General Thinking

Two Steps Forward One Step Back

When people write history, they like to smoothen the curve and make it seem like a constant journey from one milestone to the next. But history is, if anything, really messy. It is a process of attempting to move forward while repeatedly falling back only to find your way again. Between 1800 and 1900, many discoveries were made which improved the lives of people substantially. Just before the first world war, the magic of electricity changed the lives of people in unimaginable ways. 

This was followed by 2 World Wars separated by the Great Depression, it was certainly a huge step back. From the ashes of war emerged a stronger world that moved forward in meaningful ways. This led to the improvement of the quality of lives of many across the world. Life expectancy increased, job opportunities multiplied, and access to education improved. At the beginning of the 20th century, we had a little more than 1 Billion people in the world. By the end of the century, we had more than 7 Billion and still managed to create employment for more than 90% of them. For any person living today, no matter which continent, it is normal to feel that the world is taking a step back. 

A pandemic, global climate catastrophe, an unbelievably bad economy and incredibly bad leadership – everywhere! Seems all bad.

It will change.

Even if you were to look at the stock market charts or the share price movement for any company, zoom out! All you would see are mountains – peaks and troughs. This would be true, no matter how successful or unsuccessful a company is. This is the only truth of life.

You take two steps forward and one step back.

As an individual, you need to be able to see your lives through the same prism of this forward and back movement. Unfortunately, in life, much as in the case of history, we are taught to expect life to be a smooth curve upwards. We feel disappointed and let down whenever things do not play out that way. Do not expect a smooth curve; life will take you back and forth. My mother told me, life will keep coming at you like waves. It is this nature that gives life meaning. Otherwise, life would become far too boring. 

What makes this narrative even worse is when you measure life only from one dimension.

Your Narrative

I have myself suffered and watch several entrepreneurs suffer through challenges in life. In the early days, cash tends to be short in supply. If your plans do not pan out the way you had imagined, you can find yourself cash-strapped. In a world where success is measured only by the size of your bank account; it is normal to feel that you have lost everything. Rather than a step back it feels like you have jumped into a bottomless abyss. 

Invariably what I have also noticed is that these individuals grow immensely as people. Their ability to absorb pressure, their ability to analyse practically and the insights that they possess, sharpen a great deal. The world cannot see this or measure it. It is a travesty when the individuals themselves have no realisation of what they are gaining and fixate only on financial success. 

Life is a series of disappointments, hiding moments of contentedness OR life is a joyful, hiding moments of disappointments. It is only a question of how you choose to look at it; it is the same. It is all in your head and a reflection of your mental toughness and outlook toward life. 

When you feel you are taking a step backwards, always remember there is some other facet of yourself where you are taking a step forward. Keep moving!


Building for Change

One of the themes that everyone is required to contend with today is change. Change is inevitable and necessary in these times. Radical changes are being forced upon us and the world is adapting rather quickly to these changes. 

Humans hate change!

Change in itself is not something that we take to, naturally. Humans tend to push back to change. It is our natural reaction to it. 

Having said that, we have been subjected to rapid changes. The second world war was the starting point.

Aviation, automobiles, television, food processing and several others. There have been consistent changed hurled at us and we have changed ourselves to adjust to those changes. Each of these has changed our lives in meaningful and irreversible ways. These are important and critical to our comfort and our productivity. Also, they have spawned several new businesses that would not have been possible before their introduction.

Think about it, 10 years ago you could not have imagined pulling out a slab of glass from your pocket and summoning a cab. Today you cannot imagine a world without it.

Over the years, there are several changes that the world has seen. Over the past 3 decades, the world has been in a paradigm of accelerated change. The only difference with the current situation is that this change is being thrust upon us rather than chosen by us. 

