Startups and Spirituality: Part II

I think that running a startup implicitly makes you a spiritual person, because you inherently believe in an idea greater than yourself: a vision for the world after your company changes it.  it’s an undying belief that even if logically you should not go on, logically nothing makes sense, but something is telling you deep down to keep on pursuing, that something is what, in other contexts, people call faith.

Faith is what keeps you going even if you have no idea that what you’re doing is right, but you believe this thing that you are creating should exist in the world, it’s your contribution to humanity, and you want to keep trying until you can’t try any more.

I think that’s how you know if you’re running a startup for the right reasons. Those are the people I like working with.

It’s not about the money. It never is, or has been about the money. It’s about being a part of something greater than yourself.

Heretic, and crazy, maybe. But what can I say.

Do You Believe In Magic: Part II

According to Carl Jung, you can tell a lot about yourself by your favorite stories as a child.  Mine was most definitely Aladdin (modern interpretation: favorite movie you watched every day as a child).  There were two things I loved most about it: one is that magic was real, and the second was that the underdog won out in the end.  The whole princess bit was lost on me (surprise surprise), but Abu, the Magic Carpet, Genie, and of course Aladdin, were totally my jam.

It’s funny because it’s still pretty true.  I definitely do still believe in magic, but I think over time, the source of magic has changed.  In the beginning, magic manifested itself as oh wow, this homework assignment that was due today (which I didn’t do) somehow got moved to next week, Yay! Later it became, wow I somehow have enough money to cover rent AND buy food, YAY! Even later it was, wow somehow I haven’t run this company into the ground, HURRAH!

But recently, I’ve been thinking that maybe that’s the wrong way of looking at magic.  I mean, procrastination, fiscal (ir)responsibility, and sheer hard work to make up for all the things you don’t know isn’t exactly magic- it’s more…it is what it is.  Those are actual things in your own control, and doing the best you can to control those outcomes is called being smart.  And having them work out (or not) isn’t really magic either- that’s just called life.

So back to square one: where is all the magic in the world? Well, I think it’s actually in the places we least expect it.  It’s the tiny things that we take for granted that, if you put all together, is actually quite magical.  My roommates dog Charlie is the cutest thing ever, I forgot how much I love him, that rascal.  I recently took a road trip with some friends through Kashmir: the landscape is amazing.  Mind blowing really.  How does that even EXIST? Have you thought about the number of books in the world? It’s like time travel, but cheaper and more doable! THE HUMAN BODY.  It’s insane.  THERE ARE LITTLE PEOPLE THAT GROW INSIDE YOU.  Human communication as it has evolved over the centuries.  THE INTERNET.

I think this video sums it up the best.

Everything is amazing, I think we should all be happy.

Magic is real people.  I think we just need to know where to look for it.

The Virus of Self Loathing

I don’t know how or why, but this insidious virus of self loathing is running rampant throughout the human species.  An epidemic would probably be a better term for it.  It specifically afflicts women, so I’ve read, but I’m sure men go through it too. As per Dostyevski’s characters at least, which, I would count, as potentially representative.  Potentially.

I don’t know how it’s possible, to love yourself and hate yourself, almost simultaneously.  Accepting that life exists in the grey areas, and never solely existing in neither the black nor the white, is frustrating, at best. At worst it makes life more confusing, anxiety causing, and just plain terrible.

If perfection is the ultimate, what are we all doing? Are we all hopelessly flawed and never really getting anywhere real fast? If I’m flawed, and you’re flawed, and two wrongs don’t make a right, and two rights don’t make a wrong either, do two right’s make a left at least? Is there even a such thing as a right? Maybe there’s just a down.  Or sideways.

How do we keep on going on when we don’t even know where we are going, except that it’s always and forever going to be grey.  Lots of grey.  Heather grey, dark grey, smokey grey, ash grey, dim grey.

I want to find the paintbox, at the end of the yellow brick road.

And I will color the world mint green.

With polka dot chevrons.

