Job, Life, Startups

Sometimes Things Get Better

Like if you hold your breath long enough sometimes things start falling into place.  Let me rephrase that.  If you work your ass off WHILE holding your breath long enough things start falling into place.

Rewind about 2.5 weeks ago.  I realized that I just wasn’t giving work my all.  I wasn’t.  I mean, on a to do list it looked ok but if I really asked myself if I was giving life my 100%, the answer was no.  Nobody else would have been able to say that.  Only me.  Because I know myself and I know what I am capable of doing. I knew I could do more.

And I also vowed this year to just stop lying to myself about shit.  I’m tired of it.  There’s no point.  In fact, that’s probably the thing that got me in the hot mess shit hole in the first place.  I mean, if I was honest with myself and just took stock of life a few years ago (hell, lets go ALL the way back to some 3-4 years ago) things could have been different. But until time travel is invented (which I’m SO down for), all that KIND of doesn’t matter.  So new beginnings, no more self lying.  And I’ve also decided that there’s nothing wrong with saying hey Anu. Guess what.  You know you can do better than this.  Sometimes you can’t.  And I’ve been there too. But that’s not where I was 2.5 weeks ago.  And I’ve been around the block enough now to know the difference.

So that’s when I found another gear and dialed into it.  Put it in motion. And you know what? Things started moving.  People who I was trying to connect with for MONTHS randomly contacted me back.  I was figuring out how to reach out to the World Bank and guess what.  They reached out to me.

I really believe that when you, deep down, figure that you can do better, and you actually dig deep to move- the world tries to help you back.  I’m a big believer in that.  Also, it kind of doesn’t matter what the end result of all this stuff is.  Maybe nothing will work out with any of the leads we are getting.  But at the end of the day, I just FEEL better.  I FEEL like I’m living up to my potential as a human being on this planet.  I FEEL like I’m moving in the right direction.

And I’ve realized that when your life is usually a chaotic hot mess, that feeling of creative fulfillment, is sometimes enough.

Job, Life, Startups

Built to Last

I still remember what I wrote in my college entrance essay- I want to build things that withstand the test of time.  At that moment, I was sure the realization of that dream was to become a civil engineer, and be a part of the creation process of civil structures. Pretty soon afterwards, that dream was crushed (no way in hell I was going to be getting into a building I designed or constructed, mostly because I value my life and I don’t want to die).

But that’s what I love now about my job.  I love building companies.  From the ground up.  Literally from scratch.  Building a company that withstands the test of time and eventually moves to the echelons of greatness. And I know that’s not what entrepreneurs are supposed to say. They’re supposed to say they love technology (usually using the words disruption and innovation), or being passionate about solving a problem, or making a crap ton of money, or I don’t know.  Something else investors like to hear.  Or the media likes to hear.  And it’s not that all of those aren’t true, because they are.  But for me, what gets me up in the morning is thinking about where this company is going- how are we rethinking what the company of the future looks like? The company ruled by knowledge workers and smart creatives? What does that look like? What does that feel like?  Because that’s where I think we have a lot of room to innovate. Company culture and structure has pretty much stayed the same since we were manufacturers working on assembly lines with little to no automation. HOW is it possible that the same company structure works today?

And if you think about it, you spend most of your waking hours at work.  Which translates to the fact that you spend most of your life at work- literally.  (Just count the hours).  So wouldn’t it be the thing that impacts your life the most?  How do I want it to impact me?  How do I want it to impact the people I work with? What boundaries can we push today to be just crazy enough to be doable?  How can we change the way companies function over the next 100 years, and impact generations to come?

I don’t really know what my future looks like, but because I am morbid and I read it in a book (so obviously it must be a good idea), I thought about what I wanted people to remember me by. I have a lot of thoughts on the personal front, but the only thing I want to read on the professional side is this:

Anu Sridharan: a woman who co-founded one of the greatest companies of all time.

happiness, Job, Life Goals, Startups

Swimming and Business

I went swimming with a friend for the first time in about a billion years yesterday, and it was the most thought provoking and enlightening exercises I have undertaken in a while.

