Feminism, happiness, Leadership, social entrepreneurship, Startups, Technology

Right Brain, Left Brain, Passion, Discipline, Women & Tech

I was talking with my roommate/co founder today, and I think I have come to the point where I finally realize (and more importantly embrace) just how left brained I am.  I guess I wanted to deny it for the longest time, but as I see more of the world, I am learning more and more how…logical and practical I really am.  I think it was really hard for me because I had a value judgement associated with right brained people and left brained people (again, going back to my problems with being judgmental).  But coming from a TamBram family, I didn’t want to admit that yes, I am a stereotypical left brained person.  It was such a let down.  I also associated being left brained with a predominantly male…role.  I associated right brain with feminine, and left brain with masculine.  Which is incredibly unfair, but I think that is how our society portrays it.  (Now am I passing blame off to this larger, more abstract entity that nobody can really pin down making it ridiculously easy to play victim and not assume responsibility here? Yeah pretty much).  But it’s true.

And what does it mean being a left brained woman?  I know we’re trying to pay lip service to women in tech, women in engineering, but really deep down, what are our own perceptions of it?  I guess I’m a flawed human being because no matter how much I try to convince myself of these facts, deep down, that’s my first reaction. I assume responsibility for that, but I realize it’s something that needs to change.  I think what I’m trying to say is that I really haven’t seen many famous women that I, as a left brained woman, relate to and really admire/respect.  I also think that being a woman of color makes a huge difference, which I never believed until I read Maya Angelou (and I was thinking holy crap I thought it was just me that felt this way!)  But that’s for a different post.  The point is, I guess I am coming to terms with the fact that yes, I am a really practical/logical person, and that is OK.  In fact, lets embrace it.

It was also hard because…running a company, especially in the social space, I haven’t seen many people like me in it. Most companies in this space thrive off of Martin Luther King like conviction and passion.  They are trying to inspire you to do something different. To start a movement.  And since I started NextDrop, I always felt insecure because…that’s not who I think I am.  Am I passionate? Sure.  But do I think I can pull off an I Have A Dream Speech?  Not really.  I tried once, and it just felt so wrong.  It wasn’t me. I wasn’t being authentic.  I’m reading this book called Quiet, and it’s really interesting.  It’s focusing not on the Martin Luther King’s of movements, but the Rosa Parks.  Now do I think I’m completely Rosa Parks? No, but I definitely relate to her contribution to that movement more than I think I can relate to anyone else.

But coming back to value, if I were to synthesize the strengths of right brained people and left brained people, I would say that left brained people have an easier time being disciplined.  Right brained people have an easier time tapping into passion.  To be good, you only need one or the other.  But to be great? To be great, you have to learn how to have both.  I think the road to greatness is first figuring out what comes naturally to you, and then actively working on how to build the other part.  I think the motivation and drive for greatness is there for everyone, it’s just a matter of how you go about achieving it.

At least, that’s the way I see it today.  Who knows what will happen tomorrow.

After all, tomorrow is another day

happiness, Job, So Good They Can't Ignore you, social entrepreneurship, Startups

The Happiness Project: ” Happiness Is A Choice” (Vol I)

I heard this talk at the INK Conference last week, and it really just changed my life.  I was actually in the makeup room with Aisha backstage (and now I’m kicking myself because I wish I had talked to her then, but of course I was super lame and too busy trying to practice my own talk).  But anyway, I still got to observe her and the way she was interacting with everyone around her.  And it was just so awesome- her zest for life.  Her will to just….do what she wants, when she wants, how she wants.  So. Awesome.  (Yes, now that I’m reading this back it sounds like I’m a creepy stalker but I don’t care, she is an inspiration and I learned a lot from her that day- I hope she reads this one day and knows that).

