The Entrepreneur Life

Tag: 30 days

Visualization and other lessons from a friend

“He’s my colleague’s son-in-law. You should connect with him, soon as you get to Bangalore.”

I don’t know about you, but as a young man, I usually did not jump on friend recommendations that my father-in-law made. So it was nearly a year after we’d moved to Bangalore that I finally connected with Ramani. And boy was I glad I did – my life – nay our lives – my wife, kids and I would have never been the same if we hadn’t met Ramani and his family. Over the years Ramani has been many things – first a friend, a walking and yoga partner, a teacher, student, at times a project for me and often a sounding board.

Sense of humor Chitra and I can’t help but smile anytime we talk of Ramani. Few people I’ve met is so ready with a smile and laugh as Ramani is. Despite many business challenges he might be facing as an entrepreneur, Ramani is always not just ready to listen but to laugh with us. And even better often laugh at himself. All to often, he’s exactly what the doctor ordered. There are times I suspect I call him just to hear him laugh – it’s a tonic. Sure accounts receivable may be hell, customers may be complaining and cash flow may be a problem, but keeping your sense of humor helps you not only cope with all this but to be there for others.

Community Just after we first met, Ramani invited the family and me to an event organized by a non-profit, Premaanjali Educational Trust (PET Forum) he had co-founded. Even by Indian standards of extended families and communities, the PET forum was an amazing group – mostly first generation entrepreneurs who’d gotten together to make a difference in the community even as they were just getting their businesses rolling. What made this different for me, was the degree to which the families of the entrepreneurs – particularly the kids – were engaged with the cause. The manner in which we were welcomed into the group as Ramani’s friends was overwhelming. Active to this day, Ramani has lived the truth that giving back to community is something you do NOW in the midst of our messy lives. It’s not just something you plan to do one of these days or when you retire.

Power of visualisation To say Ramani is an optimist – then again which entrepreneur isn’t – doesn’t describe him adequately. He’s been an active practitioner (and proponent) of the power of visualisation. When he first spoke of it to me, I’m sure I was skeptical, yet his passion and belief moved me to give it a shot. That and several crisis in my business found me ready to try nearly anything. To this day I’m glad that I listened to him and use this technique to both prepare myself as well as work towards my goals.

Thank you Ramani, for being such a wonderful listener, friend and teacher. I’m truly grateful that you are in our lives and all the difference that you’ve made.


You can read all the posts in my 30 days of gratitude series here.

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Be Bold and Reach for the Stars – lessons from a mentor

Do you think I could get a bottle of coke?

Gareth Thomas

Photo Credit: Photograph courtesy of the U. S. Department of Energy and the AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Hardly words that change your life. But they did in my case. Gareth Thomas, then director of the National Center for Electron Microscopy at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) and professor at the University of California at Berkeley was visiting our college at the Banaras Hindu University, when he asked for this bottle of coke. During the two days of his visit I had been unusually reticent as the rest of my classmates clamoured to get the “great man”‘s attention – I of course covered it by acting as though I was too cool to chase after him.

Long story short, I was tasked to get him that bottle of coke. I ended up jumping in his car en route to the airport. We made small talk as he asked me what I was interested in (damned if I knew). He suggested that I read his recent papers on ceramic composites and send him a note. Which for once I did – working like the devil – and in turn he offered me a research assistantship at Berkeley.

Gareth was a larger than life figure, whose impact on hundreds, yep hundreds, of graduate students has resulted in an entire generation of microscopists populating the best research schools across the US and UK. Working closely with him, taught me some critical life lessons.

Be bold Gareth grew up in Wales and as a Welshman in 1950’s Cambridge it was not easy to study and work in England . So like many before him he headed west to America and rapidly carved a niche for himself in metallurgy initially and electron microscopy eventually. He never let anything stand in the way of his vision of becoming the #1 in his chosen field, culminating in Berkeley and LBL becoming the go-to place for Electron Microscopy. The story of how the Center was built despite LBL sitting on the San Andreas fault and the slightest movement would make microscopy impossible is a whole another blog post by itself. So here was this fire plug of a man, who didn’t let a new country, new field, minor matter of earthquake country and money stop him from building a Centre that would add prestige to a University that boasted more Nobel Laureates than most other nations! Think big and go for it was a lesson Gareth lived.