Moments of Insanity

There are moments, when you know, you KNOW, you are not in your right mind.  They are scary as hell because you know that your mind is telling you crazy things, and you know you should not listen to that crazy part of your brain, but you are drawing a blank as to what you SHOULD be listening to then.

Those are the scary moments in life.  When the terrible part of you is winning and is whispering awful beyond awful things in your ear and you feel like you have no other choice but to give in to those terrible things it is telling you.  

You are worthless

What are you trying to do here anyway? Why are you even trying?

You just plain suck. I don’t even understand why you exist.

You are not good enough. Just give up now.

And then your mind gets stuck in this terrible loop of trying to prove itself wrong.  And so you think about all the ways you can work harder, prove your mind wrong, prove the worst part of yourself wrong. Which, when you think about it logically, is just an infinite mind fuck loop from hell. That your brain is stuck in.

Those are the god awful moments of insanity. When you get stuck in the infinite loop of awful. And you don’t see a way out of that loop. And it keeps playing, and you keep feeling worse and you start seeing yourself go on this downward spiral.

But that’s when you breathe. And lately, what I’ve been doing is just plain praying.  Not to anything or anyone in particular.  Maybe just to the ether, or the Universe, I don’t know. But I just keep repeating the same thing.  Please help me figure out how to get out of this terrible loop of insanity.  I recognize that it is insanity, but I can’t find my way out. Please please please help.  

And you know what? It/he/she/them/they/whatever/whoever/thingy does.  I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but…it does.  And I am grateful. 

Because then I can get back to enjoying this thing I call my life.  Once all that insanity clears, it’s pretty great.  

#TheDatingDiaries: Cute Comedians Are My Kryptonite.

So here’s the thing.  I have met my fair share of famous people.  Prince Charles? Not a problem, we even joked about the invention of the internet.  Lunch with Paul Polman? Handled it like a boss (pun intended). Bill Clinton? Played it cool.  Even my favorites in Silicon Valley. Meeting my growth hacking hero Chamath, held it together enough to get $300K from him.

But put me in front of any decent comedian and I LOSE MY SHIT.  They don’t even have to be that good.  And if they’re cute? Oh god it’s over.  And by over, I mean I turn into a psychotic, call the police and block my number this woman is crazy, person.  I seriously don’t know how or why this happens.

I figured this out my second year of college when I went with my friend to see my first stand up comedian perform.  His name was Edwin Lee, and he is so obscure that I am trying to Google him right now and I can’t find him (i.e. potentially indicative of his comedic prowess).  But after the show, for the first time in my life, I WAS TOO NERVOUS TO GO TALK TO HIM.  Me. Too nervous.  That NEVER happens.  Except with cute comedians.

I have it so bad that if Seth Rogen walked through my door right now, I would probably ask him to have my babies.  Definitely the first thing out of my mouth. Wait I take that back. the first statement out of my mouth would be: “OHMYGODYOUARESOMAMAZINGILOVEYOUPLEASEHAVEMYCHILDREN!!!!!”. So really, it’s probably really really good I don’t live in Seth Rogen’s apartment complex right now.  Because my mother may or may not really want her daughter to be throwing herself at, lets face it, not the most Indian parental friendly baby daddy.  But I digress.  Point is, comedians are definitely my kryptonite.

So enter my trip to Mumbai last week.  Oh god.  It was terrible.  And by terrible, I mean WHY ANU WHY DO YOU DO THIS, saw some of my favorite YouTube comedians in real life and SCARED THE HELL OUT OF THEM.  Now you’re thinking, huh, how does one scare a comedian.  Let me tell you.  It’s by acting like a crazy person.  The huh, do I think she will actually come to my house and steal my garbage, should I be scared for my life, crazy.

