A Day at Morpheus

I have blogged about the crazy day in Chandigarh but what made that trip worthwhile was the time I got to spend at the Morpheus HQ with Sameer and Nandini. They need no introduction to the world of Indian startups but my admiration for them comes from their different values and way of working than typical VCs and mentors.

After being in touch with Sameer for over a year, he had invited me to be a part of the Morpheus Gang. At this point, I didn’t have a growing startup or anything but somewhere the values matched I guess. What sold me was their focus on entrepreneur’s happiness and not commercial success. In today’s world when the expectations to succeed are pushing great founders to the edge (so many suicide stories come to mind), Morpheus chooses to let them enjoy what they are doing. I knew I wanted to meet them in person at some point but didn’t expect to get the opportunity so soon.

During my 2-3 days stay at their home/office, I got to participate in their startup meetup, meet the core team in the accelerator and spend a lot of time with Sameer, Nandini and their lovely family (super awesome parents and a creative daughter). In this short time, I got to experience their startup philosophy, spiritual bent of mind which expands from their daughter’s progressive school to every aspect of their lifestyle and a peek into what drives them. Right from the success of their original startup to now helping a portfolio of exciting startups, they are doing what they love. In an age where VCs have become a gambling agent, it is refreshing to see their decision to move to a non-financial engagement where startups can gain from their experience without entangling in a financial give and take.

We start as takers – taking from our parents, teachers etc – then become traders – trading work for money and thats where most people stop. But we wanted to evolve to being a giver and thats what our new model focuses on,” Sameer said over a cup of Amla tea. Everything in their home gels with their nonmaterialistic approach to life. He told me how he is researching on unlocking ‘intuition’ in our minds. The conversation went from how he had found some resonance in Sri Aurobindo’s work to how he found that spirituality has lately given him more answers than science. I chit chatted about some crazy parts of my book as well and can’t wait to send him a copy when it prints. He gave me ‘The Life Divine – Sri Aurobindo‘ to read.

morpheus

Next day, he took me to the alternative education school Coveda where his daughter is studying. It is a small school that promotes learning by curiosity and practice as opposed to structured rote learning. It currently has 30 students under various age groups. There are no standards or curriculum. It is run by passionate people (most of who are parents of the kids who study here) who wanted to give their kids a chance to learn in most natural way possible. The philosophy is to help a child become what comes most naturally to her. If this wasn’t an education revolution, then I don’t know what is. To hell with all the political bullshit around ‘free education’ or ‘lets teach India’ blah blah, I wish we could embrace such methodology and be open about it. Sameer rightly pointed that such structures are most likely to flourish only in small numbers, if there would be too many students, the learning and focus on each child would diminish.

No, its not a franchise because thats again not the purpose of this school. It is being run by and for the people who truly care about their children’s learning. Whether it will ever become mainstream is perhaps not the question, but I genuinely hope that we see more of these in all cities soon. Perhaps the next education upheaval in India should not be about a product but changing the perception about education itself. It is hard to describe the ambience or feel of this quaint 5 room school, so I thought I’ll capture it in the lens.

covedapremise covedastudents covedatree covedalibrary

I think I was destined to meet them and it was a new chapter in my journey of self-exploration. I always used to wonder that ‘abhi to kuch achieve kiya hi nahi hai life me‘ but after meeting them I realized that ‘the achievement would be to not feel the need of achieving anymore’. He said that magic happens when your work aligns with your true self. I agree.

  

Tretar 11, Eternal Sunshine of a Worriless Mind

[This post is the eleventh in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

There I was, sitting in front of a pleasant lake on a sunny winter afternoon with my bare necessities – a book for company, a camera for capturing the calmness that hung in air and a scribble pad to commit any inspiration to the permanence of ink. What more do you need?

Tretar11

I hate carrying more than I need. I hate packing bulky bags (thanks to living in US where you have to lift your baggage) and over the time I have started wanting less and less stuff around me. I think your salary starts determining how much you need. The same person who was happy with a second hand bike in college wants to upgrade from a Honda to a BMW when he starts earning and getting promoted. Many of my MBA classmates wanted to get into Banking where there was practically no life left – you earned handsomely but had no time. They believe that they will work the hell out till 40 and then they can retire (yeah Hritik Roshan type in ZNMD). But does it work like that? Do we not keep enlarging our houses and filling it with needless crap and ALWAYS end up wanting more? Will it ever be enough for us? I think if you can’t feel a sense of plenitude with a six figure income, how can you guarantee that you would feel it in seven figures?