At first I tried to swim laps and I failed miserably.  I couldn’t even get halfway before stopping, panting, out of breath.  Which was weird because I didn’t think I was THAT out of shape, in general.  Luckily my friend diagnosed the problem, and gave me the swim breathing 101.  It all revolved around deep, well timed inhales and exhales.  After he showed me the technique, I  swim to the other end without stopping, no problem (which was my goal for the day).

And that’s when I stopped to think.  It’s crazy how much of a difference breathing makes.  The more intentional, and slower I went, the faster I got to the other side of the pool.  Which was so strange and counter intuitive for me.

But I was thinking how that relates to life.  And more specifically, work.  We live in a world where we are supposed to go at 100 miles an hour, and the faster our life speedometer goes the more successful we are.  But is that really the best way to be effective?  Is that the best way to get to the other side of the pool?

If I learned anything from swimming, I’m questioning this notion.

Food for thought.

Happy Monday

happiness, Job, Leadership, Life, Life Goals, Startups

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

I recently finished a great book by Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things.  The book was about startups, and about what he calls, “The Struggle”.  It’s great how he weaves hip hop into the book, from lyrics he has found powerful over time to describe his trials and tribulations (understatement of the year) in getting to where he is today (which is a really really successful entrepreneur/investor).  But as I was reading it, and talking to my grandfather about life, I think I came to a powerful realization- this “Struggle” that entrepreneurs refer to, it’s not just in business.  These skills are those that transcend time, place, situation, and they just help you deal with life.  The Struggle is really just another word for life.  I think if we live long enough, we come to see “The Struggle”.  I know my grandfather knows “The Struggle”.  He has to learn how to walk in Copenhagen and he’s half blind (worried he’s going to be killed by bicyclists- valid worry, they are pretty crazy over there).  I know my parents know “The Struggle” (insert immigrant parent story here).  I know anyone who has kids knows “The Struggle” (holy crap I just don’t know how they do it, even more power to single mothers).  I know anyone who has any sort of debilitating illness knows “The Struggle” (it’s impressive what the human psyche can accomplish, I have seen it first hand).  Anyone who has faced any sort of harassment knows “The Struggle” (human beings can be cruel, cruel people).

Putting it in context, I suppose the entrepreneurship struggle prepares young nerds with what this thing called life throws their way.  It’s part of the Struggle.  And the funny thing about The Struggle is that it’s like Parkinson’s Law.  In that, the more you have, the more you can take.  And the less you have, it’s impressive how that nothingness seems to expand and take all of your time and space in your head.  Over seemingly pointless things.  I guess what I”m trying to say is that we all NEED “The Struggle”.  And if we don’t have some sort of Struggle in our lives, we create The Struggle.  And the more important The Struggle we think is, the more we learn how to deal with the other things in our lives.  And it gives us confidence.  The more Struggle we have early on, the more we can look back and say, oh wait.  I’ve seen this before- it’s called The Struggle. And guess what, I won last time.  I think I can do it again.

Maybe the point is to gain as much confidence points as early as possible from different types of Struggle, because the later we get in life, the scarier and more life or death The Struggles become.  It’s sort of like simulator training maybe.  Enders Game style.  Except just like in Enders Game, you don’t get to practice.  This is the real deal.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right?

Control, fear, happiness, Job, Life Goals

The Fluidity of Life

Being an Indian female, I was sort of under the impression that life ended at the old age of 30 when you had to get married and have kids.  Then, as I grew older, I decided that life didn’t necessarily end after you got married, but when you had kids you were basically a slave to them, so you could kiss all your dreams good bye.  But I figured by that point you didn’t have any dreams anyway so it’s fine. Ha.

Which is all really strange, because I realized that my whole perception of the world was binary.  Or at least in boxes with clear beginnings, middles, and ends.  It’s funny, I spent so much of college wishing I was more engineering like (because honestly, I was terrible at it) and now I realize that I am plenty engineering like.  It helps when you’re trying to dissect business problems, or problems in general- because yes, you need to define boundaries, figure out the problem, and architect a solution, but for your actual life, this philosophy, when taken to the extreme, is more detrimental than not.  I think.