Startups are created and thrive at the cutting edge of change. If you look at the graph above, each jump was accompanied by pioneering companies that took advantage of that change. The last time such a change was brought upon us was when the smartphone was unleashed. Back in 2007, the world was a much different place. Since then, smartphones have not spared any business. From retail to transportation; from supply chain to finance; everyone had to bow to the power of the smartphone and the cloud.

The wave swept the world in a matter of 7 years and everything changed forever. So much so that the next world war will not be fought on a battlefield but the internet.

The current pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Also, it is taking place at a time when we have the ability and the technology to make changes at unforeseen speed. This is the time to get on the next curve.

Smartphones reached maturity (~80% market penetration) in a matter of 7 years. The revolution that this situation is going to unleash will reach maturity in a matter of 3 or 4 years. There will be winners who will emerge from this and their fortunes will turn in a very short period. 

To illustrate this – Temple Run was a company founded by a couple who operated out of their bedroom. The game was launched in 2011. In 2014, the company had over a Billion downloads and generating Millions in revenue. Not bad for 3 people. There was never a game, before 2011 or thereafter that has been this successful in such a short time and with so little resources.

The current situation can give birth to equivalent businesses in certain industries ripe for change. Any thoughts on what those changes are going to be? Most would say video-conferencing. But no.

The industries that are currently at the throes for radical change and whose future no-one knows are Real Estate, Travel and Tourism, Automobile, Education and Healthcare, amongst others. Each industry is broken in their unique way. The pandemic has broken them. They are going to be altered radically by the changes that this pandemic is unleashing. 

Instead of going ahead and building on business models which existed 5 years ago; the questions entrepreneurs should be asking is which business models would be thriving in 5 years? Where will this settle?

General Thinking

Positive Externality and CoronaVirus

Positive Externality is a concept of economics which describes an unintended positive outcome of an action. For example, the Singapore government wanted to reduce pollution and started charging a fee to drive in the CBD. This resulted in the CBD becoming safer for older people wishing to walk there, which was a positive externality.

I am sure none of you would have heard positive and Corona mentioned together in the same sentence, but I dare.

I think a lot of time and effort has been spent talking about the negative consequences of this lockdown. There are areas of Positive Externality and one need not look too far to find them.

What would have been thought impossible or far out in the future is happening today! I want to illustrate these through examples. There are broadly two themes that I am seeing which can represent opportunities for startups.

Trends that were considered 5 -10-15 years out might get accelerated.

Zomato getting into grocery – Under normal circumstances, I do not believe Zomato would have planned to get into grocery in 2020. In fact, given that the company was planning to shore up profitability and move towards an IPO, I doubt they would have for the foreseeable future. They were razor-focused on growth and profits. But then the spanner was thrown into the works. Eventually maybe in 7-10 years as growth slowed they would have been forced into the grocery segment to use their fleet and generate more income. This was certainly accelerated by the current circumstances. There was an opportunity and also a need because food delivery volumes took a beating.

Disney+ user growth – When Disney+ was launched in February 2020, the executives making presentations said that they expected the steaming service to garner 60 – 90 Million users by 2024. They just released figures last week. The company already had over 50 Million users. Being imprisoned at home has no doubt helped the cause of the service and expedited what looked like it was a half a decade away to being just two quarters away. Can you find a product-market fit like this at this time which can drive you?

Uber going from a taxi company to a logistics company – Right from the day that the Uber app was built to accommodate ‘Contractors’, Travis Kalanik always viewed Uber as a logistics company. In all of his interviews, he spoke of the fact that Uber could be used to move anything, not just people. Maybe Uber was not thinking of delivering grocery in the immediate future but the current circumstances have forced the company to move into the market and partner company and support them.

Habits and thinking that are considered too entrenched to change.

Telemedicine takes-off – Would you consult the doctor from your living room just over a phone or a laptop? It might be possible, but people would not want to do that. This was the entrenched thought process which caused clinics to be set up and for doctors to run around the city going from clinic to clinic – to consult patients. Changed in a heartbeat. The moment the shutdown was announced, the Medical Council of India issued a circular and now suddenly everyone is getting into telemedicine.

