? Why do people like to boast that “Pressure brings out the best in me!”. Well, it’s actually something called Parkinson’s law (Thank you Tim Ferriss for introducing me to it). Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials.
So, pressure DOES bring out the best in us! If that is indeed the case, why not use this phenomenon to our advantage? Why not intentionally induce such pressure on ourselves by setting short deadlines on everything we do – so that we can do more… be more… achieve more in our life.
Time is the greatest asset you have… the number of breaths you’ll take in, the number of times the seconds hand of the clock moves for you – all of these are finite and counted. Work towards optimising the efforts you put in to every task.
How powerful is this concept of being able to “Buy more time”!
Imagine the possibilities of how you can use this time you “bought”:
Spend more quality time with family?
Learn a new skill
Set up a part time business while working your 9-6 job.
Perfectionism is your enemy!
I say this with a lot of responsibility as the founder of a company which values quality – perfectionism is the enemy of productivity! If you’re ever tasked to do a certain activity, set an impossibly strict timeline to achieve that task. You’ll be surprised at how much you’d have accomplished when the countdown expires.
Get the bare essentials done; complete the MVP (minimal viable product); make the initial draft of the design doc or Visio file and send it out for review.
You are what you tolerate – I’m not asking you to tolerate crappy quality – I’m telling you that CONSISTENCY TRUMPS QUALITY! You’ll always have time to refine it once you receive additional feedback upon review.
Jot down your affirmations and read them to yourself periodically
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” -Mark Twain
An affirmation is a promise; an oath; a vow that you make to yourself. Affirmations allow you to put into words who you are, who you want to become and what you wish to achieve. They’ll remind you of your own beliefs and values which you wrote down at a time when you had clarity of thought, focus and motivation.
Life’s hard – you’ll face disappointments at each and every step. With all the things that will happen to you every day, you’re bound to lose motivation, get depressed, and forget why you started on this path in the first place. It’s at times like these that your affirmations will help bring you back on track. I suggest writing them down in your journal and reading them daily.
Here are a few of my affirmations to get you in the frame of mind to write your own:
Every obstacle I face is molding me into the person I need to be.
The work my company does, contributes in the progress of this great country.
Entrepreneurship is a path of service and prosperity.
The passion I have for my work enables me to create real value.
There are no limits to what I can achieve.
My reputation is more important than profits
I always treat my team with respect and dignity.
I am assertive when the situation warrants it.
My work makes a difference in this world.
My courage, self-confidence and unwavering belief in my entrepreneurial dream keep me laser focused.
My creative mind plays an important role in all of my decisions.
My integrity influences every aspect of my business and personal life.
I am a lifelong student.
I am responsible for my success and failure.
I surround myself with people and things that inspire me to live my full potential.
I help others climb the ladder of success as I make my way to the top.
My financial abundance is a by-product of chasing and catching my vision.
I take entrepreneurship seriously, without taking myself too seriously.
Plan your tomorrow… tonight!
We normally tend to pick up the easiest task, or the most interesting task – even if it’s not high priority.
If you were to plan your next day – you’ll feel guilty writing the “easiest but less important / critical / urgent task” at the top of the list.
Without a plan, we tend to lets ourselves get away by answering email, and attending to other low priority tasks. This leads to stress towards the end of the day – when your customers or your manager will call you to ask for status.
By planning your day in advance – You are committing the “future you” to do the things the “present you” won’t do.
If you plan your day the night before – you’ll not only be able to get more done in less time, you’ll also add clarity to your day.
Before you go to sleep – get into a habit of writing down exactly what you’ll do the entire day tomorrow. Map out your day so you have a blueprint to work on.
“Someday is not a day of the week.” -Denise Brennan-Nelson
The magic of having BIG, ambitious goals – and writing them down
I remember reading about this story of a professor who asked his students to spend 2 hours writing down essays providing excruciating details of “what will a day in their lives look like, 10 years from now” – they had to describe what job they’ll have, how many children, their spouse, the kind of house they’d be living in, the cars they’ll be driving, etc.
Here’s what happened – when these students met at the college reunion 10 years later, they found that almost each and every one of those individuals had “become what they’d thought they’d become”!
Team – i sincerely suggest you try this too. Spend time to jot down all you intend to achieve in the next 10 years – think big; be ambitious; be over-ambitious. What looks like over-ambitious today – will appear achievable in the coming months. Categorise your goals as Personal, Professional and Education related goals.
