Learnings from 2023

2023 has been a relatively good year for me as compared to 2022. As we step into 2024, I want to share some of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned, some of which date back even further.

1.Remove things as much as you can aka focus is critical for success

I dabbled in too many things before 2023 with a generalist mindset and couldn’t really find time to double down on what is needed from me at a particular time or what I want from myself. In 2023, I cut down a lot of things even when I wanted to do them badly to prioritise top level company and personal goals. Till date, this has been one of my best decisions. The takeaway? Directly pursue what you genuinely want, not just what others suggest. The direct route is often the fastest route. Focus on that.

2.Understand Your Limits

Building on my first point, I’ve realized that taking on everything, even if it seems possible, isn’t always the best option. I have taken multiple roles and positions in our company and have grinded everyday for three years to learn and deliver as much as I can. But as the company has started to scale and add new product lines, I have decided to build an expertise in one key area (growth) and do it well. That area can be what the company wants from you at that moment, but restricting it to just one or max two is the best for you and the company. Trust me! Do not spread yourselves too thin

3.Early stage is way different than mid or late stage

I was the first employee at CreatorOS (parent company of Questbook and Reclaim). I had joined Questbook after working with the founders of mid to large stage companies at Kalaari and in the product team at Blinkit, a couple of years before Blinkit’s got acquired to Zomato. The key lesson I learned is the importance of prioritizing emotional and insight-driven approach over rigid processes, especially in early stages. Very few people are trained in emotion first/insight first thinking. Most of us think about setting up analytics, writing events, writing detailed docs even before thinking through how the user would feel. When was the last time you discussed your customer’s emotions in a professional setup? Humans are emotional beings including your customers. They don’t care about funnels, CTAs, retention. If they feel your product adds value to their life at a given price point, they’ll pay. Finding and validating this value and price is a significant jump. Rest is just optimisation. Avoid the temptation for perfection in the initial stages to sound intelligent. Conserve energy on the most important stuff!

4.You can add a lot of value to an early stage company as a generalist

Most of my friends who are MBAs, non tech undergrads want to get into tech, but do not know how to. Not denying that PMing is (not sure about now) the hottest job, but getting yourself into a very early stage startup is the best thing that you can do to yourself. The caveat being betting on the right people. It will be atleast a two - five year journey and unless you feel that you are surrounded by people who will transform your startup into a rocket ship, don’t join. Even the smartest VCs do not know what’s in store. Coming back to the point. I am reminded by Brian Balfour’s presentation in which he says that the best way to build influence and create impact inside an organisation is to do things no one else is willing to do. Everyone wants the new shiny project. If you want to go deeper and grow fast, take the opposite route. Take projects from 5% - 80% consistently. Then hire someone to replace yourself. A CEO needs someone who can do this job day in and day out for him/her to focus on the next big bet. Being that person can be really rewarding.

To quote Dan Romero while he was reflecting back on his days at Coinbase “You want to be a weapon that your CEO can point at a problem and you get it done. I tried being as high leverage as possible and believed no work was “beneath me””

5.Embrace change and accept reality

Sometimes, leading 2-3 KPIs at the same time is hard. I signed up for it the day I decided to be the employee #1. But it is okay to accept that there are people who can do your job better than you can once the strong foundations have been laid out. You need to set your ego aside and make yourself less important in order for the experienced folks to do their job well.

As a company shareholder, startup’s success should come first, not your personal ego. As things scale fast and start to get more technical, the company needs people who are experts. People who have been there done that! But these people don’t want to come in and work for someone just because that person was early. They know their game. Get them onboard and GTFO. Founders and CEO breed is really good at this art. Acceptance is hard!

