Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hype of Entrepreneurship

 View on the way to work on a Monday morning. Stadshagen Metro Station, Stockholm.

"The entrepreneur is willing to put his or her career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea, spending time as well as capital on an uncertain venture." - Frank H. Knight (1921) and Peter Drucker (1970)

Don't get me wrong. I admire the entrepreneur as much as any MBA grad who thought about that word more than his girlfriend during business school. It is just that my reasons for looking up to entrepreneurship are different than the layman reasons thrown around at start-up conferences, leadership seminars and networking dinners. Just like any other profession or genre of work, there are successful entrepreneurs and not-so-successful entrepreneurs. Should I give any special consideration to the not-so-successful entrepreneur, more than I would give to a not-so-successful management consultant? Probably yes, because the entrepreneur, successful or not, has put more on the line than the average salaried employee, and if unsuccessful has lost more than a guy with a job. But while we are doing comparisons, should I take away anything from a successful doctor, lawyer or corporate manager and hold the unsuccessful entrepreneur over and above him? Certainly not. After all, success, in any shape or form always tastes sweeter than failure. 

The thing that irritates me most is the clichéd reasons thrown around why entrepreneurship is so awesome. The most common ones are "Entrepreneurs are their own boss, they keep their own hours and they are answerable to no one, they are independent". Really? Are those your topmost reasons for the awesomeness of entrepreneurship? Firstly, entrepreneurs are answerable to a lot of people, their investors, if any, their clients, their partners, and most of all, their employees. They are more answerable for their actions and decisions than the normal "employee" at a firm and managing so many stakeholders is perhaps what makes entrepreneurship so interesting. I could never really understand the attraction of flexible hours, even though I have had it throughout my career. I mean I get it, you get to go for a movie on Monday at 11 am. But let's admit it, if there is a breakfast meeting with an important prospective client on Sunday at 8 am, it does not matter if you are an entrepreneur or business unit head, you will make that meeting. Most people who are good at what they do and reach a certain level in their jobs do not have to swipe their card at 9 am, unless they want to be in that position. A successful graphic designer is never asked how many hours s/he works. Or a successful lawyer who works in a law firm, or a top doctor employed by a hospital. And independence? Well if the entrepreneur has investors, I am not sure if s/he is more independent than a guy who heads a big business unit with a large budget, if you are using someones money, be sure they are keeping tabs on you. And if s/he does not have investors, then isn't s/he so limited by the small(er) investment that s/he has made himself or herself? 

There are so many better reasons why entrepreneurship is awesome. What about the ideas one can play around with? What about the pride? What about the euphoria of pursuing one's dream? What about the ability to tweak most aspects of your business, from HR, to Finance to Legal? For me those matter much more than the "I am my own boss" and "I keep my own hours" and "I am independent".

Which brings me to my other point. Risk doesn't excite me beyond a point. I am the kind of gambler who would go to a casino but not gamble away the taxi fare I need to get back home. So what if one could have the best of both worlds? Keep the risk limited and still have the euphoria of shaping a business?

In a world that is flooded with too many euphemisms and jargon, I am always careful of flinging out another one. But this word has always excited me. Intrapreneurship. What if someone gave you the ability to implement your ideas, own what you create, decide and implement your own strategies, take all major decisions (to the extent one cannot go bankrupt) and call all the shots? And ok, also throw in flexible hours, hiring your own team and choosing which client you want to spend most time on and where and when to travel. Oh and did I forget to state, no upfront investment, someone to pay for your travels, the salaries of your employees, client dinners, and any other investment you decide to make. And you still keep a % of the profits you make. And if the business fails, you lose nothing. Sounds unreal isn't it? But this is the profession I chose for myself, and a lot of my friends chose as well. Of course, there is a boss. Who meets you once a quarter, if not lesser. You are answerable, mostly to your clients. And if you mess up, you do not lose all your savings and your life, just your job. And considering your reputation, experience and CV value, there are always 3-4 other jobs waiting for you. Hence limited risks, but you still get to create your own business and your own strategies, build your team, own the profit and loss accounts. And only the successful get there. You do not become a business unit head without proving your mettle first, hence there are no random unsuccessful intrapreneurs.

