How podcasts can help you be a startup founder

Startup founders are enhancing their learning skills by listening to podcasts despite busy workday schedules.

For a busy startup founder, who has to learn a lot about every aspect of business, every little minute of a day counts. That’s the reason Ami Sata, founder, Amouve, an organic bed and bath brand based out of Mumbai, has turned to podcasts to learn.

“Since listening is non-intrusive,” says Sata, “podcasts can be heard when you’re multi-tasking, convey an idea in 20 minutes and allows you to gain immense know-how while doing mundane everyday things like travelling to work.”

Podcasts makes to discover new

It was listening to a podcast about Sarah Blakeley, the founder of Spanx, that Sata discovered the power of cold-calling. Sata tried cold-calling prospective retailers for her brand in Mumbai and found leads, follow-ups and clients. Since then, she’s hooked to kernels of knowledge offered by podcasts, constantly on the lookout for new ideas.

Other than listening to podcasts while commuting, Sata has even added other podcasts on entrepreneurial journeys (How I Built This by Guy Raz, Masters of Scale, The Tim Ferriss Show and Freakonomics) to her bedtime routine so she can learn and get inspiration before she sleeps.

New job? Learn with podcasts

Like Sata, Jayant Paleti, co-founder, Darwinbox, a software services startup, also prefers podcasts to learn and get inspired from. “I’m leading business development for Darwinbox, which means I spend a significant amount of time on the road, heading to meet clients all day,” says Paleti.

Most of his transit time is spent on calls with sales team and on podcasts about other entrepreneurs’ experiences. His current favourites are Masters of Scale and The Joe Rogan Experience, which is his “daily dose of inspiration wrapped in good humour”.

Learn as you gym, travel or before sleep

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How to be a successful gig economy worker

  • Choose your clients wisely to make sure you are paid on time
  • Be transparent and upfront about the mistakes you make,.
  • Learn to say no to projects that pay too little.
  • Plan ahead financially as there will be down times.
  • Manage the time between projects. Learn something new then.

In April 2018, after a year of considering it, Bengaluru-based Sonali Dash finally took the plunge. She quit her 10-year-old corporate career of management consulting to become a yoga teacher. It was a big step in her life. “Quitting corporate was challenging as I was used to the financial security my 10-year-long career had offered me,” says the 34-year-old.

To push herself to give up her comfortable salary, she planned it all—she did a post graduate in yoga to upskill, saved for two years and took worst possible scenarios into account. The combination of financial and emotional support helped Dash till her new career became stable enough.

Brush up your skill sets

What helped Dash through the turmoil of the initial few months was that she had researched well. Before you jump off your existing career, you should understand opportunities in the new line of work you’re heading into, says Sanjay Lakhotia, co-founder, Noble House Consulting, a platform specializing in finding HR consultants for companies. 

Choose your clients wisely

To make sure you get paid at the end of a project, do a background research on people you work with and be sure they are able to pay.

Be transparent

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Why some millennials are quitting Facebook

  • If the idea of quitting Facebook makes you anxious, irritable, or you miss out on work, it may be time to let go
  • Millennials are feeling overwhelmed by the way Facebook requires their attention and misuses personal information

In July, more than a decade after joining Facebook, Mumbai-based event manager Jason Menezes decided to delete his account. It was a big move for the 30-year-old because, like most people in his generation, he got on to the social network bandwagon in his teens and spent a chunk of his life there, broadcasting his first love, his first job, breakup and several parties to a multitude of friends.

Are you overwhelmed by Facebook?

Over the last couple of years, however, Menezes had been feeling overwhelmed by the way the network required his attention. He would log on multiple times a day, check notifications during most of his breaks, comment on most posts, engage with people, put down his thoughts at least twice a day.

He felt obsessed, almost like the platform had taken over his life. He wanted to quit, but, each time, a notification would take him back, and he would end up scrolling endlessly. “Time flows differently in the virtual world,” says Menezes, “as there are multiple things that happen simultaneously, a multitude of people saying things. You find interesting facts or information and before you know, your whole day is gone. I was addicted,” he says.

A study published in December in the Journal Of Behavioral Addictions established a parallel between symptoms of substance use and behavioural addictive disorders to symptoms of excessive use of the social network.

“The social network uses various behavioural techniques, like building up a need to validate through likes, fear of missing out, and making your status temporary—all this to create a need for you to return quickly to the network to keep engaging.”

