Genesis

Creation.  The creation of valuable things involves stress, pressure, and time.  Diamonds.  The world (according to some).  Things that don’t withstand the stress, and pressure over periods of time don’t last.  It’s interesting to think about how that relates to ideas.  What if you put a mind under that- trying to solve complex problems, related to business, water, India, mobile technology, people.

If diamonds had thoughts, what would it feel when it is undergoing the transformation?

I think it feels like knowing you are moving in a positive direction, no matter how painful.  Massochists love pain.  Pain when you know its for something greater than yourself, moving you closer to where you want to go, even if you don’t know what that “where” is.

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Under Pressure

How do you make investors 10x over 10 years.  How do you show that you’ve uncovered business secrets, and you’re just looking around because they’re so incredible you wonder how nobody else is moving on it.  And then you have to figure out why nobody else is moving on it, and if you’re idea is really valid.  Why can you execute over everyone else?  And most importantly, why should anyone care about this? You have to figure out if you’re too crazy and therefore too early for the market, or if you are just crazy enough and you can ride the wave.  You have to hypothesize about the behaviour of 1B+ people, and make a bet.  You take a call on it, and strategically align your business with that bet, given past data points that you’ve observed.  But you know what it comes down to? It comes down to your gut, and your observations.  Are you willing to make a $5M+ bet on your gut? And more importantly, can you convince someone else to take that bet on your behalf?

Can we convince people that we really have what it takes to be the next big thing?

This is my job.

I love high stakes poker.

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

Why Didn’t I Start Facebook? Because I Could Care Less About Facebook (Women in Tech: Part I)

Women in Tech (or more precisely, the lack thereof) has always been an issue.  And most recently, with the Twitter IPO, it’s become a hot topic again.  I like it because it’s made me think about why this phenomenon exists.  There’s a lot of people who are weighing in on this topic- most of whom, ironically, are not really women in technology.

So being a woman who is running a technology startup, I started questioning why I was doing what I was doing.  I can’t speak for everyone, I can only speak for myself (so this is one datapoint) but the fact of the matter is that I could care less about most tech startups out there.  I’m making the newest chat tool that erases pictures within 5 seconds of opening it (except oh crap, we didn’t realize you can hack it and come up with an iPhone app that actually save all the sexts that you’ve sent- our bad).  I’m sorry, that just doesn’t make me want to jump for joy here.  If I’m spending most of the waking hours of my day working on something, I’d like it to have meaning.

So now, lets look at the non profit and social enterprise space. How many women are running organizations there?  I think you’d see quite a few.  And if you look at the most famous ones in the Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) space, guess what, they are run (or co-run/founded) by, yes, women.  Frontline SMS and Ushahidi great examples.

Which gets me to my  main point: maybe the real question is, why aren’t more tech startups from Silicon Valley doing cool things that solve actual problems?  (And no, I’m not the only one who thinks so).  Now don’t get me wrong, I have personally experienced times when I think wow, now I know why being a woman in tech is so hard- no wonder more women don’t do it.  And when I read things online, I think jesus, you actually thought it was ok to put this in print?  Max Levchin, for example, straight up says he thinks that early startups should strive for “non-diversity“-

“PayPal also had a hard time hiring women. An outsider might think that the PayPal guys bought into the stereotype that women don’t do CS. But that’s not true at all. The truth is that PayPal had trouble hiring women because PayPal was just a bunch of nerds! They never talked to women. So how were they supposed to interact with and hire them?”

So basically, his argument was that since they never learned to talk to women in college, lets use the same logic in the real world.  Lets never grow up because really, we don’t think this is going to be a big deal ever.  AWESOME. I mean, can you imagine if I said the same thing?  Well, I never learned to talk to boys in college so really I don’t think I should hire any men for my startup because I don’t think they will bring any value at all whatsoever.  (Wow, now that I mention it, I should try it sometime- maybe my next startup!)  Point is, it sounds utterly ridiculous, absurd and not to mention downright immature.  And I think we’ve talked a lot about the structural reasons why there aren’t more women in technology (i.e  the education system in general)- but it looks like some top universities are trying to rectify the problem- Carnegie Mellon is a prime example. (Kudos to them- I really hope more universities adopt this strategy. )

