Archive for the Category Personal

 
 

Why do people fall in love with nostalgic past?

We all know that feeling when the past seems beautiful and there is an uncontrollable longing to belong to a time that has already passed. Most of us romance our carefree childhood and want to relive those special moments every now and then. Artists amongst us want to live in the ages when Picasso and Dali were creating their masterpieces. Present day scientists wish to witness the years when Einstein, Darwin or Newton were just about to change the Zeitgeist forever. And, don’t writers today pine for the times when George Orwell or Shakespeare produced one great work after the other? We entrepreneurs in computer/technology space, how much we fancy times when PC industry was coming to an age with Bill Gates’s BASIC and Steve Jobs’ Apple II.

Albert Einstein is probably bored (or ill)

When we witness a past age through a historical movie or a biography, it all comes vividly alive in our imagination and then we fantasize about what it must have been to live in those times. What if you could have witnessed Gandhi or Bhagat Singh during Indian freedom struggle? What about life during World War II? What if you could have lived in Victorian times where everything was so royal? And how utterly fantastic would it have been to witness man landing on moon? (Many of us are recent borns, so we only have romantic imagery for those moments.) No matter if we love or hate the past, we can’t deny that it does indeed seems to be more captivating than the present.

Past captures our imagination because so little of it is recorded. In fact, only the most interesting events of the past are recorded. When we read or watch about the past, we only get to observe tids and bits of events happening that historians and writers found worth recording. Evidently, nobody records that, for example, on March 25th, 1902 Einstein was utterly bored for the day and he passed his time by listening to news on a half-broken radio and lazily chatted up with neighbors. Even if Einstein lived a humdrum, normal life for months and years, it wouldn’t have probably got recorded or noticed by contemporaries or future historians (precisely because that period of time wasn’t interesting). Even if these uninteresting days in Einstein’s life get written about, they are given far less importance as compared to occasional, eventful days in his life. A biographer (or a writer) would spend a good chunk of her time simply to build it up to the moment when Einstein revealed his Theory of General Relativity. This event was monumental, so it makes sense to highlight it and do an extensive elaboration of Einstein’s life around it. It is obvious that no serious biographer would write a book that contained every small (and boring) bit about a Einstein’s life. Only worthwhile bits make it to history.

But the problem is that (in present) when we imagine the past, our imagination is obviously guided by whatever we know about the past. And, what we know about the past is only the juicy details. We can’t possibly imagine our heroes or people in romantic ages living boring, humdrum lives. We can’t imagine the past ages completely and truly because we simply don’t know or remember non-important parts. So, we extrapolate whatever past our imagination can reconstruct and imagine that whole of their lives and times must have been interesting. We fall in love with the past because we imagine it to be so damn interesting. However, we must not forget that past was once present and our fancy for the past is nothing but misguided.

Today’s present will probably be longed by future generations, so right here, right now, you have an excellent opportunity to make your present as interesting (or as boring) as the past you love!

Dreams and Nostalgia

(This post was inspired by absolutely drop-dead beautiful movie by Woody Allen: Midnight in Paris. Extending this logic of falling in love with the past, we can likewise imagine why people fall in love with our present day heros’ lives as well. What we hear about lives of others is, again, just the interesting parts. So our mental imagery of how actors, sport stars or celebrities we adore or admire is significantly biased by what we get to hear, read or see about them. And, remember, nobody talks about boring parts of life. They’re not worth writing or recording, apparently.)

Defying parents is mark of a thinking man

Remember your childhood? Those were the times when on a cool, breezy, slightly-sunny morning, you blissfully played on freshly dewed grass. You threw your sandals away, and while your eyes darted everywhere around, you ran barefoot, feeling small yet sweet pangs of cold seeping into your body. You were so lost in your joy that you didn’t realize that all you were doing is running purposelessly in circles. You felt blessed.

What else could I be doing?