“You have to dream, before your dreams can come true.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
Tools I use to achieve peak performance everyday
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.” -Muhammad Ali
Finally – here are the tools I use to achieve peak performance every day.
A Broken clothes hanger converted into an iPad stand
A Generation 1 iPad used only as a stopwatch.
An A4 size paper which is my “Daily Achievement Blueprint”
My timesheet log (A ruled moleskin notebook)
My daily journal (A ruled moleskin notebook)
My Idea pad (a waiters pad)
Here’s how I manage each work day:
Each night, before I sleep, I fill up my “Daily Achievement Blueprint” (DAP)- it’s a document I received as a part of having attended a Udemy course facilitated by one of the best speakers I’ve listened to – Mr. Chris Haroun. Click here to watch this course.
On the top 30% of this paper, I list down my 5 top personal, work and education goals. I also mention my “North Star” goal – the most important goal for me to achieve out of the above 15.
On the bottom 70% of this paper – my entire tomorrow is broken up into “30 minute chunks”. I fill up these time slots on what I will work on at these times of the day. This is my map – this is what holds me accountable to myself. Whenever I’m jotting down my tasks for the next day, I can glance up at the top 30% of the paper and compare how this task ties in with my long term goals – it also allows me to prioritise each task.
This way – when I open my Mac the next day, I already know what I need to start working on.
My work desk also consists of a make-shift iPad stand which let’s me prop up a generation-1 iPad that I bought in the year 2011. This device serves just one function now – that of a large timer.
Whenever I start any task (anything – be it me calling someone, someone calling me, my writing a proposal, replying to my email, writing a blog post, communicating with my team on Slack, etc) – I rush to start the clock to know how much time I will spend on that task.
In my timesheet log, for each task I worked on, I scribble down a quick description of the task and how much time it took me to finish it.
For the times when I travel, I carry my DAP in a A4 size folder which has a clipboard in it.
Right before dinner, I spend 5 minutes writing in my journal – it’s a summary of how my day went and how I could have done stuff better.
Here’s what I realised after the first few days of writing in my journal – it started to depress me to write down how my day went. My journal entries looked like “complaints about my past 10 hours”. So I decided to incorporate some of the ideas of Tim Ferriss’s 5 minute journal into my journal entries.
Basically, Tim says – Visit your journal twice a day; once in the morning – where you write down:
What 3 things that you’re grateful for?
What three things would make today great?
Jot down a few of your daily affirmations… then in the evening, you visit your journal again to list down:
3 awesome things that happened today
How could I have made today even better?
Finally, wherever I go, I always carry a small “waiters pad” with me – something that’ll fit in my shirts pocket or slide comfortably in my jeans. This is my idea pad. Any time I think of an idea, I have this pad handy to jot it down.
An idea need not be a business idea – it could be an idea for a better way to do the work we do at Zindagi, an idea about a new blog post topic, something very operational which I would forget if I don’t get it down on paper immediately, etc.
The “idea to have an idea pad” is borrowed from a man for whom I have a lot of respect. Best selling author and successful entrepreneur, James Altucher.
Here is the “before” and “after” of the Clothes hanger. Use a good quality pair of pliers, and be prepared for a couple of hangers to go waste in the process. Please be careful not to injure yourself in the process.
Here’s a pic of my “Idea Pad”:
What do you think?
Team, I don’t expect you to mimic what I do. This blueprint is what works for me – maybe this will motivate you to develop a system that works well for you; or perhaps you can pick up some tips that’ll help you squeeze more out of each day.
You may think that this concept of writing on paper with pen is too jurassic in this Generation-Y day and age. We’ve got Evernote, OneNote, Samsung Galaxy note, iPad and it’s magic pen, etc – and this bloke here, who calls himself the CEO of a technology company is still using thereby bloomer tools of yore.
Well, truth be told – I love Evernote. I’m a premium subscription user. Evernote (and it’s sister app Scannable) is the second most used app on my iPhone (first being Gmail). Matter of fact, I’m writing this text on Evernote for Mac.
Multiple times in the past, I’ve tried using digital tools for tracking my time, managing my tasks, or making journal entries – but for some reason – it just doesn’t work. It’s like – 2 imaginary hands come out of the iPhone or Mac, catch hold of both my ears, and suck me into operational tasks as opposed to tracking my activity. This is the reason I prefer to maintain an “air gap” between the “tools I use to get work done” v/s the “tools I use to track/manage/record the work done”
Do you find this kind of time tracking close to paranoia? Do you think you can never work like this as it “shackles you”, “inhibits your creativity”, “prevents free thoughts”, etc?