Be imaginative By the time I showed up at Berkeley, we had probably the only one of two research groups that still worked on Iron and Steel (this was the early eighties, and classical metallurgy seemed passé!) We had graduate students doing some interesting work and our papers had to be peer-reviewed. Research was still competitive and so we were in a fix. Gareth located research groups in South Korea and India (the only places where iron and steel research was still happening) and reached out to them, so that a critical mass of researchers could be built up. Similarly when some of our early work in ceramics, aluminum nitride for instance was having trouble getting funding, he went across to Toshiba and other corporations in Japan to fund our work. To keep things on the up and up, he let his grad students do some of these as projects directly with the company as consulting gigs, so archaic University rules around corporate funding of research programs didn’t stop work.

Balance business and science Very early on Gareth recognized that doing good science or engineering required serious funding and that government alone would not be enough. Also while research is critical, its applicability in the real world was just as important. While other schools and sometimes other professors at Berkeley prided themselves on not working on anything applied, Gareth showed us that it as never OR – good science or good business but it is critical as engineers and scientists for us to solve real world problems or direct our research in a way that would have real world applicability. Of course the proof of the pudding lay in industry being willing to fund our research, hire his grad students or license the technology. The number of Gareth’s students who are today in critical research and decision-making roles in both government and industry is living proof of his success in balancing business and science.

Thank you Gareth for all that taught me, outside of microscopy and material science. I’m grateful to have met you and worked with you. I miss you.

Gareth passed away earlier this February.


This is the eighth entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series.
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Taking risks and other lessons from a mentor

I have a job offer from Infosys and an option to start my own business — what do you think I should do?

NS Raghavan

The question was posed by a young man who approached N.S. Raghavan (NSR), former joint managing director and one of the founders of Infosys. When Raghavan responded, “Take the job with Infosys,” the youngster was taken aback. In Raghavan’s words, “If you are an entrepreneur, starting a business is not an option that you consider alongside taking a job — you’d just do it!”

The story was narrated by Raghavan himself soon after he had invested in our first business Impulsesoft. The best way to describe my experience with Raghavan was that he was truly an “angel” – not just in that he invested but in how he gave us a long rope – always available for input and help but never looking over our shoulder, even as we stumbled from one crisis to another in those early years. In those five years that he was an investor, booster and mentor to us, we’d have had maybe two meetings a year – yet the insights he shared and the spirit he imbued in us were invaluable. Two critical lessons I learned from NSR were

Be willing to take risks We’d been in business of nearly five years, when we broke even and made a small profit. It was amply clear that we were not going to die, but the market was consolidating around us and we’d have to either integrate forward – enter the consumer market as a brand or backward into chip making. Neither was very easy  – the former needing large marketing investments and potentially a low margin, high volume business. The latter a prohibitive capital expenditure and changing who we were (primarily software). Having worked with the likes of Logitech and Sony (Ericsson), we were quite enamoured with the consumer retail business – possibly because we were not in it 😉 So in a board meeting we were presenting the pros and cons – and trying to hedge our bets, when Raghavan spoke up – You’ve got to take risks in business – if, staying in the same place is no longer an option, and your passion lies in trying to build a consumer brand, go for it. And we did – setting up Hippo Lifestyles in Singapore. And we struggled but the story had a good ending when our semiconductor customers and partners approached us seeking a merger. Our decision (and willingness) to go our own way and risk building a consumer brand, allowed us to negotiate more confidently resulting in a profitable acquisition. This is a lesson that’s stayed with me.