As a child, infectious enthusiasm was all you had and that produced an honest reality of your own that you believed in with full conviction. You invented that reality daily, but truly lived and breathed in it, never doubting its authenticity. When you saw or heard a ghost story, you actually believed in it and felt a beautiful joy of encountering it. Myths and fantasies of distant lands (mostly from absurd TV shows for children) were real. These fables were as real as your naive belief that one lucky evening you will get stuck in a candy or chocolate shop all alone. Didn’t you believe that Superman existed, and may probably come to help if you were in trouble? Or that Teletubbies were somewhere there having fun when you were not around?

Oh, and don’t forget, you had dreams, too. At some point of your childhood, if you were a boy, most likely you wanted to become an astronaut or a fighter pilot. If you were a girl, you probably wanted to become a teacher. (No brownie points deducted if you wanted to become something else). Point is: you wanted to be someone, who in your reality had best possible life. A life which could give you immense joy, adventure and freedom.

defy

But as you grow up, slowly your parents start chiseling your world-view. When you insist that Superman (or whoever your favorite hero was) is real, they would say: “No, child. He exists only in TV or movies”. At first, it is a shock to you, or even an abomination. You ignore your parents. But after a while, you start accepting their reality since it is coming from parents (and, that too, not from Joe’s parents but yours). As you grow up, these nitpicks transform your reality from “what you believe in” to “what you should believe in”. No longer becoming a pilot is good enough for you. Like all healthy grownups, you must aspire to become a lawyer, doctor or an engineer. You reluctantly agree because, after all, they’re your parents so they must know better.

Of course, parents’ point of view about reality helps children in many, many ways. If parents play a passive role in upbringing their children, world may be full of soon-to-be adults who actually believe in cartoonland. So, they should definitely discuss issues and topics with their children. They should encourage a healthy curiosity and a sense of wonderment. They should be proud if they are able to teach their children how to think independently and decide for themselves. Creating a man or woman who is able to think freely and stand for his beliefs should be a function of parents.

calvin

It is a disgrace, however, if parents take advantage of a child’s impressionable mind to engrave their views upon you. If they are Hindu, Muslim or Christian, why must you become the same? If you like being a rocket scientist, why must you give that up for their dreams?

Things really get complicated when you think you have grown up and suddenly find yourself disagreeing with your parents. Issue at hand could be about startups, ethics, morality, homosexuality, politics, fashion, religion or any other topic under sun. Many cultures (oriental ones like Chinese and Indian, especially) promote respecting parents and elders as de facto behavior. This cultural programming is well entrenched, so much so that people may start questioning and compromising their beliefs and aspirations, just because they may risk offending their parents.

These weaklings never give up their comfortable jobs for risky, adventurous life of an entrepreneur. They never question their faith or religion but accept it as a “given”. Or, in spite of their wishes, they impatiently marry or have kids. All this because parents (or relatives/elders/society, for that matter) say so. Worst part is that somehow they convince themselves that they’re wrong. (Maybe these self-lies are necessary to live such a fake life)

If you are not convinced of someone’s opinion, don’t you disagree with them? (Unless you are pussy who agrees with everyone lest someone gets offended). If you have no qualms about disagreeing with others, how should it make a difference if “others” in question is your parents?

calvin_dad

As a child, you believed (or, perhaps it is wired in our genes) that parents are perfect creatures and you made heros of dad and mom. They were best ever, weren’t they? But, as you grow up, that ideal fantasy starts transforming into an imperfect reality. Much to your shock, you discover that parents are humans too. And like you, they share same psychological and sociological biases and flaws. They too have perspectives, and those perspectives may not be any better than yours.

I am no way arguing that you should (necessarily) disagree with parents (or elders). They definitely have more experience of world, so you should always give them an ear when they are telling their opinion. But unless we all live in a utopian society where everyone thinks alike, there would come a day when you may find yourself disagreeing with people older than you, people whose emotions (and reality) you don’t want to shatter, people you love. In such moments of self doubt, you can either condescend into a shameful agreement and live your life with constant reminders of self-betrayal. Or, you can stand for yourself and live a free, proud and honest life. Choice is yours.

My Mixergy interview! Hear the story of Visual Website Optimizer

I was fortunate to have been interviewed by Andrew on his awesome website Mixergy.com. The interview was about how we bootstrapped Visual Website Optimizer to over 1000 paying customers. The video is long (75+ minutes) but I hope if you watch it, you enjoy it! (If you rather prefer reading transcript, it is also available on Mixergy).