Amazon and Apple working together on Amazon Prime Video on Apple TV – You cannot buy an e-book using the Amazon app on iPhone (even today). The reason – Apple takes a 30% cut on any digital goods sold through any iOS device. For the foreseeable future, they will not change this. But they blinked when it came to Amazon app on Apple TV. They allowed Amazon to integrate their payment gateway and collect payments. With people sitting at home it made sense to allow amazon this leeway so people remain on Apple TV.

Apple and Google working together on an OS level for features – Last week Apple and Google announced that they have been developing an OS-level solution that can allow both OS to communicate with each other. Apple refers to Google as those other guys in their presentation, so this is unthinkable. They came together because they needed a cohesive solution if the proximity detection was to be used to let you know if you had been around someone who is diagnosed as infected.

Some things that have been considered impossible are happening now and happening fast. We hosted a talk session last week over Zoom where we had over 100 people join in for the webinar. Never had we seen such a turnout for a webinar, it is happening now.

So what opportunity are you not looking at? What behaviour did you wish to desperately change? Here is the window to experiment. Try that thing that was considered impossible. If you have value to deliver, you might just find a new way to do it.



There was a time (however brief) when Mozart did not know how to play the Piano (he started playing it at the ripe age of TWO!). There was a time before Picasso knew how to paint. There was a time before Einstein knew how to calculate. They learnt.

I often come across Entrepreneurs who will tell me they do not know how to do something. I do not know how to code. I do not know to sell. I can’t understand the numbers. 

Well, then learn! 

There is no choice in the matter. All of us were delivered on this planet, a blank slate. We go on to learn things and apply them. Nobody was born knowing something. So not knowing is not an excuse. If you don’t know something and its important to know it in order to take your venture ahead; LEARN IT.

I know you must be thinking – is that not what the co-founder is for?

Yes. But in the event that you do not have one, you can’t stand paralysed, you need to move ahead. The moment they see the journey moving forward, their willingness to get on-board with your vision increases.

Always move forward.

Never be averse to learning.


Signal to Noise Ratio

In a world where data is the new gold, it is not abnormal to go chasing data and seek to make every decision based on the data at hand. And to have it updated each second. Data is a useful and wonderful guide provided you have enough of it and over a long enough duration.

All information is not good information. When information arrives at very short intervals, it does not accommodate the entire trend or how things play out. Take for instance if you have to decide whether to carry an umbrella or not. You look at the condition outside maybe check the horizon, take another look an hour later and decide what to do. 

If you were to be supplied information about the cloud to clear sky ratio every 10 seconds, would it make for a great decision? When you have a lot of data coming and the time scale of the data coming in is too short, the signal to noise ratio increases significantly. 

It is the same reason following the presidential impeachment hour to hour is useless. 

You need to get on top of discernible trends as a founder. Don’t fall into the trap of data, just because there are updates available each second – even for your own business. Identify the currents that are carrying you.

General Thinking


Status Quo is a very powerful thing.

Have you ever heard anyone tell you that they are enjoying the hunt for a new job? They might realise that a change is necessary and important; nevertheless they would not enjoy the process. There is a certain inertia in the way things are. Change implies overcoming that inertia and changing direction. This is inherently a hard thing to do.

People hate this process; people hate change.

When a bridge falls, you just see the change happen on the day that the bridge falls; but the change has been in the works for a while. The cracks were forming for a period of time, the stresses were building, the structure was weakening; it is just that you did not have the ability to see it happening. You see the final outcome and hate the outcome.

Many people notice change when it finally arrives at their door. They think, the situation changed overnight. Change rarely happens overnight. Change has to overcome inertia and then arrive to be. Change is usually a long time in the making. It is our ability to perceive this change that is weak.

Therefore people are rarely prepared for change.