I remember the careless days of college when we dreamed of being rich. We thought rich means having a certain figure in your bank balance. But we were wrong. Rich means simply a state where you are not worrying about money. And that brings an ingenius point – being rich does not have anything to do with having millions in hand. It is about developing a sense of affluence. This is an important discovery because I don’t have to sacrifice my youth and crucial time chasing a number. Because frankly, it is never about a number, it is about fulfilling your desires and needs and there will always be something that you will desire that is hard to buy. So, why not change the equation? Why not start listing things that can bring us that sense of affluence? Now, we only need that much money that will help us developing this satiety. It is easier than it seems. It is actually possible to live without worrying about money while earning much less than you think you needed.

Begin to make a quick list of the top 10 things you own in terms of how much they cost. With horror, make a second list of the top 10 things that make you happy. Sense the creeping dread as you realize there is no overlap between the two at all. Shudder in terror.Julien Smith

These days I earn far fewer greenbacks, but my decisions are better. Last year, as a 31-year-old indie author, I brought home less money than my 19-year-old commission-check-earning self — way less actually. But I also paid off debt, traveled the country, felt more secure. Most importantly, I didn’t worry about money. Essays on Minimalism

I used to earn a lot more a couple of years ago. But I was constantly busy running in my life, working for others, running a household, stressing about unnecessary things. I just dreamed of writing a book someday but never got any time to do it. I traveled but it was more touristy travels – taking a red eye, checking in a hotel, packed itinerary, clicking shots of lovely places without absorbing the real zen, seeing places you had heard about. I earn considerably less now but own my work, have a sense of giving, smaller achievements make me happier, I finally wrote a book, read a lot more, spend time with people I care about and haven’t found myself wanting more and more money.

I am not saying I have renounced the world. I don’t mind spending on things I care about. I still own couple of expensive gadgets (Macbook Air, SLR with decent lenses, a car) but I buy what I really feel passionate about and things that give me happiness. I will upgrade my camera when I can but thats pretty much it and perhaps a good coffee machine. I am not looking to hoard beautiful exotic furniture or show pieces. I prefer functional things and my sense of decoration also comes from what I connect with. Over the time, I have realized that this connection has nothing to do with how expensive something is. I own a Holstee life poster (and I carried it with me from US) that is more dear to me than a luxurious piece of art. It now adorns the wall of my new office. I have been looking at creative ways to decorate my office (pics soon). I want to feel happy where I live and where I work. An inexpensive easel with a piece of canvas would make me happier than looking at a rare Persian carpet would.

Owning less stuff also means spending less time on frivolous stuff. How many hours have you spent surfing the TV and Internet aimlessly? When there was neither of these, what did people do? Perhaps they got much more done.

So, coming back to my lake and bare necessities, it was a day I truly felt happy looking at nothing and everything. I was worriless. I was liberated.

  

Tretar 9, Disturbing the Universe

[This post is the ninth in an ongoing series for Project Tretar. You can read previous posts here]

Tretar, delhi street kids

My nephew wants to be a cricketer but he is being told to focus on studies and grades instead. I have myself studied Biology and Maths till Class XII and got into both Medical and Engineering colleges – eventually I had to choose one. The way our destiny is attempted to be forged by social norms is a growing concern.

So, today, dear reader, I talk to the gagged figure of creativity that lies helplessly behind that old rusty box of your curiosity. You abandoned (or were made to abandon) your wonder as you grew up and started taking yourself too seriously (I am guilty of the same mistake I acknowledge but just in time to rescue the damaged youth of creative spark). The garage of your life is now filled with heavy boxes of practicality and street smartness. If the time would permit, a fresh gust of wind might enter someday to clear off the dust from what we knew so well in our childhood – carelessness, fearlessness and delight.

Only when we take ourselves lightly can we take ourselves seriously, so that we are given the courage to say, ‘Yes! I dare disturb the universe’Madeleine L’Engle

By the time, I found the courage to write and pursue it on a professional level, I feel I have lost so much time. I wish I could have started writing earlier. I wouldn’t mind failing but an early start would have made me better by now. I wish I had dared to disturb the universe earlier and figured out that a prestigious job is a mirage.

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.Paul Graham

One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.Alain de Botton

I wish every child, irrespective of where he is born or raised, gets to know his own definition of success and work towards it. We owe this to next generation and their dreams. I have grown fanatic about pursuing the things you love and finding a way to work on what you love to do. Real success can only come from a full heart and that can only come from loving every moment of what you do. And, thats why I love this resignation letter from Sherwood Anderson, a famed novelist from the advertising job he was doing before writing-

Dear Barton:

You have a man in your employ that I have thought for a long time should be fired. I refer to Sherwood Anderson. He is a fellow of a good deal of ability, but for a long time I have been convinced that his heart is not in his work.

