The Entrepreneur Life

Tag: Life Lessons

Why today is always the best day to…

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

This morning as I read Margaret Renkl op-ed titled “I just turned 60, but I still feel 22” it struck me how similar our thoughts were even if our origins and lived experiences were utterly dissimilar. Of course in my case for several years I’ve been telling my wife that I still feel 28! And this year the first year that I’ve begun teaching college freshman (and with both my own kids graduating from grad school), I realize I’m only a year behind Ms. Renkl.

Over the last several years I’ve attempted to move away from treating milestones be they birthdays or specific dates in the Gregorian calendar as [the only] special days. Yet its unavoidable when the whole world marks a day or date to not notice. Much is made of new year resolutions people make, the gym memberships they sign up for and the stocktaking that happens. Yet stocktaking whether done annually or weekly can be misleading.

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

bill gates

As Bill Gates famously put it “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” I’ve found setting goals for year or longer takes the pressure off and helps a general direction or vector to my life and planning and tracking on a weekly basis provides just enough motivation and balance between being stressed and making progress. It also ensures that the wife and I continue to keep the harmony at home.

As Ms. Renkl makes the point in her article, “I have lived long enough to have learned, too, that what is beautiful and joyful is almost always fleeting and must never be squandered.” This is the reason I urge young to-be entrepreneurs to start their businesses today or my friends to start writing that novel or book or hug their mom or say “I love you” to their kid. Today is always the best day to do whatever you plan to do!

Occam’s Razor – Keeping it handy

William of Ockham, from stained glass window a...“The VCR is not turning on!” says my wife over the phone. We often have short phone calls along these lines. At other times it’s the laser printer or the washing machine not working or turning on. My first question usually is “Honey, is it plugged in the wall?” followed by “Is the switch on the wall socket turned on?” Sometimes we find that the kids have used the electrical socket for something else and just unplugged our device. At other times they left the outlet turned off or forgotten to turn the UPS back on, after switching it off when it last squealed.

While I’m sure your spouse (or room mate or sibling) and you never have such conversations, we certainly have to thank William of Occam (also Ockham) who lived eight hundred years ago. His eponymous maxim (aka Occam’s razor) states “in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary.”

In other words the simplest explanation for any observed phenomenon is likely the right one. This is the reason when we show up with chest pains, they check for heartburn or gas first rather than rush you into surgery. As entrepreneurs, managers and leaders, we are often faced with issues that seem to baffle us.

  • Why can’t I seem to hire anyone?
  • Why didn’t that VC call us back – the meeting went so well, we thought?
  • Why is the customer not prepared to commit?
  • Why is the network slow?
  • Why does our product crash often?

For most of theses instances, Occam’s razor is worth keeping in mind. Before you explore more complex reasons, look for the simplest ones first and those are the most likely ones.

Of course it’s worth keeping Einstein’s caveat in mind

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

If you’ve come this far, you might as well read what physicists have to say about Occam’s razor here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Test the waters – Lessons from my Dad

Buddhist meditation in Wat Khung Taphao,Ban Kh...

Image via Wikipedia

“I think I’ll just study the scriptures, meditate and focus on things spiritual.” My dad must have been in his late thirties or mid-forties when he said this to his father-in-law. To the latter’s credit, he did not tumble out of his wheel chair nor sputter and scream at my dad. “That’s a very good aspiration, Kuppuswamy,” was his response.

My dad was recounting how he went through a phase, when he was just plain tired of the rat race— all the traveling, business headaches, dealing with debtors and I suspect a fair amount of family drama—given our joint family, truant nephews and nieces and all the financial responsibilities that came with it.

My grandfather continued, “I’m happy to hear that you are thinking of studying the scriptures and focusing on matters spiritual. Let me help you. Why don’t I arrange a teacher to come to your house, early in the morning, so that before you leave for work you can begin studying the scriptures. Once you’ve done it for six months, you can quit your job and do this full time.”