Well, my humble suggestion to you would be – give it a try. I believe in this system! I’ve seen it work for me… me, the guy with a history of being the biggest procrastinator ever! It taught me the value of time and task management. It taught me discipline. It helped me become a better at entrepreneurship.
There’ve been times when I’ve hit the pause button on this system for a few days, and for those days, I’m completely lost in terms of what I achieved, how I contributed to my team/company, did I move closer to my goals or away from them?
There’s a scene in the Bradley Cooper starrer, Limitless – where the protagonist starts experiencing side effects of the NZT drug. He’s unable to account for the way he lived his life for the last 12 hours.
Ok i may be exaggerating a bit here – but my system does have merit…
I now know I need to hire a VP, Operations for Zindagi. Someone who’ll help in team management, handle followups on tasks, own the Trello Kanbans for each project, and help with the admin functions. How am I so sure I need an operations guy? I looked at my timesheet logs for the past few weeks and found that 55% of my time was being spent in post-sales / operations activities as opposed to being pre-sales activities, executive decisions, business development or learning a new skill! There’s no way I’d have gotten that kind of visibility without the timesheet log.
When I look back at my day – I can easily quantify what I achieved, what I could have done better.
This regime has greatly helped me in managing my time, getting work done, squeezing time out for family and friends, and taking me closer to achieving my goals.
Team, there are two kinds of people in this world – those who see things happen, and those who make things happen. At Zindagi, we represent the latter. I consider you as Entrepreneurial Employees who possess the zeal, the innovative mindset and that desire to execute, that makes you achieve peak performance at all times.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs
I believe we’re all doing great work. I believe we’re making a difference to this world by our actions. And I see the passion for technology in each one of you.
I remember taking advice from someone before plunging into starting my own company. He said “I don’t get it – you’ll be doing the same stuff that everyone else does – you’ll perhaps do it with a lot of passion – that’s it. So what?”.
“My mother said to me, “If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general, if you become a monk you’ll end up as the pope.” Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.”
– Pablo Picasso
I wish to see each and everyone of you become trusted consultants, problem solvers, and domain experts who not only have thorough command over their respective technologies, but can document and confidently articulate a complex solution in simple language to top decision makers.
A key requirement to achieve such peak performance is to incorporate discipline in your daily schedule. I humbly request you to try the above methodology for the next 30 days. I’m confident that it’ll make a positive impact to your personal and professional growth. If you find that it helps you – spread the word; motivate others to try it to achieve peak productivity.
Dear readers of my blog – thank you for taking the time to read this post. I’m eager to know what systems you use to incorporate discipline and increase performance in your day to day routine to help you reach peak performance. Happy to receive feedback on what you think of my system. Please share your comments below. Thank you.
The picture on the left is from the Diwali Mela of 2017 organised by our resident welfare association. Aditi had bought a heap of embroidered lady-suit pieces from our last vacation to Kashmir at wholesale prices, and we were hoping to make a decent margin after selling them at a 30% markup.
After 5 hrs of manning the booth… we packed up and came home. In summary:
We were able to sell only 1 suit for a price of 1,500 rupees. [The stall’s rent costed us 4,000 rupees].
We realised that embroidered suits are NOT in Delhi fashion.
We realised that ladies like to buy readymade kurtas… and not suit pieces.
For the next 6 months…everyone we visited was pleasantly surprised by a gift… an exquisite hand-embroidered piece of clothing from Kashmir.
BTW – The Diwali Mela of 2016 was a grand success for us. The “naya naya” entrepreneur in me wanted to try my hand at retail selling. After some brainstorming… Aditi and I decided to sell clothes for new borns. Much to the chagrin of mum and dad, we set up our stall. Parents response:
“Why are you doing this? You don’t need the money…”
“You’ll embarrass yourself, and us too”
Well, we weren’t doing this for the money.We were doing this as a joint husband-wife activity, a byproduct of which could be a tiny profit.
We had both quit our jobs almost at the same time to become entrepreneurs… and thought of selling “baby pyjamas @ 300 rupees for a pack” to passerbys seemed like good target practice to let go of ones inhibitions, increase confidence and improving selling skills.
Besides, I believe that everyone should practice selling. Selling a part of life; and is needed for just about everything we do or hope to do – and I see no shame in it . In fact, I’d encourage and support my kids to develop selling and persuasion skills. Selling is an integral part of being an entrepreneur. It’s a pity schools in India don’t teach entrepreneur skills, financial skills or selling skills – I believe our youngsters need someone to inspire and inculcate them into the art of managing a business.