I was speaking at a conference and I had a few hours to kill, so I thought I would drop by the session on how to make YouTube videos.  Thought it would be interesting.  And when I walked in, who should I see but MY FAVORITE INDIAN COMEDIC TROUPE FROM YOUTUBE.  I went to the back of the room and, of course, you know, started to hyperventilate.  I don’t really know what they were talking about, probably something smart I don’t know, because I just remembered thinking Ok Anu. Just be cool.  BE COOL.  You can do this.  DON’T spazz out like you usually do.  This is your chance.  You can do this. Regular pep talk stuff. I may or may not have been talking to myself out loud and scaring the people around me during this time.  This tends to happen when you give yourself pep talks. While hyperventilating. During an advertising conference. Probably at any conference really.  Talking to yourself in general. Not encouraged.

Anyway, after the session, I was so nervous, I pretended to take a call at the back of the room, to you know, look important. Also to buy time to figure out what I was going to do in this situation. Because usually what I would do is just stare at them creepily from afar, hoping that…ok I never get farther than that really, but I have learned from prior experience that creepy staring is just highly inappropriate.  DO NOT OBJECTIFY THE CUTE COMEDIANS ANU, GOSH.

Anyway, my fake call was over and they were leaving and I still didn’t  have a plan so I powerwalked outside and walked up to them, hoping that inspiration would hit in the 5 seconds between the wall and the door.  The brilliant gems that came out of my mouth?

“OHMYGODILOVEYOURSTUFFIJUSTWANTEDTOTELLYOUMYNAMEISANUYOUARESOCOOOOOLLLLL.”

Luckily said comedians were nice enough to nod and smile politely.  So of COURSE I took that as a cue to keep going.

“So..you know…uhhhh….I was wondering….well….I’ve always wanted to…uhhh…so…..do you I don’t know…need an intern or something?”

Said comedian again, being the nice soul that he was, took pity on me and my tongue tied-ness and said no they do not but hey you can come to watch them shoot a sketch. And then.  HE GAVE ME HIS NUMBER. And said coordinate on Sunday.

I think I practically died. I am pretty sure I SAW my soul float up, watch the scene from above, and then come back down to re-inhabit my body.  I’m also pretty sure I was just staring vacantly while all this was happening.  That or a constipated face.  One of the two.  My face is usually in some form of contortion.

So of course, I take every opportunity to be a psycho person, I message  said comedian later asking if, you know, “OHMYGODYOUARESOCOOLIDON’TKNOWIFYOUAREBUSYDOYOUWANTTOGETCOFFEE”.

….

Again, said comedian, being the compassionate soul he was, said something about aw that’s so nice I’m busy but you should come on Sunday.

Yes, I was punched in the stomach a bit, but hey. You know. The psychotic part of me was saying oh hey. You have ample chances to be insane on Sunday.

Sunday rolls around and I message in the morning, and because he is probably Christ incarnate, he says oh hey, I think we can actually fit you into the sketch for a small part.  I may or may not have emotionally blackmailed said comedian into this as I may or may not have previously mentioned that IF I had cancer and was going to die next week, the only thing that I would be sad about was that I wasn’t in a comedic sketch.  I’m not dramatic or crazy at all.

My Emmy Award winning response to my bucket list wish being granted:

“OHMYGODILOVEYOUYOU’RETHEBESTWHYAREYOUSOAMAZINGDIDIMENTIONILOVEYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU”

Excpet…the times did not match and I had to fly out before they started shooting.  Now the psycho part of me was throwing tantrums up the wazoo, and I’m not really sure what I messaged, but I’m pretty sure it was the craziest of cray cray because…well…said Christ incarnate comedian stopped responding.  Like any normal person would. When psycho people contact them.

The end.

Like I said, I don’t know why this happens, but it does. Like any good AA meeting teaches you, acceptance is the first step.

I, Anu Sridharan, turn into a psycho around cute comedians.

So now begins the recovery. More terribly horrific situations will probably ensue before I am cured of this disease. I’m hoping it will be quicker and less painful than last week.

Chances are, probably not.

Le Sigh.

Startups and Spirituality

I think this post is a long time coming, and especially on the third day of sickness, I when I’m just getting the remnants of the ish out of my system, I have a chance to think about what I want to write.  Over the years, I’ve thought about both these topics a lot, and over the last year, I’ve realized just how intrinsically connected they are, at least for me.

