Cut Shit Out

We all have some folks in our circle who we meet and are social with but we don’t quite trust.

  1. Maybe an ex-lover who is clingy and lonely and you know is bad news
  2. An employee who talks smack behind your back
  3. A friend with a huge insatiable ego
  4. A creepy fellow in your social circle who makes crude remarks or advances
  5. A colleague who just wants to take you down
  6. A buddy who is full of drama because of their own selfishness
  7. A “friend” who is full of lies and dishonesty
  8. Someone who is simply negative of everything
  9. Super Jealous cousin secretly wishing you no good
  10. etc…

If you nodded to any of the above, do yourself the BIGGEST favour you can. Cut them out. It might seem ruthless, unsocial, rude, but the upsides are too high. Trust me.

After a really shitty and resentful personal and professional 2015, I (almost accidentally) started getting rid of these folks and my only regret is, why didn’t I do this earlier.

The TOP thing to happen: It was liberating. Liberated of having to be civil with folks I deeply disagree with. A sense of peace, happiness and lack of negativity is just icing.

And most importantly – It was AS awesome for my personal life, as was for my professional one. If someone is being a douche more than serving any real purpose, cut them out.

And do it today.

The Best Startup lessons that you will probably ignore (Until it’s kinda late)

I mean.. who am I to be giving out advice – but after 4 years of startup life, we have learned a few things… the hard way. We have made these mistakes, more than once and right now, are our biggest regrets.

  • Listen to customers: So simple. Yet, we fail to do it. Customer interviews with scripted questions (how much would  you pay, how much of a pain is this, how many times do you do  this every week) and pre-set metrics (if less than 70% users say they want it, we scrap it; if less than 50% say it’s a strong pain we scrap it;) should be the starting point. Even if you start with 10. If you can’t find 10 prospective customers to interview, then your target market is too small anyway. There’s no bigger dirtier lie than “build it and they will come”. They will not. We almost killed ours. Twice. Don’t kill your startup. You will be left with a useless piece of expensive software that you and your friends think is super cool. Trust me on this one.
  • Keep your burn low: Even simpler! Don’t travel if you don’t have to. Don’t pay for the booth which you can ill-afford, don’t pay through your nose for the one “game changer star” employee – they won’t change anything except your runway, use hacks where you can, use free data even if it’s a few extra lines of code, cheap hosting whatever you can find. If you must spend money, let it be used for employee motivation and celebration.
  • Take the tough decision: You need to fire your friend. A founding employee. You need to tell your co-founder to show up at work on time. Or that he’s being too egoistic and irrational. Or tell an employee you can’t give him vacation time. Or tell your investors how you failed and you want to pivot.. again. Don’t deliberate and cringe and withdraw. These talks are difficult for everyone and you only get slightly better with practice, but everyone is better off if you just get it out asap. Do it. Once you do it, you will have wished you had done it much earlier. Every. Damn. Time.

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International Women’s Day

On this day, I would love to make a pledge and encourage all of you to take the same pledge.

Engaging in gifts, wishes, women’s awards, motivational workshops, quotas… has this connotation of the weaker sex – that women need to be taken care of. Let’s get to the root of the problem. Let’s try our best to challenge people, even when it seems rude. Let’s challenge our friends – girl friends and boy friends alike, let’s challenge our colleagues, our parents, cousins, neighbours and our leaders, for biased behavior. Let’s challenge ourselves – when we are being too critical, when we are taking something for granted, when we are using gender biased language, when we are laughing at gender biased jokes, when we are enjoying gender biased super hero movies or music – let us challenge ourselves, and imagine a world where these biases would not exist. Imagine a world where centuries of reinforcement didn’t exist that women are bad drivers, men are emotionless, being called a pussy equates to weakness, that mothers are better caretakers than fathers. Let’s challenge the bias and strife for equality.

 

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The Minions Movie – Yes, I’ll rant.