Pick experiences over relationships

In a previous post, I wrote about what matters in life and what doesn’t. What I proposed was that these things don’t matter at all:

  • Ego
  • Material possessions

What matters instead is:

  • New experiences
  • Relationships

What if you have to choose between an experience or a relationship?

Such situations are always extremely hard. Imagine you need to go travel the world for a year but that means giving up (not fully investing) in a relationship (with friends, colleagues, spouse or parents). What would you do? Of course, there are many variables there but if you are really stuck at a decision, my recommendation is to pick a new experience over a relationship.

This may sound controversial to many but my reason for choosing a new experience over relationship is that experience is something which is entirely under your control. With relationship, there’s a second person involved whose behavior is something you cannot (and shouldn’t) predict and control. I’m playing Devil’s advocate here, and I understand that in many cases relationships indeed create richer lives. However, many relationships also go sour with or without any reason at all and there is little you can do about it. With new experiences, improving your life is completely up to you. You can choose to have new experiences on a regular basis and nobody would object to it. Level of control you have on new experiences is much more than that you have on relationships.

Ideal situation, of course, is to have both meaningful relationships and new, interesting experiences. However, in dire circumstances, if you have to pick just one, pick an experience since it is a more predictable (and easier) way to have a meaningful life.

Professional success and personal success: two independent dimensions

All of us chase after success. For majority of us, success means achieving more in life. A better car, a bigger house, a promotion at job or a fancy watch. This particular definition of success pertains to what I call as professional success. Most of the stars, sports people, top shot CEOs and other celebrities that you know are at pinnacle of their professional success. They probably worked very hard to achieve what they have today and are also probably very proud of it. So far, so good.

But, there is another aspect of success. I call it personal success. If you compare two people: one movie star and another middle class office goer, do you really think movie star is more happy than the office goer? Deep inside they both have same happiness scale. In fact, for all the possessions and fame that a movie star has got, he may be actually not as happy as the regular office goer who gets to see his family every day and spend quality time with them. Regular Joe is happy as hell, why should he be ashamed of not being a movie star?

So, personal success is a different ball game altogether. It is completely independent of professional success you have got. In fact, I value personal success much more as compared to professional success. Reason for that is because personal success is much easily achievable. You all have a choice to spend quality time with your friends and family and live a rich and happy life. But, sadly, many of choose to chase professional success like mad people (rats). We work endlessly to achieve the elusive “professional success”, odds of achieving which is very less (just compare number of celebrities out there v/s total population on Earth).

So, given you can be happy with your personal life right now, why would you work non-stop and sacrifice personal life for some professional success. Why should it even matter that you could not become Sachin Tendulkar, Bill Gates, Lady Gaga or Tom Cruise? Just because they are at pinnacle of their professional careers, do you think they more happy than you? I doubt and I am pretty convinced.

What matters in life (and what doesn’t)

I’m probably too young to be writing on this topic but observing countless souls distressed by daily life made me think hard on what is that really matters in life. Undoubtedly, there are happy and sad phases and that’s part-and-parcel of life. But what I’m really bothered about is general, daily bitching about how miserable one’s life has become. You find people complaining about work, commute, relationships, other people’s attitudes & personalities, neighbor’s barking dog, lack of parking space, and, heck, some people also feel stressed about how they are unable to install latest iPhone update. Yes, I’m concerned about those people. Are these things really worth stressing about? Allow me to analyze.