Spirituality, to me, is about being a better human being, a better citizen of humanity.  I think at the highest level, it’s about practicing love, especially in situations when you find yourself wanting to do anything else but forgive.  It’s about judging less, listening more, and being compassionate.  It’s also about living with integrity, whatever that truth is for you.  Other people call it mindfulness, self realization, zen, whatever you want to call it, I call it spirituality. Because for me, at the end of the day, I believe a higher power exists (in whatever form it is in) and humans are inherently good.  I believe life has a purpose, and our mission in life is to find it.  Plain and simple.

When you run a startup, you are thrown out there every day, usually in situations that bring out the absolute worst version of yourself.  It’s sort of like that Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow, where day after day, he’s thrown into the same battle, but he tries to get a different outcome.  That’s sort of the game of life I see play out when you’re running a startup.

The reason I believe that startups and spirituality are so intrinsically tied together for me is because it’s pretty much life or death.  Not the, my startup is going to die if I don’t figure it out (because trust me, it won’t), but the I am contemplating killing myself (literally) because it is so emotionally and mentally taxing.  All those people who have run a startup know that contemplating suicide is actually part of the game.  It’s so normal it’s scary.  I know because I’ve been there, and it was probably one of the scariest moments of my life to date.  The thing is, I think everyone, at some point in time, has been there.  And chances are, if you haven’t been there, you will be.  Whether it be college, a relationship ending, startups, or whatever, our society has thoughts of suicide all the time.

But for me, my startup pushed me to that brink. It was a fleeting moment (a moment when I just realized, holy crap, did I just seriously consider that?) but it was enough.  And that’s where spirituality comes in.  Why is mindfulness, meditation, zen, self actualization becoming more common in the startup space? Because it’s really the only way we can stay sane and create beautiful things in this world. I think of my company as my artwork, my contribution to the world- and I am one of the artists creating it.  But I want to enjoy the journey, not despise every moment of it.

That being said, I want to take it a step further.  Mindfulness and zen is great, but I truly believe in compassion, integrity, and forgiveness at the workplace as well.  It’s about finding how those spiritual practices ACTUALLY make good business (and over the past few years I’ve seen that make a lot more sense).  I believe the future of business is good business, is spiritual practices, and an overall healing of the planet.  I think anything that doesn’t strive for that is going to be dead in the next 50 years (or at least on it’s way out).

I know it’s not a popular topic, God (or The Universe) in general is something that’s not cool to talk about for fear of being labeled a crazy person, especially when you relate it to tech and startups, but I’m calling it like I see it.

I believe in a higher power, and I believe that incorporating these practices into startups will actually make the world a better place.

#StartupLife : Keep On Going On

I was thinking about what it takes to be a really good startup founder.  And I realized the number one thing you need is persistence.  It’s the ability to just understand that this whole journey is a frickin roller coaster ride, one minute you’re up, one minute you’re down, sideways, upside down. But the point is, you know it can change.  And you know you have the power to change it.  That’s the only thing. The single belief that even if things are down now, they can get better. They WILL get better. Because that’s why you’re there. Making sure they do.

It’ll be 4 years in August for me doing the whole running a startup thing.  And that’s the one big thing I’ve learned.  One minute, you’re positive you’ve landed your next big client, the next you find that you have to pay back taxes of $25K (with another $25K lawyer bill still pending from 2 years ago).  One minute you think you’ve just cracked your big pivot on your business model, the next you realize the sales cycle is crap, and scalability is next to nill.

I think after persistence, it’s perspective.  Perspective gives you the ability to persevere.  That (practically) insane voice in the back of your head saying no, I think we are on to something. Forget what everyone else is saying, or what our own data shows, I feel it deep down, this is the right thing.  Maybe we’re not doing it the right way, but damn are we close.  We need to tweak it yes, but give up? No way.

I think that sometimes, running a startup is structured insanity.

But at the end of the day, I think it takes a very insane person to change the world.