Startups and All That Jazz

Things have been busy lately, in no small part due to my own tendencies for over-achievement and sheer pigheadedness.  I was until about a week ago, buried under mountains of documentation and fistfuls of hair that I had pulled out. No one really tells you about how hard it is to work at a tech startup no. All you usually hear about are the million dollar investments and the sweet corporate buyouts. No one tells you about how you get stuck for ages while fervently refreshing StackOverflow hoping for some answers. No one tells you that Google for once, can’t solve your problems. If there was ever an incentive for original thought, this is it. New ideas have no reference to build upon, and you have to do it from scratch. I feel like a low-class version of a scientist, which is not a bad place to be in all honesty.

Going back to how I pushed myself into a pit of my own despair, well I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m an above average writer and I have been since a while now. I’m quite the nerd among my circle of friends, so every now and then I’d get requests from people to write recommendation letters or essays or anything else that needed to be written. Weirdly enough, I was always happy to do it. Writing never feels like a job to me, its something that comes as naturally as breathing. The fact that other people recognized this made me feel worthy somehow. As friends started applying for graduate school and jobs, the number of favours I did kept increasing. My company is always on the lookout for fresh talent, and I’ve put out a lot of feelers all over social media and I have received plenty of resumes and cover letters that I dutifully forwarded to my boss. The quality I saw there shocked me, it really did (it was bad not good, in case I didn’t make myself clear). I mean these were mostly from my classmates and peers, people that I know are smart and talented but didn’t have the time or the inclination to dress themselves up on paper.

I can help friends, but there is only a limited circle of people I can reach. What about people outside that circle? When push comes to shove, all you need is a little nudge to get you the start you need. I’d never done anything about it so far except continuing to help people where I could. But working at a startup for the last 3 months or so has made me realize that I need to trust in my abilities to do things. We’re always putting ourselves down for various reasons because it is easier to cope with lower expectations than it is to try and fail. I’ve been there and a part of me is still there. But this magical little book called ‘The 100$ Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau is what really made me take the plunge (no I don’t get paid for any advertising, I wish I did).

We know about these billion dollar startup success stories like Facebook and Apple, and this has evolved into a stark form of tunnel vision. This is what we all aspire to be because this is what we know. Our hopes and dreams are jumbo sized in accordance with these pillars of success. ‘The 100$ Startup’ reminded me otherwise. The book is written very simplistically and it is such an easy read. It’s full of stories and anecdotes about real people who set up small businesses and are living a happy, comfortable life doing what they love. A guy who used his Frequent Flyer miles effectively to travel all over the world decided to share his tricks and he makes over 100,000$ dollars a year. The basic premise is that you don’t need to invest a fortune in an idea and the book reinforces that. The beauty of the internet and e-commerce is that it allows you to have a virtual presence all over the world at a nominal fee. More importantly, money can be made in ways other than founding a hugeass company or slaving away at a multinational.

Convergence

Convergence

This infographic says it all. The nirvana like state called convergence is where you can find true happiness. I read the book and I was itching to finish it only because ideas were popping into my head like kernels of popcorn ricocheting all over the place. I raced through the book and planted myself in front of a computer and I’ve been there ever since. I finally came up with the name, ‘The Perfectionist’ with a ridiculous back story to go with it (because quirky always sells). I’m not going to go on about what we do there because I’m sure you have a fair idea by now and I don’t want to shamelessly advertise.

The Perfectionist.

The Perfectionist.

 Well, that was subtle. 

Anyhow, there’s no predicting how we’ll do and I’m not even going to try. I’m optimistic though and kind of surprised that I actually came so far with this germ of an idea. Failure is scary, but as always if you put yourself out there in the first place that means you have the balls to take whatever comes at you. Before I end this tirade, let me get on to my soapbox for a minute.

Find your convergence! Think about skills that you have that bring value to others. I’m pretty sure every person has one. Graphics wiz? Make posters. Sports champ? Make coaching videos online. Artist? Create affordable, custom pieces of art. Photographer? Do weddings and baby showers. Party girl? Event planning. Tech geek? Possibilities are limitless. You don’t need a huge bank balance or a massive loan to start something. Just take that leap of faith, it will be the most sound investment you ever make. 

Note: We are also on Facebook, so you can go there and like us if you haven’t already. If you want to. Not that I’m advertising or anything. 

Europe? Hot Girlfriend? Job at Google?

