Reviving My Blog

On the last day of every month I find myself doing a recap of all the things that I have achieved as well as those I have not been able to achieve during this period. It helps to setup right priorities for the coming month with each subsequent review making the next month easier. Those of you who follow the GTD method will find this exercise a familiar one.

I was quite surprised to discover that we were more than half way through the year today. The last quarter has been an exceptionally busy one with a host of things happening all at once! I have been truly experiencing the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur and quite frankly loving it. I am fortunate enough to be doing something I love everyday, as well as working with people who share the same ideals and having a great time doing it in the bargain!

The saying that, life is not a sprint but a marathon, has started to make far more sense to me lately. I was most definitely in the sprinting category but of late I have had to adjust my pace to ensure that I don’t run out of steam. In the end, what makes more and more sense is that if you are an entrepreneur it is really all about endurance, perseverance and the ability to adapt rapidly. I do believe these three qualities are critical and definitive if you want to succeed in almost anything in life!

My blog has been through one of the longest periods of not being updated. I hope to make it up to everyone by posting at least a few times a week again.

Wishing everyone all the very best for the last two quarters of 2011!

Feb 1: Required Weekly Reading

I tend to do a lot of reading online on a daily basis. As such, I come across many articles that I enjoy and believe would be useful to a lot of individuals, specially those who read this blog. I will hence be posting one entry weekly, with a list of the best posts I have read during the week.

Ideas are just a multiplier of execution

The Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity

Landmines on the Road to Product Market Fit

Clarify Your Story Excerpt

Can You Picture That?

The ‘alternative’ HBS career track: entrepreneurship

Should You Really be a Startup Entrepreneur?

On Leadership, Teams, Success & Happiness

10 More Reasons Why Parents Should Not Send Their Kids to College

Automating Inventory Management

I came across this video a while ago, I thought it was fascinating as well as a little disturbing, all at the same time! Sometimes we do not realize how far technological advancement has really come.

If you have seen any video or article which talks about advancements in automation, I would really like to hear from you.

Looking Forward to 2011

The last 2 months have been the longest that this blog has gone without being updated since it’s inception almost three years ago. I remember quite vividly, sitting down three years ago, towards the end of December and thinking that I wanted to start blogging. I do believe that it has been one of the best New Year resolutions I have made in life, to date, and if anyone is thinking about resolutions for next year, starting a blog should make the top of your list. It has been a huge learning experience and has taught me so much, amongst which are the following :

1. Discipline: Being able to write on schedule, according to a date on a calendar, without any leeway for making excuses, is tough. You will find a hundred reasons daily for whether you should post, or not. Much of the time they will be fairly compelling reasons. To be able to stick it out however and not give in, builds a sense of internal discipline that will spill over to other aspects of your life.

2. Consistency: Can you actually be dedicated to something over a long period of time? For a great number of younger people, who have not really had too much worldly life experience, this is the ultimate validation that you can stick to something when you say you will.

3. Personal Branding: Today, more than ever, investors, peers, employers and just about anyone who wants to know more about you, will google you. Build a blog and take it to the top of the search ranking for your name, as well as for other topics that you share an interest for. Learn about yourself along the way, you will discover new interests, likes and dislikes. It will help you to grow and shape yourself into who you really are.

With the year coming to an end, I find much to my regret, that I have really not kept up the continuity of this blog as I envisaged and I not only should, but I do really want to! A primary reason for this irregularity is that I had a ‘vague’ goal on blog postings for this year. The first two years it was daily posting, and then, one every second day. This year it was, maybe once a week if I had time!

I know I may look back on what I am going to say next as unrealistic, but I am upping the ante and moving back to a daily posting routine in 2011. The only condition is that they may not all be long posts about specific entrepreneurship issues, they  will certainly, include, quotes, video clips and excerpts from books that I am reading. But I really want to get back to the daily posting schedule, for myself as well as for all of you ,my readers.

If any of you want me to write on specific topics, please shoot them over and I will do my best to get through them slowly.

Wishing you all the very best of luck & success in 2011!

Founder Institute

I have just applied for the Founders Institute program in Singapore. The Founder Institute is a startup-mentorship program with an enviable list of mentors and advisors on their panel. The program is structured around a 16 week course that covers the fundamental aspects of building a solid foundation for any business. The focus is specifically on product driven technology businesses, this is exactly where I want to put all my focus into moving forward. Since the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey I have been primarily in service based businesses. They are easy to setup and I have been most fortunate to have had some great partners who have helped me reach as far as I have. However, most of these businesses have inherent scaling problems, this limits growth and makes it very challenging to grow past a certain size.

