Archive for November, 2010


Trials are the secret to success

Last weekend a friend was talking about Ken Robinson’s TED talk where he says children don’t fear failing. The next day we went ice skating where the rink was filled with children skating for the first time. We kept trying to skate, deliberately slowly to avoid falling, and ended up not really learning to skate even after 30 minutes. I felt proud about not falling even once, but I noticed the kids just went about moving, falling, getting up and learning more than us in the 30 minutes. They just don’t seem afraid of falling.

Success tshirt

Failure. This word frequently paralyzes me and then I don’t do what I need to. People keep talking about failure as being a prerequisite to success. I wonder if they really mean failure? I would think ‘trial’ is the more appropriate word.Trial is the secret to success. And if you try, some or most of the time you will fail.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas Edison

How do you define success? How do you know you are successful?

I just watched ‘Comedian’ a documentary that follows Seinfeld, a successful comedian who seems oblivious to his own success, and Orny Adams, a struggling comedian attempting to get to where Seinfeld is for over 20 years now. It was interesting to see both men take it equally hard when they didn’t have a good show. Interestingly Seinfeld kept looking for his own approval, never happy with what he had done despite everybody around him looking at him like a genius, while Orny Adams, seemed confident that he was really good and would blame the audience when they didn’t respond to his comedy all the while seeking their approval desperately. In one of the scenes Jay Leno tells Seinfeld that he saves most of his Tonight Show money because he is afraid of losing it all and becoming unemployed.

Success seems to depend on who’s approval you are seeking. It could be audience, customers, investors, friends, family or yourself. When you stop seeking approval, then being successful can come so easy followed by happiness and peace. Easy to write about but so hard to do.


Ideas are like chessmen

I love this quote by Johann Goethe: “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.”

It tells me a few things that I can apply to startups:
1. Failures are stepping stones
2. It is important to envision future steps
3. A step is like a product/feature release
4. The idea that you are starting out with is only the first step

Over the past few years I’ve realized that a product doesn’t make a company. I don’t know yet what does. I have a sneaking suspicion that everybody starts out with an unsuccessful product which is a beautiful manifestation of the founders’ intellectual abilities but just doesn’t sell. Where you go after this product is probably what makes the company. I think I would just listen to people talk about and use the product, then figure out what really is the ‘aha feature’ that will form the crux of the next real big thing.

But where you take the first step is important. Enter big markets.


Why not to go to Startingbloc if you are in India

I get quite a few emails about Startingbloc especially from BITS students. Just got three in the past week, so here’s a post outlining my views about it. I should have written this a long time back.

Disclaimer: I was selected for the London program in 2008 but I never attended it. Although I’m still included in their email groups. So I really have no first hand idea about the program and its benefits other than from what I heard from the numerous people I know who’ve attended it.

I didn’t attend the program in 2008 I simply couldn’t afford it. And also because Abhilash wisely said, you can start a non-profit organization with 60-70K INR it would cost to do the program, which would be a lot more educative than a short 3-4 day program could ever hope to be.

Turned out to be a good thing because I later realized it would have added very little value to me.

Here’s why I suspect it’ll add little value to you:

1. It frankly sounds ridiculous that you have to attend a program in the USA to learn about social entrepreneurship when you are already in India. Ashoka has 283 fellows in India compared to 126 in the USA.

2. The money you would spend on traveling there and the effort you would put in to raise that money if you can’t already afford it, would be much better used if you just went ahead and started a non-profit. Every entrepreneur will agree that doing or starting something is the best way to learn.

3. The idea that you’ll benefit from ‘networking’ is a perception. Networking doesn’t mean meeting new people but it means engaging with them in ways valuable to both of you or at least to you. There’s potentially very little you can gain from meeting and hanging out with a primarily American college crowd. You would probably come back talking only about the diversity of the fellows.

4. Meeting or listening to the mostly American speakers speaking about their experiences in American development sector or in Africa is not worth the money. Find these lectures online and these speakers are already accessible on email, just try starting a conversation. Important busy people do reply to email if you show them you are worthy of their time.

5. Its not as selective as you would believe it is. From a reliable source, it was 70% last year. This kind of a walk-in-the-rose-park selectivity will reflect in the quality of participation. I know its kind of a big deal to get selected for a foreign program and you worked for it, but that’s not going to be the case for most of your fellow attendees.

6. There are quite a few conferences and programs in India that could be a great start for you to understand this sector. I suggest reading ThinkChangeIndia and LetMeKnow to find about those. I can vouch is pretty cool.

So I suggest you attend the program if:

1. You can afford a nice little holiday in the states. I hear a lot about the parties after the program, Americans are a lot of fun.

2. And you are fishing for resume points. This might help brighten up a bland resume if you are applying for bschools but doesn’t help an already bright resume. But beware most of the stuff that you think helps your resume is probably just perception. I’m not sure if they still have the bschool tie-ups that benefited college students getting into bschools early.

3. Or you are getting a fully funded trip.

Final nugget of wisdom: A four day program can never ever help you achieve your true potential. That’s just not the way humans work. If its motivation you are looking for look around you, closer to home.

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"I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere that I needed to be." - Douglas Adams

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