Venkatesh Babu, consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru.

The result is that it’s hard to quit, and, when you try to, you face withdrawal symptoms and often relapse into scrolling despite your decision. “If the network makes you anxious, irritable, or you miss out on your work or spending time with family, take it as a warning,” says Dr Babu.

Find it hard to quit?

Apoorva Kulkarni is worried about personal information being misused.
Apoorva Kulkarni is worried about personal information being misused.
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New job? Here’s how to make new friends.

New job? When it comes to building relationships with Indian colleagues, it’s food that matters the most, according to Mumbai-based operations manager Neha Thadani. Three years ago, when Thadani joined her current company, an MNC based in Mumbai, the newness of the office was overwhelming. “It was a disconcerting experience,” says the 35-year-old, “I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know how things worked, so I decided to change that with food.”

Sweeten your new colleagues

Every day, she would bring something new to office, sweet or savoury, and made it a point to walk across to a couple of colleagues at mid-morning, introduce herself and offer them snacks. “Most people took a breather, talked about what kind of food they loved, and this camaraderie continued as our personal conversations started,” says Thadani.

The initial hesitation over, within a week, her colleagues were inviting her for coffee breaks in the evening, or for lunch, introducing her to others. Within a month, Thadani knew a lot of people in her office, from top management to her juniors, and could find someone to help her out if she was stuck in her work. “Because of food, I could find the human side to the managers and bosses in my office, and connect to them beyond the work they gave me,” says Thadani, something that she feels has helped her tremendously throughout her jobs.

Build relationships anew

Building relationships at work are as important as the tasks the employees have been hired for, according to Neharika Vohra, professor (organizational behaviour), Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. “Relationships are the glue that binds tasks and teams, so they need to be paid attention to,” she says. In the beginning it is best to observe, understand and recognize the pattern of networks within your workplace. “Take initiative to reach out to people, help someone with something you can offer, show people that you are interested in them,” adds Vohra.

Sathappan S. says being interested in how other people work is a great way to break the ice
Sathappan S. says being interested in how other people work is a great way to break the ice
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What is expertise economy?

Are you ready for the expertise economy? Constant upskilling and gaining expertise beyond education is the millennial way to work.

At the age of 25, Gautam Soni, who works as a business analyst at LinkedIn in Bengaluru, has already pivoted twice in his career. After graduating, he did not find a job immediately and tried his hand as a digital media consultant. Two years later, he become interested in data science and pursued a post-graduation diploma with UpGrad, an online course and certification site, investing all his savings into it.

While completing the course, he joined LinkedIn India in operations. He was encouraged to apply his learning on the operations role and in a few months, moved to business analysis, getting a 75% salary hike. “In jobs today, we face new challenges on a daily basis and it’s very important to stay updated and possess the right skill-set,” says Soni.

Soni’s experience captures work life in the age of digitization and acceleration where the world of work is going through a large-scale transition and critical skills and expertise are imperative for success. “New platforms, technologies and ways of business are sprouting constantly,” says Kelly Palmer, co-author of The Expertise Economy, “Businesses and employees need to make sure they have expertise to make these changes work for them. The career path of a future employee focuses on skill development rather than college pedigree,” she explains.

Prateek Benya says upskilling is required – be it through learning from someone in your own company or taking up a course. Photo: Saisen/Mint

Forward thinking companies have already restructured their process in such a way that employees have the choice, and freedom to decide what expertise they want to develop. For startups like 75F, a company that makes efficient buildings using internet of things and cloud computing, upskilling is a necessity to remain competitive in a fast changing, dynamic market.

“From our CEO to a new intern, every employee in our workforce has to stay at pace with technology,” says Oindri Sengupta, HR head, 75F India. “This is why we prioritize learning and development and invest in our people to upskill.” Every new employee goes through an intensive training program and then continues updating themselves through in-house libraries, online courses, industry-relevant certifications and training programs.

The value of an individual today lies in the knowledge and skills he or she brings to an employer or an organization and millennials recognize this, says Lisa Cannell, MD and leadership professor at Darden School of Business in University of Virginia, US in an email interview. This new wave has changed how employees view their careers.

“Millennials now value skill building and development opportunities within a job as much as compensation. If they don’t get required training from companies, they find courses to reskill themselves.”