Being an angel means letting the entrepreneurs make the call Despite NSR’s investment in our business, we were quickly out of money and needed more. So we went back to borrow some money from him and did so twice. While we’d stayed focused on Bluetooth, we zigged and zagged years before the word pivoting was fashionable – going wide, going narrower (only stereo music), building proof of concept hardware systems, laying off our still-born chip design team, creating new standards (for bluetooth in a car), exiting the highly profitable Japanese service market, to focus on the laggard North American market, nearly merged with a North American design company (that was our customer). If you are still with me, you can tell it was a rocky ride with a lots of turns – Raghavan was supportive throughout all of this, not butting in till we sought his council and always nudging us to come up with the answers and not jumping right in with his solution. This is not an easy thing, even when you are not an investor. I’m yet to possess this degree of dispassion but NSR’s example continues to inspire me. So when I hear someone bad mouth an angel, I find myself jumping in citing his example.

Thank you NSR, for your incredible faith and all the support and inspiration you provided us through out the Impulsesoft journey. You continue to inspire me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with you.

 


This is the seventh entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series.
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Get your hands dirty and other lessons from a friend

You might want to keep your hands in your pockets.

I think I’ve always gesticulated with my hands and I never realized it but I also am a toucher. I touch people when I talk to them. I’d been in grad school for about two months and met Marcel, a fellow grad student in the same department, but working for a different professor. I can’t recall how we struck up a friendship, we couldn’t have been more different. Marcel was this serious Dutch guy with a Masters studying computational Material Science. I had been voted – most likely to be hurt in a political dustup and not graduate – while at BHU.

A couple of months after we’d  become friends, Marcel took me aside and told me, “ Western men don’t usually like to be touched by other men!” I didn’t realize that I had been not just waving my hands but clasping hands or otherwise touching the guys I was talking to. Coming from India, where it’s common to see two guys holding hands or hands across each other’s shoulders, the concept of personal space, was a little alien to me.  I think I was aghast, when Marcel recommended using my pockets to hold my hands. Well that was only the first of many lessons I was to learn from Marcel over the four years we were in grad school together.

Walk in the wilderness Marcel introduced me to hiking. In fact once we even took my unsuspecting mom on a gruelling 5 mile hike in Briones National Park in Northern California. I’ll never forget the day, he let a lizard that was sunning itself on a trail, crawl on to his hand to admire it. We spent days camping in the rain on Pt. Reyes National Park. Having lived all my life in cities and having grown up in India, I’d lost the connect to nature and land – that I saw my grandparents have in rural India and Marcel helped me rediscover in America. Both of our research work, meant hours cooped up in a basement, often in a dark room with a microscope or photo chemicals in my case or in an attic warren for him. So getting out there in nature, spending time walking or even just lying in a tent in pouring rain, taught me to both take a break and reconnect with nature as well as return invigorated to the work at hand. Through out my subsequent startups, most of my 1:1s I’ve had walking in a park in Bangalore and in an open school playground. Stay connected to nature, appreciate and engage with the outdoors is a lesson that I’ve learned from Marcel.

Don’t let little or big things stop you Many months after I met Marcel is when I learned that he did not hear so good in one of his ears. Of course that explained why he prefered to always walk one side when we hiked or otherwise did things together. This ear went from bad to worse till he had to have surgery many years later to try to fix his hearing in addition to using electronic aids. Yet many of our most fun times together was when he played the piano, which he did a great job of – whether for Christmas carolling or at a dinner party. Conferences meant giving talks, attending more and networking. From Marcel’s music or enjoyment of the piano, you could never tell that he was hampered in any way – so he did not let little or in this instance big things around his hearing from doing the things he loved or being able to do his professional roles. So on days when I’m throwing a snit for not getting the right sort of pencil or getting good copy writers I have to remind myself of what I learned – don’t let the little or big things stop me from doing what needed to or wanted to get done.

