Note: I make minor formatting changes to make the AMA more readable. Everything else is published as-is.
I aspire to build a lifestyle business (obviously!) but I feel I do not have anywhere to start. Despite having an MBA, I don't think there's anything 'significant' I can offer. Despite being a product manager at XXXX, I do not think I have anything concrete to offer because I was a niche PM (not core product features).
Also, because sharing gyan on MBA and PM is already a super cluttered topics with lot of content already available. Am not sure if I can add any incremental value.
In short, I feel like I do not have anything valuable to offer and build a lifestyle business around. Or so my highly self-critiquing mind thinks.
1) You started building startups in 2016-17 and later started writing. So by the time you started writing, you had stuff to talk about. Would you (and how?) have been creating content even when you were not writing about starting-up?
Hey XXX! I totally understand the feeling behind your words. I was there too 2 years ago when I had all these ideas, I'd failed multiple times, and I just didn't know how the path ahead looked like.
For a long time, i didn't think I had any value to provide to the world. Here's what worked.
- Do interesting things (interesting to you + others).
- Share everything you learn/wins/fails in public for others to use or get inspired by.
That's it! That's my process.
Why do I do interesting things? That's in answer #3.
2) When you and Sankalp started, do you mind sharing how many months of runway you guys had in case your first startup failed?
We had exactly 12 months of runway in the bank. That forced us to cut all the fluff, be ruthless about which ideas could work, and we also picked an idea that could make us $3000/mo. Our goal was intentionally small -- it's easier to have a small successful business. After so many failures, we wanted to taste success, however small it may be.
A lot of people try to do something big in their first attempt. That's like trying to do a full split having never stretched before. It just doesn't work, right?
3) From the outside, it seems you have it all figured out - you guys started building startups early, failed then succeeded, started writing content which took off exponentially. What would you say is your internal drive?
The internal drive is -- What else is there to do in life? I'm disconnected from money, I'm disconnected from fame. Career ladder. Societal milestones of success etc. All of it didn't mean anything to me.
My internal drive is - Life is an adventure, it's almost like a game (a mental model). So do fun things, enjoy the journey and pick the games you want to play and try to win them. Then repeat! We are alive for like 80 years on Earth. What else is there to do?
Does this help? Let me know if I went too meta.
This was definitely helpful Preetam. I was mulling over your response, especially the mental model of taking life as a game.
I want to dive a lil deeper into it.
4) I am assuming your thinking and vision expanded as you rose up the Maslow's hierarchy (of startup success etc)? Or is it that even when you were starting out your mind was not influenced by societal fears such as fear of failing or fear of not being good enough?
huge problem that I faced.
My thinking was 2 steps above my physical position in Maslow's hierarchy. This is when I realized solving the 'money' problem needed to be tackled.
At the same time I didn't want to be consumed by money. So I figured the best path is to provide value to people who can't do it themselves, and at scale. scale meaning using tools that work while I sleep. Eg - code and media. They solve a problem or answer a question even when I might be asleep.
My mind was definitely aware of societal fears and even my parents who were on my tail to do an MBA.
I needed proof that my path will work because the biggest problem before all this was, putting in a lot of work and seeing no results. That demotivates like fuck and it's really hard to go on.
When I joined Unacademy, 3 years since leaving college, my salary had suddenly jumped above peers with an MBA. That's when my parents finally got off my tail and I too gained the confidence that the way I'm doing things has legs.
XXXX: The point is a lot of people aspire for financial independence and /or passive income building. But very few have the discipline to execute. And alos have the humility to share so much in public
My reply: Yeah fear of failure is probably the biggest deterrent. It's sad. The real failure is the fear of not trying.
5) What systems have worked for you that keep you productive?
For instance, in my case, having early dinner by 7pm and having another long work slot from 7:30pm to 12:30am works. Also, pomdoro works (in some cases). But I feel am not being productive enough and am not "creating" enough value out there. PS: I have read "Thinking in systems" and is looking for anything specific that you might share.
I tried so many different productivity hacks and tools. Everything pales once your mind is aligned.