So next time you are at a networking dinner, and that guy sitting next to you tries to tell you his claim to fame is entrepreneurship, stop and think. Yes, it was a risky plunge. Yes, he is brave. Yes, he is ambitious. But before you genuflect, dare to ask him, is he successful? Because that is what you would ask the consultant, the athletes, the creative designer, the lawyer before you put him on a pedestal. 

Life is not always about leading. It is also about making the right decision about who you choose to follow. Watch the video, and you will understand!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Getting back to being "Me"

A normal winter afternoon at 2 pm. Yes, Swedish winters can be dark and dreary. Taken with an iPhone 6

Maybe the me is good. Maybe he is just an intolerable, talkative paranoid wretch. I am not aware of all the perceptions, but I like the journey back.

Recently when I was still caught up in the obsessive corporate whirlpool, I had a critical senior exec meeting coming up. The meeting would decide whether the deal I had worked on for the last 6 months would get a green flag to go to the next phase, or be shelved. My boss loves to say this "In sales there are no runners-up. You either come first, or you come last, there is no in between" It sums up things pretty accurately. You either win the deal or you don't. And when you don't it does not matter how many months you worked on it, or how well you managed the deal. So essentially, this was a critical meeting that would decide the fate of all the sleepless nights I had put in. And I was a bit edgy. Had gone through my slides multiple times, and incorporated those last minute changes. 

So with a few minutes to spare before I took a cab to the client office, I decided to grab some lunch. As I must have stated before on this blog, I suffer from infrequent migraine attacks, and going empty stomach to a meeting does not help. So I strolled down to the food court a block away to grab a quick lunch. I ordered a Pad Thai at the counter and stood there waiting for it to be served. I was lost. There were a million thoughts going through my mind, passing by at the speed of light. I was pensive. To the point of  philosophically pondering on what life would mean if the deal was shelved. I saw the plate kept on the counter, and I paid and walked off, and remembered that I usually like some Sambal to spice things up. So I turned around and looked for the Sambal and that is when I heard her.

"Haven't I seen you somewhere before?"

I swear, her face had not even registered in my brain till that point. And then I looked. The daze broke. I was back on earth. And I drew a blank. There was no recollection, absolutely nothing. I smiled like an idiot trying to think what would be a polite comeback.

She tried to help "I used to work earlier at the Kista food court, and you had asked me where I was from, and you did not know where exactly Georgia was, you are the one with weak geography, you said you wanted to go to Moldova, you don't remember?". Yes that seemed like me, asking people where they are from. And discussing geography. And discussing how close I have been to that place or where I would want to go. But I had no recollection.

And then it hit me. I pictured myself, cheerful and talkative, striking up conversations with strangers in a country where people did not talk to their spouse unless absolutely necessary. That was me, then. And this was me, now. The guy in the grey suit with a grey look in his eyes. Mechanically doling out the required "Ursäkta" (excuse me) and "Tack" (Thank You) to be polite, but with the most impolite detachment that one can have. And the difference just hit me. I stood there, the plate in my hands, a bit baffled. The girl must have thought I was cranked up. 

I did eventually manage to have my lunch. I also said a polite "hejdå" (good bye) to the girl and walked out. I was able to grab a cab and made it to the meeting just in time. But the thought stayed in my head. And it was the beginning of the change. The beginning of getting back to being who I was. The intolerable, talkative paranoid wretch.Thank you girl-from-Georgia.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Clean Up

A chilly autumn afternoon: The last barbecue of the year 2015. Clicked with an iPhone 6 in the midst of barbecue fever

I was not bluffing. I am back for real! Sometimes one gets carried away, off into the oblivion and it takes a jarring punch in the gut to get one back to reality. So I am back, wincing in pain, but with my feet on the ground, more in touch with reality and hopefully a better person.

It has been 2 years of absence. There have been those half written posts in my drafts but nothing really made it out. There have been numerous messages, extremely flattering, asking me to get back to writing, especially as my last post before I took the sabbatical, was, ironically, about writing.