Get your hands dirty For a guy who’s research involving electronically computing phase diagrams from first principles, Marcel could fix cars like a mechanic. He bought a fixer-upper in Richmond-Berkeley border and really fixed it up – doing carpentry, plumbing and a great deal of gardening. And he could cook up a pretty good storm. Before meeting him, I’d have had a hard time fixing anything beyond checking if the darn thing was plugged in. By no means am I any good at plumbing, electrical work, dry walling or any of the other manly contractor jobs – but I’ve gotten to be darn good cook (even if I say so myself), a semi-decent do it yourself (DIY-er) and odd jobs guy. More importantly I got to appreciate the value of being able to do such work and the people who are good at it. Many years later in my first startup this lesson got reinforced, when we build several teams of sharp kids, but few of whom had actually gotten their hands dirty, building stuff. Marcel was a maker before the Maker movement. I’d like to think i get my hands more dirty these days, and the credit for that goes to Marcel.

Thank you Marcel, for being such a wonderful friend. I don’t think I’d have completed Engineering Mathematics or graduated but for your help and for all the life lessons you’ve taught me. I’m grateful to have you in my life.


This is the sixth entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |

Separate the personal and professional – lessons from a mentor

You don’t know my children – they will take care of their mother!

My father was in the process of making a will, and was not too happy with where the conversation was going. Badrinarayanan, chartered accountant, good friend and a mentor, didn’t back down – he was polite yet firm. “I have no doubt your children are the finest people. But it is better that you make sure your wife is not dependent on any of them.” I think my dad did not speak with Badri for a few days after that – yet he did go with Badri’s recommendation.

Photo : Ravages via Compfight

Photo : Ravages via Compfight

In this meeting and many others I had a chance to see Badri handle a variety of issues with a great deal of finesse in his own understated style – never raising his voice, using humor, often self-deprecatory, to overcome objections or cut through hard problems.

Here are two lessons that I’ve learned from Badri.

Separate the personal and professional Badri and I met when I was working for his brother – so it was a social connect. It was when I was toying with kicking off my startup – a full year and half after quitting his brother’s firm, that he connected me with my future partners. With them I went on to build, grow and sell our first startup Impulsesoft. Since then Badri’s been the auditor for two of my startups, his firm were my personal tax accountants, till I took my (miniscule) business to a one-man firm. Through all these changes – working with his brother, working with one another professionally and then not – our relationship has only grown richer and deeper. Badri sends a steady stream of young entrepreneurs whom he believes may benefit from my experiences – even though I probably learn more from them! Through the last 18 years, he’s repeatedly been an exemplary model of professionalism worth emulating.

Keep a sense of perspective Just as his business was taking off, Badri faced some serious health challenges, which severely stressed his professional and personal situation. The manner in which he not only traversed the hard times but the optimism and good cheer he carried with him to the other side is not something I’ve encountered outside of books. The acute sense of perspective – of what is really important has enabled him to balance the endless challenges of work with the needs of personal health and family. He’s my role model when I find myself either getting too self-important or overwhelmed by what’s happening around me.

Thank you Badri, for being a wonderful friend,  an inspiration and a role model. I’m grateful that you are in my life and appreciate all the support through the years.


This is the fifth entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series.

Make Haste Slowly – lessons from a mentor

Now lookee here! You gotta sloow down!

via Comfight

via Comfight

I was fresh out of college, all rearing to go. My work buddy, mentor and fellow process engineer Ken Bohannon had been working longer than I’d lived. The very first day it was clear none of what I’d learned in nine years of college was going to be of much use, as we set out to build a green field semiconductor factory. The team was a motley crew of experienced hands and fresh grads, split probably right down the middle. Our little work group was itself a virtual United Nations – Ken, from Louisana, Tony from Samoa, Mohsen from Iran, Joel the token Washington native and yours truly from India.

Ken and I couldn’t have been more different – he was a 6 feet 4+ inches tall, built like a linebacker, spoke slowly with a Lousiana drawl that was never too far. He was unflappable, patient, ready with a question and slow to jump to conclusions. I was a foot shorter, easily excitable, prone to act first and think later. Hence his frequent reminders to slow down!

