Category Archives: Personal

It is not that I dont think you are great, but I am not confident about my ability to pick winners consistently

I had a very interesting conversation with an entrepreneur yesterday who I was keen to invest in. He had soft circled $250K of his $750K seed round. I have been a big champion of him and really respect his determination, thoughtfulness and diligence.

I committed to $50K and was going through the details of the investment with him, but letting him know that even if it took him a while to raise the remainder of the funds, I would ear-mark the $50K for his venture.

He then asked me “You know and influence a lot of other investors as well, can you please convince them to join the round”. I said that I can introduce him to investors who have invested in the past with me, but they will have to make their own decision.

I was not going to lean in on them to invest.

He mentioned that I “leaned in” on another VC to invest in a portfolio company, which is what he heard from the other entrepreneur, who I had worked with.

He was correct. I did lean in. So, the signal I sent him (although that was not my intent) was that I was not as committed to his venture as I was to other the one where I leaned in.

First, I dont have as much influence as entrepreneurs give me credit for. That’s just the truth. They may attribute the fact that I am at Microsoft Ventures as a signal that the corporation thinks this is a good investment, which is absolutely untrue.

Second, I believe there’s a HUGE difference between an angel investor (who I dont like to lean in on) versus a institutional investor (who I will lean in from time to time).

Most angel investors invest by reputation, connections and referrals. VC’s will judge an entrepreneur and their opportunity on its own merit, do their required due diligence and will likely pass EVEN if there was a strong referral from a person they trust.

Referral’s get you in the door with an institutional investors, whereas with an angel investor it will usually get you a deal.

Most angels I know have “day jobs” or “other interests” with angel investing being their side project, activity or means of giving back. That does not mean they don’t want a return on their investment, it just means they don’t do as much diligence as an angel group or an institutional investor would.

Knowing that, I believe the biggest challenge is the confidence in my ability to pick winners all the time. I am investing as an individual investor because I believe in the entrepreneur. I don’t know if that entrepreneur, problem set, idea or market is right for the other angel investors I know and invest with.

Well, I do know that to a certain extent, but with angel investors, the relationship I have would be personal as well as professional. With VC’s it is rarely (exceptions exist) personal.

So, when I meet the other angel investors over dinner, with their family, I don’t like having uncomfortable conversations about “the investment that went south”. Many of them are great folks, but not mature enough as an investor to realize many of these angel deals (in fact 70-80% of them) will return in loss of their investment.

Many of the angel investors I invest with are not in the “early seed market” for the long haul and have not seen ups, downs, sideways deals, etc. So, end up investing in 1 or 2 companies, solely because of referrals and recommendations.

I don’t think I have confidence in every deal I do to end up returning my money or generate a great return.

That does not still mean I dont believe in the entrepreneur when I invest in them.

This is truly one of those cases, when its not you, its me.

#MicrosoftBand review; What I like, what I’d like from it in the next revision

I have been sporting the Microsoft Band for a bit now. I am an avid #fitbit user and I love #MyFitnessPal. I am apparently the target audience for the band – I run 13 miles daily and I am mostly careful about what I eat.

For more context, I had given up wearing watches for 12 years now – initially because I would forever be looking at the time to stop meetings and other discussions abruptly, but also because it became inconvenient. The watches I wanted only told time and I preferred to have my cell phone to do that.

The band was recommended to me by several folks and I initially resisted, but caved in after I was told it would be a good way to see if it solves my “data entry” problem with fitness.

There are 3 primary things I wanted from a fitness device initially and 3 things I really would love to have:

1. Track all my activity accurately – not just walking or running – sleep tracking should be “automatic” instead of me having to tap a button or remember to do it.

2. Integrate with my other apps – MyFitnessPal at the least, but also MapMyRun if possible.

3. Provide me relevant recommendations – look at my eating preferences and tell me if I am eating less protein, more sugar and suggest what I should be eating based on my patterns.

I have used the FitBit Flex, Nike Fuelband and also tried the Jawbone Up before. I am still not 100% comfortable with the wrist form factor for many reasons, primarily because it feels like a load on my hands and gets “stuck” when I take off and wear on my jacket / sweatshirt / hoodie.

Anyway, I am mixed on the Microsoft band. What I like:

1. I love the crisp and multi-mode display. The display size provides me quick access to 2 things at the same time – time and one more thing – either my steps, distance, heart rate or calories burned. Compared to my fitbit zip, where I have to tap to get more than one thing.