Previous blog posts in the “Kuch Apna Karna Hai” series…
Profanity Alert: The text post contains some swear words.
Lesson: Get into a partnership without doing any research, get screwed, and hit rock bottom.
First, find a job that pays you a little over half a crore rupees each year – where, after 2 months, you’re bored and don’t get any feeling of job satisfaction.
Start reading biographies of famous entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, etc – stand in front a mirror and say to your reflection – “If they can do it, so can you!”. Then repeat it 100 more times while doing a Rocky Balboa impression. Think of a name for your company… After days of thought, decide on a name that means “Life” in Hindi/Urdu.
Meet an old acquaintance at Al Bake restaurant in New Friends Colony… He tells you how devastated he was after having been fired from Cisco, for reasons not having anything to do with his performance. Realise that this can happen to you too and, while gobbling up those rolls dripping with mayonnaise that Al Bake is famous for, you determine…decide… commit to take action! Go home… and watch Rocky part 4 (coz that’s the best one, and gets you all pumped.. especially the training scenes!… DRAAAAAGOOOO!!!)
When in Gurgaon for a customer meeting, pay a visit to an old acquaintance from one of your previous jobs from 9 years ago. Have a couple of beers with him. Get WOW’ed when told that his company is doing AI, machine learning, robotics and all sorts of crazy shit, and has offices all over the world. You…get a geek boner. Get convinced that all that he’s saying is true, coz.. well, he said it… so it must be.
Get offered a partnership to start a new venture by his elder brother…. It’s a deal which has them and you sharing both sharing the profit and loss at a ratio of 70:30. Say “Yes! I’ll do it!” and agree to transfer your share to a joint account. Do NOT bother asking them to share their financials or last years’ balance sheet.
Quit your job after having worked there only 3 months. Pay the company back, the 5 lac rupees “joining bonus” which would have been yours, had you stayed 6 months.
Transfer your share of the agreed-upon amount, thinking that the Gratuity payout you got after working for Cisco for so many years will now be put to good use!
After a couple of weeks… Ask your new “partners” why they haven’t transferred their share – get impressed by an answer which has words such as sweat equity, capital infusion over a timeline, company valuation based on future value, and other such horse crap.
Have them setup a new office for you in Nehru Place…It’s pricey, but hey.. why not?! You’re going to be sharing the rent 70:30 anyway, right!
Find it odd that you’re being asked to visit Gurgaon multiple times each week and report to your partners, and give “commits” on what all new business you’ll get them. Hmmm… this doesn’t feel like being an entrepreneur. It’s pretty much…more of the same.
Get told that you need to present a “business case” to your partners for every spend – rent, laptops, Zindagi employee salaries, etc. Spend the next few months wondering if you made a bad decision.
Get told by your partner’s employees over coffee, that the company is bankrupt and that they haven’t received their salaries for the past 3 months. Tell this to your partners. Next day… Find out that the guy who told you this is no more (in the company.. at least). Feel sorry for him, and for having ratted him out.
For the 10th time… ask your wife “Why haven’t you told your parents about my decision to quit my job and start on my own?”… and then hear the same polite answer… “Oh, it slipped my mind love, sorry – will tell them the next time we meet”. This to yourself – “There you go…Woman intuition has spoken! This whole thing was a bad decision on your part.”
Then one day, one of your team members walks up to you and says they were not paid their salary for last month. You get pissed. “AAAGGGHHHH! HULK… SMASH!!”. You put across your point firmly to your “partners”. Two weeks go by, your team member still doesn’t get paid. You transfer the money from your personal account. “Uhhh… Hulk… SULK…”
Tell the “partners” that this “partnership” isn’t working. That you’d like to quit and retain the company name you chose. Get told that you’ll need to transfer 3 lac more to ensure that the “transfer is smooth”. Decide that it’s better to pay up than get involved in “legal issues”. Get the paper work done.
Realise that you’ve just been fucked. Let that feeling sink in while driving back home… while taking a walk in the local park… while nibbling at your dinner that night.
Realise that you can’t let your team know what you’re going through; and that you need to appear positive, confident and motivated at all times.
Thinking that the worse is over now that you’re free – go back to cool expensive office to find that the rent for the past 3 months has not been paid. Go over the bills and realise that the rent agreement is in your name and not in the name of your partners. Find a place to sit and gain composure upon seeing what you owe them.
You make a discovery – panic can induce projectile vomiting.