There is no question but that this man Anderson has in some ways been an ornament to our organization. His hair, for one thing, being long and messy gives an artistic carelessness to his personal appearance that somewhat impresses such men as Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. Curtiniez of Kalamazoo when they come into the office.

But Anderson is not really productive. As I have said his heart is not in his work. I think he should be fired and if you will not do the job I should like permission to fire him myself. I therefore suggest that Anderson be asked to sever his connections with the company on [the first of next week]. He is a nice fellow. We will let him down easy but let’s can him.

Respectfully submitted,

Sherwood Anderson

  

Why I fight for my venture?

For me, there was never a choice. It has to be a job that I will create for myself. Thinking this, I had come back from US, leaving a desirable lifestyle. My first venture was a misfit – for both market and me. I realized this eventually (thanks to Sameer from Morpheus for always helping me see things more simplistically) but learned a lot of things from it – including how to code in Python/Django.

In between, I finished my book, found a publisher for it and started working with a co-founder on another project. I discovered my bent towards education industry and this project became closer to my heart (something I missed in my earlier fashion venture since fashion doesn’t come to me naturally). We formally joined Morpheus as well which was an exciting step for me since I strongly believe in their philosophy. I was sold when Sameer told me that he measures the success of a startup by its founders’ happiness. Just at the time we were going full throttle about our project, my partner received some bad news that put us on a hold. It was a killer and I was back staring into uncertainties. Just when everything was falling in place, it fell out. I am a mentally tough person but it shook me. I distinctly remember those 3-4 days when everything we had worked on seemed to be going down the drain.

Uncertainties are a part of startup life but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier especially when you have a long road ahead. During this while, I have seen my partner facing the hard time gracefully. I believe that home is not the place, its people. Similarly, work is also not a thing, its the team. Our journey might have started with a hiccup but this is the time when we will determine how to take it from here. Hurdles might not be in our control but to jump over them is.

So, anyways, this is how Quizzlr was born 🙂 Please check it out and your feedbacks are welcome. The actual product demo is available only upon request for now.

quizzlrss

We have lot of great visions for it. The only way to defeat every obstacle that has hindered us is to keep getting more motivated and taking this where it deserves to be. I want to see this successful more than anything else because my partner deserves it for his work and fighting spirit.

P.S. And meanwhile I also got to welcome my newborn nephew. It was looking in his eyes that made me realize that some things end and some things begin. Look for the beginnings, look for life. God bless him.

  

How can I help?

How can I help?

We spend a lot of time fretting about getting pay hikes, bonuses, discounts on products and services, free anything etc etc. We want whatever extra we can get. How that free conditioner with a bottle of shampoo makes us happy! But what about giving? How we cringe when we have to pay for someone’s dinner and if a friend forgets to settle his dinner share! Sometimes, it even bothers us if we have to pay for something that we want. And, I think its truer for Indians – we don’t want to pay for anything if it was in our hands.

This can be especially dangerous when it comes to relationships and goodwill. By fighting for small favors, we give up on bigger victories. By cashing out small things, we drain out the wells of long term relationships. Helping someone without expecting anything in return can be an alien concept for most of us – be it between relatives (oh the domestic grudges can be so menial) or friends or professional acquaintances. First thing that comes to our mind when offering help is “what do we get?” I saw this attitude a lot after moving back to India. The concept of networking in India is almost nil. While people in US were pretty open and friendly to give advice or get into mutually beneficial professional exchange, whenever I talked to discuss something professionally in India, I could sense a cautious undertone in other person’s words – “Why is she talking to me? What will she take from me?” I find it funny and sad at the same time.

The only way to succeed in long term is to learn how to give – and, perhaps even more than what you get because slowly people will appreciate your help and stand for you. Prove your worth before asking. Whenever I have done something for anyone without expecting anything in return, I have been rewarded multiple times over. It’s called creating a goodwill; something that you reap throughout your life be it personal relations or business. Yes, there will be suckers too (and you can stop helping them out after few times) but there will be many more people who will end up becoming a friend for lifetime. And these are the people who will turn up unexpectedly to help you, bring a referral or what not. Similarly when working together with someone, don’t think how big a share you can get but think how much bigger you can make it by working together.

So, how can I help you?