I like to think (like everyone else) that my life is not the usual humdrum of lives I see around me. To each individual, his life is special. But really, I do believe that my life is kinda extra-ordinary. To the extent that I sometimes yearn for the ordinary. I have been told by many, jokingly and sometimes not so jokingly, that I have a narcissistic streak in me. And maybe that drives me to think that I have an extra-ordinary life. But to be honest, I do not take credit for it. It somehow always veers off from the ordinary. My life can be extremely happy, with massive successes and conquests, or extremely painful, with heart-shattering set backs, but one thing I can tell you it certainly isn't, it is never ever monotonous.

So what I am trying to say that a lot has happened since January of 2014. A complete new chapter. Like turning the whole life upside down. In the end it is all about two things. Whether you had fun during the roller coaster ride. And whether you came out of it for better, or for worse. I certainly had the most titillating ride, but obviously. And I think I came out a better person.

A result of all these changes were the people in my life. I have always talked about how your life is the sum of the experiences you have and the people who join you in those experiences. A lot of them left. For reasons sometimes inexplicable. When someone cannot find joy in the reasons that bring you joy, then perhaps it is best for those people to leave. I was hurt initially, but eventually came around to the realization that these were the people who prioritized their own feelings of jealousy and negativity above my feelings of happiness and achievement. They were the ones who were upset when I was having some of the happiest moments of my life. And so, I realized, it was best that they left.

Some people just disappeared because I was obsessively busy with things I am passionate about. Perhaps I am at fault, and they made a wise decision. But you gotta do what you gotta do. There is this "knock knock" joke about how it cannot be opportunity knocking, because opportunity knocks only once. I opened the door without waiting for the second knock. And got sucked into what I think were the two most exciting years of my professional life. In the process I lost a lot of friends. I will be lying if I say I do not miss them. I would be lying if I say that I never wish they were still around. I never thought it would be an "either-or" option. I wish it was an "and" option. But if I had to go back in time I know I will make the same choice again. I believe in that proverb that in life, you always regret what you did not do, and rarely regret what you have done. I am not happy that I lost those friends. But I am happy that I have had the 3 most passionate and amazing years in my professional life.

Life has a way of cleaning itself up eventually. Cleaning up the intricacies, the complexities, the worries plaguing the mind, and sometimes the people you are better off without. And I am happy that clean up happened in my life. I am left with lesser friends, but they are the ones who passed the test of being there with me when I was at my worst behavior. And they were the ones who understood that the nasty ill-tempered guy who never had the time to catch up with his friends and family, is not who I really am, they are the ones who waited, and knew that it was a phase, it would pass. They are the ones who valued me enough to stick it out.

So I am back in more ways than one. Back to being more humble. Back to appreciating friends. Back to trying to pause and appreciate the things I have. And yes, back to blogging.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Next Chapter

Stockholm colors of fall: Clicked with an iPhone 6 on an introspective evening

It did not exactly start today. But it has started, in the blurry timeline of decades, the month does not really matter. What matters is that it is a happier chapter, and a better one. And what matters is I am back in the blogging world!

The path has been long, the battles have been gruesome. But in the end all that matters is that you came out alive, albeit a bit scarred.

As the season of fall gets rid of the old to make way for the new, so shall I get rid of all the old memories. And start afresh. I shall see more of you soon blogosphere!

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I feel most inspired to write when on aflight, when I feel a bit "above the nuances of mundane life" Pic clicked with a Samsung S3 on the way from Stockholm to Krakow in Oct 2013.

People should write. You are excused if you are handicapped at expressing yourself. If you are bad with words. Or if you have an uninteresting life. But too many people out there lead tremendously interesting lives, are good with words, have interesting opinions, and yet fail to put them down somewhere. And those thoughts are just blown away and forgotten, lost to oblivion, to laziness perhaps.

A lot of what we write stays on forever, especially in the age of electronic media and unlimited zeta-bytes of storage. I do not know if it happens with everyone, but I have been deeply influenced so many times by things I have read, sometimes written by people who are not necessarily famous authors. Sometimes anonymous quotes have inspired me. Random writings have made me think. General words on the internet have forced me to re-think. Blogs have made me want to do things. Books have changed the way I have viewed life, or at least some parts of life. Travelogues have made me want to travel. Life narrations have made me not want to go into jobs I would have sucked at anyway.

So when we read something that influences us, enriches us, rekindles thoughts within us, gives us something that we did not have, isn’t it fair to give back something to the world in return, some small portion of our lives that may someday enrich someone else? Why then does everyone not blog? Or at least write in some forum? Or opine in some way to the world?