Decide not to share any of this with Ma and Pa. [P.S. Ma… I know you’ll read this blog… now you know]
Decide not to borrow money from your friends… Your ego won’t allow it.
Accept money from you wife – the money she got as “Shagun envelope” gifts when you two got married. You walk away slowly with the wad of cash…muttering to yourself repeatedly… “Shame on you, you fucking piece of shit! Shame on you.. You f…”
That day, go to the gym in the afternoon and do a 200 KG Deadlift. Make loud grunting noises on each rep.
Start saving on expenses wherever you can..
Stop driving the car to save fuel, strictly use UberPool or metro.
When at the super market, look at the price label of an after-shave you like and upon seeing the price, put it back down saying “Who needs these anyway”.
Reduce your whey protein intake so the tub lasts longer.
Realise that Mattra-Kulcha is a perfectly fine meal to make you survive the whole day.
Argue with every parking wala bhaiya for overcharging you by 10 rupees.
Make cold calls to MNCs to sell your services. Wait in the reception to meet the IT heads / CTOs to offer your services… Get told each time that “Sorry, we can’t work with a company that hasn’t been in the market for even a year”.
One day, when coming back from another sales call with no positive leads – call mom and dad and ask them that you’re near Safderjung and if they’d like something from Rajinder Ka Dhaba. When they say yes to some tikkas and kebabs…
Open your wallet to find 165 rupees in it.
Get told that Rajinder ka dhaba only accepts cash.
Go to the ATM machine and find that all three of your bank accounts are empty.
Unsuccessfully try using the credit card to take money out of the ATM machines.
Call the credit card company and tell them that their card sucks!
Go to a back alley behind the restaurant, find a corner where no one can see you… and cry, till the point your tear ducts are dry… and then, cry some more.
Go home and tell mom dad that you took a wrong turn and missed going to the dhaba.
There I was – Zero business, Zero money in the bank, Zero motivation to move forward…
Abhijit… meet Rock Bottom. Rock Bottom… meet Abhijit
Next day, in the Gym – do a 130 KG Bench Press (Don’t forget to grunt loudly) while listening to sound tracks of Agneepath, Mangal Pandey, Sardarji, Rocky, and “All time hits of Jazzy B”. Feel glad about the fact that people can’t tell the difference between tears and sweat when you’re perspiring like a pig.
Vriksh hon bhale khade,
Hon ghane, hoh bade,
Ek patra chhah bhi
Maang mat! Maang mat! Maang mat!
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!
Tu na thakega kabhi, Tu na thamega kabhi, Tu na mudega kabhi,
Kar shapath! Kar shapath! Kar shapath!
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!
Yeh mahaan drishya hai,
Chal raha manushya hai Ashru, swed, rakt se Lath-path, lath-path, lath-path,
Agneepath! Agneepath! Agneepath!
Agneepath (The path of fire) – A poem by Harivansh Rai Bachchan
The next day, evaluate your options: a) Throw in the towel, give up, go back and join a job, b) Become a freelancer until you become an entrepreneur.
Choose option (b) – Become a freelancer. Register yourself on UpWork.com, freelancer.com and other web sites. Start asking all your friends in your previous organisations for work – any work…anything that’ll pay you enough to keep the company afloat.
Configure firewalls, write python scripts for automation, set up proxy servers, migrate a startup to AWS, do SDN implementations, troubleshoot network issues, setup video surveillance systems… Do not say no to any work. Pick it up, do research, become an “expert” at it overnight… and then set it up for your customer.
Take up multiple part time jobs so that you can pay the salaries, provide for your family and keep the lights running, both in office and at home. Do double shifts.. do triple shifts. Work weekends. Live a student life. Curtail on all surplus expenses.
Then, one day – when you’ve saved enough to cover expenses for the next few quarters, when you’ve executed multiple orders to build confidence in your customers, when you can see a healthy pipeline of business coming in – Then…ek baar phir se, rekindle that dream… quit from all jobs so you can focus on what you started out to achieve… once again, nikal padho… kuch apna karne ke liye.
Remember the lessons you learnt from all of this:
Avoid getting into a partnership with anyone. Be independent.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Do not get into any business opportunity until you understand and know everything there is to know about the deal.. and about the people who are offering it to you.
Cherish all your friends. Your friends can pull you out when you’re in a cesspool of despair when you call out to them for help… they’ll put in a kind word for you to their customers, they’ll give you a part time job, some even sign a quarterly retainer deal with you for your consultancy services. NEVER forget these people and what they did for you when you needed them, and go out of your way to return the favour.
