The Myth of the Overnight Success

Chris Dixon, entrepreneur and investor, had a fantastic post on the myth of the overnight success.

Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game. They spent eight years and almost went bankrupt before finally creating their massive hit. Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites in history, but struggled for a long time. Pinterest’s CEO recently said that they had “catastrophically small numbers” in their first year after launch, and that if he had listened to popular startup advice he probably would have quit.

You tend to hear about startups when they are successful but not when they are struggling. This creates a systematically distorted perception that companies succeed overnight. Almost always, when you learn the backstory, you find that behind every “overnight success” is a story of entrepreneurs toiling away for years, with very few people except themselves and perhaps a few friends, users, and investors supporting them.

Startups are hard, but they can also go from difficult to great incredibly quickly. You just need to survive long enough and keep going so you can create your 52nd game.

As we are building Real Leader Interviews, our little team was discussing TED. TED has been around for 30 years and has only seen incredible growth in the last 5.

Seth Godin has been blogging every day for 20.

The examples never end.

If you’re building something, anything of worth.. it takes years. You’ve got to be in it for the long run.

You only win people, one at a time. And of course, you lose them in hordes.

Persistence is often underrated.

‘It takes 10 years to become an overnight sensation.’ | Robin Sharma

On the Expensive Suit and the Cup of Coffee

This week’s book learning is from ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck’ by David J Pollay

David Pollay was busy working on his book at a café close to home. There were few other morning coffee drinkers on the table he was sitting on.

And, as a man was about to sit down on their table, he dropped his large cup of coffee. The coffee splashed all over the newspaper, suit and briefcase of the businessman sitting next to him.

Startled, the businessman stood up. His expensive looking suit had coffee all over it and his briefcase was dripping coffee.

The man who dropped the cup began apologizing. His face was flushed and his ears were red with guilt and embarrassment. Everyone at the café turned to look.

The businessman smiled kindly and said ‘At least I like the smell of coffee.’

Both men laughed loud and hard and within moments, everyone around them had joined in. They grabbed some napkins and started wiping the mess..

David Pollay, of course, added this example into his book as a perfect example of a man who responded to an unfortunate accident with kindness and a wonderful sense of humour – transforming an incident that could have ruined both their days into a wonderful learning experience for all.


I was very inspired by this story. Lately, I’ve been appreciating the power of humour in tough situations. And this story is a wonderful reminder that unfortunate accidents happen that hurt us one way or another.

A touch of kindness, understanding and humour goes a long way. The difference between a mountain and a molehill is our perspective, after all.

Here’s to lots of kindness, understanding and humour this week!

Note: To all subscribers of Good Morning Quotes, I’m having some technical issues here in Rome and hope I’ll be able to get back to normal service shortly. The key, of course, is hope.. :-)

Twenty Three

I’ve turned twenty three today. At this moment, I’m as old, wise, young and naive as I’ve ever been. It’s a special moment.

It’s nice to have one day in the year that you term as ‘your’ day. It’s almost like a special bonus that pops out of nowhere and it’s probably the only time in our lives that we are rewarded with love, affection and joy for just showing up. The real prize, of course, goes to the women who bore tremendous amounts of pain to give birth to us. Thanks mom! This is definitely a one-of-a-kind gift! But then, it’s my day. I’m not going to argue. I love the idea..

I’ve said this many times before but I’m a real sucker for celebrations. As our lives become faster paced than ever before, it’s nice to have these celebrations to slow us down, to remind us to call the people we care about, take a moment, reflect, laugh etc. As a friend put it, ‘there are never enough celebrations in my book’. I agree.

In a weird twist of fate, I have a work related flight out to Rome this evening. And, given I’m just reading about the human habit of finding patterns out of random events, I thought I’d joyfully indulge the habit.

In many ways , the day today is symbolic of the year that has passed. A large part of the day is time spent alone, one of the big highlights of the year. A section of that large part has been spent on Skype catching up with loved ones. A sizeable part would be spent working. And fittingly, a small part would be spent at airports and on a flight.

The last year has been tremendous in every sense of the word. And I’m thankful to the many many people who’ve stopped by in my life and on this blog to make a difference.

Thank you, really.

It’s been a wonderful day today with a group of friends putting together a wonderful video from around the world to start with and wishes from the many who make up my support system. I don’t do birthdays on Facebook these days but, of course, the day would be incomplete if I didn’t write about it here.

In the spirit of making it meaningful, I’ve made a small donation to Sunil M, on Milaap. Loaning a little to hopefully change a lot. :-)

And, as my favourite new year wish goes – May life continue to engage, fascinate, frustrate, challenge and reward as I grow as a person.

Looking forward to year 24.