In the short two years we worked together, 18 months in the same department, Ken taught me not just all about diffusion and furnaces, but how to work well with operators on the factory floor, all of whom had vastly greater experience than us, the maintenance crew who were suspicious of all the college kids and engineers and vendors of all stripes. The real lessons I learnt from Ken are:

Making haste slowly We were building new processes, on new equipment and in some instances we were building the equipment themselves. This was the time when six-inch wafer were being used for the first time and so the number of things that could go wrong was enormous and things did go wrong. So rather than run yet another 12 hour experiment overnight, it made sense to stop, take stock, think through what it is we were seeing and what made sense, if we wanted to get the production line fixed before the next shift showed up. All clearly sensible in hindsight. However, Ken’s calm approach and gentle prodding is what taught me to balance my need to rush forth with some forethought – hence making haste slowly. Can’t say I’ve mastered it but Ken is where it all started.

Working with younger people Today as a father of teens and working with young entrepreneurs professionally, it is only recently I’ve learned to appreciate what Ken must have gone through with me. At no point did he make big deal about working with clearly no-nothing, not-prepared to listen folks such as myself. Even more importantly, he was very willing to learn from us, the few things that we did know a little more about – whether the VAX VMS systems or statistics or wordprocessing software.

Knowing what you love Even in the backwaters of suburban Tacoma in the late eighties – NY city or Silicon Valley it wasn’t – a lot of the people in our company were hustling to get ahead. Ken was not only laid back, or maybe he was laid back, ’cause he was clear about his priorities. He was the first person that I heard say I don’t want to be a manager – of course he’d been there and done it. He was comfortable with himself and who he was, clear about what he wanted and confident enough to be vocal about it. I can’t say I understood it then, but since then clearly I’ve gotten a little smarter and envy his clarity and courage of conviction.

Ken, thank you for all that you’ve taught me – including what March madness was. I’m yet to master slowing down, but am grateful for having you in my life and putting to good use a great deal of what I learned from you.


This is the fourth entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series.

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3 Darn Good Reasons You Need Advisors Who Think Differently

“When are you going to sell your company?”

Photo Credit: Oberazzi via Compfight

Photo Credit: Oberazzi via Compfight

I was taken aback. My good friend and former boss, Sandeep Khanna had suggested that I talk to Pravin Madhani, kick-ass sales guy and serial entrepreneur who’d just sold his previous company for a sizeable chunk of change. My intention in meeting with him, was to learn about raising capital. This was in 2000, when the internet bubble had burst and we were still holding day jobs as we tried to bootstrap Impulsesoft, our Bluetooth startup.

I think my first response to Pravin’s question was a somewhat offended “We’re trying to build a business here – we’re not going to sell it.” To Pravin’s credit, he kept his laughter to mere chuckles and persisted.

This was the first of several meetings I had over nearly two years – usually months apart. Every time we met his first question would be about selling the company – a variant of “When are you..” or “Have you already..” Initially I felt very uncomfortable about this question and wasn’t sure if I really wanted to talk to him. To my we-are-trying-to-build-a-Sony-or-HP sensibility, his questions seemed far too commercial. Luckily good sense prevailed and I did continue to meet with him and he too met with me enthusiastically, despite my clear discomfort.

I came to not only value but look forward to my meetings with Pravin. Three critical lessons I learned from Pravin

The need for clarity Why are you in business or for that matter why are you doing whatever it is you are doing? Examine this closely. Each time you seek to answer this, go past the easy or evident answers. My meetings with him were always the exercises in asking Why five or more times. And clarity can only be achieved by asking uncomfortable questions

The power of diversity Of all the advisors I sought, Pravin was probably the one who was most unlike me. This I have to admit made me uncomfortable. I suspect I initially avoided or at least procrastinated meeting with him. The very fact that we were so different, thought very differently is what made my meetings however short and far apart, invaluable. To this date, I find myself asking “What would Pravin ask?”

