Measure first and other lessons from a friend

“Why don’t you tell me what you know about placement in EDA?”

The questions started easily enough. My interviewer, Brent Gregory was this lanky gentleman with a very easy air about him. His soft voice and pleasant manner belied the incisiveness with which the questions came. Within five minutes, maybe sooner, he’d established the limits of my knowledge on the subject of electronic design automation. More importantly, he’d made me truly aware of what things I had clarity on and what I merely knew of.

The next fifty-five minutes were spent in educating me, on what it is his team was attempting to build and answering questions that I had. Here I was, having worked for over twelve years at that time in two countries – in a billion-dollar tech firm and in two startups  – selling to other tech businesses across Europe, Israel, Japan and the US. Yet Brent Gregory in under five minutes had established the limits of what I knew – certainly as it pertained to his company’s business and focused on getting me to understand the problem they were trying to solve and why their approach was likely the better one.

Measure first before you cut This old tailor’s maxim can’t be stated too often. Brent Gregory taught me this lesson that first day I met him. He seemed to come into the interview with few assumptions – took the time to get to know what I did know (about EDA that day) rather than spending a lot of time asking me either needless form questions or trying to show me how much smarter he was than me (he still is!) As entrepreneurs we like to think we are action-oriented but how often do we plan (measure) before we act (cut)? By no means have I mastered this lesson, but I’m getting better at it.

Value your team Brent was unique as a leader – while he led a research group – practically every member of the group or so it seemed, was in a different country. He did have a couple of other folks in the same building, but he had an engineer in Goa, India – one in Spain (or maybe the south of France). While distributed teams were not unheard of, a single team with its members scattered around the globe had its share of challenges. However, Brent always made sure that the appropriate member of his team got the credit and recognition they deserved and held himself accountable even while protecting his team’s freedom to work from wherever they were. This in a company that would have preferred everyone being in the same building. Unlike many other scientists and researchers, Brent was also immensely appreciative of the marketing team and the value they brought and always prepared to listen and learn why we proposed some of what we did – even while his boss, our CTO, many times voiced his opinion that “our innovative products would sell themselves.”

Simplify The sign of good engineer for me is one who can explain what he does in simple words that mere mortals can understand. Brent in that regard has few peers to take a complex matter – such as our placement algorithm – and explain not just what it did, but why it did it that way and how it was not just different but better than other methods. This allowed not only the applications engineering team but the marketing team to better communicate, position and support customers with conviction. Simplifying without trivializing – is not an easy thing to do – as folks trying to explain the reasons to stay within the EU (against the Brexit) have recently discovered.

Seventeen years after I first met Brent Gregory, I continue to admire him for his understated and measured manner of working. Thank you, Brent, for teaching me a whole lot and being such a good listener.


A variety of people — colleagues, friends, managers and mentors have taught me many lessons that have helped me grow. This article is one in a series sharing what I’ve learned and my gratitude for the lessons they’ve taught me. You can jump to any of the specific posts in my gratitude series below.

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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.

Mentoring folks – can start-ups afford to not do it?

Maybe you can tell your team about your desire to partner with us.

As soon as these words left my mouth, I realised that I had made a major faux pas. The words were addressed to the visiting CEO of one of our major prospects; one we had been trying to get interested in our products and services for nearly a year.

I was young and probably viewed myself as the hotshot marketing guy and the words had rushed out due to my frustration at dealing with the lack of coherence within their company.

Our chairman, who had put his personal credibility on the line to bring this gentleman in, was still reeling from the shock and the look on the face of our CEO made his desire to eviscerate me amply clear. In this instance, except for some ruffled egos, no permanent damage resulted from my inopportune directness. It could have been a lot worse.

It is through such avoidable mistakes that many of us learn the nuances and subtleties of doing business. In this particular instance, our chairman — luckily — did not confine himself to dressing me down (in private), but counselled me on what I had done wrong and how it could have been handled better, even while getting my message across.

I wish I could say such specific feedback and mentoring happens all the time in companies, let alone start-ups, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

A common excuse in most start-ups is that “We are running at a hundred miles an hour, you just have to dive in and swim.”

So training, if at all, is mostly confined to a quick orientation session: “This is where the bathrooms are, here is where the hardware team sits and finance is over in that corner and oh, here’s your team and your desk. Good luck!” But it is in start-ups that we need to pay attention to mentoring.