Your customers are your best marketers. If you’re good at what you do – slowly but surely, word WILL spread, people will know what you represent, the values you espouse, and the quality you bring in the work that you deliver.
Commit to yourself that you’ll make more friends and keep increasing your circle of contacts. Help anyone who you can – in the best way you can. “You will get what you want – if you help others get what they want”.
Always carry an attitude of gratitude... for your and your family’s good health, for your loving family who supported you through thick and thin (despite your being an eccentric, stubborn, recalcitrant schmuck), for your friends and well wishers… Always thank the Almighty for having blessed you with the spirit of tenacity and the willpower to not give up.
“You Just Can’t Beat the Person Who Never Gives Up” – Babe Ruth
Lesson: Hire a Chartered Accountant
Very helpful in filing taxes and maintaining compliances 🙂
“Can you please look at me when I’m talking to you?”
Said Aditi impatiently. We were sitting in the drawing room after having dinner. While having a conversation with her, my thoughts had drifted to a project the team is working on – and the sound of her voice jolted me back. “But I am looking at you!” I protested.
“No you’re not! You’re looking through me… past me… It’s like I am in your peripheral vision!” She complained. She was right… she usually (read “always”) is.
Multiple times each day, Irrespective of where I am, I simply “zone out” – thinking about my new ideas for Zindagi to work on, our current projects, how we can improve our service offering, how to optimise costs, how to lead the team better, how to keep morale up at all times, how to increase cash flow.
At times like these, I’m present in the room physically, but mentally I’m thinking about Zindagi.
I wasn’t always like this – I chose this path for myself. I chose to launch, execute, grow and scale my business. This path demands a lot of research, networking, planning, business strategy, marketing, sales, etc..
My beliefs are:
Zindagi, for me – represents something far greater than me and my personal interests. I want us to succeed in becoming the best at what we do!
I have to own everything. If a team member makes a mistake, I need to admit it as my failure as a leader, take responsibility and develop a plan to fix it.
They say that there are no bad teams, only bad leaders. All responsibility of success and failure starts and ends with me.
I can’t afford to be complacent. I need to constantly strive to improve my team by identifying weaknesses and addressing them. Bad performance from any member of my team is unacceptable. I need to train, mentor and groom anyone who isn’t performing.
I need to work myself out of my current job. I need to make myself redundant by grooming my team to step up and take greater responsibilities.
Wearing multiple hats
As an entrepreneur, I get to feel a lot of emotions each day. But the one emotion I never felt since I left my job is of feeling bored. I get to wear so many hats each day:
A Solutions Architect – Designing solutions for my customers involving large scale ICT networks, data centres, security devices, IOT networks,Wireless and surveillance systems.
A Project Manager – I don’t have formal Project Management training – all my project management knowledge comes from what I’ve learnt on the job as a entrepreneur. I intuitively follow the Kanban style project management approach. Trello lends itself beautifully to this.
A Team Leader – Jocko Williams, in his book Extreme Leadership stated “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”. I have to build a high performance team… and the only way I know how to do that – is to lead by example.
An Accountant – There are stories of the brilliant entrepreneurs who had grandiloquent visions for their companies but before they could achieve any of their dreams, they ran out of cash and perished! I don’t want to be that guy! There are no investors in Zindagi. I believe Zindagi will grow much faster if it had a decent corpus to spend. Until the time I reach that stage, I own the company’s bottomline. Aditi and I have monthly expense numbers at my finger tips – and we know exactly how much we need for the next 2 quarters. I raise all invoices myself and do constant followups.
A Sales guy – I decide how much business I will do this year. I get to set ambitious sales targets. I load and track my leads on Zoho. I decide my quarterly commits and hold myself accountable for them.
A Presales guy – When articulating a technical solution’s advantages to a C level exec, I need explain it in a language that they’d understand. I need to be able to juxtapose multiple solutions succinctly so that decisions can be taken. I’ve enjoyed being a Presales guy for large OEMs in the past – It’s a skill that gives you an amazing feeling of confidence!
Customer Support guy – I still make calls to my armed forces customers when they experience problems with their networks. My time as an engineer in Cisco TAC gave me a gift that keeps on giving – the art of troubleshooting; the ability to break a large problem into smaller chunks. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
A Technical lead – I honestly feel honoured when my team considers discussing technical issues with me. They’re bright guys and I’ve seen them solve daunting problems on their own. So, if I can help them, when they walk up to me upon hitting a roadblock, It just makes my day a wee bit better and my sleep, a bit more well-deserved :-).