People who travel should write about their travel, a lot of people who do not have the fortune to see the world through their words. People who are artistic should express their passion for their art, a lot of people (like me) without the instinctive flair on a canvas, on an instrument or some other place would love to know what it feels like to possess that talent. People who live extra-ordinary lives, people who do crazy things or even just interesting things, should write about those experiences. I am sure we all do something extra ordinary in our lives. Or think something that nobody else can imagine. Is it too much to just pen it down? Maybe nobody will ever read it. Maybe it will be forever engraved in the mind of your great grandson who never got to meet you. Maybe it will influence someone in some far away country (or planet, commercial interplanetary travel will be a reality in the next generation). We underestimate the power of words. We underestimate the interesting lives we all lead. We underestimate ourselves.

Saw this on my ex-CEO’s blog (who interestingly lives an interesting life and writes about it :) )
Earn respect not wealth; touch lives not gold; inspire confidence not fear; focus on people’s hearts not their ranks

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Delicate NRI

A colorful Taxi ride home at Kolkata. Clicked with a Samsung S3 and an unsteady hand

Like most generalizations in the world, the ones about NRIs are also a bit unfounded. And sometimes wrong. I have bantered a bit about my dislike for stereotypes before on this blog, but they come back to haunt me again and again. So when I come back to India on vacations, I have to deal (and sometimes cater to) the image people have of what NRIs should be like. For the uninitiated NRI = Non Resident Indians, oft confused with ABCD where ABCD = American Born Confused Desis. Read Desi = of Indian origin (all equations for the benefit of my non-desi readers). It all starts with my colleagues who have to make arrangements when I am on official India trips. Out of their immense concern for me (which I completely appreciate, by the way) they make elaborate arrangements for pick-ups from the airport by a chauffeur with a placard. And when my wise chauffeur unwittingly abandons me at a petrol station in an unknown location in Delhi (not sure why everyone keeps asking "where was it exactly?", if I knew it wouldn’t be so much of an issue) for half an hour at 4am after a 25 hour flight and I freak out, it is "the delicate NRI" making a big fuss. And I wonder if I lived in India and was "the toughened resident Indian", if I would respond any differently. 

Or when the "toughened resident" friend has a puncture in the middle of Kolkata "Bypass" (read intercity), is not sure if the equipment to put the spare is in the boot, and panics.. and I take over the wheel, drive safely to a little known shady garage in the middle of nowhere and convince the mechanic to change the tires in the middle of the night, there is a lot of surprise about “Oh you can navigate the Indian system quiet well and you are know your way around shady areas and can convince mechanics!”. For ***** sake, I grew up in this country and lived a tough life in 5 cities, I can probably navigate my way around better and know more about those cities than a lot of people who have lived their entire lives there know. Given that it is a fast changing country and multiplexes have taken over nice cozy theaters and malls have become the norm, but believe you me, when you have a puncture on a highway and stop at a shady garage in the middle of the night, where the mechanic is indecisive about whether he should help you or take out a knife and rob you, the way you talk your way through  does not really change. And by the way, there should be a rule about not being allowed to drive unless you know how to change tires, and not being allowed to say "I am interested in cars" unless you know you should not be on third gear when you are hitting 60.

On the flip side, I do exemplify some of the common beliefs associated with NRIs, I am not used to all the noise - cars honking 24X7, vendors screaming, loudspeakers blaring music/political gyaan - anymore (Kolkata just drives me crazy, Bangalore and Delhi are a bit more sane), or the pollution (Kolkata again takes the first prize here). I stop for pedestrians when driving and fall ill when I eat roadside food (which btw does not stop me, who can resist golgappas), prefer mineral water while doing road trips in India and I get totally infuriated with people cutting queues (I am the irritating guy who will confront the culprit and ask him to get back in queue). But then again, some of my "resident" friends tell me they have the exact same opinions/experiences, so again, I am not so sure that I still adhere to the NRI stereotype. 