You know how sometimes, you have to hear the right thing at the right time to give you a good kick in the pants?  I think that’s what this talk did for me (I would encourage you all to watch it).  But I think my biggest takeaway was that she gave me permission to be happy.  I know that’s strange to say, but it was almost like I thought it was illegal to just focus on how amazing my life is and how much I love it.  I felt like I needed someone to tell me, hey, everyone has great things in their life, appreciate it! And it’s ok to do that.  In fact, that’s the way it should be.  All the time.  24/7, 365 y’all.  I guess I got so influenced by all the people who are like, wow I don’t have this and jesus I just wish I had that, life’s just not fair etc etc etc I forgot that I was allowed to say no that’s dumb and not the way we should be living.

So now, I’ve taken life into my own hands and I feel like I’m focusing on being happy/doing the things I love to do.  Turns out, I’m not doing many things differently, just focusing on how grateful I am that I get to do them.

A few things on my list that I have been previously been unsure of, but now know that I am the freakish .01% that really enjoys it:

  • I want to be the best startup entrepreneur I can be.  By god, I want to build one of those elusive Unicorn companies (one of the 4 born in 2011) and I want to put in the blood sweat and tears to do it.  Our team is going to do it the good old fashioned way, by outworking everyone else out there.  Which means jesus, I’m sticking to the 4 books per month rule, and maybe bumping it up to 5. I only need so many hours of “social” time- after that, I just get antsy and think about all the startup things I could be learning (or if we’re in a group with other people, I try to strike up conversations about their job so I can learn about their startup, which doesn’t really bode well sometimes because they’re thinking man we’re not at work anymore Anu get the hint, but that’s ok, I’m gonna roll with it)
  • I also want to be me.  That sounds strange, but I gave this INK talk at the INK conference, and I did it in the way I wanted to deliver it, (I haven’t seen it yet but I didn’t shut myself in the bathroom right afterwards and angrily journal how awful it was like I did my first TEDx talk which means it was better than last time).  But honestly, it just wasn’t me.  It didn’t feel right.  I’m not that person I was projecting.  I can’t really walk around with a stick up my butt all the time.  Well maybe I can, maybe I have to, I don’t know. I still haven’t figured this one out yet, but it’s one of those things I kind of want to think about.  I probably won’t have a good answer for a while, but at least I know what I don’t want to be or do.  I think that’s a start.
  • Comedy.  Life is way to funny not to laugh, people need to do it more often.  Going back to the previous point, I didn’t have enough funny/this is so random and strange but I’m going to do it anyway sort of moments, which I’m going to work towards changing.  I think it helps that I met the most amazing people at the INK conference (my fellow INK fellows), who really made me realize- man, these are brilliant beyond brilliant people and they can look past the outer facade and take what you say at face value just because you said it.  Granted it’s the perfect world, but hey, why not just associate yourself with people you feel comfortable around?  For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like I needed to project a certain image to be taken seriously.  The only other place I feel that comfortable is with my team at work (which is great because we spend a lot of time together) but now, finally, I found people who are amazing and awesome (and also think life is way too short not to laugh).  I’m definitely capitalizing on this.

There’s probably a lot of other stuff I’m not talking about or thinking of right now, but I wanted to write it down before I forgot.

But really, here’s to being happy- by choice.

happiness, Job, social entrepreneurship, Startups

Are You Adding Value?

I think Peter Thiel (and Blake Masters through his essay notes of Stanford’s CS 183 Class: Startup) really makes a poignant point:  Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it adds value to the world.

I can press the Z key on my keyboard for 15 hours straight a day and it will be tiring and yes, I did work, and yeah, it may get hard (after hour 10), but does that necessarily mean I added value to anything going on around me? This is, of course, a facetious example, but hopefully you get the point.

We confuse the two because it’s harder to judge for ourselves what actually adds value to the world, and what doesn’t.  So we use “hard work” and “difficulty” as a proxy.  (Again stealing from CS 183 Essay notes). Tim Ferriss also points this out in his book, 4 Hour Workweek.  The point he is trying to make is not that we should only work 4 hours a week, but that in most corporate jobs, we only add 4 hours of real value a week.  And if we can figure out which 4 hours of work will provide us that value, we can get away with it.  Essentially, most workplaces have low expectations and don’t maximize human potential.