Lisa Cannell, MD and leadership professor at Darden School of Business in University of Virginia
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How to do a steady job with a part-time startup

What are part-time startups and why are millennials doing them?

Since June 2017, Bengaluru-based Saswati Suchipadma has led a hectic life. She is a full-time technology consultant in a multinational company and runs a handmade jewellery start-up. “I have meetings with clients in the US, and deadlines both at office and with my personal business clients,” says the 26-year-old. “All my free time during weekdays and weekends goes into designing jewellery and marketing my brand over Facebook and WhatsApp.”

It’s like keeping two jobs together, says Suchipadma. However she doesn’t want to quit either. “My technology job is what I studied for and the start-up is my passion, what my mother taught me,” she says, “and now I’ve learnt to manage both together efficiently.” Her manager at work has also accepted the start-up since her work hasn’t suffered. In addition, Suchipadma feels being in a job is actually good for the start-up as she gets more clients for her jewellery designs.

Riding in two boats

A whopping 90% of Indian start-ups fail within the first five years, according to a study titled Entrepreneurial India by IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics in mid-2016. The most common reason for failure, according to the study, is lack of a unique business model and new technology.

Gurugram-based Aparajita Roy, a 28-year-old photographer and corporate trainer, is happy managing a start-up and a job while she learns more. “I am from a middle-class background and want financial stability in my venture before I quit my job,” she says.

Since five years, Roy has been working as a corporate trainer in a UK-based financial firm. Her start-up, an event planning and photography venture, began a little more than a year ago. The going has been good with 15 clients in one year, but not good enough for Roy to quit her job. “A full-time job guarantees regular pay and being in a corporate environment exposes me to a lot of business and networking tactics,” says Roy.

Your job can teach you how to run a business

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New ways that founders are doing business meetings

Startup founders are doing meetings in newer ways to save time, increase their efficiency and also be much more productive.

When Mithun Srivatsa, co-founder and CEO of Blowhorn, a logistics startup, began his company, he had a small office in HSR Layout in Bengaluru, which could seat only four people. “I did five meetings a day, and it got too stuffy being in a room all day long,” says the 34-year-old. That was the reason he moved meetings to a beautiful park nearby. “I’ve interviewed possible employees, held training sessions and discussed growth plans with angel investors, all in that park,” he says, adding that he loved the idea so much that he has continued doing what he calls ‘park meetings’ once every day, even though the startup has a bigger office now.

Founders get out of the office

“A park changes the mood, eases the context and gives you space for small talk. It’s better for heated discussions too,” he says, adding that all kinds of possibilities open up in a meeting at a park. In one such incident, Srivatsa recalls, he was interviewing for a possible senior role position on a park bench, when the meeting turned into a lengthy discussion about the startup’s vision and mission. “At the end of it, this person wanted to put in her own money into my startup,” he laughs.

Creative meetings are a walk in the park

A 2014 study from Stanford, agrees with Srivatsa. Upon researching on people meeting at offices versus walking, the study found that walking boosts creative inspiration and leads to divergent thinking, where you explore many possible solutions to a problem.

That’s the reason, like Srivatsa, Archit Gupta, founder and CEO, ClearTax, an income tax e-filing solution, keeps his Sunday meetings with his co-founder, Srivatsan Chari, at Cubbon Park, one of the popular public parks in Bengaluru. “As we talk about growth strategy, Srivatsan, plays with stray dogs,” says Gupta, 33. The relaxed atmosphere makes them come up with creative solutions for their business and also reconnects them over fond memories of growing up together. “Mobile meetings are not only good for blood circulation but great energy boosters and diminishes hierarchical boundaries, putting everyone at ease, allowing free flow of dialogue and creating stronger personal bonds,” says Gupta, who has since then turned a couple of his everyday meetings into walking meetings.

Archit Gupta (right) with a team mate at a park in Koramangala for a mobile meeting. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint
Archit Gupta (right) with a team mate at a park in Koramangala for a mobile meeting. Photo: Ramegowda Bopaiah/Mint

With international work teams and timing, and smartphones with applications like Zoom, Skype and even Whatsapp, meetings on the go are a norm. However, overwhelmed with a continuous stream of meetings and communication, people are taking innovative, individual routes to keep meeting fatigue at bay.