Product based technology businesses do not however have such limitations. They have a separate set of challenges that I am hoping that the Founder Institute’s program will assist me in understanding and applying. This program attracts a lot of high quality candidates from around the region and is extremely competitive to get into. The question that comes to mind is why I should be amongst the selected candidates for the program. To make my case and elucidate why I should be selected, I have drafted a letter to Mr. Adeo Ressi (Creator of Founder Institute) below:

Mr. Ressi,

I realize that admission to the Founder Institute program is very competitive. Listed below are 3 reasons why I hope you will give me the opportunity to attend this program:

1. Unique Background: My background of working on several service based businesses in multiple cities in Asia could add substantial value to the group. I have had substantial experience in Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, Dubai & Saudi Arabia. I have specifically worked on businesses within the marketing industry. Being a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I have made mistakes and other participants may be able to derive value from those experiences in the region.

2. Brand Outreach: This blog and my twitter feed has a reasonable following and I would use these two mediums heavily during the entire length of the course. This would include summaries on each of the weekly session, take-aways and what I personally get out of each session. This would give other individuals wanting to enter the program a front row seat on what to expect from it. With my deep links in South Asia, this could open up the possibility of further institutes within this area as well.

3. Giving Back: I strongly believe in paying it forward and want to use the knowledge that I gain within the course to help other entrepreneurs who do not have the opportunity or means to attend a Founder Institute program. This is especially the case in countries like Pakistan where we have a rapidly growing entrepreneur base in dire need of direction and structure on how to launch their businesses.

I look forward to meeting you in Singapore soon.

Best Regards

Usman Sheikh

The results for the admission come out on the 27th of September for the early admission. Will keep everyone updated on the outcome. Either way, I think it is a great program and if you have the opportunity to apply and attend the program, it would certainly be a massive boost to your entrepreneurial journey.

Update 28th September:

After patiently waiting to hear from the Founder Institute, I was really happy to learn yesterday that I have been shortlisted for this program.

The next step in the admission process was a psychometric and IQ test.

I have done the test, it was challenging, as also a lot of fun. The IQ section of this test appears to test the prefrontal cortex.

I am going to do some research in this area as it appears that many studies have been conducted in this field to measure the correlation of this type of test, with the success ratio of executives around the world.

It has been quite a while since I took my last IQ test and hence I am looking forward to learning how I fared on it.

It should take another couple of days now till the final list of candidates is selected. Fingers crossed!

Many thanks to everyone for all the kind words I have received from people who regularly read this blog and follow me on twitter!

The Airport Pickup

Image by thewamphyri

Airport pickups used to be really exciting when I was growing up. Over the years, with a considerably heavier traveling schedule across families and business, that level of excitement has decreased to an almost non-existent one. Today I had an airport pickup. I was picking up my mother whom I had not seen in a few months, and was really looking forward to seeing her again. The worst thing that can happen during an airport pickup is the dreaded flight delay or if the awaited luggage is the last piece to be off-loaded from the plane. Well it all went wrong today, and I found myself waiting for over an hour.

Thinking it would be a quick trip, I did not have any reading material with me, to top it all and an additional dreadful case scenario, my phone was dead after a long day at work. Although perforce, while waiting at the airport, I found myself enjoying the flurry of activity around me, one that is usually filtered when I have my phone/email on. The airport is actually a really interesting place. There are so many people, so many comings and goings, and each one with a fairly visible and different story line. Some that caught my eye were :

1. A father returning after a seemingly protracted business/work trip and the ensuing greeting by his immediate family. It is amazingly heartening  to see the expression on the faces of children when they see a parent after a period of time. After loud and loving greetings, when they passed me by on their way out, the children were already excitedly asking their dad what he had bought from them. It is really awesome to see this replay over and over again, bringing back fond memories….some scenarios are quite timeless.

2. The businessman turning his blackberry device back on, on the phone, finding his way to a cab or being received by someone from a hotel. In this scenario, there often seems to be a total disconnect by the person with the surroundings, and very often these people do not seem to be having the best of days. I hope I don’t look and act like that when I am traveling. Point to note for next time.

3. A son/daughter who has returned from college/summer break/holiday. Usually there are quite a number of family members who have come to welcome them back, and a series of hugs and kisses is a natural behavior. It is such a purely happy scene, those initial few minutes when a person exits the airport terminal and is met by people who matter to them. A very moving and feel good scenario.

4. The person who is lost and frantically trying to change the SIM on his phone, or trying to find a pay phone to inquire about the people who are supposedly picking him/her up. I counted 3 such cases tonight and it was sad to see. I could relate to what Juan Mann of the Free Hugs Movement really meant when he spoke about the emptiness he felt during one of his many trips in and out of airports when there was no one there to meet him. If you don’t know about the movement I would definitely check it out.

5. The person you are waiting for arrives! At first you see them from a distance but it is only after you give them that first hug does the connect register with elation. There is that immediate catchup on the flight and how you have been, time flies at this stage …. and you are all back home, together again .