The very word with its connotations of ongoing and consistent, if not continuous, investment of an already overworked person’s time seems such a luxury — which explains why most of us fail to give mentoring its due. Big mistake! Particularly since start-ups, with a small group of people, try to hire the best, and that Linux guru or penny pinching accountant we hired are often worth their weight in gold for their technical skills, but are often just not fit for normal human company.

When you have taken the trouble to hire the best, you often find they have come with as large a set of challenges to overcome as they have key skills.

And if they happen to be fresh graduates, then you have your work cut out!

Who mentors whom?
You have resolved that mentoring is the way to go to take your company to the next level. Now all you have to figure out is who needs to be mentored. This may not always be an easy thing to figure out. A simple rule of thumb I’d suggest is that anyone who has moved into a new role, particularly if he or she is being promoted, needs to be mentored. While this is true even for lateral moves such as the engineer who moves into marketing or the finance guy who wants to move into sales, all individuals you hope to grow into a leadership role have to be mentored. Lest you groan loudly or at the very least roll your eyes at the thought of all that overhead, mentoring, while very important, if done right need not be a major time drain.

Who should do the mentoring?
Conventional wisdom (or if we are to believe Hollywood) paints a mentor as middle-aged guy, greying if not balding, teaching the young buck a thing or two. Experience matters, not just to be knowledgeable, but for credibility as well. Such experience could reside in a young but proven manufacturing supervisor who has managed a unionised workforce, just as easily it could in a white collar vice-president of engineering. So knowledge that stems from direct experience, a willingness to share and patience are key attributes that a mentor should possess for the whole mentoring programme to work. It certainly helps if the mentor is well thought of in the organisation and experienced in multiple domains if not in multiple departments. Many a time, a mentor may come from outside the organisation — for instance, an up and coming woman manager may only find a mentor who has both the experience and empathy outside her company. An executive staff member may look to a member of the board for guidance and mentoring. The key to successfully mentoring your future stars is for such mentoring to be sought by the employee rather than it being prescribed like medicine! Of course, your actions and culture will have a good deal to do with whether people seek such mentoring.

How do you mentor?
In one word, gingerly. Mentoring has far too much in common with parenting, most of all in that there are many ways to mess it up, calling for therapy for all concerned! As this has not stopped us from having children, clearly it is not sufficient cause to avoid mentoring.

Albert J. Bernstein and Sydney Craft Rozen in their book Dinosaur Brains – Dealing with All Those Impossible People at Work talk about the rules of a mentoring relationship. They advise prospective mentors to think in terms of a contract and ask “What would you like me to do,” so that a mentoring relationship doesn’t fall into a parent-child role or a courtship role in the case of people of opposite genders. As a mentor, they warn, if you don’t consciously think and state your expectations, you may end up with vague emotional ties that result in anger or guilt from unmet expectations.

Once all the parties have stated their expectations, mentoring can be a very enlightening, fulfilling and rewarding experience. For practical reasons, it is important to have some regularity (monthly, quarterly) to your interactions and sustain these meetings, whether in person or on the phone, even when there seems to be “nothing” to discuss. Being available in times of crises certainly helps, but there is a fine line between being helpful and becoming a crutch, that you should not cross and must monitor to keep both of you honest. Asking questions, open-ended ones at that, is a sure fire way to do this, rather than providing the solutions that you know will work.

Mentoring Successfully
If mentoring at times seems like crossing a minefield, you need only to talk to parents of adolescents to know you have the easier job. With all the energy and emotions that need to be expended, mentoring, when done well, pays off in spades. Otherwise, every one of your promising employees is learning all the lessons the hard way. Mentoring with its real life coaching, the occasional nudge and shove will make it a lot less painful and a lot more productive. The hard part of mentoring is resisting the urge to act yourself when decisive action is called for; for the person being mentored, these are the best opportunities to learn, so allow them to do so by cajoling, pleading or where required threatening if plain old reasoning doesn’t work. The harder part is knowing when the bird is ready to leave the nest and providing the autonomy and respect for them to do just that. Mentors who can do that are the ones who are truly successful.

This article first appeared in the Hindu BusinessLine in August 2008.

 

Mentors – why we need them and how do you find them?