2. I really like some of the notifications: Especially the short text messages I get on the band without having to reach for my phone. Emails are more difficult because most are more than 1 or 2 sentences, but I like the news alerts, and some of cortana’s notifications.

3. I am happy with the accuracy of the steps tracking. All 3 of my fitness bands are within 2-3% of the steps at any point of time, so I think they are all good in doing the basics.

4. I love the heart rate monitor. It gives me a great way to ensure my levels of activity are measured.

What I am not too thrilled about:

1. Battery life: The device needs charging almost every day. This is one more charger I have to carry and remember to charge. It does charge rapidly – 2 hours is usually enough, but I have to time the charge. If I am sitting in one place for 2 hours (I never do that at all), I could perhaps charge it, but that’s rare, so I have to charge it in the night, which leads me to the next point.

2. I cant sleep with it – so the point of sleep tracking is lost. It is bulky on the wrist and that’s the only time I think I can charge it.

3. The display gets roughed up quickly and the dings and dents are very visible. With “normal” usage my band was dented and dinged up within a week. The clasp is wearing out as well. The build quality on the display needs work. Even after a year of usage, my fitbit flex looks “like new”. Although the flex has a much smaller display and only shows “one thing at a time”.

4. The email notifications are pointless because you cannot respond at all. Even if I could use one of 4-5 standard responses I’d be thrilled, but that’s not possible. I do like that you can respond to incoming calls with a message saying “I’ll call you later”.

5. I dont like that I have to “switch it on” even to see time. The device display is normally off “to save battery life”, so you have to “switch it on” to see time. That small, yet normal gesture means I might as well pick up the phone. It should be gesture based so it can detect a swift movement of the arm from its “down” position to a “view” position and turn on display to show time. Else it should have a backlit “eink” display for time, which should be on everytime.

6. It does no recommendations at all. I think if there were integrations with MyFitnessPal, which already knows what I am eating, the band can recommend (1-2 sentences) what I should eat at snack time based on what I ate at lunch and dinner and my preferences, so I can be “reminded” to avoid something with sugar, since my sugar intake for the day has been high.

7. I have to wear it “inward looking” instead of wearing it like a “normal watch” since the display is rectangular. Which means my normal gesture of wearing a watch had to be a pattern I changed.

Overall I am mixed as I mentioned. It feels like there’s more promise than its current avatar.

Would I recommend it – only if you have not used any device for fitness tracking at all before. Even then only if you still need text and email notifications in addition to tracking fitness. There are cheaper pure cloud-enabled fitness trackers.

If you have however used the fitbit flex or fitbit zip before, I would skip this.

In fact that brings me to the Android Wear watches and the upcoming Apple Watch. I suspect they will be the same – bulky, needing constant charge and “awkward” on your wrist. Although having seen the watch, with its ability to “action” notifications, I suspect it will be good, but that remains to be seen.

I have seen folks use the Android watches and hear they were not thrilled with it either. I am currently of the belief that human beings are so primitive that they still think that “digital watches are a pretty neat idea“.

A #contrarians viewpoint on personal goal setting and new year’s resolutions

Most people will have several goals for the new year. They will want to have a better relationship with their loved ones and publish a book, or travel to a far away place and get a promotion at work, or start a business, and quit smoking etc. It is the dream to “have it all”.

Then there are the folks who pick one for each – work and life for each year. That’s more realistic but still tremendously ambitious.

I have expressed my views on work-life balance for entrepreneurs before. If you think you can achieve it, then you are delusional. A startup consumes all your time.

If you have a new baby or have a close friend who has one, you’d know the feeling. They are always overwhelmed. They are planning the kids meals, nap time, play time, etc. There’s almost no “time” at all. That’s how a startup is. If you are not thinking about product, then it is funding, else it is sales or customer support. There’s always more stuff to do than there’s time.

Over the last 6 months I have been focused on one project – losing weight. I over-achieved my goal with a month to spare in fact.

Over the last 6 months I have written fewer than 15 blog posts. Compare that to the previous 6 months, I had written 82.

Over the last 6 months I had shared 78 items that I found interesting to read. Compare that to the previous 6 months, I had shared 431.

Over the last 6 months I have averaged running 13 miles every day. Compare that to the previous 6 months, I barely managed 2.

Over the last 6 months, I had 21 calls with entrepreneurs to understand their business and help them find investors, talent or be a friend and a guide. Compare that to the previous 6 months, I had the opportunity to work with 67.