So, I love the minions. They’re cute and say cute dirty things like doody. And I don’t really care that they’re all boys. And, I really liked Gru. And since this new movie, The Minions, had a female Super Villain, I was thoroughly excited! After watching Max Mad – Fury Road and The Spy, I started hoping the change was here.

Not quite, it seems. While the movie rolled on, I kept finding myself nodding my head in disapproval and dismay at what garbage stereotyping was being fed to the little kids. I was infuriated. This movie is filled with all the demeaning, horrible and insensitive sexism that’s unacceptable in a kids movie!

What saddens me more is, when I brought it up to my friends, they said I was over reacting, I bring up sexism in everything, I need to take it easy, enjoy it as a kids movie.. BUT… it’s worse because it’s a movie for kids. And it saddens me more that they don’t see it. Here are some points that I remember (I wasn’t taking notes because I was truly hoping to enjoy the movie):

  • The Super Villain Scarlet, of barbie like proportions, was only the show, whereas the “brains” behind the operations was her husband (I’ve never heard of a married Super Villain, have you?)
  • Her background story is: she wants the queen’s crown because she’s always “wanted to be a princess” and dress up in pretty shiny clothes and get her hair done just like she drew when she was 5!
  • Because – “everybody likes princesses” (and all women want to do is be liked – obviously)
  • And, she wants her corset tightened so much she can barely breathe because, she must “have a tiny waist” for her first public appearance as the queen (paraphrasing here).
  • Collects gold and jewels because it “fills the void”
  • And when she gives a keynote speech at a villains’ conference, she’s wearing a red strapless dress and black stilettos. And she’s always wearing a red strapless dress and constantly pulling it up from the boobs as it slides down. Shown in a cartoon for kids!
  • They show 3 women in drivers’ seats of cars, all 3 of them put on lipstick while in the drivers seat, at least one of them get into a car crash while putting on lipstick while driving, real funny how stupid female drivers are, right?
  • She wants the crown but has no plans and does not go steal it herself – sends the minions
  • Get’s a tiny crown gifted at the end when the real super villain (no points for guessing it’s a male) takes over and is happy with it
  • And… don’t even get me going on how it’s filled with grossly racist imagery, from Japanese sumo wrestlers to Mexicans and how the language of the stupid follower minions is a mix of broken English and Spanish.

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Am I over reacting?

Are you really going to accept the status quo and diminish half our population’s ideals to being pretty little princesses?

 

Pricing your product

Ohh – This is a tough one. Anyone selling anything that’s new to the market, be renewable energy, a robot that does laundry, imported vodka or innovative SAAS has experienced this heart wrenching, gut churning marathon to figure out how to price the product.

At LeadSift Inc., we’re a B2B selling to large brands and F500 companies. Recently, our sales cycles have shortened to a couple months and sometimes, even a week. And when we ask for cash, the companies don’t shut their doors on our face and in fact, sign up for  yearly contracts or renew monthly ones. Yet, we’re far from figuring out how to price our software.

Yet, I wanted to share the few lessons we learned over the last year.

1. Free does not work. DO NOT give your product away for free.

This one is difficult to follow. You’re so tempted to give away your stuff for free in the first few months, as a bait. Just don’t. If they don’t pay to try it, it’s not a big enough pain for them, they won’t bother using your freebie. You’re going to waste resources. Even if you price it cheaply and give them a huge discount, make them pay!

2. You can give them a big discount but get something in return

For example, give them beta user pricing, a 90% discount but get weekly phone calls to monitor how they’re using it, all numbers and metrics as feedback and if successful, a case study. And put this down in writing.

3. Negotiations start at a NO.

Sometimes your customers WILL go away or not want to use your stuff. Don’t give up on the sale. It’s ok for them not to be early adopters and risk takers and feel the jitters. If your product works, they will come back for whatever price is worth it.

4. Start somewhere, don’t sweat it.

Pick a price. Work on proving the value of your product over time and you’ll figure the price of your product. It’s THAT simple. Every successful company changes pricing as the market grows. Some start expensive and move to freemium, some start cheap and grow to be expensive as shit. And so will you.