Don’t let location distract you

Bhavin Turakhia, founder of many startups like Flock and Zeta, has over 100 meetings, every month. Over the last couple of years, this self-confessed stickler for meeting productivity has taken individualization to the height, building customized workstations in all the offices he works from—at his home in Mumbai, as well as his offices in Mumbai, Dubai, London and Los Angeles. “I don’t like to waste time when I travel for meetings,” says the 38-year-old.

“This way, I literally, pick up from where I left off, no matter which office.” Turakhia has a “specification document”, which lists down what he needs in a customized chair, arm rest and desk, including a Benel-designed custom-made chair with dual motors and a sit-stand, seven-feet long desk, which costs anywhere between ₹ 80,000-Rs 1,50,000 per set. “I’ve customized this system over time, creating an exact configuration of three external monitors, monitor stands, exact lighting levels, video conference units and my distance from the entire arrangement.

This minimizes distractions for me, no matter where I’m working from,” he explains. Since travel time to his Mumbai office has increased, he has even had his Innova modified with a work/entertainment station that includes a monitor, so his meetings continue when he is stuck in Mumbai traffic jam.

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Did Amy Ingram just set up that meeting for you?

Amy Ingram is a secretary. She sets appointments and meetings. She works for top-level executives, including CEOs, in the IT, start-up and finance sectors. If you work in these industries, you’ve probably received an email from her.

But Amy is not a real person.

“She” is the creation of x.ai, a US-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up, and was built for one purpose: scheduling meetings. For people like Karthik Palaniappan, 38, CEO and founder of August Academy, a career counselling start-up in Chennai, who has to work with 40 clients a year and set up an average of 25-35 calls a week, the AI assistant is a bargain at $29 (around ₹ 2000) a month. “I run a consulting business and have online meetings with clients from across the globe in different time zones. That’s two or three iterations before a meeting is set, which is quite cumbersome. With Amy, I’ve offloaded this mundane task,” he says.

Now all Palaniappan has to do is copy Amy on an email conversation with a client—the AI assistant takes over the scheduling part of a meeting seamlessly. Other than the ease, what he likes is that his contacts follow up with Amy thinking she’s a real person.

“Ninety per cent of the time, if I don’t tell the other person that Amy’s a bot, they don’t recognize from her emails that she’s a digital assistant,” he says.

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Setting up a start-up, straight out of college

In 2012, when Sachin Gupta graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee with a job offer from Google India, he faced a conundrum. He and his college mate, Vivek Prakash, had been building a software system, HackerEarth, for engineer recruitment. They had an offer from GSF Accelerator, a Bengaluru seed-funder for technology start-ups.

It came with a caveat: GSF wanted the two in Bengaluru, working full-time on the start-up, if they were to get the initial money. “That was our first challenge,” recalls Gupta. “If we wanted to do this start-up, and we so did, Vivek had to miss a semester in his degree while I had to leave my job.” Prakash wanted to get his degree.

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How online learning is the way forward

Online learning is the new way millennials are educating themselves. When Lucky Gautam decided to take the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) during his final year as a BTech student at Amity University in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, he was worried about the stiff competition he would face from students of India’s premier engineering institutions.

On a friend’s suggestion, he signed up with the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), an online platform that offers free courses (but charges a minimal fee for an exam for certification), to brush up on topics like analogue circuits and the principles of signals and systems.

Online learning has become the norm

A government-funded initiative by seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), NPTEL helped Gautam earn an all-India rank of 58 in GATE and a job offer from Indian Oil Corporation. “Sometimes books and a library just aren’t enough. With this platform, I could learn from the country’s top faculty at my own pace,” says the 25-year-old.

One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant.

Other than providing high-quality content in high-demand fields, online courses are affordable and flexible, and therefore easier to access.

Cognitive computing, automation and globalization are impacting the nature of jobs and the skills required. One needs to be a lifelong learner to stay relevant. “We can’t afford to stop learning and still expect to grow in our careers. Online platforms are the most accessible for this purpose,” says Raghav Gupta, director for the India and Asia-Pacific region, Coursera.

The formulaic framework of online courses or webinars can be a millennial’s best friend. “Millennials have an intrinsic trust and connect with technological tools and advances, adapting to new technology rapidly,” says Andrew Thangaraj, professor, electrical engineering department, IIT, Madras, and NPTEL coordinator .

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