Over the last 6 months I had 5 parties at home with my close friends over lunches, dinners, gatherings, etc. Compare that to the previous 6 months, I had 18. 

Over the last 6 months, I obsessed over my only goal – losing weight and getting my fitness back. It will be obvious to you that I did little else.

I only had time to go to work, do my job and come back to work on losing weight so I can suffer less from my plantar fasciitis.

We moved from Bangalore to Seattle so I was learning a lot about the way startups in America have changed over the last few years I was away. That would take up all my working hours.

In fact if you track my posts since March 2014 to Dec 2014, you will see the pattern. When I had a moment, I was working out or researching food options or focused on my job at Microsoft.

Here’s the thing:

I dont think anyone can do more than one thing very well, at any time.

Either it is work, OR home. Either it is business or personal. There’s only goal you can set for the new year and do a good job to over-achieve your goal.

So, my learning is this.

If you are looking to start your own company and start preparing for GMAT this year, you will do neither well.

If you are looking to lose weight and find a new girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other, you will achieve neither.

If you are trying to do one more thing than the most important thing in your life, you will not succeed.

So, do yourself a favor. Put one goal and remove all other “distractions” from your life. You will over-achieve, even if you are not motivated and lose some energy.

The reason is that if you are going to do only that one thing, then there’s nothing else to distract you.

A #contrarian’s field guide to New Year Resolutions

TLDR; This field guide helps you set new year resolutions and help you achieve them by using both a top-down and bottom-up approach towards managing your energy and hence managing your time better.

To achieve you new year’s resolutions, I propose 3 steps:

1. Top down prioritization.

2. Bottoms-up audit.

3. Planning and scheduling your energy.

You have to both do a top-down prioritization and a bottoms-up audit towards goal setting, because the top-down alone will tell you what you want to do, and the bottoms-up will tell you what you are doing right now. The planning will help you then figure out where you are wasting your time and energy and where you need to focus it instead.

Lets do the top-down first.

There are 9 categories of goals people have as individuals according to me.

1. Relationships: The need and desire to be connected as humans with friends, family and other people at large. Examples include, getting married, making new friends, or spending more time with your siblings for example.

2. Career and Work: When you are a student it will be around “what you want to be when you grow up”, but it is pretty much the same as an adult. Work goals include promotions, improving communication – public speaking for e.g. etc. Starting a new business falls into this bucket.

3. Intellectual: These are for you to learn. Many people like to learn new languages, read books and expand their mind as part of this category.

4. Health: Keeping your body fit enough and in shape to be able to achieve what you think you can. Losing weight is the most common goal in this category followed by promising to quit smoking.

5. Financial: Making enough wealth to be able to afford the things you’d like to have as part of your life. You might have other goals in this

6. Spiritual: The quest to find your inner self, and the meaning of life, the universe, god, etc. The most frequent goal in this category is to find your inner peace.

7. Interests & Hobbies: Travel, learning a musical instrument etc. fall into this category. Going to an exotic place for vacation is the most frequent goal in this category followed by learning a new musical instrument.

8. Giving back and Social Goodness: These are for individuals who want to give back and help the less privileged. Most people volunteer at charities or non-profits / NGO’s to help them in any way possible.

9. Self improvement: These are to better yourself as an individual, making time to grow as a person (not intellectually, but emotionally). E.g. I will not get angry with my kids, or will not blame someone else for my problems. The quest to be a better person drives this category of resolutions OR the willingness to correct a character flaw.

Now that we have a comprehensive category list, I suspect you can add your own resolution – such as “I will be a nicer person” or “I will meditate more”, which will fall into one of these buckets.

After you put your resolution into the bucket, write it down – both the resolution and your category.

P.S. here’s a contrarian tip – NEVER have more than one goal. More on that later.

The reason I think you should start with categories, is that it will help you focus on managing your energy not your time.

Then the second task is for you to do a time audit for a week. This is the bottom up approach. The best way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with 1/2 hour slots from the time you wake up to the time you sleep.

Then put what you are doing in that 1/2 hour slot for 1 week. This includes time to bathe, eat, work, etc.

The next step is to categorize the time audit items into your categories above as well.

It is okay to put sleeping into health category. If you listen to podcast or listen to music during your commute then put it in the health or interests or hobbies category.

Then take the categories you have and add up the time per category.

Plot the category and time spent on a pie chart.

Most people are absolutely shocked when they do this exercise at this point. They find that 25-35% of their time is truly “wasted” – they dont do anything else when the sleep – which is why many successful people apparently sleep less – god bless them, but I cant. Or they are spending time bathing or eating, etc.