But I think that’s what differentiates a startup from a normal job.  At a startup, you have to be able to deliver 40-50 hours of actual value a week, in order to just…survive.  So really, the best startup teams consist of people who not only understand what is “valuable” to the company, but they also know how to create their own work to deliver that value.

It’s really the difference between being able to follow directions on a map, and being able to create the entire map from scratch.

So really, I think when we say we want to maintain the “startup feel”, we’re not talking about the number of ping pong tables per square foot of office space.  We’re really talking about human capital utilization: Imagine every single employee was trained to discern “value”, and not only that, knew how to transform that to actual work? Imagine how employee satisfaction would skyrocket- knowing they were contributing to something greater than themselves.  It would be the end of busy work as we know it.   

Which begs the question, would we even need management anymore?  Is flat management, which Valve Corporation is most famous for promoting, the future of business as we know it?   In this era of rapid technological progress (and subsequently, the era of the knowledge worker), do we need decentralized management structures in order to promote innovation and progress?  To put it a different way, are our traditional systems and processes of “management” outdated?  Are they made for an industrial, Henry Ford assembly line-esque culture which, as the past decade of outsourcing has proved, not the American competitive advantage?  Do we need systems and place to help the knowledge worker thrive?  Is startup culture the answer?    

I don’t have a good answer, but these are the things I think about.  

happiness, Life Goals, social entrepreneurship, Startups

Salaam, Shanti, Pace, Peace: Startup Life in India, 2 Years Later

I moved to India August 2011.  I remember when I first got here, I was an incredibly angry person.  I think the inequities and inefficiencies I saw in India made me angry.  Being a woman made me angry.  Being young made me angry.  Everything just made me angry.  I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a young female entrepreneur, who reminded me a lot of myself when I first started out.  And it made me realize how far I had come, and how…peaceful I felt today.  All that anger, all those frustrations, all the uncertainty, came rushing back as we talked, and I really wished I could telepathically communicate what I have experienced instead of trying to verbalize it all.  So of course, I think what actually happened was a lot of silence as I tried to process, and a few cliches (that never help) were the only things I could contribute at the time.

But it got me thinking- what has changed in the last two years?

  • You learn that most people are usually wrong about new ideas.  When something new comes, how is it possible to have “experts”?  Why would they know more than you?  Because if they thought there was a real opportunity, wouldn’t they have done it themselves?  I used to feel so insecure about everything I was doing, because I thought I knew nothing.  There is no fix for this, other than the fact that you have to a) know that you will make mistakes b) once you realize you’re wrong, you fix it c) forgive yourself for being human.  And now that I have worked on NextDrop for 2 years, I am the expert.  So I have learned to just listen to my gut, and nothing else.  It’s incredibly liberating when you realize this fact.
  • You can’t change who you are, you can’t make people like you, and you can’t make people listen to you, so there is no point in trying.  All you can do is stick to what makes you happy, do the work that you think you should be doing, and leave the rest.  If you focus on doing good work, everything else falls into place.
  • Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin, and knowing both is part of the human experience.  I think these are things I have finally internalized.  I have realized that in order to connect to others in a meaningful way,  we must be open to experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion.  It is a scary statement, opening ourselves to the world at large, but if we have the strength to do that, we can connect to those individuals who are seeking meaning and truth, trying to make sense of it all through music, art, or dance. It’s a new and different world, but it humbles you and makes you understand just how little you know, and how much there still is to learn and grow emotionally.
  • Finally, I think the fundamental shift in my life outlook was when I  recently realized I don’t dance because I want to relieve stress, I dance because I want to appreciate life.  Appreciate my body’s ability to pirouette, leap, bend, point, glide to music that speaks to my soul.  I am not a religious person, and I think this daily act of appreciation is the closest I get to prayer- a thank you to the universe that I exist today, and in this crazy thing we call life, that is all I can ask for.
social entrepreneurship, Startups

Realization: CEO’s Aren’t Like Michael Jordan, They’re More Like Phil Jackson

I was thinking about my past two years heading NextDrop, and ways I could really take my game to the next level.  I knew that there was something fundamentally off in the way I was thinking about my role, but I couldn’t figure it out.  When I started NextDrop, I was the only employee and therefore had to spend my time doing most of the operational work- we just needed to get it done. Now that we’ve built out our team, I have been feeling a bit lost, because the team is doing the work that I used to do (and doing a much better job at it!).  I have been fundraising for the past few months, so that’s taken up most of my time, but since I see the end in sight, I’ve realized I need to figure out what my role is.  And as I was reading this great book on toughness, I figured out what that fundamental thought shift was.  I have built out the roster- the whole team is set.  I need to go from trying to be Michael Jordan, to trying to be Phil Jackson.