You hit the 20 mark — you know the beginning of the dark ages when you start saying no to ‘come on dude, one more shot’ and guzzle down a litre of water instead in a last ditch attempt to appear less corpse-like at work the next morning — and overnight, it feels like things that were floating around in your peripheral vision, rise up like pernicious ghosts to smack you in the face. Apart from the usual philosophical quandaries like ‘Who am I? What have I been put on this planet for and where do I go from here?’, there are the less intellectually stimulating but equally bothersome questions like ‘Am I in the right job?’ ‘Everyone is travelling including that dumbass who thought Spain was in Africa. Should I go too?’ ‘She’s fatter than me and she has a boyfriend! What’s wrong with me?’

They say growing up after adolescence is just coasting away on cruise control, but what is the misery of a few zits compared to the angst of trying to figure out where your life is going? The social network has kept us all wired in, but in a sense this has made it so much more difficult for our generation to make decisions. We are ultra-competitive and hyper-judgemental. Your friend getting a job at that big international firm? Stab to the brain. Your friend getting engaged to the love of her life? Stab to the heart. Your friend on a world trip? Stab to every dream you ever had. We punish ourselves in a myriad of ways. Overcome by the deluge of information about other peoples’ lives, we try to win a race we never even meant to be in. And in that, we lose the pursuit of happiness on the transit to the pursuit of ‘Everything-Everyone-Else-Has’.

You always dreamed of writing your own book. Instead you’re working at an IT giant crunching numbers and hoarding away money to your growing bank balance, because you’re going to be that person who makes his/her first million and buys that fancy car. You’re going to travel to Switzerland, although you can’t stand the cold because that’s where everyone goes. You don’t have a viable idea nor do you have any skills to back it up and yet, you want to start a startup because thats where the big bucks are. It is so easy to fall into this trap, and I find myself going there ever so often.

As hard as it can be, take the time  to learn about yourself; spend time looking inwards and not outwards. I’m your average over-thinker, and in all honesty, I should spend less time thinking and more time doing. I bug people all the time. ‘What do you want to do in life, tell me?!’ and I’m usually shut down with a ‘I donno man, chill na’. That’s where the trouble starts because it is so very important to know your own goals, another reason why being 20 something sucks. Assuming a life expectancy of 75, you’ve only lived about 25% of your life. So you’re supposed to make a decision about the remaining 75% with this little experience? That’s like writing a test having studied a quarter of the syllabus. It scares the shit out of me. But that’s how it works.

So think about what makes you happy and fulfilled. Those all-important milestones you want to hit. Write them down. Tattoo them on your forehead. Every time you find yourself doing something, be it a trip abroad or a major career change, ask yourself ‘Is this going to help me reach my goal?’ and then go ahead with it. For instance, if your aim is to work for a major Indian firm and settle down here then going to a business school in Europe for the glamour of it is a poor decision. Looking at pictures thinking, ‘Ah this guy is partying with firangs so even I’m going to go’ is probably a bad idea. On the other hand, if your main goal is to travel and to meet new people (with job considerations low on your list of priorities) then go to business school in Timbuktu if it pleases you.

The point of the rant is this. I’d like to remind myself and everyone who needs a reminder that we only get one shot at doing this, and we need to try to get it right. The ‘peer-pressure’ we experienced as teens to dress a certain way was a joke compared to what we have to deal with now. Our parents bore the brunt of our younger teen-y scream-y versions, but now we have no else to push the blame on. Regardless, no amount of gloominess can cloud the fact that these are by far the most exciting times of our lives and there is no where else I’d rather be.

EDIT: If you liked this, then you might possibly like this as well. Happy reading.

How to survive a Quarter Life Crisis

A quarter life crisis is a scarily real thing generally known to afflict college seniors about to graduate. Unceremoniously thrown out of a comfortable collegiate existence where waking up for class and passing a test were my biggest problems, I am now being chewed up by the real world and everything that entails. You need a job. You need to pay rent. The five minute walk to class becomes an hours commute. The list of twenty people you could call on any given Friday night to chill whittles down to a meager two or three. Recovering from a night of debauchery takes much longer than it used to.

What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Where do you wanna go from here? Why is the yummiest food always so fattening? I see friends getting married and making that lifelong commitment. I can’t even decide what I want for lunch. I’m sitting here writing a blog while a 16 year old develops a new cure for cancer. Definitely puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it? There are people travelling the world, not worrying about a steady income but paying their way as they go. I can imagine the reaction I’d get if I even tried. “Arrey, how could you send your only daughter like that? Those firangs na, very dangerous. And that too she’s a girl! What is the need.. anyway in two years we’ll find her a nice boy to marry.”