My dad was greatly overjoyed. I’m not sure if he expected his father-in-law to accept what he was contemplating, let alone to actually help him with it. So indeed as my grandfather had promised, the purohit, a Brahmin teacher complete with shaved head and bare upper body showed up at 5AM the following Monday at my father’s place.

That first day they began with a simple recital of the sloka to the guru (hymn to the teacher). The following day they started with the Purusha Suktam, from the Rig Veda which seeks to explain the origin of the Universe. And on to the third morning. On the fourth morning my father had to leave for Nagpur on an unplanned business trip for several days. The following week, I think he managed to squeeze in two classes before another trip to Delhi. The week after he had to head out on a week long trip overseas. So the classes got fewer and farther. The purohit was persistent but polite. By month two my dad’s travel schedule pretty much precluded any classes. At the beginning of month three, my grandfather let my father know that when his schedule permitted more time, the purohit would return. Nothing further was said and my father never raised the matter of giving up things material and focusing on the spiritual!

For both my dad and me, there were two lessons packed into this one story. When he first approached my grandfather, he was clear in his mind what he wanted to do and was convinced that he should do it immediately and wholeheartedly. My grandfather of course convinced him to test the waters first – which obviously was a good thing. It was not my dad’s travel schedule that kept him from the lessons and his onward spiritual journey – it was that his desire to give up on everything was a passing fancy, a possible reaction to a stressful period, rather than a deeply felt life goal. And thanks to my grandfather he had neither burnt his bridges by resigning his job or caused immense worry to his family by seemingly losing interest in matters of the world.

The more useful lesson, particularly as a parent, was not to react to anything, however insane sounding, with visceral opposition as sometimes my wife and I do with our teen daughters, but to listen, even agree and demonstrate through action that what’s contemplated might not be the best course of action.

My grandfather despite being wheelchair-bound was a jujitsu master par excellence, pulling when pushed and pushing when pulled.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Be Generous – Lessons from my dad

As in my worst fears, the call came early in the morning, just before 3AM California time. When the phone rang the first time, I rejected the call, reckoning it was a colleague in India, who’d lost track of time. When the phone rang again within minutes, this time with caller ID showing another colleague’s name, I knew something was amiss.

“Sri, I am sorry to inform you your father has passed away!” At first, I was not sure I had heard right. My first thought strangely was for my colleague who had the unpleasant task of having to call me with bad news. I almost felt apologetic that I had put him in such a position. Maybe it was shock and I was not ready to hear that my father was no more.

Rushed calls to my travel agent, wondering what to tell the kids sleeping in the next room – the next thirty-six hours were a blur – neither Icelandic volcanoes spewing ash, nor delayed flights and uncooperative flight supervisors would get in the way of our making it back to India. The nearly two hour trip from the tarmac to my father’s home felt longer than the whole journey.

“Your father paid for me to go to college and then got me started on my Chartered Accountancy apprenticeship,” said the stranger, who’d come to the funeral. He looked to be about 40 years old. “Your dad was also the one who helped my brother go the United States,” he continued. There were nearly 150 people at home when I got in from the airport, most of them extended family and a good many folks that I didn’t know. Much of the afternoon, was spent recounting tales of how my father had helped someone buy a house, another furnish one and still another get a compound wall put in.

Second cousins who’d grown up in my house abounded and had their own tales of getting jobs with my dad’s help. I recall when I was a young teen, some relative admiring my father’s watch. I was aghast when my father removed it and insisted that the relative have the watch.

That evening I recall my sister and I arguing with my dad, that if he just gives away stuff, we’d probably not have anything – not that we knew what we had. My dad just laughed at first. Then when he saw how serious we were, he said “There’s great pleasure in giving – I’d say more so than even receiving.” My sister, ever the smart alec quickly retorted, “Then you’ll be happy to give and I will be happy to receive.”