The people who never care about who is resident and who is non-resident is the family and extended family, I get the same amount of pampering and love as ever, NRI or not, and the love is directly proportional to the amount of food and sweets I am offered, my weight and "weak NRI stomach" not being limiting factors at all. Add to that no gym and no sports and being chauffeured around everywhere and you get a Merlin with a few extra pounds. Which needs to be burnt up very soon. Which is the New Year Resolution.

Oh yes, you guessed it right, I am in India for my annual India vacations! And if I am not back again to Blogosphere before 2014, here is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Bit More Around the World... in 14 days

A winter sunset captured as I land back in Stockholm after a 5 country, 3 continent, 2 week trip!
I give in. To writing about my travels. It is kinda hard to resist when that is all that seems to be happening in my life right now. I know I said that I abhor all those people who just travel around the world and then sit and write about it, almost as if to make other people jealous. But think about the fact that if that is all that is going on in their lives, they can either not write at all, or write about their travels.

To be honest I never feel like writing about the experiences, because words, in whatever permutations you put them in a sentence, will still fail to capture the wonders that you experience when traveling. I want to write about the people. And me being the talkative me that I am, I meet and interact with a lot of people when I travel.

This year, and to an extent this job, has made me travel a bit. London in the beginning of the year, India in Spring, Riga in summer, Nice and Monaco towards the end of this summer, Vienna in Autumn, and Brazil and India again now. Throw in the small stops made during transit, Qatar, Dubai, Istanbul. It provides for quite an interesting mix for one year. Compared to my resolution that I should travel to at least one new country every year, I managed 3 new countries, and a total of 7 countries traveled to, not counting the transits! 

But considering there was more business than leisure in these travels, for me it has been more about the people I met than the sightseeing. The environmentalist who was in São Paulo for a global environment seminar and talked about environmental norms in India and showed me pictures of birds and animals in Brazil, the professional brazilian kayaker (is that a word?) Pedro whose profession was to travel to different countries around the world to kayak down rivers, record videos, and send them back to the local Brazilian equivalent of Discovery channel (makes me feel "what kind of a boring profession am I in?). Or the old couple who looked 70+ and were traveling back from somewhere in Africa, struggling with switching on their mobile camera, whose independence at their age inspired me.. will I be independent, healthy and enthusiastic enough to travel to Africa after 70?

The person who made the most impact on me was the lady who was returning from Uganda with her newly adopted son. Travel is all about seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, but it is also about questioning your own beliefs about life. She made me wonder if I really believe in the purpose of my life. What I have spent my entire life trying to move away from... poverty, instability, slums, lack of safety... she has spent her life moving towards. She is a Pharmaceutical Sales Manager and a Yoga teacher, who dropped her regular life for a while to volunteer in Uganda where she got attached to an orphan 5 year old who lived amidst severe poverty, and decided to adopt him. And they seemed so perfectly happy with each other. Not to mention that it was sooo interesting to watch Kisule (the Ugandan-now-American boy) see ice for the first time in his Cola glass, and watch him see a plane land for the first time. Thinking about it, ice IS quite an interesting thing, it is transparent, slippery and tasteless, and numbs your hand if you hold it too long. And disappears and melts into water, I completely understand Kisule's amusement with the ice cubes.

For the rest, let me just give you some glimpses and narrate some things through the pictures:

The Brazil Hotel, if you stay in 5 hotels in 2 weeks, all the hotel rooms will be more of a blur...

... in case you need tips on where to stay for your Brazilian World Cup trip, you know whom to contact!

The exotic Brazilian food. After a point you stop asking what kind of meat it is. And if you are a vegetarian... well..

Caprihani and Cachaça are Brazil's gifts to the world. If you have not tried it, you have not lived

For a seasoned traveler, Wi-fi on board is not news. But being able to use your mobile phone for calls/texts IS news. Makes me think a lot of what happens if the exec next to me decides to go on a heated conference call during my peaceful flight.

The arid Sahara desert on my flight from Sao Paulo to Dubai. Cannot help but compare it with the picture of the Alps I took on my way to Cannes

A view of the snow-capped Alps on the way to Nice/Cannes. Needed to see this when I took the Sahara pic

Dubai in all it's splendor

Istanbul wares at the "Old Bazaar". And yes, that is authentic gold, in case you wondered

Bird's eye view of Istanbul

Some Istanbul collectables

A sunrise in India as I get off to an early start for work