Strength had to transform into weakness and weakness into failure for the bridge to fall. While most of us notice the second part, we do not notice the first part. Change is persistent.

Most of the startups are trying to get into areas that are not traditional. They are trying to do things that have not been done before. This means that they need to change the behaviour of their customers. It is wrong to expect this change to arrive when you seek for it to arrive. It will be a gradual process beginning with taking the inertia out of the system.

Set a goal, pursue it, seek it out. Initially, it may seem like nothing is happening. Then slowly but surely, change will become visible.

General Thinking

Speed is exaggerated

There is an excessive amount of focus on speed, when it comes to building startups. One of the advices that is often provided to startups is to get out of the blocks really fast.

The #FailFast philosophy has probably pushed more startups towards failure than towards success.

If you were building a house, would you want the foundation to be laid really fast? Or might you prefer that time is taken to ensure that the foundation is really solid?

A business is a marathon, not a sprint.

You can get out of the blocks fast; but then, what is going to keep the customers coming back to you? Continuously making yourself better is critical; that is what keeps them coming back. Customers will stay with you when you delight them, keep offering them something better and better to look forward to.

You get paid for showing up and making the product/experience better everyday.

A fast start is like a spark, continuous improvement and delivery is the fire.

Keep the fire burning.

General Thinking

Time Management

I meet entrepreneurs regularly; I often come across a self-development question that I find really hard to answer. They ask me how do you do so many things? How do you manage time better? I have no clue, partly because I myself was unaware of what time management really meant.

‘To Do’ lists are the best way to put together the list of things that need to be done and get through all of them. Having said that, anyone who has ever done a ‘To Do’ list would tell you how difficult it is to get through the entire list and make sure that all of the items on it are checked off.

I wondered why.

Often, once we make a list of things to be done, we start by getting all the easiest things done on the list before  we cut across to the harder ones. The reasoning is simple, if there are 10 things on the list and 5 are hard and 5 easy, I can check off 5 of the easiest things in just an hour and then there will only be 5 things left for the rest of the day. Instead, if we pick up the hardest thing first, we might be stuck with it for a couple of hours and at the end of it, we would still be left with 9 things to and a lot less time left.

The variable that one misses out on is mental energy.

In order to complete tasks that require hard work, the amount of mental energy required is much greater than that to complete tasks that require little effort.

In an experiment conducted in the US, they took two groups of students and put them in two separate rooms. Both rooms had an oven baking fresh cookies and the smell of cookies was allowed to waft all over the room. The first group of students were told that they were not allowed to eat any of the cookies but the second group was allowed to eat all they wanted. Both groups were kept in the room for half an hour. After this, both groups were given mathematical problems to solve. The second group performed a lot better than the first group. The reason? The first group had spent a considerable amount of  mental energy willing themselves against eating the cookies; while the second group had an abundance of mental energy, having been allowed to do whatever they wished to do.

We all have a finite amount of mental energy at our disposal, and each and every activity that we perform through the day eats into it. Is it not better that we undertake the hardest activities on the list when we have the greatest amount of mental energy at our disposal, rather than when it is flagging?

There were some things that I had put on my To Do list, which I had been pushing for the last 2 weeks. This morning, I started with those tasks and finished them first. Interestingly, I was able to get through them faster and more efficiently. I was left with a lot of time on hand during the day since the easy things were completed in no time.

The simple things can be done when you are low on mental energy, but the difficult things definitely can’t. Every activity dips into a finite pool of mental energy and takes some of it away from you.

If you look at some of the most effective leaders, they are often people who take the bull by the horns, and face and resolve problems as soon as they appear. This is a very important leadership trait.

Hence, the key to managing time well is to optimise the utilisation of your mental energy, and to make sure that you can make the most of the time that is at your disposal.


General Thinking


Physics provides the best models to understand the physical world. But sometimes, it also provides the best models to understand the metaphysical.