A related instance that comes to my mind is my post JEE depression. I had gone to Kota for preparing for JEE and had really high expectations from myself. While I could not make it, my BITSAT score was decent and I could’ve got the non coveted disciplines at the Pilani campus (Finance, IS or one of the dual degrees). I had absolutely zero idea about which discipline to choose at that time and based on the advice of my uncle who believed that one should opt in for core branches such as Mechanical or Chemical, I ended up choosing Chemical at the Goa campus despite having the deserved opportunity to get better disciplines from an outcome perspective at all three campuses. For the longest time, I could not make peace with this fact. I had studied really hard for two years and squandered a good opportunity to start the race as an equal because of lack of awareness and listening to my uncle’s advice. I was even mocked by my to be peers on the registration day for my choice when I told them my score . They recommended me to see if there’s away to change things. Of course, there wasn’t unless I scored a really high CGA in my first year.

I vividly recall a train journey where an aunty asked about my campus. After revealing I was at BITS, her reaction only added to my frustration. Since that day, I was really annoyed at such people who asked this question. People often jumped to conclusions about my abilities, IQ score, family upbringing (yes someone called that out too) without knowing my background or score/story. At times, I would give random, evasive responses about my campus (including Dubai). It’s interesting how some folks are always looking for some sort of institutional reputation or authority to judge the other person. Some can go to any extreme to know it. Everytime I introduce myself, or write/Tweet, I put myself out there. But I chose not to for those who I feel have the intention to constantly compare and show that they belong to a superior category. I’ve worked as a Consultant, PM, VC, PM, Growth and Sales exec (soon to be a developer) and it boggles my mind that people still actively look for institutional validation. I’m not a fan of basing one’s worth on one’s institutional associations. Anonymous individuals produce high quality work and make millions of dollars. Everyone deserves an equaly opportunity on internet. Gatekeepers should look for an alternate career option. Nonetheless, I have to terms with my decision and no longer feel hesitant discussing it. Although technically, BITS doesn’t specify the campus name on the degree. Reality has been a hard pill to swalow. I’ve learned to embrace my journey and the choices I have made and presented by life.

6.No zero days

The biggest mistake that I made during my college days was to think that I had made it. Only to realise it later that one never does. Call it lack of awareness or the opposite of growth mindset, since my days at Kalaari, I have made it a point to have zero zero days. Be it a rainy day, a day when I’m unwell, or a holiday, I make it a point to work on my personal goals created for myself by myself. Our education system handicaps our ability to think independently. Every syllabus, book, lecture slide is handed to us on a platter year after year. The closest analogy being that of a box on a conveyor belt that gets shipped to the industry around the age of 22. Kids do not know that they can make their own goals too!

7.Think through why you need a lot of money

Chasing a lot of money doesn’t come naturally to me. Not denying that money is important, but why is different for all of us. Some of us want to go on multiple vacations, retire, buy expensive stuff. Without answering the why, you’ll keep mimicking others and be stuck with how. To me, money gives me the opportunity to own my time, work on the problems that I want to with the people who I want to work alongside with. It gives you the freedom to take on problems you enjoy working on and most importantly, multiple shots at failure. One needs that to be successful in whatever domain they are working in. There are a lot of smart people out there. But chose wisely who do you want to work with. Money gives you that choice!

8.Health is as important as others tell you

Till I was 28, I used to consume Redbull, coffee like water. This is an image from my room in 2020. img

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that I produce high quality work when I feel the best physically. One of my friends at Kalaari had told me that while I may not see the fatigue symptoms back then, I will see them later on and change my habits. I have no shame in accepting that he was right and that 2022 was the worst year for me physically. I had neck aches, back aches, head aches almost everyday for three months and kept ignoring them. It was only when the pain become really severe and when I was diagnosed as borderline pre-diabetic that I started hitting the gym and restarted playing football. This was again, one of the best decisions of 2023. I was definitely quite late to the workout party, but getting up early and hitting the gym is probably the best thing you can do to yourself.

9.Ignore most advices

I have almost stopped reading all self help books and blogs as they are of no help to me in my day to day life. Everyone’s life is unique and telling people to do 10 things that will solve every life problem is a futile attempt. Hence, I have started adding “for me” at the end of each sentence and then put a filter of my current life situation to the merit of the advice/content. If it does not add any value which in most cases it does not, I am quick to turn the page without procrastinating much.

Note : I will keep adding additional pointers to this post.

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