Substitute football with travelling. And chapatis with dosas.

Okay, so in my parents’ defense and particularly my moms considering it’s Mother’s Day and all (love you Ma) they have never said anything along those lines. Thank freakin God. But I’m sure an entire line of third cousins twice removed will have something to say about my life decisions. But I’m veering off topic. The main task at hand, what do you do about the quarter life crisis?

  1. Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing with their lives. It’s easier said than done with constant reminders being thrown at you from every social networking site in existence (#PartyingInRioBitches, Close up: shaking hands with the President, @mycutiepiehubby love u sweetu!). Everyone has some point in life at which they peak and then plateau out. That peak could be at any given time. Yours could be around the corner, so you man up and make it HAPPEN. Don’t expect to sit around and have things happen to you. Ain’t gonna work.

    Or happen, either way Tim Gunn is happy.

  2. Do what makes you happy. Be it travelling, programming, designing, being a wife, a mom. Whatever it is. You know YOLO and everything, so if you gotta do it once, do it right.
  3. Everyone is in the same boat as you are. Sure, outwardly I might look like I have it all everything sorted out while I’m living my perfect little life. Not the case. Talk about it, to friends, to your parents. You’ll feel better and you might even get some bright ideas about where to go from here.
  4. Meet some new people. Try to gain some new experiences. Get some fresh perspective. This doesn’t have to be camping out in the Sahara, it could be doing something you’ve never done like volunteering at an NGO, reading a book (yes, people haven’t) or learning how to ride a unicycle.
  5. Have some goals but be flexible about it. You need to get from point A to point B. Work in that direction. The time it takes may vary, it might take incredible amounts of work but you’ll make it there eventually. Recognize your achievements and let them propel you forward. Also, don’t be so harsh on yourself. Assuming you’re under 25, you have the rest of your life left to do the things you want to do. It will happen in due time. If you’re older than that, well sorry to break it to you man its over. (I kid, I kid)

Preschool, British Accents and Work

Cutesy wutesy theme alert. What’s not to love about a bunch of adorable animals? Takes me right back to my preschool days. It’s kind of weird, one of the earliest memories I have is of my 4th (or was it 5th?) birthday at my preschool in Bangkok. I remember a slightly blurred montage of kids of various races (very United Nations like, erm it was an international school) singing “Happy Birthday Nee-keeh-tah” and as always, I kept making snarky comments bang in the middle of it. In a very British accent (again international school). About 7 or 8 years later, I found a scratchy old videotape that I put into the VCR and there it was, a live recording and a surprisingly accurate one at that. I couldn’t understand my 5 year old me’s accent. I was jealous of my 5 year old me’s accent. How can you say no to anything when asked in a British accent, tell me this.

My lady, would you do me the great honour of jumping into these shark infested waters? I seemed to have dropped my handkerchief. Why, YES of course.

Well, dreamy Brits aside.. work is starting to really feel like work. The ID card dangled around my neck is a noose. I need a breath of fresh air. I never really did understand why people would decide to work for a smaller organization, or even for a startup. Lesser pay, lesser benefits and no brand name right? But I really get it now, I do. I always wanted to be my own boss and hell, that was the plan like ten years down the line. Until then, work for a big company they said. What they didn’t say was that you’d be another drone in the assembly line.

Sure, you’ll have a few productive days that give you a glimmer of hope (what if it gets better..?) but soon you realize its denial (and delusional). Most days are boring at best. I’m pretty sure I spent most of my time blogging, reading blogs, Facebooking or repeatedly refreshing Gmail. Oh yeah I did the project they assigned to me too, it required about two weeks of work (for a five month project). I’m glad the five months are coming to an end, and I’m even happier that I didn’t give in to the temptation of continuing in this comfortable but totally uninspiring job. I need more. I don’t know how, when or where I’m going to find it. But I refuse to waste the youth of my life sitting in front of a desk, staring at the computer screen reading about exotic places in the world.

Work has gotta be doing something you love. We’ve heard people say it, but it hits right home when you’ve lived it. I want to learn something new everyday, I want to feel like I’m a part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, I want to wake up everyday looking forward to the challenges that await me – not go because I absolutely HAVE to, or take as many days off as I can without a pay cut. So until then I’m going to find something I actually enjoy doing and try not to panic at my impending state of unemployment.