Mild Success vs Wild Success

What do you want to be? A mildly successful person? Or a wildly successful one that has made a dent?

This is a rehash of an old SoG Letter that I wrote way back in Jan 2019. Original here.

This post is inspired by two things. 

A. This tweet. Link.

The tweet is a quote by NN Taleb and it says, “Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.”

Side Note. NN Taleb is one of the most influential thinkers of contemporary times. His concepts on Black Swan, Antifragile and Skin in the Game have shaped my thinking and my approach to work. Oh, and I have the rare distinction of being blocked by him! 

B. A conversation with AS that made me think hard about the kind of things I want to do in life. He asked me what was my grand plan for life. And while I have thought often and thought hard about this, I was for the first time that I could put it in words. Thank You, AS for asking that question.

So, while thinking of the answer, I knew that I wanted to be a Wildly Successful person (and not just a mildly successful one).

And what is this Wildly Successful person?

Lemme start by defining the two. 

Mild success is a few millions, some cars, luxurious life, respect from your peers, considerable impact within your community and so on and so forth.

Example?
CEOs like Indira Nooyi. These people rest on the laurels of an organisation where they “work” and paddle carbonated water. 

Wild success is billions, irreverence for cars or luxury, actions that impact the whole of humanity and like Steve said, the ability to push the human race forward!

Example?
CEOs like Steve Jobs. These people actually created products that have enabled almost all creative people to do more. 

Thing is, Indira Nooyi could do so well because she was and is smarter than your average business executive and she worked really hard and stayed on the course. Most of my classmates from MDI would chart the same path to being mildly successful. They are smart, work hard and are on their way to the top of their corporate ladders. By itself, it’s not a wrong thing, to be honest. Who doesn’t like 2 cars, 2 houses, 2 kids, 2 house helps, 2 club memberships et al?

But then, this life is not for me.

I’d rather be Steve. Steve Jobs could get wildly successful because of what he worked on, how he worked, the kind of things he did, the decisions he made and all that gave him that shot at sending the ball out of orbit (and not just the park). And while he did all that, he had his quirks, he lived life on her terms, and he chase things that he believed were right. And along the way, inspired others.

Of course, he got lucky. Numerous times. Luck had to play a part in his wild success but the path he was on was not going to ever make him just mildly successful. It was either going to be wild. Or it was going to take him to ruin. Something Elon stands for. Even Warren for that matter.

So that!

Wait. Is there a lesson? Is there a point to this post?

So, the lesson thus ladies and gents is twofold. 

A. Understand what kind of success you chase. Wild. Mild.
I know I do. You? 

B. Once you know what you are chasing (mild or wild), if you are chasing, look at what others in the same league (mild or wild) did and then tread the same path.

It is that simple! Rest is a function of effort, consistency, time, luck and variance. Over and out!

Lemme know what you think.

PS: When I thought about I'd like to become wildly successful and when I thought about the kind of people I think I want to become (I will not get into details but some people that I want to be like are Chris Sacca, Tim Ferriss, Naval Ravikant, Jason Calacanis, Chamath Palihapitiya and others), I realised that there is a clear pattern. These people have a LOT in common. Here's a small list... 

- Great deal-making ability
- Envious network. Especially, a large set of loose connections that are willing to look past the biases that close friends may have
- Ability to communicate well
- The knack of spotting trends
- A very big bias towards action
- High-agency

I am sure there are more things that I can't spot right now. Just that to be able to create this variance that takes from your mild to wild, you ought to at least have what these guys have. Get the drift?

Loose Connections – The Holy Grail to Networking

If you want to network better, you need to become better at creating better (and more) loose connections!

This is a rehash of an old SoG Letter that I wrote way back in Jan 2019. Original here.

So, what is ‘Loose Connections

There are two kinds of connections that you make when you network professionally. 

A, Strong bonds. 
These are people that you implicitly trust. These are the people that will have your back in case you are stuck. These will stay with you through thick and thin. These typically are people who you grew up with, the ones that say next to you in college, the ones that you hang out with on a daily basis. And so on and so forth.

B, Loose connections. 
These are people who are at a 2nd or 3rd-degree of separation from you. These are the people that you wave at, at the water cooler in your office. These are the ones that you know live in your building but aren’t really friends with. These are the ones that you respect but for some reason, you’ve kept a distance. 

So why do I talk about loose connections? 

I really, sincerely, honestly, dil se believe that these loose connections are more powerful than your strongest bonds when it comes to pushing professional / work agendas. 

At least in my life, I have seen these loose connections giving me more work, leading me to more opportunities and opening more doors for me than the best of my friends with their best intentions could.

From things like my first book to my blogs to job opportunities to freelance gigs, I can track them back to a combination of strong bonds and loose connections working together. 

What about you? Which “kind” of connections has helped you in the past?

And as I go along, I am actively working on creating a super large pool of these loose connections. You know, like they, I know a guy that knows a guy? That! 