Time to run! Hope you have a wonderful 18th day of March. :-)

Making it Meaningful. Making it Count.

I was reminded of the life of Viktor Frankl a few days ago.

Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who was amidst writing a book on his findings when the Nazis came to town. Foreseeing the capture, his wife sewed his writings on to his clothes hoping to save years of his work.

As soon as he was captured however, all his clothes were burnt down. What followed was years of torture at various concentration camps along with the loss of every person in his family in the process. The details are harrowing.

Yet, Frankl kept his spirit, survived the experience and went on to write his seminal work ‘Man’s search for meaning.’

I found myself thinking about my life for a few moments..

While his experiences were probably as severe as they can possibly ever get, every one of us have had our share of ups and downs. We face challenges every single day. They never stop. The more we choose to do, the more we choose to take on, the more challenges we face. There’s no running away from that.

Along the way, we taste bad luck, stumble, fall and then move on. That’s part of life. There’s many things in life that we do not have control of. That’s also part of life. In fact, over time, we realize we’re not in control of most things. It’s a chaotic journey. And we’re all working hard to play our part in the act.

What we do have complete control over is the meaning we attach to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s just an additional project, if it’s just a note to say thank you, if it’s just a small task at work or if it’s just a catch up with a friend, we can make it meaningful. We can make it count.

We can choose to quit talking about the weather and talk about things that matter to us. We can choose cut the crap and talk about what matters. We can choose to switch off the television set and actually get out and do something with our lives. We can choose to make every minute in our day count. We can choose to be interested, engaged and passionate. We can choose to be present. We can choose to be the best we can be. Just for a day for starters..

Maybe we’ll do it for a whole day tomorrow. And maybe we’ll like it and do it again day after. But careful now, as Seth Godin would say, it may become a habit.

And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.’ | Steve Jobs

Background Track: Sort Of (Instrumental) by Ingrid Michaelson :-)

The Difficulty of Sustained Impact

It is fairly easy to make a difference. Especially in this day and age as we are spoilt for choice.

If you want to volunteer, there are millions of organizations that need your help. If you’d like to contribute to a not-for-profits, there are websites like Catchafire that enable you to do just that. If you think you have something of value to contribute and would like to do so from your home, you can start a blog, participate in an online community… you get the picture.

I don’t think this has changed much over the course of history. I think it was always fairly easy to make a difference. The number of options available today are just a reflection of this era of abundance. A couple of centuries ago, you might actually have to walk out to the street and do something good for someone yourself. Now, you can choose to build a website for someone who’s made doing good their life’s work.

Many of us talk about making a difference. My point is that making a difference isn’t the hard part.

Making a sustained difference is.

That’s the part that requires commitment, persistence, dedication and patience. And that’s where the magic lies.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s easy to forget that the TED talks we see online today that capture and share millions of ideas has been in existence for 30 years. Seth Godin has been blogging for 20. And there are many stories of those who stuck around long enough to be given an opportunity to make a difference.

I remember quoting a Jim Collins quote ages ago on a Fred Wilson post.

‘Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstance. Greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline.’

To which, Fred said ‘I’d add ‘applied consistently over a long period of time.’

And he would know.

Whether you are at the beginning, the middle or the end of the journey, let’s keep chipping away, one day at a time. It’s not a 100m dash. It’s a long marathon but one where we get to pick the sights, sounds and people we run with.

It doesn’t get much better.

When We Piss People Off

One of the things about blogging on learnings every day is that regular readers get a pretty good idea of the tone of things in your life. I think it comes with the package of running a blog that touches on topics that most would consider personal. I don’t know a way out of it unless you choose to pick a specialty (Eg: clothes, shopping, travel) and blog around such topics.

Anyway, this brings with it a responsibility (I think!) to not put people in the spotlight with your blog – especially if you just pissed them off/had an argument with them. I’ve erred many times while writing here. I don’t think I’ve written about friends after I’ve pissed them off but I sure as hell have pissed off people thanks to stuff I’ve written here. That comes with the territory though. It’s risky when you air your personal views on a daily basis and it’s especially risky with personal relationships. That said, it also gives you an invaluable lesson in responsibility.

I thought now would be a good time to write the post on pissing people off. I think I’m at a point in time when I can’t think of anyone close I’ve pissed off in and around this time. (Gotta strike while the iron is hot! ;-))

One of the results of doing anything is that we piss people off. And I really do mean the anything. It doesn’t matter, really. If you design a product or service, there will be users who will love you for it and some who will hate you for it. If you take a stand on a particular issue, there will again be some who will love you and some who will hate you for it. Even if you choose to pursue what you consider a worthy goal, you’ll still piss somebody off. It comes with the territory of attempting something. The more you attempt, the more mistakes you are likely to make..