5. Remember you’re leading the market, so enjoy it!

Yeah, imagine when they decided what pop costs. Or set an overall standard price for rent downtown. Yeah, you’re doing that for your market. So own it!

 

Fight it f*****s.

A few months ago – LeadSift was truly down in the dumps. We were out of money, we had no customers, no real revenue and worst of all, a lot of our believers had started doubting us. The introductions they made dwindled, the phone calls and email lengths shortened and an overall sense of abandonment prevailed.

Yet, far from conceding, we made a list of 5 audacious goals we would want to achieve in the next 3 months. We printed them off and hung them up over each of our tables.

We had had a painful couple quarters and decided to pivot re-position and with a tiny team, embarked on building an enterprise software within 3 months. We wanted to close some F500 companies and sign a few strategic partnerships selling the product that was still incomplete.

Fast Forward: Within the next 5 months, we had signed over 15 name brands and 3 strategic partnerships and in very close talks of signing a couple more.

No miracles happened. And we weren’t lucky. No serendipitous encounters or silver bullets. The only thing was, we just worked really really hard. We didn’t bother with press and raising money and being a cool startup and hackathons and culture building exercises and networking events and all that. We just worked with a laser sharp focus, all aligned to the same goal, motivated to escape our death. And it worked! And there’s nothing more redeeming than winning back the trust of people who had put their faith in us in the first place.

Of course we know we’re far away from being successful and this is only one of many challenges to come that will shake even our own faith. We received emails asking to hire us or our employees or offering advice on how to shut down gracefully and I can’t lie, it’s wonderful when I today, I close my eyes and say to myself, Fight it Founders because there’s always a bullet left. But make sure you get that fucker smack in the heart!

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Both sides of the Table – 2X Employee turned Employer

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As you rush to get to work in the morning, have you sworn that if you owned the company, you’d implement flex hours so that people could show up at work at their most productive times instead of come in and spend the first couple hours drinking coffee and blankly staring at the screen trying to wake up? Yep, I have too, and it seems so obvious!

Have you hoped that you’d be included in strategic discussion, so you can not only have insights into your own near-future but also grow professionally and see “how things are done”? Hey, I have too!

I always had plans to start my own company. Yet, after graduation, with looming bills and debt (which have only gone up with time), I held 2 full time jobs before starting up. I had amazing luck in coming up with a list of things NOT to do because one of my bosses was an exceptionally unlovable person (to put it mildly) – for example; he had a software installed in everyone’s computer to capture screenshots every 5 seconds which he checked religiously to ensure we weren’t wasting our time! Polar opposite, my other bosses (co-owned company) were absolutely spectacular, nurturing, fair, encouraging, supportive and even protective! I can’t say enough good things about them.

Given these confoundingly stark differences, I started off with some fine ideas of what’s good and what’s not:

Things I feel I succeeded at, as an employer:

  • We have health coverage from day 1 (peace of mind is priority)
  • Constant (although meager) supply of snacks and pop,  (programmers are notorious snackers!)
  • All bank holidays are our holidays (yayyy 2-day Easter)
  • Bi-weekly Pay-Day lunches that the office pays for~
  • Open conversation about strategy, money, new clients, what’s keeping us up an night etc. (Sharing a common goal makes us stronger)
  • Related to above – having everyone aligned and motivated (to the point of making sacrifices of LeadSift)
  • Paid downtown parking (because, why not)
  • All the employees make more than all the founders (that’s table stakes)
  • Equality (it’s pretty easy for now though, since our team is pretty small)
  • Wear whatever  you want (I hated dressing up like a consultant)
  • You can choose whatever laptop you want, within a set budget (Ubuntu? Windows? Mac? Windows in a Mac machine? Sure, we have them all)
  • Real flex hours (Mostly because I can’t be productive before 10am)

Things I failed at, as an employer:

  • Promised half-day Fridays but due to work pressure, was unable to keep it up
  • Figure out a way to compensate engineers for their hard work as much as/similar to sales bonuses
  • Not have as many congratulatory or celebratory or seasonal celebrations as I wanted
  • 4pm Beer Fridays – something that was talked about but never implemented
  • Just failing to set expectations in general – growth numbers, commissions, raises etc (because even I don’t know)
  • Keeping sexist/discriminatory/rough remarks at bay
  • Maintaining a clean office when there’s no visitors scheduled to arrive

I DO LOVE my team, all the weirdness inclusive – nay, specially for the weirdness and quirkiness! So, I’d love to know what would you want to see done differently at your work place or mine? What’s most important to you?