But I want to focus on those few women that say hey, I’m willing to deal with all of this crap and I’ve made it.  I’m here.  But really, here to do what? Am I going to deal with the constant struggle (because yes, it’s still awkward and painful for women in a male dominated world) in order to make an app that changes the face of mobile gaming for 7-15 year olds?  Is that REALLY what I am going to struggle for here?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, even in hindsight, if I went to Harvard and Marc Zuckerberg were to come to me and ask me to start Facebook (EVEN knowing what I do now), I would probably pass.  I’d STILL start NextDrop.  Because by God, this thing is going to make people’s lives significantly better than it was before.  If we live out our vision and fundamentally change the face of citizenship and democracy around the world like I think we are, I don’t know if I can say that Facebook will even come close to the positive impact we will create.

Maybe startups, and business in general, should think about how they can actually do good for the world.  Over the past 2 years, I’ve come to believe that the status quo is just plain unsustainable, and I think that the future of Silicon Valley, the tech industry, and business as we know it, is going to change.  And I think that future is going to have a lot more women in tech.

More on that in future posts.

Why I Love Startups, the Hacker Mentality, and Disruptive Innovation

Growing up, I never really thought about startups, or working at one, much less starting my own thing.  But I’ve grown to love it.  Absolutely love every part of it.  I think this quote from Walden,  sums it up  best:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Instead of “the woods” insert, “start this startup” and you’ve got my life. At some level, I think we all want the ability to understand what life is all about, to reduce life to its most basic elements, and most importantly know that you have lived- really LIVED.  I think the way you know that is by measuring how much you’ve grown, changed, or matured, over time- and in what direction.  Life keeps going by, whatever we decide to do- and knowing that my life is being lived gives me incredible peace of mind. I don’t worry about growing old because I know that I’ll be that much older, smarter, wiser, and happier.

Which brings me to Hackers, and the Hacker Mentality.  I think this quote, from Eric Raymond’s document How to Be a Hacker (which I highly recommend) sums up my love of the Hacker Community:

Work as intensely as you play and play as intensely as you work. For true hackers, the boundaries between “play”, “work”, “science” and “art” all tend to disappear, or to merge into a high-level creative playfulness. Also, don’t be content with a narrow range of skills. Though most hackers self-describe as programmers, they are very likely to be more than competent in several related skills — Hackers don’t do things by halves; if they invest in a skill at all, they tend to get very good at it.

And also, totally jiving with their point on being a social outcast & associated benefits:

Contrary to popular myth, you don’t have to be a nerd to be a hacker. It does help, however, and many hackers are in fact nerds. Being something of a social outcast helps you stay concentrated on the really important things, like thinking and hacking.  If you’re attracted to hacking because you don’t have a life, that’s OK too — at least you won’t have trouble concentrating. Maybe you’ll get a life later on.

(Answer: Probably Not)

Honestly, it’s really interesting what happens when you stop thinking about extraneous things, and concentrate on: thinking and working. I see the world so differently now.  It’s ridiculous.  And many things really don’t make sense.  So I just tend to write them down and figure out how to adjust/fix them if they need fixing. Don’t know what to do with it yet, but I have a growing list.

Which brings me to the final point, on purpose and doing great things.  Disruptive Innovation.  I’ve been on the startup fundraising circuit, so I get to see other startup pitches now quite frequently.  And it’s amazing how…similar they are.  Some mobile/tech/web 2.0 thing that’s probably going to get funded and make a bunch of money because guess what, that’s what happens in this community.  But man, it feels so cool to pitch and when I get to the “competitors” slide, I have to say: Well, we’re doing something completely new, we have no competitors, and we’re creating new markets.  Most of this is speculation, but guess what, if we do this right, we’re going to be the next big thing since sliced bread.  People look at you like you’re crazy, but guess what, that’s what most people thought when anything worth doing was being done.

I guess I’m just thankful I have this amazing opportunity to…live.

Sleepless in Hubli

(Pseudo Stream of Consciousness)

Do you ever engage in a battle with your body: you know logically that your body needs sleep, but you really just want to keep working, not for any good reason except that there’s this big bad world out there and you feel the need to master it all?

The funny part is that it’s nothing major, no pressing deadlines, and nothing will self destruct if it doesn’t get done.  But basically, I just started delving into the world of Public Relations and social media as it relates to business, and really, it’s blowing my mind.  In the holy crap there’s so much I don’t know way.