The Bulls from 1984-1988 were decent- they hadn’t really built out their squad yet, but Jordan was basically carrying the team (because lets face it, that coaching staff couldn’t handle him and didn’t really know what to do with his talents).  They did all right for themselves, but nothing spectacular. But it wasn’t until Phil Jackson came in 1989, they started building out their squad, and the team that they had built started working cohesively together, that the magic happened.  It started with their championship in 1991, and then, well, I think everyone knows the rest.

You did all right with just Michael Jordan, and you do need a Michael Jordan in the beginning.  But in order to transform a company from good to great, I realized that you always need a Phil Jackson.

I think it’ll be a fun transition, going from channeling my inner Michael Jordan to my inner Phil Jackson.

I guess I should start reading up on my zen.

happiness, Job, Life Goals, Mumbai, Quitting my job, social entrepreneurship

Coming Home

I think one of my favorite smells is the one as the plane opens and you get a whiff of Mumbai, and the halls of the Mumbai airport.  I can’t explain it, but it makes me smile every time (seriously, ear to ear, everyone stares at you like a crazy person smile)- ever since the second time I landed about 7 years ago.  It may sound strange, but right now, I consider India my “home”.  To me, the concept of home is simple- it’s wherever you feel the most comfortable being..you.  And for me, at this point in my life, India gives me that freedom.  And I appreciate it so much.

I guess in some ways I am running away from the social constructs that I created in my immediate environment in the US.  And that doesn’t have anything to do with the US perse, because people in India probably feel the same way about their life here.  I think it’s the simple concept of being a foreigner.  When you’re a foreigner, people don’t have expectations of you- at least in India they don’t.  You can get away with pretty much anything, from social faux paus to business meeting slip ups.  There’s no pressure really.  Actually, this could be particular to India, because I just finished reading this book about being a foreigner in France, and the woman did not seem to think the French were all that forgiving.  But India is.  And people welcome you with open arms.  Also, it helps to have family living in India- I seriously discover new relatives all the time (that welcome you and treat you like they’ve known you forever) which is one of the best feelings ever. I absolutely love Indian hospitality and the tie to family (both a blessing and a curse, but right now I’m celebrating the best of it)

But just putting things in perspective historically, I think coming home after this trip is especially exhilarating because the more I learn about the history of the world, the more I realize how interesting a time it is to be in India.  I was watching Lincoln on the plane ride back, and it was really an eye opener.  100 years after the US gained independence from the British, we decided that we hated each other and started shooting each other up re: Civil War.  Not only that, in order to see everyone, regardless of color, as the same under the law, Lincoln had to essentially buy his way to these votes.  Which makes me come to the (hopefully) logical conclusion that buying votes was the status quo in the US at that time.  Not that it isn’t the same way now (just disguised as “lobbying” and at higher levels behind closed doors) but really, corruption was at the same level as it is in India at that time- an inconvenience to the common man.  Or so it made it seem.  I have to look into it more, but now the seed is planted.  Now imagine that movie, and imagine Lincoln tried doing that, but we had the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and citizen journalism to expose anything unseemly. That’s India.  It’s absolutely NUTS.  So maybe it’s all the same in every newly independent country, but we only have more record of it now. Not sure, but that is my current hypothesis.