So you have a top down priority and a bottom up use of your time.

Step 3, is planning and scheduling: The planning should help you find a way now to schedule time on your calendar for the one new year’s resolution or goal you set.

You can do the scheduling on your calendar by alternative or better time management.

If something is a priority for you, then you better spend more time on it than anything else.

My rule of thumb is that you need to spend at least 35% of your time on the one New Year’s resolution you set for yourself. If you are unable to do that, then prepare to fail.

If you find many other things taking up your time, deprioritize them and manage your calendar like a manic and NEVER let other things “creep” in.

Please let me know if this works for you, but remember you have to do the top-down and bottoms-up part (which might take you a week if you dont know your calendar yet.

How to avoid eating useless junk when you are bored? #CalorieStickerShock

There are 2-3 times in day when I get bored for about 15-30 minutes. Usually that’s in between my scheduled work. Mid morning at about 10 or 11 am and again at about 230 or 330 pm in the afternoon.

Since I had been eating much less than my usual intake, I’d get hungry pretty soon and was unable to determine if I was really hungry or just bored. Either ways I would end up eating junk food with many useless calories.

I dont think I really have a problem eating when I am truly hungry, but the “eating when you are bored”, really bothered me a lot.

There are a few tricks I adopted to avoid adding calories and prevent eating when I was bored.

First, I’d drink really warm water. Closer to hot water than warm. Initially I had to take some herbal tea with it, but after a few weeks, I avoided even the tea. The reason why warm or hot water works compared to cold was it would take me longer to drink, by which time I’d get distracted with something else. Cold water just went in really quickly and I was “hungry again” within minutes.

Second, I eliminated many foods from my diet, because I felt they were truly wreaking my system. These were cakes, chocolates, cookies and the like. Easy to eat, but really hard to avoid. The way to eliminate them is not to buy or stock them at all. I now keep granola (Kind, with no additives) or plain nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, etc.)

Third, I scheduled meetings during my known “weakness zones”. Being engaged in a meeting let me focus on the work, or talk to someone, eliminating my “boredom eating”.

Fourth, I removed small change and avoided carrying cash. I found that I’d go to a vending machine (most dont accept credit cards thankfully) and grab something at least once or twice a week. Removing cash helped me go to the vending machine, but actually buy nothing.

Fifth, before I ate, I’d first check the calories that it would add on MyFitnessPal. Since I was in a friendly wager with 2 of my friends on who would be under the calorie goal for the most # of days, it was easy for me to get the “calorie sticker shock” from eating junk food and avoid it all together.

Sixth, I am known to be very competitive, so I enlisted 2 of my friends, to help message me during 11 am and 3 pm (We were on WhatsApp) to encourage me to stick to the plan. I did the same for them, and they were in a different time zone, so it worked out well. Erik’s lost over 15 pounds and he’s super fit now.

Seventh, I’d schedule my walking “to gain steps on FitBit” around the time away from my desk or from any food during that time. Since I carried no cash, I could not eat out anyway. The walking was a scheduled conference call with my direct reports or calls with entrepreneurs.This was another competitive thing I was doing, so I’d highly recommend that if you are into that sort of thing.

Eight, I’d sometimes chew gum. This was rare, because I dont like chewing gum, but on a few occasions it did help. I wont recommend it though.

I did not use all these techniques at the same time, but depending on the day and my sense for what would work, I’d use one or two of them.

The thing that worked best for me over time was “Calorie sticker shock”.

I am going to trademark that actually. If only everyone could see the # of calories that is in the junk food they eat, I believe most folks would make the right choice.

If eating a small bag of chips, plus on regular soda and one small cookie (Or one samosa, one masala chai and two biscuits in India, ) during your afternoon snack was known to add 500 calories of your 2000 calorie daily intake, I think most folks would avoid one or all three of those items.

What do I eat to manage an intake of less than 1500 calories daily

As I mentioned, I lost over 50 lbs over 25 weeks last year. My primary strategy was to eat less. 1500 calories or less daily. That’s the #1 thing you need to do.

I am vegetarian and love food, so this was a lifestyle change for sure.

The first thing I figured out was there were many “useless” calories I was taking in purely for the acquired tastes I had developed.

If there’s one thing you really need to control about your diet and you don’t want to do anything else, then eliminate your intake of processed sugar foods.

That in itself will reduce your weight, with no other dramatic changes by 10-15% in 3-4 weeks.