It was only many years later that I learnt about my father’s journey to the city as an impoverished young man with three rupees in his pocket. While he became a successful man over the years, he never stopped giving regardless of his own financial status. His life itself was one critical lesson – “Be Generous”

My father Dr. K. Kuppuswamy passed away on the 24th of May 2011.

Be Grateful – Lessons from my dad

“I was in 9th grade – nearly 15 years old, when my father passed away.” I could see that my father was already in the past living through those first few traumatic months after his father’s death. “We continued in the same village where my father hand been the karnam – the village accountant.” My older brother was still in high school, two younger brothers and a sister in middle and primary schools. My mother did not know how she was going to put us through school – which she was clear we should complete at all costs.”

“At one end of our village lived the Mirasdar – there were two brothers, the peria (elder) and chinna (younger) mirasdar. I remember their house being a big pukka house. A family friend approached the younger mirasdar for help, when he learned that my mother could pay for only my elder brother to go to school. The mirasdar offered to pay my school fees. The amount of money involved, though small by today’s standards, was a huge boon and put me through high school. I don’t think I thought about it much at that time, besides being grateful for their support. After all in our eyes the mirasdars were the richest family in our village.”

My father after graduating from high school left his village for the “city” – Chennai and then onwards to Delhi seeking his fortune. After three years of being away, my father returned to his village for a visit. He was now employed as an accounting apprentice in Delhi earning a princely 300 rupees. In the meantime he had his share of adventures with his uncle declining to support his college education, running away to Delhi and landing a job, travelling to Shimla and other towns on his job. Wanting to share his good fortune and to thank his first benefactors he visited the mirasdar family.

“I was shocked to discover that the mirasdar family was not at all well-to-do.  They lived in a dilapidated house and in talking to others in the village I realized that they had probably been living in genteel poverty for the last decade or more. My youth and naivete, when I still lived in the village, was probably what lead me to believe that they were wealthy. I was all the more grateful and overwhelmed by their act of kindness and charity in paying for my education, when they could probably ill afford it themselves.” My father’s eyes were no longer dry as he recounted this tale of magnanimity.

His story did have a good ending, in that the children of the mirasdar family themselves went out to seek their fortunes and did well – which my father attributes, at least in part, to the good deeds of their parents.

“Things are not always what they seem,” was my father’s advice to me. “Keep an open mind and recognize that we often see what we want – which may be far from reality.”

“Be grateful for what you have and strive to help other people whenever you can.”

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

Be Self-aware – Lessons from my dad

Image by sowri via Flickr

“Just tell me what I should do!” My 15-year old was filling out an application for an international student exchange program. One of the questions was “What are your goals in life?” She’d of course asked this same question a week before, when she felt all her friends already knew what they wanted to do in life. As I couldn’t think of any excuse, I had to embark on a discussion with her.

“Think about what you like doing. What you truly enjoy. And what you think you are good at.” In her case, we figured she enjoyed drawing & painting, playing sports and working with young kids – and she was really good at all three. Ah yes, she enjoyed traveling too.”

The discussion set me thinking about a conversation my dad and I had many years ago. I can’t recall what triggered the conversation, but distinctly recall my father telling me “You are a Hanuman!”

For those not up on Hindu mythology, Hanuman is the monkey demi-god who is cited as the ideal devotee for his major-domo role to the eponymous hero of the Hindu epic, Ramayana.

I didn’t reckon that my dad was alluding to my physical appearance when he said I was like the monkey [even if a] God. Nothing I had done thus far, could allow me to be termed a devotee of anything other than good food. My perplexed expression must have given me away, when he continued “Like Hanuman, you don’t know your own strength!”

While knowing one’s strengths is good in general – it is a particularly critical skill for entrepreneurs. Most successful entrepreneurs, when observed from arms length, may come across as manic- depressive.  Maniacal in pursuing what they believe is the right path and optimistic to a fault and then when that critical deal doesn’t happen or funding falls through or a key employee leaves, lost in the dumps – even if only for a short time.