Being in London, I realize that I want to come back here for extended periods of time.  Being in India, I realize I want to be there too.  And being in the US, I realize I want to spend time there as well.  Maybe if I visit Paris, I’ll feel that way too, who knows (I have this weird obsession with Paris, and the more people tell me how horrid and dirty it is, the more I really want to go- yes I’m just weird like that).  And I was thinking to myself, jesus, how am I supposed to pick where I live or what I’m supposed to be in life, or who I spend the rest of my life with, or anything important like that?  And then I just asked myself- why?  Why does it have to be this or that?  Why does it have to fit this mould that I have seen others follow? Because so much of my life has been so unconventional anyway, why would I be under the assumption that I’d have to pick doing this OR that?  Yes, I understand the reality that we only have 24 hours in the day, and our life is finite, and we will be unhappy if we try to do to many things and don’t do it well, but at the same time, there is so much between THIS and THAT, I think it’s really worth exploring the in betweens.  Really exploring that empty space between here and there.  Because I think that space is incredibly vast, way bigger than we think.

I’ve never had a problem coloring out of the lines, but the problem was that there was a box and I was always aware that there was a box I was not coloring in.  So I always thought of my life in terms of how badly out of the lines I was coloring. It was always measured by this finite thing.

But maybe that’s the wrong way of looking at it.  What if you get rid of the idea of lines and boxes, and just think of coloring, not in relation to anything in particular, but just for the sake of coloring, wherever you feel like coloring.  Mostly because it feels like the right thing to do.

Which pretty much means you won’t know what your picture will look like beforehand, which is pretty scary, I must admit, but it’s probably a better way of living.  And chances are, you’ll turn out with a way better painting.

Job, Leadership, Life Goals, Startups

Lunch with Paul Polman, Dinner at Buckingham Palace

It’s times like these where life is pretty nuts.  Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, was one of my favorite CEO’s even before I met him.  I have read so much about his sustainability initiatives and such, and how he puts his money where his mouth is.  A lot of times you read about these people, and when you actually meet them- it’s a total let down.  This was not one of those cases.  Paul Polman is a true visionary.  He kept dropping knowledge left and right.  And most importantly, I think he really cares.  I know he cares because his staff informed us that this was only supposed to be an hour meeting, but he bumped some poor guy who probably prepared 6 months to make a 30 minute pitch, which is now reduced to 10 minutes.  And he didn’t dodge the hard questions- I definitely asked him my fair share.  He is legit.  Plain and simple.

But one of the main things I realized, while visiting their facilities in London, was how…tiny I was. How young I was.  I was probably younger than 80% of the people in that building.  I was sitting in their 8 story building in the middle of London and I just felt…humbled.  I think in this day and age, with web 2.0 and the like, we forget about product companies.  It was so cool walking into the Unilever store- and it blew my mind to think wow, they MAKE these things.  These products that I grew up with- that I love! Dove, Pureit water filters (I own 2!), Lipton Tea (made it for my parents every weekend growing up), Ben and Jerry’s- I could go on and on. But yeah. Someone makes that. It was awesome thinking about that.  And this company is huge. Just HUGE.  I felt so small in those offices. But in the best way possible.  Like..this could be NextDrop one day.  This could be us. We have so much to look forward to in life.  And so much to learn.  I am so young! Pretty much a baby.  Having that perspective is helpful.  I also realized that…I don’ t think I could work for someone this large.  I really relish the challenge of growing my own company.  It’s really what I live for, turns out.

Also, I spent so much of last year hating on the fact I’m so young.  I usually like to bump up my age 5 years (wherever I can get away with it).  But as I was sitting there in those offices, I realized- wow.  I’m meeting Paul Polman.  And his entire executive team.  Because I’m a finalist for the Young Entrepreneur Sustainability Award.  Not the Seasoned Entrepreneur Sustainability Award.  And to be honest, I was thinking about most of the conversations he would probably have on a daily basis.  Really dry. Lots of agendas.  Lots of egos.  It must get tiring.  But like I said in the last post, the other finalists are amazing.  The topics we talked about weren’t….how can I get more stuff out of you (although, how they could help definitely came up and I because I am shameless I brought it up multiple times/asked how to follow up with those game changing promises) but we were asking about…interesting stuff.  At least I think it’s interesting stuff.  The future of the world as we know it.  What’s the status quo, why is it like that, what can we do to change it, what he has learned in his time on the planet.  The good stuff.  And I feel like he thought it was cool too, because, like I said, he gave us an extra 30 minutes.  How many times do you get to sit back and ponder about life in the work context? How many times do you get to ponder your true purpose (and not in the PR sort of way?)