Product Manager – Ah, my latest fixation. I’ve just started out on this venture and am using wire framing tools such as Balsamiq and Keynotopia to work on mockups of products I plan to build.
Lesson: Stop sucking at task management
Have you seen the Bradley Cooper movie “Limitless”? It’s a movie where the protagonist consumes a designer Pharma drug called NZT which makes him laser focused about what he wants to do.
There are days where I become like that… without consuming any drug. There’s so much I accomplish those days! I close more deals; I get more milestone completion certificates signed; I get more creative in designing, etc. I wish everyday were like that.
I am increasingly using Trello for all my task management. There’s a Trello board for Zindagi Team, one for each project, one called “Hum Don0” which Aditi and I use for delegating tasks to each other and then there’s my own board – which has the following lists:
Ideapad – Any ideas I have about products that I want to make one day.
Inbox – Which has all the action items / to dos that require my attention.
Someday list – A list of items that don’t require immediate attention.
In Progress – Which has all items I plan to complete TODAY!
Next Up – what item I’m working on RIGHT NOW.
Blocked / Waiting – A list of all items that are pending on someone else.
Done – Everything I’ve completed goes here.
Watch List – Stuff that I need to watch – for example, a useful youtube video that showed up in my inbox, or a Udemy course that I bought when it went on sale (coz we all know how RARELY they go on sale), etc.
Reading List – A list of books I plan to read. Also contains a list of all interesting articles I stumbled upon.
<Topic Name> Learning Plan – Any topic that I pick up, I research a few hours to make a “learning plan” for myself – which consists of URLs of relevant articles, videos and slides. Current lists include SD-WAN, SIEM and SOCs, VA/PT, How to become a product manager.
Here are some points I picked up from Tim Ferris’s book “4-hour workweek”. There’s a printout of these points next to my desk and my bed to remind me to become better at time and task management:
“What you do” is more important than how you do it. Focus on being effective than efficient!
Three times each day at scheduled times ask yourself – are you being productive or just active?
Are you inventing things to do, to avoid the important?
If you had a heart attack and had to work only two hours per day – would you be doing what you’re doing right now?
If you had a second heart attack and could only work 2 hours a week? What work would you focus on then?
What if you had a gun to your head and HAD to remove 4/5th of different time consuming activities, what would you remove?
What are the top three activities that I use to fill time to feel as though i have been productive?
Learn to ask: “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
Do not multitask! Your brain is incapable of multitasking!
Parkinson’s law at a macro level: Attempt to take Monday and Friday off. Also leave work at 4 PM
Parkinson’s law at a micro level : Limit the number of items on your to-do list. Use impossibly short deadlines to force immediate action. Use the online stopwatch or use e.ggtimer.com
Lesson: People don’t like to let go of their money
I run a services company – which means, that for every project Zindagi embarks upon – I set clear, definable milestones for the tasks my team undertakes. These milestones are based on customer success factors and have well defined entry and exit criteria.
Once a milestone completes, I raise a NET-XX invoice; where XX represents the agreed-upon number of days after which the customer will pay me.
Typically these milestones are:
Project Kickoff / Requirements Gathering Workshop
High Level Design Signoff
Low Level Design Signoff
User Acceptance Testing
As-Built document submission
Hardly ever would you get paid on time after raising an invoice. The work done by you will need to be reviewed by multiple entities in the customer organisation. Thereafter, the projects team will give a go ahead to their finance teams to release the payment. The Finance team will, in turn have their own payment cycles; which, if you’re unlucky, could be one day prior to the day when Finance got the go-ahead.
My suggestions to people starting out a services business:
Plan your quarterly budget to keep a buffer for processes
Invest in a invoicing system that generates automatic reminders when the due date has reached and keeps sending repeated reminders until the payment is made.
NEVER work without a PO. You’ll never get paid. Do not, I repeat – do NOT start work until you have a PO in your hand.
There’s nothing wrong in asking for an ADVANCE payment. As a bootstrapped startup, we only have enough cash in hand to handle operating expenditure. Any project related expenses are handled through an advance payout. Besides, an advance payment is a mutual commitment between the customer and me for the execution and delivery of the project.
“Abey… De dunga tere laakh rupey agle mahine!”
I was told this 3 months after raising the invoice and multiple followups. He never paid.