Being yourself Pravin was the living embodiment of being yourself. What you saw is what you got – he made no apologies for the positions he held, which in hindsight all seem tame. Neither did he hesitate to say “I don’t know. I don’t understand it.” Several years after my first meeting, Pravin sought my marketing inputs for one of his startups. His engineering vp had persuaded him to have me come in. He told me “I thought marketing was all fluff and am never sure marketers really do anything.” I refrained from retorting that this was rich coming from a sales guy! The very next morning he called me and said how useful our meeting had been despite his initial skepticism. Despite his multiple successes (he did sell this second startup as well) Pravin’s been the same plain-spoken person with no airs about him. An example well worth emulating.

Thank you Pravin for being the person you are and challenging me on every occasion you’ve had. I’ve learned a great deal and in a small way passing them on to the next generation of entrepreneurs. I’m grateful that I got to know you and to work with you.


This is the third entry in my 30 days of Gratitude series.
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Practice makes perfect – lessons from a mentor

Ma’am, TTV wants Srikrishna.

I was in ninth grade, when a tenth grader appeared in my class, asking for me. TTV – Mr. TT Varadakutti – was my math teacher – a slim, small made man, with a distinctive red mark on his forehead. He was one of the teachers who both excited us and gave rise to dread when he called upon us in class or outside. Why was he calling me?

I walk over to the 10th grade classroom and enter tentatively. I pointedly avoided meeting the 30 odd pairs of eyes that are staring balefully – so I imagined – at me.

Sir, you called?” I address TTV who’s busy writing something on the board. “Ah, there you are Srikrishna, tell me what’s ….” and he shoots three or four questions at me. For a moment, I’m flummoxed and then begin to answer him. I was so focused on his rapid fire questions that I lost sight of where I was and what else was happening. Then he drops the bombshell. Turning to the 10th graders, he says “Aren’t you ashamed that you guys can’t answer questions that a ninth grader can? ”

I beat a hasty retreat, without meeting the eyes of any of the tenth graders and tried to stay out of the playground the next couple of days!

Practice makes perfect While TTV didn’t usually pull us out of class to snub our seniors, he constantly challenged us and expected us to push ourselves. He’d expect us to be able to work out problems on the fly and in our heads, under pressure. His constant refrain was to practice, practice, practice. And he didn’t leave it to chance, he made us work on enormous number of problems.

Make learning fun When teaching us commutative law (or any other basic principles or axioms) he’d first write it on the board.

a + (b+c) = (a+b)+c

Then he’d read it out “A plus (pause) (superfast) b+c (pause) equals (superfast) a+b (pause) plus c – the first time he did this we wondered if something had happened to him. However, over the several months (and years) he taught us, he trained us adequately to be able to transcribe any problem he dictated correctly without his having to write it on the board. It also made it immensely fun. In the bargain, what seemed like a silly or contrived game – became thoroughly absorbing. We also developed great respect for brackets and parenthesis early 🙂

Expect the best from yourself and others As my little trial by fire in front of the 10th graders showed, I was likely the most surprised by being able to answer his questions. Starting with his evident passion for the subject, his high expectations from his students and his willingness to work hard with us, he never lowered the bar. Years later when I took Engineering math in graduate school or the IIT entrance exams right after school, his lessons stood me in good stead.

Thank you TTV sir. 35 years on, since graduating from your class, I continue to not only value, but use, the lessons you taught me. I’m grateful for having had you in my life and all that you’ve taught me.


This is the second entry in my 30 days of gratitude series.

God is in the details and other lessons from a mentor

Don’t tell me how our customers love us. Tell me when we’ll have the purchase order!