To hit 1500 calories, with as “normal” a schedule as possible, i.e. 5 meals – breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner, you have to ensure no meal exceeds 300 calories.

That’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

1. Breakfast: I have largely eliminated many foods: processed orange juice, peanut butter, coconut chutney, muffins, jellies and jams, etc. from my diet already. Surprisingly I don’t miss them anymore. My breakfast was usually one of 7 items 

a) Old fashioned oatmeal – cooked in water with 1/4 cup of milk (preferably fat free or almond milk),

b) 3 egg whites (only whites either boiled or omelet stye),

c) 1 piece of toast no butter,

d) 1/2 cup of vegetable upma,

e) 2 pieces of idli with milaga podi,

f) 2 dosas (no masala),

g) one piece of fruit – any fruit, with the normal serving size,

and either fat-free milk or Almond milk (this has the least calories, all the nutrition of regular milk and still fills you up).

Some days I would eat cereal (any cereal with the recommended serving size – I eliminated ones with extra sugar), but they were limited to 1 day a week.

These items rarely contribute over 300 calories, unless you go over the serving size.

Since I had to manually update MyFitnessPal after every meal, I was happy to reduce my food options and stick to these 7 items.

2. Morning Snack: I stuck to either fruit (grapes, or apple were convenient for grab and go) or granola for my morning snack. Sometimes I would have another glass of milk. Sometimes I substituted nuts (almond or walnut, plain, not salted).

3. Lunch: My lunch in India was 1 chapatti, 1/4 cup of dal (any dal), 1/4 cup of any green vegetable – cooked, 1/4 cup of yogurt, 1/4 cup of rice and any amount of cucumber and carrots.

In the US, my lunch is the same every day – 4 cups of leafy greens – spinach, lettuce, arugula, etc. 1/4 cup of firm tofu, 1/4 cup of garbanzo beans, 2 Tbsp of dried, sweetened cranberries, 1 boiled egg white, 1/4 cup of red beets, 1/4 cup of cucumbers or green bell pepper, 2 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar – no other dressing or oil.

4. Afternoon snack – I would indulge in either nuts or I’d substitute a protein bar (290 calories max) – the ones I liked the most were Clif or Builders protein bar.

5. Dinner: This varied from one of 5 items:

a) Indian: 2 chapattis, 1/2 cup of any vegetable, 1/4 cup of any dal (rajma, channa, masur, toor, etc.) and 1/2 cup of yogurt. Some days I’d make some mixed rice (with vegetables or soy chunks). Once a month I’d eat a stuffed paratha.

b) Italian: 1/2 cup of pasta with more vegetables than pasta, OR 1 slides of pizza with limited cheese

c) Japanese: Vegetarian sushi 8 pieces and miso soup

d) Mexican: Taco salad, with no shell (lettuce, beans, salsa, etc), but I would not eat the taco or burrito.

e) Chinese: 1/2 cup of noodles, or 1/2 cup of stir-fried vegetables. Lettuce wraps were good as well, stuffed with Tofu or other vegetables.

This is pretty regimented. I know it wont work for all, but it worked for me.

I did have a nutritionist review my daily breakup of calories by food group (MyFitnessPal lets you do that) and she was pretty happy with the breakup of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats.

How I lost 50 lbs in 25 weeks with no special diet or gimmicks

On June 23rd 2014, I weighed 174 lbs. On Dec 24th I weighed 125 lbs. It was a steady 2 lbs loss of weight each week, more or less.

I did not follow any special diet, like no carbohydrates, paleo, etc. There was no weight watchers or hitting the gym.

In fact I never once went to the gym the entire time except to check my weight on one occasion.

Moat folks who know me well, were not sure why I needed to lose any weight. I had a foot problem, though because of very poor footwear decisions which forced me to lose weight or stop playing sports. I chose to lose weight.

There’s one secret though. It was my discipline. Plain and simple.

I used two apps, recommended by my sister. One to measure my food intake and another to track my running.

First, I reduced my food intake from 2200 calories daily to 1500 calories daily over a 3 week period.

Second, I started running, starting at 1.5 miles daily to now consistently doing 13-15 miles daily.

Finally, I started to fast, all day on Thursdays. I only drank water. Starting with drinking only juices to milk and then over 4 weeks to nothing but water.

That’s it. I did not spend any money on diets, food, gym memberships or fancy weight loss programs.

Over 25 weeks of this helped me get down to 125lbs.