What doesn’t matter in life

Let’s start off by observing what doesn’t matter in life and why. Life would be much better and satisfying if everyone could do away with (or at least de-prioritizes following) two aspects:

rush

  • Material possessions: countless sages have professed it and I completely with them that material possessions are source of most of the stress we face in our daily lives. Modern technology (and compulsion to keep up with it) only makes it much worse. Your car radiator broke down, your phone screen got a crack, you are unable to install USB drivers, or your expensive massage chair needs maintenance. Possessions end up taking over your daily life and you don’t even realize that. Wouldn’t you be much happier and free if you need not bother about constant purchasing, maintaining and discarding of possessions? I’m not advocating complete asceticism but my point here is that it is OK to be still using Windows 98. It is OK to travel by bus or taxi, and not having that fancy car. It is even OK if you don’t posses a phone (or if you have poor network provider, like mine — MTNL). It is OK to be like a free bird without any heavy baggage of material possessions.
  • Ego: the number 1 stress factor you have in your life is no-one but you. The compulsive drive to prove yourself right (and others wrong), the obsession with (financially) outdoing your peers, neighbors & friends, the depression about how you couldn’t score 100% in math exam, the fights over how the wall is painted with the wrong shade of blue, and anger over how a friend misplaced your favorite book. Source of tension and stress in all these situations is not society or the other person you are fighting with, but it is you. In long run, do these little ego fights really matter? Are you enriching your life by these ego fights where either you or someone else ends up feeling bad? Wouldn’t it be much better for all if you started giving less importance to yourself? Maybe it is hard, but just try living a day making yourself unimportant and your life will be much more satisfying (as you can kick your ego aside and you can focus on what really matters in life — see below).

What matters in life

I have observed that following two aspects enrich one’s life and makes it worth living. What are these two things that matter in life?

bungee

  • Experiences: seeking out new experiences in life is one of the best ways to be alive. Experiences excite, teach and rejuvenate you. Unlike material possessions, the memories, stories and photographs of these experiences will never fade away and certainly don’t require an upkeep. Have you ever thought of travelling the world? If not, do it! (Budget’s not a constraint). Learn a new language. Go bungee jumping. Do hitch-hiking. Start a new charity organization. Try new, exotic cuisines. There are literally millions of different types of experiences that you can seep in and most don’t take bagful of money. Usually, under false pretense of being busy in daily humdrum, it is your ego that prevents you from exposing yourself to different types of experiences, and hence doesn’t let you mature you as a person and live life to its fullest. The best part about these experiences is that you get to meet many interesting people, some of whom can also become lifelong friends and partners. This brings us to next point.
  • Relationships: treasuring and maintaing relationships you have with your parents, friends, siblings, spouses, children and even neighbours is one of the most satisfying aspects of life. Humans need other humans in order to stay sane and to derive joy out of life. A loner can easily drive himself crazy. But, unfortunately, due to ego, sometimes we are rash with these relationships and end up hurting people. Even ignoring people can lead to isolation or broken relationships and that’s why it is important to realize that the relationships you have with other people are much more important than yourself (this realization is for your own sake and happiness, since you depend on other people. Try living completely alone!). Doesn’t joy and happiness become real only if you have other people to share it with? Can you be happy all by yourself? Nope! So, leave your ego aside and try to strengthen the relationships you have. When you come back from a trip to Caribbean, make sure you have someone to share your experiences with (and no, I don’t mean your Facebook friends)!

As usual, comments welcome!

Wingify nominated for Red Herring Asia 100 and NASSCOM Emerge 50

I am happy to announce that we got nominated for not one, but two prestigious awards. The first one is Red Herring Asia 100, where they choose 100 companies from all over Asia who have potential to make it big. The other nomination is for NASSCOM Emerge 50 which choses 50 emerging companies from India in the IT field.

Red Herring is a widely recognized brand famous for spotting Microsoft during their infancy. On the other hand, NASSCOM is India’s top association of IT industry and is highly regarded for building India’s brand for IT services. I feel lucky to be nominated for these awards. The whole Wingify team (see below, yes we’re 8 people now) deserves to be recognized:

team

Please wish us luck for these awards. We have our fingers crossed!

Stupidity of free markets

This post is a slight, but important, detour from my usual posts about startups. Today, I watched the documentary Zeitgeist: moving forward. Even though I may not fully agree with the proposed solution, the problems and current flaws of free markets are very real and left a deep impression on me. If you care about the world, do watch the movie once. Here’s what the movie proposes:

Abolishment of money. Collapse of mindless consumption and materialism. End of profit-maximization at nature’s expense.