DSC05104Every Wednesday morning, we’d have an Ops meetings at Impulsesoft, my first startup. M. Chandrasekaran (aka Shekar) our Chairman, who functioned as de facto COO and at times CEO when I was overseas, presided over the meeting. As a boot-strapped startup which relied on customer payments to pay the bills, these meetings were critical to get a sense of when we’d ship, when we could bill customers and when we’d get paid. The fact that Shekar was approaching 50 while the rest of the leadership team (excluding yours truly) was approaching their late 20s made for interesting dynamics all by itself. . We were shipping a wireless protocol stack (a piece of software that would allow Bluetooth to work) to some of the world’s largest technology firms – Acer, Panasonic, Siemens and trying to sell to Ericsson, IBM, Logitech. This meant long selling cycles often involving technical evaluations and demos. The fact that 100% of our target customers were overseas added its own challenges to both marketing and sales process. So all too often the discussion would come down to where things were at in an evaluation, when we think the customer might make a decision, then issue a PO, against which we could raise an invoice (for the advance payment) and even more importantly borrow from our bank!

So every so often Shekar had to remind us to get our heads out of how well things were going in an eval and to get us to focus on the outcome – the ruddy Purchase Order (or PO). As a business there were several critical lessons Shekar taught us, despite many of us dreading or alternately resenting the Wednesday morning meetings. In hindsight some of these seem self-evident, but its well worth remembering as well occasionally being reminded.

Actions speak louder than words Whether it’s a customer telling you he loves your product, or your company or even you, does he show that by buying your product, referring others to it or caring enough to give feedback that makes your business, product or you better. By the way this was a lesson he taught us not just about business or customers but in our own lives. Shekar was never late to a meeting and amply demonstrated through his actions how he valued punctuality and the worth of his word.

Keep the end in mind We were a business first – not that you’d have guessed this easily in our early days! We were far too busy having fun building cool tech (we demonstrated a working prototype of a Bluetooth-enabled watch as a phone accessory – what today Samsung and Apple ship as a smart Watch, back in 2004!). Businesses that make profits tend to survive and keeping in mind that’s what we were doing required frequent reminding. This too applied well beyond customers and revenues, whether in hiring folks or in personal lives, be it choosing a career path, making an investment or finding a life partner.

God (or the devil) is in the details This is the single biggest lesson Shekar taught me and I find myself in turn, with far less success, trying to teach young entrepreneurs. Know your business, know your people, know yourself and pay attention to the devilish details that demonstrates that you know these well. In these Wednesday meetings Shekar, would always start with a blank piece of A5 paper (a letter-size paper folded in half) and list the top 5 items – despite our having these on emails, Excel sheets and elsewhere. Similarly the top 5 or 10 outstanding deals, be they invoicing, billing or collection would be written from scratch on this piece of paper. What initially seemed archaic or quaint at times, was a real lesson in having the details of our business, at his fingertips. Regardless of how complex our businesses are, there are usually not 4-5 critical things that need our attention – and we’d better know what these are at all times. What did we bill last quarter/month/week or how many users/customers downloaded our application to what our attrition rate last month was – there’s a variety of metrics that govern our business. While the advent of SaaS businesses has introduced a whole slew of metrics to young entrepreneurs, far too few entrepreneurs and founders seem to know the details as well as they should.

All these lessons were invaluable in my own personal life – whether its’ remembering an anniversary or spouse’s birthday (devilish detail), articulating or demonstrating our love or gratitude (actions louder than words) or holding your tongue or retort with a child or customer (keeping the end in mind). Thank you Shekar, for being a patient and perseverant mentor and teaching all of us so much. I’m grateful for having you in my life.


This is the first entry in my 30 days of gratitude series.

30 Days of Gratitude

As yet another NaNoWriMo opened on November 1st, my thoughts turned to what other things could be done in the next thirty days. Om Malik’s resolution in October to do 30 days of blogging was also lurking in my mind. For some time now I’ve planned to write about all the mentors who’ve helped me – not just with business but with life as a whole. The posts are intended to say thanks as well as share what it is I learnt from each of them.

So starting Monday Nov 3, I’ll be writing a short post – featuring one mentor – I’ll try to alternate recent mentors with some of my earliest. You can catch all the posts under the tag gratitude. Join me in expressing gratitude by sharing stories of your mentors or folks who’s helped you.


You can read all the posts in my 30 days of gratitude series here.

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