Entropy refers to the rate of change that can be seen in a system. As the entropy in a system increases it becomes increasingly difficult to predict the next few moments. The more you heat a pot of water, the more bubble formation takes place and it becomes increasingly difficult to find patterns.

The only reason the earth as a planet is alive is due to its ability to hold onto heat. Heat creates entropy. Entropy creates change and that is essential to the existence of life. Mars by comparison lacks an atmosphere and hence does not have any heat in the system, the lack of entropy means nothing lives on the planet. At the other extreme you have a planet like Jupiter, where the entropy is too high, much like the boiling pot of water, making it impossible to support life.

Sorry for the long convoluted way in which this post is going, it came to me when I was watching ‘The Martian’ on the plane.

In business and in relationship entropy is important to move things forward.

If you own a startup and far too many days, you find that nothing much has changed, you know that you are already deep in trouble because the system lacks entropy. Its as if the engine has no heat in it.

Alternately, overheating is also a problem. So, it should not be a case, where things are changing much too rapidly. This removes the possibility of the system reaching any kind of stable state. The business would be in a constant state of change and there is no way to find a model that works efficiently and sustainably.

If your business depends of building relationships, the same axioms hold true. Many B2B companies start to take their accounts for granted since they are already with them. They do not make substantial changes to their products, eventually they lose the account to a more nimble and agile competitor. To the contrary if you keep suggesting too many changes to the client, eventually the client is going to grow tired and cease the relationship.

The challenge is to find balance. Is that not the problem with everything in life?


General Thinking

Imposter Syndrome is about achieving Potential

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,

Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani

This is perhaps the most important learning that one can take away from the Bhagwad Gita. It is also by far the least understood.

What it says is :

You have the right to work only; but never to its fruits.

Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.


This is contrary to human behaviour. Why would you do something, if you were not going to get something in return. The entire point of engaging in any activity is to reach a certain goal. We go to school because, that is the path to college. We go to college to earn a degree, to get a good job.

How many of you went to college for the experience? Would you have been able to convince your parents to make the financial commitments that it takes to attend college had you told them you were going there purely for the experience.


In most cases, education is seen as a means of getting a good job.


But some of us, very few of us, are actually wired to do things because it interests us, or excites us, or makes us happy.

The fact that the activity is not being pursued with an implicit goal but purely for the fun of it makes you better at it. You are not burdened with achieving something. You are free to fail, to learn and to push the limits. That is all is needed to do awesome things!

When you do awesome things, good things come to you. This may be a promotion, recognition or some perks. While you are left thinking, I did not do anything great.

In the world of startups, this can seem extremely accelerated since things have a tendency to change quickly, while at the same time good work is recognised very fast.

Some folks end up feeling that they are being recognised while they did not deserve any of it and that when somebody finds out, their fraud will be caught. They suffer from what is called Imposter Syndrome.

When I started writing my blog regularly, some publications got in touch with me asking me if I would like to contribute to their publications. I do not consider myself a great writer, still don’t; my sister writes way better than me. Also I tend to be very robotic with my explanations.

I started writing just because I could. When I was told that a well known blog would like to republish me, I felt that they had it all wrong. I still continue to feel that my next piece will prove, what a load of crap I have been putting out. This next one will be the reason they will stop reposting my stuff. That feeling never goes away.

Turns out; the post I fear about the most, are the ones that get the best feedback.

The trouble with those suffering from Imposter Syndrome is that, since they are doing it without expecting anything in return they are achieving their true potential. It is hard to understand this, when you compare yourself with those who seem to be really putting in a lot of effort to be the BEST. You are the best because you are not trying to be; you are just doing what comes naturally to you. You have nothing to prove. For you there is just fun there to be had and you are having it.

Truth be told; those who seem to be suffering from Imposter Syndrome are just extremely talented people who tend not to see themselves that way.

If you feel like an Imposter, the most important question to ask yourself is; Are you doing what you are supposed to do? If you are, odds are you are not an imposter but just really humble.