In an increasingly ‘connected’ world, I feel we are rapidly disconnecting from real connections, those that make all the difference to us in the real world. If I did not run out of battery on my phone today,  I doubt I would have written this post. I felt it was important to write about this learning experience as it taught me, again,  about all that we filter out on a daily basis with our ever increasingly connected lives. Our work seems to consume us (especially for startup entrepreneurs) and we find ourselves living, increasingly out of the present rather than in it. I hope this blog post serves as a reminder to me in the first instance about what I am missing out on a daily basis, and then to those who are reading this and have not ‘disconnected’ from their ever connected lives for a while.

A Lack of Sleep can Kill you


A month ago, many of us heard about the sad demise of Ranjan Das from Bandra, Mumbai. Ranjan, just 42 years of age, was the CEO of SAP-Indian Subcontinent, the youngest CEO of an MNC in India. He was very active in sports, was a fitness freak and a marathon runner. It was common to see him run on Bandra’s Carter Road. Just after Diwali, on 21st Oct, he returned home from his gym after a workout, collapsed with a massive heart attack and died. He is survived by his wife and two very young kids.

It was certainly a wake-up call for corporate India. However, it was even more disastrous for runners amongst us. Since Ranjan was an avid marathoner (in Feb 09, he ran Chennai Marathon at the same time some of us were running Pondicherry Marathon 180 km away), the question came as to why an exceptionally active, athletic person succumb to heart attack at 42 years of age.

Was it the stress?

A couple of you called me asking about the reasons. While Ranjan had mentioned that he faced a lot of stress, that is a common element in most of our lives. We used to think that by being fit, one can conquer the bad effects of stress. So I doubted if the cause was stress.

The Real Reason
However, everyone missed out a small line in the reports that Ranjan used to make do with 4-5 hours of sleep. This is an earlier interview of Ranjan on NDTV in the program Boss Day Out: Ranjan Das of SAP India. Here he himself admits that he would love to get more sleep (and that he was not proud of his ability to manage without sleep, contrary to what others extolled).

The Evidence
Last week, I was working with a well-known cardiologist on the subject of ‘Heart Disease caused by Lack of Sleep’. While I cannot share the video nor the slides because of confidentiality reasons, I have distilled the key points below in the hope it will save some of our lives.

Some Excerpts:
· Short sleep duration (<5 or 5-6 hours) increased risk for high BP by 350% to 500% compared to those who slept longer than 6 hours per night. Paper published in 2009. As you know, high BP kills.

· Young people (25-49 years of age) are twice as likely to get high BP if they sleep less. Paper published in 2006.

· Individuals who slept less than 5 hours a night had a 3-fold increased risk of heart attacks. Paper published in 1999.

· Complete and partial lack of sleep increased the blood concentrations of High sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-cRP), the strongest predictor of heart attacks. Even after getting adequate sleep later, the levels stayed high!

· Just one night of sleep loss increases very toxic substances in body such as Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Tumour Necrosis Factor-Alpha (TNF-alpha) and C-reactive protein (cRP). They increase risks of many medical conditions, including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Paper published in 2004.

· Sleeping for <=5 hours per night leads to 39% increase in heart disease. Sleeping for <=6 hours per night leads to 18% increase in heart disease. Paper published in 2006.

Ideal Sleep
For lack of space, I cannot explain here the ideal sleep architecture. But in brief, sleep is composed of two stages: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM. The former helps in mental consolidation while the latter helps in physical repair and rebuilding. During the night, you alternate between REM and non-REM stages 4-5 times. The earlier part of sleep is mostly non-REM. During that period, your pituitary gland releases growth hormones that repair your body. The latter part of sleep is more and more REM type.

For you to be mentally alert during the day, the latter part of sleep is more important. No wonder when you wake up with an alarm clock after 5-6 hours of sleep, you are mentally irritable throughout the day (lack of REM sleep). And if you have slept for less than 5 hours, your body is in a complete physical mess (lack of non-REM sleep), you are tired throughout the day, moving like a zombie and your immunity is way down (I’ve been there, done that L)

Finally, as long-distance runners, you need an hour of extra sleep to repair the running related damage.

In conclusion
Barring stress control, Ranjan Das did everything right: eating proper food, exercising (marathoning!), maintaining proper weight. But he missed getting proper and adequate sleep, minimum 7 hours. In my opinion, that killed him. If you are not getting enough sleep (7 hours), you are playing with fire, even if you have low stress.

I always took pride in my ability to work 50 hours at a stretch whenever the situation warranted. But I was so spooked after seeing the scientific evidence last week that since Saturday night, I ensure I do not even set the alarm clock under 7 hours. Now, that is a nice excuse to get some more sleep.

Unfortunately, Ranjan Das is not alone when it comes to missing sleep. Many of us are doing exactly the same, perhaps out of ignorance.

I would like to thank Madhur Kotharay for contributing this article. I think this is an area that many entrepreneurs tend to neglect far too often, myself included.