Knowing your strengths may not do away with the ups and downs but certainly will help dampen the amplitude and help you make decisions with greater confidence. Knowing your strengths is just as much about recognizing stuff that you are not good at and surrounding yourself with folks who’s strengths complement your own.

Unlike my daughter who’s just fifteen as of this writing, I was on the wrong side of thirty when my father made his comparison to Hanuman. So don’t wait – get to know your strengths today. Ask your colleagues, your ex-boss, your staff and if your bold enough, your spouse or significant other. And once a year take stock to understand what new strengths you have acquired and what has atropied and been lost.

Be a self-aware Hanuman!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Be Forgiving – Lessons from my dad

“Look at the boy – short & dark. He wants to go places and thinks too much of himself.”

Photographs of my dad taken in his mid twenties, still show him slim as a teenager. The pictures show an intense lad with twinkling eyes. In his wedding pictures with his kohl lined eyes he cuts a dashing figure. By the time he got to his early forties he is at his most suave – despite the long, hairy sideburns, that make him look like a young Isaac Asimov! However my father, I suspect, always felt a little self conscious about his complexion and height. So when his uncle said these words he was cut to the quick.

My father had lost his own father when he was barely fifteen. With a widowed mother, a still in high-school elder brother, two younger brothers and a younger sister, my father did not have it easy. So he came to city, barely 16 to seek help from his father’s brother. His uncle had already made it big at an insurance firm and with no children of his own had few other commitments. On the day my father had finally picked up courage to ask his uncle for help to pay for college, is when this incident happened. It was a typical, sultry afternoon in Madras (“the city”) and his uncle was sitting in a large swing in the central hall of his house, gently swinging himself after lunch as he received some visitors. My dad had laid down in one corner of the room, to get some sleep. The stress of working up his courage to ask for his uncle’s help,being declined and the hot afternoon had all rendered him half asleep.

My father may have nodded off, but these words certainly woke him up and they rankled. Forty years later, as my dad narrated this incident to me, he recalled that his first thoughts were “I’ll prove to this man what I’m worth. Who the hell does he think he is?” Of course, he continued to pretend that he was asleep and said nothing to his uncle that day. Less than two weeks later, with a friend’s help, he “ran away” to Delhi, traveling on a free 3rd class servant pass that 1st class passengers got. Only his mom knew where he had gone.

Less than two years later, my father returned – a year in Delhi and an eventful one in Shimla had instilled great confidence in him, some money in his pocket and a steady job and paycheck as an auditor in a reputable chartered accountant firm. And all this with just a high school diploma and an apprenticeship. He headed straight to his uncle’s house, eager to flaunt his new found success.

“The moment I entered my uncle’s house and saw him, still seated on that swing – I was taken aback. He had aged so much in the two years!” My father’s voice quivered at the recollection. “He was a mere shadow of his former self. I was ashamed, that I had even thought of telling him off – of having actually looked forward to showing him how wrong he had been about me. I felt really small and petty minded. I didn’t say any of what I have thought of saying.”

It was in that moment that my father had the realization, that he shared with me, all those years later.

“Success is fleeting. Don’t carry a grudge and be forgiving.”

Photo by Taariq Hendricks on Unsplash

Be Humble – Lessons from my dad

One particular story my father had told me numerous times when I was a teenager, was about his encounter with a money lender. This was the first and only time I had ever heard my father use an expletive – a gaali – as they’d say in Benaras. The story stuck with me initially because of the unvarying way he’d narrate it, and also the way he’d point out his own outrage at being called names.

Later as an entrepreneur, when I was borrowing money (and yet again borrowing some more) and seemed to have my hand out perennially either to Angels or prospective VCs, this story really hit home.