Storytelling

Photo Credit: Bindaas Madhavi via Compfight

The day I turned forty, it was as though someone threw a switch – I suddenly became incredibly smart! The reason I know this is ‘coz that’s when I realized, what an absolute idiot I had been for a great part of my adult life. Since then, hard as it might be to imagine, I think I am growing smarter still, as I continue to unearth stuff that had been staring me in the face, but I had obviously chosen not to acknowledge let alone learn from it. But then again, as the old adage goes, “If youth knew or age could…” the world would be a different place. One of the reasons that I made it this far without constantly tripping myself, is because I was singularly lucky in having a series of incredible mentors, who coached me, encouraged me and where needed placed a firm boot on a rather well endowed portion of my rear!There’s a whole another series of posts required if I begin with my earliest mentors (my materal grandfather and paternal grandma) – so I will skip them in this one and stick with my professional mentors starting with the most recent ones. Before I wax eloquent, let’s step back and try to answer some basic questions.


access and
availability, no axe to grind and
real-world experience are the key criteria
for someone to be a good mentor

Who is a mentor? The dictionary, as always has something to say about this – “A wise and trusted guide and advisor” – in other words, someone you trust and knows more than you (if you are like me, nearly anyone else) can be a mentor. In my view, availability and access, no axe to grind and real-world experience are the key criteria for someone to be a good mentor. In hindsight, I have been surrounded by such folks.

What does a mentor do? A mentor often advices or cousels you. But there’s more to it than that. A lawyer advices or counsels you. For instance, she can tell you the pitfalls of doing a certain deal a certain way. However, while you may learn about your options and their consequences, you are not necessarily in a better position to make the right decision. A mentor focuses more on the HOW, than the what, you do something or get something done. He ideally teaches you and guides you while you learn something by doing. In many ways its apprenticeship by the hour or the minute! Any good manager of yours can tell you what options you have or the consequences of, confronting a critical but intransigent team member. Your mentor will show you how best to go about it, to achieve the desired result at the least emotional and business cost to all concerned!


A mentor focuses
more on the HOW, than the what,
you do something or get something done


Why do we need them? Simply put someone needs to keep us honest – hold up a mirror to us and not let us get away with taking the easy path. Advisors, experts and professionals can all augment and make up for any gaps in our competencies or domain knowledge – however most times we hire them for their services (inputs) but retain the prerogative of whether to act on them or not. A mentor need not be different – but a good one will be, in that they will ensure [a] that you act and [b] that you act in enlightened self interest – the greater good so to speak. There will be times, regardless of our job role or even in our personal lives when decisions will have to be made, and the people you’d usually consult themselves will be stakeholders in the decision. In such an instance you’d want to go to someone else whom you trust but is not a stakeholder. Of course finding such a mentor, unlike looking for the flashlights after the lights go out, is best done before you need them.

someone needs to keep us honest –
hold up a mirror to us and
not let us get away with taking the easy path

Mentors can be people who are already in your personal and professional lives. That way the trust and relationship already exists and if there is mutual respect, familiarity need not prevent the necessary candor for successful learning and growth. Chandrasekaran, the chairman at my first start up, despite having been a somewhat formal advisor in my previous stint at Sasken and subsequently becoming a good personal friend, served as one of my mentors. Whether handling things in my personal life (now you know who’s responsible for the mess! NOT!) or intransigent customers (I am sure you have never faced this!) and most importantly in learning and I hope, mastering cash flow management, Shekar was an invaluable mentor. Similarly my partner in crime, co-founder and CTO Baskar (who’d be embarrased if he read this not merely ‘coz he’s decade(s) younger than me) talked me through so many self doubts (what? I never have any) and showed me the true meaning of unflappable (I have it written down somewhere) that he has been one of my subtlest mentors yet.

Mentoring can happen in a nanosecond, as in when Mr. Raghavan our angel investor, told me “Go for it – only when you take risks you are going to make things happen and learn” as all of us were agonizing over entering the retail business. And it may happen over months or years, as I realized has happened with my dad and me. And any number of ways in between – the only definitive is that you will be a better person for it.

So stop reading this, recognize the people who you’ve already been mentored by, call ’em up and thank ’em. If you can’t think of any, what are you waiting for – go out and get yourself at least one.