The funny thing is that even if you attempt to change yourself for the better, you WILL piss somebody off!

The trouble, of course, is when these folks are close to you.

I’ve had a fantastic track record of pissing people close to me off. A few years ago, I believed I needed to take a stand on everything. Absolutely everything. I had to make my point clear, my opinion heard. (Thank you to all those who stayed my friends..!). I was much more difficult than I am now (it’s all relative, after all!). Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that we generally piss people off for 3 reasons – our principles, our opinions and our actions.

And my approach to each of these is different.

If I piss people off thanks to my principles, too bad. That’s a category I do not do anything about. As they say, it’s tougher to live by your values than to fight for them. No fighting here. Living is hard enough.

If I piss people off by my opinions, well, that’s something I can change. As the quotes go, ‘Opinions are like backsides. It’s not always wise to air them in public.’ After years of pissing people off by voicing my opinions, these days, I find I’m more at peace with them. I’m the sort of person who does feel strongly about things and having this blog as a place to air those views helps. Of course, that brings the related problem of pissing close friends/family off by what’s written here. That’s happened before and I’m working on it. I think that’s getting better..

If I piss people by my actions i.e. by my mistakes, well, that takes a lot of work. And deservedly so.

As I’ve said many times in this post, first time mistakes are often unavoidable. Repeat mistakes are definitely not cool. That’s when they become failures and we’re in dangerous territory.

With first time mistakes, I always end up remembering the line from my personal mission statement – ‘Do not fear mistakes. Fear only the absence of creative, constructive and corrective responses to those mistakes.’ And I work hard to make sure I stop myself from reacting, offer no excuses and attempt to act creatively, constructively and correctively.

As is the case with these things, it doesn’t always make the problem go away and often we cause scars that take a long time to heal. Luckily though, if we’re surrounded by great people, they understand that mistakes are part of the learning process.

There’s a lovely line in the wonderful ‘I’ve Learned’ piece that says –

I’ve learned-
that no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that

Amen to that!

That’s what helps me deal with pissing people off. Since this is one aspect I expect we all have plenty of experience with, I’m curious to hear how you deal with it.

Of course, I completely understand if you’re NOT at that point in life where you have an all clear from all sides. Empathy, what a concept.. (haha)

Self Kalai

One of the essential aspects of meetings with friends, especially the close group from school, is what’s called ‘kalai’. Kalai is a Tamil word that loosely translate to tease/make fun of. Of course, among a group of close friends, there’s a LOT of poking fun that happens – habits, weights, old stories. You name it. All in good spirit..

As kids growing up, there were of course times when it wasn’t all in good spirit. But, in general, that was rare. There was one key unwritten rule though – Kalai or be kalai’d i.e. better get good at giving as good as you get. Else, you did not stand a chart. Survival of the fittest, after all.

Then, there was a category called self kalai,  where (you guessed it), you chose to make fun of yourself. This was overlooked. Firstly, only the brave attempted it. Secondly, you were only opening yourself up as a bigger target.

I still reflect on those times with a smile. It still happens when we all meet. The only difference is that my appreciation of self kalai as a measure of self worth has gone up drastically. I’d posted about what hides behind our laughter ages ago..

I’ve often thought of this when I’ve found myself laughing. I’ve also found the adage ‘There is no better pointer to a man’s character than the joke he resents’ to be true.

I used to resent jokes on myself thanks to taking myself all too seriously. I can’t say I particularly enjoy them now but I’m learning to see the funny side. And I’m learning that it’s better I crack jokes on myself than have others do the same. (It somehow feels better.. haha). I appreciate the difficulty as I’m going through the journey though. The date of that post was October 14, 2010 and I’d posted saying I was stuck somewhere between tier 2 and tier 3. In 1 and a half years, I think I can safely say I’ve managed to climb a tier and I’m much closer to being able to laugh at myself. As much as I’d like to, anyway..

One of my bigger discoveries, of late, has been that it’s easier to laugh at yourself when you know yourself well. That’s because we become fully aware of all those idiosyncrasies that make us uniquely weird. I’m getting there.. And, of course, I have a much bigger appreciation for the power of humour now. The effects are almost magical..!

The reason I thought of humour was thanks to a post on Aaron’s blog. He had missed his usual daily post and had this to say –

My apologies to those who missed my blog post on Monday. To all of three of you, I say this: I haven’t gone to sleep yet, so this still counts.

I burst out laughing when I read it and then again, when I re-read it! (If you’ve seen the interview with Aaron, you’ve probably had a taste of his sense of humour)

Thanks Aaron, for being a great example!

And, here’s one more for the day.. Colin Firth at his self deprecating best.

Here’s to some self kalai this week then.. :)