And how do you forge these loose connections?

Simple. Go out and seek such opportunities. 

For example, a few days ago, I went out with a few folks that I connected with on Twitter. In that group of people that hung out together, we had three travel enthusiasts, one legal expert, one stand-up comic, a videographer, a digital nomad, and one right-hand person for one of the leading fashion designers in the country. It was an eclectic bunch and the conversations had the best that I’ve ever had in life! 

And how do you create opportunities?

Here are three steps that I have used in the past. 

1. Identify the thing that you want to work on. Identify the top 1% of people in that trade. And identify the kind of work you want to do.  

For example, I am working on this film these days. And for that, I need to know EVERYONE that is in the trade that is in the top 1%. And because I want to be on the business side of films, rather than looking at people like Amitabh Bachchan, I am keen on talking to people like, say, Manish Mundra. Or Sandip Bhargava

2. Look at the kind of people that these people talk to. Get into a conversation with those people.

These Manishs and Sandips of the world would be busy and may have very limited time to give. There is absolutely zero chance that these people would talk to me. But the people that work for, work with, work under these people would be a little more approachable. And thus I can get into a conversation with these guys a tad more easily. 

3. Add value

This is the most important part. Rather than mere chit-chatting with them and getting into a social conversation, can you add value? Look for things that they are stuck with. Open those doors. You know, be that loose connection that could help them untangle things that they are grappling with. And don’t do this with the intention of getting something in return. Add genuine value to people. Be of real help. Open doors. And then sit back and let the magic happen.

That’s it!

Do let me know what you think.
Oh, and read Go Giver. Really. 

And while you are at it, do read how you can kickstart your freelancing career in 2023.

How to start your freelancing career in 2023

A comprehensive guide to how to start your freelancing career in 2023 and live life as a creative freelancer on your own terms.

In 2015, I quit my job as a digital strategy planner with a leading social media and digital marketing agency. I started freelancing and at the time I barely scraped through. Fast forward to 2022, “I” now bill almost 10 lakhs a month (on average – some months less and some months more) and I am more than ok! In this guide to start freelancing, I talk about how I did it and how you can too.

PS: the “I” is a small team that works together to deliver on the work I bring in. And the 10 lakh I talk about is what we bill as a team. We operate as The C4E Collective.

PPS: Again, 10 lakhs is the average. Some months, we do more, and some we do less. In all fairness and honesty, in the best month, we billed about 22 lakhs, and in the worst, we billed 4.

So, here’s a guide to how I broke into freelancing and how you can do too.

Lemme start with some background.

I think believe I am destiny’s child.

I have been extremely lucky and I am grateful that I am where I am. A lot of things (that were mostly out of my control) had to happen to give me this life I have. And I manufactured a handful of things to augment the ones that were out of my control. And I need to work VERY hard on building blind faith in my self (something I lack).

In this longish piece, I want to share what I did and maybe you can pick some lessons from here! 

So, if I am at a 10 lakh a month number, it is because of all the people I’ve met and the opportunities I’ve created. The keyword here is created. Unlike popular belief, I do not believe in waiting for things to happen. I seek them. I try and create them. I put myself out there, in rooms where there are odds that I would meet people better than me. Once I am in there, I am ok to make a fool of myself. I am ok to be laughed at. I am ok to raise my hand when no one else is daring to. And I believe in playing long-term games and doing it for the long term.

PS: Long-term is anything more than 5 years. I’d want to push it to 10. But 5 I think it is for the time being.

Before we start, please note that this is NOT a list of freelancing hacks for writing or for anything else. For the simple reason – I don’t know if they exist. Rather, this is a list of things that worked for me and these may or may not work for others. However, there are lessons you can pick from what I believe in and what I did and you can adapt these to your situation. And yes, like all “advice” this is not one-size-fits-all. Please tread with caution. 

Lesson 0. Freelancing is a (VERY) long-term game. 

Let’s start at ground zero.
Freelancing is a long-term game you play with long-term people. 

Today, each opportunity that knocks at my door is a result of a relationship that I “created” years ago and then took the effort to nurture it. I allowed them to compound. 

Here’s some data. My most recent client is someone I know for almost 2 years (thanks to a podcast that I produce). The second most recent client is someone I walked up to randomly at a WeWork (in 2018), and became friends with. So, 5 years. The third most recent client came via someone I know since 2013. And all the other clients came through relationships built prior to that!

Update: Since writing this post for the first time and publishing it, I’ve cracked three more clients. One I’ve known for 5+ years. The other for 7+ years. The third taught me at MDI (16 years ago). So, the point has been reinforced.

So, please get this tattooed on your forehead that as a freelancer, you will have to play a VERY long-term game. The one that will probably last you for the rest of your life. And thus each thing you do, you need to think from that lens. 

Oh, and starting point of this game? 