I’m reading this really fantastic book, We Are Like That Only, and it essentially comes to this interesting conclusion.  India is “this AND that”, “East AND West” and there will never be “One India”.  The more I learn about this country, the more I realize it’s a series of fascinating contradictions, competing ideologies, and vastly different cultures and values.  India gets media streaming in real time, keeps apprised of global trends not only socially but politically, can call people out on things that need to be called out on, but also have this undying tie to tradition.  It’s a mix. It’s creating it’s own identity.  You simply can’t transplant the West cookie cutter style and hope it takes off in India.  India will never get rid of the autorickshaw– it will just get a more fuel efficient, and technologically advanced version of this 3 wheel wonder.  Arranged marriages will never go away, India just uses technology to now put it online.  India will never get rid of it’s traditions and it’s habits- it will just use technology to make what they do…easier.

And I guess the reason I feel so at home here, at this point in my life, is that…I feel like I”m under construction as well.  And when I’m just discovering the world, and trying to build something great in it, I want to be in an environment that lets me focus on just doing that.  Just focus on the work, don’t worry about fitting in.  Because in India, since there are so many different India’s within this country, anything goes, and every foreigner fits in.

At the end of the day, I know that I want to end up in the US.  Things are definitely getting better in India re: women (which I think deserves a separate post at a later point about how fast India changes for the better) but I still don’t see myself living here permanently.  I can’t tell you if it’s a year or 5 years, or maybe just until NextDrop takes off, not really sure.  I think I”ll just…know.

But until that fascination and the benefits of being a foreigner wear out, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.

It feels good to be “home”.

hacker, Life Goals, social entrepreneurship, Startups

Being a Hacker: It’s Not a Career, It’s a Way of Life

Recently, I’ve become more and more obsessed with the concept of the “hacker”.  I think I really got more interested in this concept when my parents accused me of being “just another career minded woman” who would “regret not settling down”- which I figured was just…plain wrong. Now I have nothing against women who are career minded, or women who want to settle down, but I just didn’t feel like it was an accurate representation of what I do, or my motives for doing it.  (Admittedly, I think my parents were furious that I seemed to miss the point of their tirade, but it really did get me thinking about me and the context of what I do).  Because honestly, I have never been interested in a career, at least in the conventional terms.  I’m not doing what I do so that I can…work my way up the startup/water related ladder or something. Or become a thought leader in some space or other.  I don’t really care how many awards I do, or don’t win, and I don’t really care about recognition for myself (recognition for the company is an entirely different story however).  Don’t get me wrong, all those things are great and if they happen it’s a bonus, but that’s not the reason I do what I do.  So why do I do what I do then?  After reading the article on How to Become a Hacker, I realized that hacking was more than just coding or even limited to the computer/programming space- and something that really jived with me.

I think the key difference that pops up (when you ask Quora what the difference between a hacker and a coder is) is the difference in the state of mind, or why people do what they do.  My favorite excerpt:

“Hacker” is a state of mind.  You’re a hacker if you are intellectually curious, like to understand at the core of how things work, and like to be creative with your code.  You also understand how things work so well, that you can apply what you know into other contexts.  You can see quickly how things work, how to make it better, and how to re-use things to make things work differently. Hacker is akin to an artist, or philosopher, gifted with engineering talents.  You ask “why” and “why not” a lot.

A “Coder” is a state of function.  You’re a coder if you have a strong command of the programming syntax, and probably have a good technical foundation.  You’re more interested in getting things done rather then asking why it should be done. There’s nothing wrong being a coder, but there are other more important things in life than just computer programming.


Which means, I think we can take that out of the programming context and apply that to life.  And that really resonates with me, and what I do.  I do it because…I want to see the world in a different way.  And I want to make that vision come to life.  I guess I’d like to think of it as art in its most abstract form: through the creation of a new reality.  I guess I live in my head sometimes, and spend the working hours trying to orchestrate that vision through disciplined and precise execution (i.e. my job and making the company successful).

I guess that was my realization. I want to spend my time learning more about this new space, and the people that inhabit it. Because they inspire me, and make me want to be a better person.

In the meantime, I actually think I’m going to learn how to code. I’m terrified, but I think it’s a good start (and also a good policy that one of my colleagues suggested- having all top management at NextDrop fluent with Python).  I think I’ll actually do it now because..I have some motivation.  Still utterly terrified, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.