I don’t know, I guess being young isn’t too shabby.  Got a lot to learn, but I’m getting there.

Yeah, Buckingham Palace was nuts.  They showed our video there and everything (Yes my face was on the big screen at Buckingham Palace- NUTS I’m telling you.)  I kept asking people if this is a normal thing- like every Britisher gets 3 weeks of Prince+Palace dinner time or something.  Apparently that’s not how it works.  Prince Charles said what’s up.  He asked about NextDrop- that was nice of him.  He asked if we were getting behind at work, and I told him that in England they had this invention called the internet  (so I’ve heard) that was really helpful for that sort of thing. He also said he would do everything he could to help, so I said keeping his eye on his friend over at Unilever would be helpful, because it was like Christmas that lunch was.  So many game changing opportunities.  He said ok.  It was a good 3 minutes of Royal time.  (Did I mention I’m shameless when it comes to work?)

I think my biggest realization was that life is shifting into the next gear.  And if I want to succeed, I’ve got to step up my game.  Lots of opportunities I need to take advantage of, mostly because I’m young and I can get access to a lot of things that a lot of older people have a harder time doing.  Which is good. Stressful, but good.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.


Control, happiness, Job, Startups

Freshman Year, First Semester of Adulthood

I got that terminology out of a book I read a long time ago and I quite liked it.  For some reason I decided that adulthood started at 26 (I decided that in college and hold that it was the correct age to start expecting things from me- not anytime sooner, I was still warming up).  Now that it’s winter holidays, I thought I should give myself a report card.

Freshman year of adulthood was exactly like Freshman year of college.  I moved from Hubli to Bangalore.  It was crazy.  There was so many things to do, and so little time to do it.  NextDrop wasn’t dying.  In fact, we were growing.  And that was stressful.  Is stressful.  I tried to make friends, but learned from the last freshman year that I went through that I have a tendency to overdo it.  I didn’t want to be a people pleaser.  I just wanted to hang out with people I genuinely wanted to hang out with- not out of obligation.  Which I did.  I am proud of myself for that. But life still feels like a mess.  Sort of like Katrina all over again (and FEMA decided not to respond this time.  Oh wait…)

Luckily we’ve employed the MIT system and all Freshman are not actually graded- just given a Pass/Fail.  I passed. HURRAH!

Focus on next semester:

Slowing down.  Finding my center.

That’s what I messed up for so long.  I find it easier to go faster, wilder, never say no, never slow down.  It’s like slowing down will kill me. Slowing down is scary.  Now I know that I don’t slow down not because I won’t get things done, but I am scared of what will happen when there is empty spaces in time to fill.  How do I fill it? I have to be in my own head- I have to be in the moment.  Zen.  Scary.

I’m actually convinced that if I can do this one thing, work, and life in general, will be infinitely better.  I have done it a few times and I think to myself, wow, why don’t I do this more often?  But it’s super difficult to get to that state.  It takes me a whole day or more (and usually removing myself from Bangalore) to get to that point of centered-ness.  So now, I want to focus on getting me to that state, every day.  In my own settings.  (Because lets face it, I can’t drop everything and go to Kerala every time I feel un balanced now can I? In case you thought I was richer than I actually am, the answer is no).

The plan:

Dance (or yoga) every morning.  Sacred time.  Which means getting up early- like at 5 am.  Its so wonderful at that time- the world is asleep and I have it all to myself.  I WILL HAVE ANU TIME IN THE MORNING.  (Caps because I am trying to yell at myself/emphasize that this is really really important).

Work is from 9:30am to 6:30pm.  Keep focused and get the work done! It’s possible if we don’t get sidetracked and distracted.

Have Anu time after work.  Either dancing, yoga or gym before going home helps separate work from home.  I tried going home right after work and it was absolutely awful.  It was so much better having dance class right after.  The LEAST I can do is go to Gold’s Gym and either lift or cycle or…whatever. Something that says, hey, work is over and now you’re transitioning to home time.  This also means I need to go to bed around 10pm.  I can do that.  I think I can I think I can…

Rinse and repeat.

I want to keep it simple.  Just 3 simple rules to live by.  I think if I can do that, I will be better human being.

At least a nicer one to the people I work with….