Of course everything comes out of necessity, and as I sit here, trying to get some sleep, my mind really won’t let me because it’s telling me that I’m at least 20 years behind the curve and I need to understand how to use Twitter (mostly Twitter right now) to my advantage otherwise everyone will eat us alive.  This, of course, is the 2am brain talking.

It’s funny but these are the things that keep me up.  Not business dilemmas (mostly because I have a kick ass team to figure that stuff out), but the things that I should be doing, that I’m behind on.

As Entrepreneur/CEO, I’m responsible for everything that I didn’t hire someone to do.  Currently, that entails mainly being CEO, CFO, and everything related to Marketing/PR.  I guess I’m just trying to get over the fact that I’m stuck in the 18th Century and think all these newfangled communication mechanisms are just completely bizarre.  I mean, I can actually wonder what Mindy Kaling is thinking right now, and I’d be able to find out (FYI as of 3 hours ago she was jonsing after Mark Duplass).  Do I find that I have access to this stuff weird?  Yeah. Like a ton.  I feel like a cyber creeper.

BUT- I mean, people put it out there.  And its now becoming the norm to expect people to know stuff from the internet.  Friends have started apologizing for not reading my blog.  Which is weird to me because if it were really that important, I would have called them!  I love that they do, but really, it’s totally fine if that doesn’t happen. However, I feel like not responding to people by not logging into Twitter because..you just don’t get around to it, is not a very good reason for not responding.  I think it would make people upset.  Actually, I know it would make people upset.

I guess there’s just like..25 million things to do in a day and finally, I think this whole social media thing is registering on the radar/something I actually have to put on the to do list.

So I apologize for my social media ineptitude (me and my 2am brain) and the ridiculous learning curve.  I’m really going to try and be better at this stuff.

First step: Getting sleep.

Democratizing Information: The Rise of The Young Leader, Online Information, and Power

I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s somewhat oldish book, Outliers, which made me think.  It wasn’t anything I hadn’t thought of before, but at least it made me feel less crazy.

The premise (gross paraphrasing going on here): People are successful/rich/whatever because of their environment, and NOT necessarily because they were super special (i.e. it takes a certain level of intelligence/hard work to be successful, but just because you have those pre requisites it does not mean you will make it to Bill Gates status)

That being said, I was thinking about why you have this massive wave of young people leading things.  I think its directly linked to the internet and the availability of information.

From personal experience, I know that whenever I have any business problem, I either a) shoot a mentor an email to schedule a call/skype session/answer it over email or b) buy an ebook about it and download it to my iPad.  Guess what: 99% of the time, it solves my problem.

When I attended the Clinton Global Initiative, I was at a session which featured a 15 year old panelist who basically changed the way we treated Cancer.  What did he site as the reason he was able to do what he’s done?  That’s right: Google (I kid you not he literally said he self taught/read journal papers off the internet)

Disruptions in academia/online education are already receiving huge VC attention: Coursera and Udacity are ones that come to mind (raising $16M and $15M from Venture Capitalists respectively to date).  Imagine never having to go to a University again and pay that $20K-$50K/year sticker price.  Crazy right?

Is information power? I think it is.  Which is why not having the internet is kind of a big deal.  Who doesn’t have the internet?   According to Google, India has less than 10% internet penetration- which is why they’ve partnered with INK to do something about it.  Pretty neat-no?  My house in Hubli SOMETIMES gets internet, which is why I”m hoping they’re going to get on that whole getting everyone internet ASAP.  HUGE difference between my online experience/productivity in Bangalore/Mumbai (huge happy face) with that of Hubli (big crocodile tears stream down the cheeks face)

Personally, I think places like India are going to skip over personal computers and go straight to internet on a mobile device, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s true.  Cellular penetration is ridiculous- hopefully they can piggyback broadband on there as well at some point.

At the end of the day, I’m no academic, and if you have some strong reasons why you don’t think the internet is one of the best things that have happened to society, power to you.  But I think it would be very hard to dispute the fact that the internet/mobile/personal computer  phenomenon is a game changer.

And sometimes, when you’re feeling pretty…blah…about life, it’s pretty amazing to look up and realize that you are in the midst of a revolution.

Of epic proportions.