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Founders’ Mania

This is going to be a very hard piece to write, because some of the thoughts are fogged by my personal emotions while the others are just controversial.

For the last few years, tech-company founders of the young, unabashed, hoodie-wearing type are being given celebrity status that is hurting their business and everyone else involved. And this needs to stop before there’s too many people crushed and a bubble burst and a lot of good cash lost.

Let me elaborate where I am coming from.

A lot of the first time founders find themselves flogged by media and hype. It’s not easy starting a company but come on, people have been starting businesses and making money from them for ages and, that endeavor, until recently, has never been looked upon as something “heroic”. This pr and superfluous attention is drawing more and more people into “startups” just because they like the way it sounds and not necessarily because they have a great business idea that they are committed to. This is spawning lots of really bad startups which live with ridiculous expectations.

The coolness of startups are also attracting and creating lots venture capitalists or investors – either people with personal wealth or folks who have been hired by institutional VCs because they needed positions filled. These investors create a whole new round of issues – they bring with them limited experience of running and growing a company, very little experience of leadership and venture capital and a tiny or non-existent network of connections – therefore being unable to support the young startups with the essentials they need at the early stages.

Who suffers? Almost every startup. While lots of the startups actually have a real business idea, the enchantments of startup life puts unnecessary pressure to live up-to the big fake picture. It instils incorrect priorities in pursuing “cool swag”, promotes stupid ideologies as the CEO is hailed as a rockstar, creates confusion as the tiny company slogs their ass off with minimal mentoring and publicizes ridiculous expectations about the little company that has a 99% chance to fail. It creates an unhealthy environment for employees who join startups and are expected to work super hard for a lower pay while neglecting family and have little to gain other than experience – the unfair part being, even in the off-chance that the company succeeds, the founders make most of the cash.

And the newly christened investors end up funding one failed startup after another.

 

 

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Driven vs Passionate… think about it.

It was a while ago when we were talking about hiring a person and after interviewing two people, both of whom we really liked, when one of my co-founders said: “well, she’s passionate but he’s a lot more driven” implying that drive, obviously, makes that person more qualified.

We must have heard this before and mostly agree: Drive is a great skill to have at any job, but definitely at a startup.

And I have seen often that men are more driven than women. Men are the ones to raise their hand, ask for the raise, negotiate their salary and overall, keep looking for the next best thing whereas women would often keep quite so they can give proper credit to team members, give more time to family, let others shine and attribute their successes to external factors.

In India, (where I come from), women will often give up well-deserved inheritance to avoid conflicts with brothers which can tear a family apart. Would you call that lack of drive or driving for the correct thing?

I’ve noticed, very often, women taking a back seat so that their employees can take credit for the work they did. Is that less driven or putting importance in the real and honest things?

I was at a conference recently and at a talk, Adora Cheung, founder of HomeJoy, who said that after she built the software and didn’t have any customers, they decided they need to understand the business of professional cleaning. Since she was the engineer on the team (of her and her brother) and the product was built already, she took up the job of cleaning other people’s houses  and offices and trying to hide away from people she knew. Is that driven or is it just taking one for the team?

What I am trying to say is, the of leaders today and of tomorrow need to acknowledge the difference between drive, passion and loyalty. It’s great to find someone driven as long as the drive is not selfish! But it’s better to have someone passionate and loyal. And not let women be incorrectly judged by yet another double-edged sword.

 

 

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