For me, being productive is knowing
- what needs to be done
- by when
As a commitment to myself, I do what I intend to do. So I don't need any productivity tools anymore.
Whenever one is doing something they are not fully convinced about, that's when productivity tools come in. That's when it feels like work. Still happens to me. Tells me when I might be working on something that's not essential.
6) How did you guys think of something soo out of the box as programmatic SEO? I read the article the day you published and I was just amazed.
because we know that in order to win, we need to use tools that our competitors don't use. That way we have an upper hand or advantage. Else we are fighting their game on their turf
I attribute the ability to come up with such ideas due to having knowledge of multiple disciplines. Combining code + marketing + understanding of user behaviour that came from PMing lead me to come up with that idea (and more in the pipeline).
XXXX: Damn! multidisciplinary thinking is closely tied to skill-building. And how do you decide which next skill to acquire? Is it intuitive or do you think in terms of ROI of acquiring that skill in some way.
My reply: Whatever is the skill sorely needed to reach the next stage of the journey. 6 months ago we decided that marketing is that skill we need to acquire. 6 months later I'm happy with the progress.
Also it helps to be curious about everything. Everything is interesting, depending on how you think about it and look at it. A lot of people dismiss stuff saying 'oh it's not interesting' etc. Usually indicates a problem in their mindset and not about the subject itself.
7) Finally, can you share what's your process for seeking mentorship/ advice from folks? Do you mull over a problem, do self-research for days or do you have a set of folks who you reach out to as soon as something picks your curiosity? Or any other way. (I am asking because my Imposter syndrome is preventing me from reaching out to people and seeking inspiration.)
I think I have internalized imposter syndrome in a healthy way.
I always am aware that I don't know everything and someone else might know more about a topic than myself.
And so whenever I'm working on a problem where I think I know enough, great.
If I don't (don't i.e. I'm stuck or have very few good ideas on how to proceed), I try to ask 3-4 people who have had previous experience with the same problem. Whoever that might be. Helps if they know me cuz they are likely to write a lengthy response in that case.
Bonus if the people you ask bring opposite kinds of perspectives based on their backgrounds. That way you don't end up thinking too hard in one line but are aware of all possibilities.
8) how did you build systems either in superlemon or in delightchat to not let ego come in way? And also to navigate motivation issues?
We both agreed in the beginning of the journey that
- the right idea or decision should win, what we individually think doesn't matter because all that matters is we achieve our goal
- when we have conflicting opinions, we discuss pros cons to each approach. Usually when we discuss it objectively, the best idea just stands out and becomes obvious to both of us
- that if either of us ever bullshitting, we'll tell the other instead of not saying it because it's uncomfortable or to protect the ego. Because we agreed that doing that is way more harmful in the long run than the short term uncomfortable conversation of confronting a BS
Motivation issues have rarely happened. We know why we are doing this and we enjoy the journey on most days (some days it's just frustrating or tiring but it's part of the deal we signed up for).
What happens is direction. Motivation is lost when you don't know why you're doing something. So this only happens when we need to discuss - are we still headed in the right direction? Are we still doing the things based on what we agreed is good for us (like we don't want to be overconsumed by work like most founders, so if we overwork, we take a pause and decide to take it slow for a week)
9) Would you have had different plans/ way of execution without a tech co-founder? Or you would have waited until you met one (if not Sankalp that is)
I knew I needed a tech co-founder to undertake this journey. Instead of trying to learn no code or become great at coding, I decided my value would be in building the right product or bringing in the customers via marketing.
I wouldn't have started if I didn't have a tech co-founder. Did it once before in 2016 and knew it won't work.
10) setting goals on output metrics is fine (3k MRR), but what were some goals on input metrics?
Sorry if the questions were philosophical, but I guess they reflect my state of mind :D
Our internal work is based on input metrics only.
Externally we communicate output. Or use that as milestones to inform us we are doing the right things.
- are we building what solves the users pain
- is this feature providing the right kind of UX based on how important it is
- etc.etc. inputs