We humans are too narrow minded to comprehend the fact that the current system isn’t sustainable. The false hope that free markets will eventually take care of us all is a myth. Have they taken care of hungry, dying children in Africa? Have they taken care of species on brink of extinction? Do they really believe Earth’s resources and oil is endless?

hunger

But free markets are getting bailed out. Trillions of dollars spent on bailing them out can be spent curing poverty and hunger, but who will do that? Government officials take a narrow view of their 4 or 5 year term.

Who will think ahead and see if the current system of free-markets, consumption and wastage is sustainable till, say, 2050? If we don’t act today to stop the stupidity, who will?

Sadly, there may not be a tomorrow if we don’t act.

On Internet, you are at mercy of private organizations

3 days ago our company Twitter account @wingify got suspended. See the screenshot below:

Screen shot 2011-08-31 at 1.37.51 PM

It’s sad to see our account being suspended for no good reason (they did not even bother to send us an email). I have gone through their rules and firmly believe we haven’t broken any. We don’t spam, we don’t abuse, we don’t use any bots. We only use Twitter to communicate with our customers and tweet about articles on A/B testing and landing page optimization. Then, why the hell did our account get suspended? The saddest part of the whole episode is that their support hasn’t responded for 3 days. We have emailed, created tickets, tweeted from other accounts but no avail. Beware: Twitter can suspend your legitimate account, not provide any reason and then not respond to your support queries.

What’s embarrassing is that our customers and users are asking what’s up. See this tweet (apparently Twitter is still recommending @wingify as a user to follow):

Screen shot 2011-08-31 at 1.43.04 PM

Now, what could we possibly reply to this? That on Internet, you are at mercy of private organizations?

This teaches us a humble lesson that any service we take from granted can be taken away from you. No explanations provided. Be it GMail, Facebook, LinkedIn or Paypal.

The kick of a startup

Yesterday, my startup hit a significant milestone: 10,000 total accounts (trial + paid). And last month marked one year anniversary of launching paid plans for Visual Website Optimizer. I think it is a good time to reflect what it means to me and the business.

Needless to say, I am very happy that we can boast of a small, smart team and big brand customers like Microsoft, Groupon and AMD. However, when I think about it — I was much more excited (and happier) about first 10 paying customers than 10 new paying customers now. Back then when I was launching it, there was an unknown territory to explore and I was a warrior ready to battle the unknown.

Questions and Euphoria

Whether it would work? Or, whether I would need to get a job? I still distinctly remember getting the first paid order and delirium it had caused. Even though I had read almost all essays of Paul Graham and absorbed myself into startup world (perhaps) bit too much, the realization that someone was ready to pay for my hacks was an incredible feeling. Then, within first month of launching paid plans, when the revenue surpassed four times my previous market salary, I was ecstatic. Who could have guessed that? The coverage on blogs, feedback from customers, demoing and closing Fortune 500 customers like Microsoft, 10% revenue growth every month, scaling beyond one 512 MB VPS (now we have 30 servers!). It was all new for me; it was exciting! I loved it.

It can be done!

Since then, inside me, a thought has been taking life of its own. The thought is an incredibly powerful one; the main essence is: it can be done! Today scaling servers, coverage on a major blog, additional customers and many other aspects doesn’t give the same kick like they used to give me. And, I guess, that’s because the question that I set on to answer via a startup has been answered (to a certain extent — of course, I know tomorrow is unknown). Paul Graham’s essays were theory to me, but Visual Website Optimizer is a practical. The initial euphoria of a startup was because it was a sudden transformation for me: from having a regular job to making (unpredictable and scalable) amount of money even while I am sleeping. Now, I guess, the theoretical question has been answered: it can be done! (And, apparently, it can be done by anyone — no special skills needed.)

What’s next?

Well, what’ s next best logical step for my startup? Of course, team will grow, product development wil keep happening (in fact, we are launching a new interface next week) and we may even introduce new products (have exciting ideas – wink, wink). But the theoretical question has been answered and a certain level of satisfaction has set in. What can be the next level of kick for my sweet-little startup? Perhaps doing something that requires another leap of faith and pushes us into the unknown.