Very early in his career, my father joined the firm that he’d spend the next 37 years at. Founded as a trading company, the firm was as cash strapped as only a growing firm could be. As my father put it in the early days of their business, they “boldly and often baldly borrowed money.” Not infrequently these were at usurious rates from local moneylenders. As the young company’s accountant, my dad usually was the pointed end of this borrowing thrust. The borrowing was done in the name of the proprietor (my dad’s boss) but almost always singly handled by my dad.

One day they found that there were yet again in need of cash and approached a money lender from whom they had borrowed before. In fact, they were yet to pay off their previous loan. Even as they were warming up to their pitch for borrowing more money, the Shylock began abusing my dad’s boss – calling his mother names. My dad was livid and about to jump on the Shylock’s throat, when he felt a warning tug on his hand – his boss was practically pinching my dad’s palm off. My dad got the message and kept his counsel. Soon enough, after lumping the name-calling, they had pried some money out of the curmudgeon and headed back to their office.

Soon as they were out of earshot, his boss asked him,

Did you borrow money from him?

“Yes,” my dad replied dutifully

Well did you return his money?

“No of course not!”

Then what the hell were you getting all worked up for when he abused me?

Many a times I have felt quite sanctimonious, even outraged, at the behavior of prospective customers, partners and of course VCs. Whilst this was truer when I could be called young and hot-blooded, it’s not something I have completely lost. So when that familiar feeling swells up in a meeting, I recall my father’s story and his advice to be humble!

Be Considerate – Lessons from my dad

06-26: Be SafeMy father always waited till we got to the railway station or the airport, before he’d have the TALK with me. I never figured out why he waited till one of us was getting ready to leave town. It somehow made it a whole lot easier for him to have this conversation. The gist of many of these eve-of-departure conversations, when I was in college and then graduate school, was, “Be considerate.”

I appreciate my father all the more, given the number of different ways he has tried to get me to understand this. “Don’t be self absorbed – think of others; show that you are thinking of others. It’s not enough to say I love you and not demonstrate that love in any other way. Be it with flowers, chocolate or that diamond necklace (okay, he didn’t say that last one, but I don’t think my wife would have minded, if he had).

My own reaction to my father’s advice ranged from non-comprehension (“What are you talking about Dad?”) to mild irritation (“Why did you wait till I was leaving to have this talk”) to sometimes outright combativeness (“Did you not tell me money is not important?”). The day this lesson really hit home was when he commented “If you were a fool, it would be a lot easier for me to accept your behavior; unfortunately I know you are not a fool – which makes me all the more sad. Your being inconsiderate is then either a choice you are making or worse.”

As the father of two not-so-little girls, I know that it’s not easy for a father to say this. Of course knowing how I feel with my own kids at times, it’s a miracle my dad did not kill me or at the very least slap some sense into me.

I realize this as I work every day with very smart people and see not so smart behavior, especially when it comes to being considerate. It’s as if being successful or at least ambitious, means you can’t be considerate. Luckily for me, I am surrounding by people who are neither shy nor retiring. So they don’t hesitate to give feedback and keep me honest.

In my own case, on more than one occasion, I have had a senior colleague ask me, “Could you not have asked me to hand out the recognition awards? At the very least you could have asked me to be present, when you handed them out?” Having worked with my team for the better part of decade I realized (often all too late) that this was not about who did the handing out, as much as being inclusive and more importantly, not excluding even by omission.

This morning, as I set out for a short visit with my dad and a new week at work, I still hear him say, “Be considerate!”

It was only when I turned forty a few years back, that several new synapses fired for the first time in my brain. I realized that over the years, my father while narrating stories – often incidents or vignettes from work – had been imparting some serious wisdom to me. After 20 years of listening to these, sometimes grudgingly it finally dawned on me that much of what I’ve learnt and continue to practice as a professional stems from these stories of my dad. Starting this month, I hope to blog about some of them. Fred Wilson’s post yesterday about thoughts on this 20th wedding anniversary on building a long term relationship finally got this post off the ground.


Enhanced by Zemanta

© 2024 K Srikrishna

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