There’ll always be customers who just won’t pay you for the work you completed – no matter how much you follow up. My suggestion – take this as a bitter pill and move on. You’ll always find professional organisations who value your talent and share your values. Give your everything to make such organisations succeed.
“You’ll get what you want, if you help other people get what they want” – Zig Ziglar
Lesson: Treat your employees as pure gold!
I have realised that as a services company, my most valuable asset is my team. It’s because of their capabilities to deliver that i get confidence to get more business into Zindagi. It’s because of their efforts that we achieve the most difficult of projects in the most stringent of deadlines. They drive the customer satisfaction and represent the face of the company and its abilities to our customers.
My employees are my first customers!
I treat my team members the way I’d expect to be treated by my employer – with trust, dignity and respect. I don’t expect them to work on weekends – and if for some reason I have to ask them to work on a designated off, I request them, apologise for having them take time away from their families, and demand that they take a compensatory off at their earliest. I constantly seek feedback whenever I implement a new policy or a new tool – I will never force my opinion on my team – instead, I always take a consultative approach.
My team responds in kind – they treat our customers with respect, they solve problems faster, they perform effectively and uphold esprit de corps at all times!
This is my “secret” – this is what gives me a competitive edge over my competition – making sure that my team members are respected, trusted, empowered and appreciated. The fact that my team demonstrate our values consistently is what sets us apart from the competition.
“Above all, keep in mind that a business is a collection of people,” Branson says. “If your people are not happy and healthy, they your enterprise’s prognosis isn’t good enough. But if you make sure they have the time and support they need, you’ll set them and your company up for success in the long term.” – Richard Branson
I enjoy reading non-fiction books – ones that encourage, motivate or inspire me. Books that – if widely read, could affect and improve billions of lives.
On my 35th birthday, Aditi got me a gift that keeps on giving. A Kindle Oasis. An amazing high resolution eInk reader that’s light as a feather and that let’s me read eBooks even in the dark with no strain on the eyes.
Prior to having a Kindle, I had been buying paperbacks from Amazon. The device ties very well to the minimalist life style I have become accustomed to living. I carry it everywhere I go. I don’t buy physical books anymore. But the ones I did buy – I can’t seem to let them go.
Here is a list of the 15 brilliant books that have influenced, inspired and guided me in my journey of entrepreneurship. They’re in no particular order – in fact, I don’t think I’m even qualified to sort them using any criteria.
Richard Branson’s inspiring, intimate and enjoyable autobiography. Walks you through the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship from the quintessential entrepreneur.
Teaches you the value and power of branding and marketing.
A couple of factors influenced why I named my company “Zindagi“. One of them was a result of getting influenced by a quote in his book about the definition of a business – “A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better”.
I almost felt like the author knew me and offering me advice specific to my company. He explained why small business fails because the owner’s three personalities are in constant clash – The Entrepreneur, the Technician and the Manager.
5. Rework by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
Crisp advice for smalls businesses by the creators of Ruby on Rails and Basecamp.
Convinced me that that good salesmen are not “shadowy master manipulators who just want to sell you something just because they’ll meet their numbers”. Selling is a “transfer of feelings”, when you’re genuinely trying to help the other person.
Taught me that the best time to sell is Always! “Timid salesmen have skinny kids”
It taught me that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It taught me that people will do business with you only if they trust you!
Opportunity and time on the task determine success – not a high IQ.
The chapter of “The trouble with Genuises” had a tremendous influence on me. It has a section on Chris Langan, the man with an IQ of 195 (30% higher than Einstein).
Gladwell indicated that IQ is important only up to a certain threshold. After that, IQ, or “Analytical Intelligence” can’t help you as much as “Practical intelligence” can – i.e. the knowledge that helps you read situations correctly to get what you want… the skill of knowing what to say, to whom, at the right time, in the most effective manner is more important than being a genius.
A brilliant book about the power of persuasion. This books delves in to the 6 “weapons of influence” which cause people to say “Yes”. While it’s well researched and written by a PH.D, the language is simple and relatable to everything we see around us. You’ll learn how to become a skilled persuader and how to protect yourself against them.
A book about how to pick up girls using seduction. However, It’s perhaps one of the top books for anyone wanting to become a salesman as it teaches you the value of the 30 second pitch, first impressions and the power of marketing.
Thought provoking and practical advice. Reinforces ideas about having an attitude of gratitude, finding positive influences, and how to be an “idea machine”.
For the readers of this blog. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I’d love to know which books have you read which have had a positive and inspiring impact on you. Please type them in the comments section below. Thank you!