Relationships. 
With friends.
Acquaintances.
Strangers.
Loose Connections.
And everyone else in between. 

Lemme talk more about this in the next step.

Lesson 1 – Build Relationships irrespective of your intent to start a freelancing career

If I could teach the world how to build relationships, we would have reached Moon Mars by now. And to teach this to an aspiring freelancer would be even more difficult. Allow me to try.

First things first. I define a “relationship” as a thing that makes you want to spend your time with another person. And vice versa.

So, how do you “build” this want? How do you manufacture it?

Well, to get other people to spend time with you, you could start by becoming interesting, likeable, approachable, dependable and all that. The tough part is that each of these words is subjective and there is no tangible definition per se.

However, while the definitions of subjective things vary, there is indeed something tangible that you can offer to others.

Value.

You could add value to others. To them as people. To their businesses. To their lives. Value is tangible. Could be small, big, large or whatever. But most people know it when they see the value.

And on the other side, when you meet others, you need to have patience, listening ability, zero judgements, an open mind, empathy and willingness to offer value (even if they are the ones pitching to you). You need to gift others your attention without expecting anything.

No, it’s not easy; we all struggle with ‘no expectations’ on various levels. 

What has worked for me is that I have offered value (hopefully immense) without asking (or even expecting) anything in return.

Lemme give an example. A friend needed someone to talk to her boyfriend and show him opportunities in the digital marketing space. I thought I could give gyaan. I did that. That person got placed at some agency. And then he gave me a project to work on! Simple and effective!

Thing is, when you offer value without expecting anything in return, the people on the other side start to see you as one of “them”. And not a third party that they’ve engaged for a “project”. And once you are “one of them”, you earn a seat at the table. Where both (access and rewards) are higher.

PS: Of all the strangers that you’d offer value for free and without expecting anything in return, there are bound to be a few that would take you for a ride. You would invest time, energy and everything and you would get nothing. And that’s ok. Really. We pay taxes. There is leakage. You accidentally spill your coffee. This is how life is. Just that each time you are taken for a ride, identify the red flags and next time, avoid similar situations. So start with an expectation that once in a while you’d be left on the losing side.

Lesson 1.2 – Don’t wait for these relationships to happen, create them. 

Thanks to Karan Johar and Walt Disney and others like that, we assume that a “connection” will “click”. You’d be roaming around in a park and in your lap would fall the handkerchief laptop of a gorgeous woman client and as you give that back to her, you would exchange numbers and she would give you a lot of love freelance work.  

Lemme pop your bubble.
No.
It doesn’t work like that. 
Not even for romance.

If you read Neil Strauss or Kevin Mitnick or have seen Anurag Kashyap films, you know you’d have to plant some goons to tease the woman of your dreams and show your heroics to save her. 

Same with freelancing.

You need to plant things that will create opportunities for you to come across as a hero that the client can not live with! 

So, in one line, you need to create these relationships.
You need to walk into rooms you are not invited in and try and locate people you want to learn from, collaborate with, or simply keep around. You need to be intentional and deliberate about it! 

Lemme give an example.
I was working out of a WeWork in 2018 or something. I took the floating desk because it was cheaper. While I sat there, I overheard this man talking about marketing and branding to someone else on the phone. While he spoke, he made a lot of sense. So, I decided to walk up to him. And introduced myself. He was kind enough to reciprocate. And this started my friendship with Aditya Save, who has helped me get work, helped me find people for my team and has taken my input for his work!

So yeah. That.

Create relationships.
Be deliberate about it.
And put in the work required to create relationships.

Oh, here are some actionable ideas…

  1. Join groups where interesting people hang out. I am a member of a few others. Lemme know and I will get you added. Needless to say, I am part of scores of Whatsapp groups, each discussing a wide range of ideas and each on mute ;). Here’s a plug – I run a WA group where I send gyaan on marketing. Join Marketing 101 if you want to.
  2. Go to meetups. LinkedIn is rife with opportunities to do so.
  3. Take memberships (if you can afford it) at places like WeWork, Soho House et al that have a curated selection of members.
  4. Engage with tweets and messages from interesting people on social platforms. Without getting creepy. Start with me or Aditya!

Lesson 2 – Be reliable when freelancing.

In my experience, people dont want to work with “the absolute best” or the “greatest in the world”. 

They want to work with reliable people. They want to pay and get work done. They dont care about a Picasso or a Mario Puzo when they want a piece of art created. They want it to deliver enough to solve a business problem. As a “creative” individual, you can continue to chase perfection. Or show progress. To the world. And while you do so, be dependable. 

I mean think about it. You want to go from point A to B. Would you wait for the “right” car to come in or you’d hop into the next one?

More often than not, people do not care for you being exceptionally good at one thing (I know this sounds counter-intuitive to common wisdom where they want you to the world-class at one thing). People care about paying and getting work done on pre-decided timelines.

So, be reliable. 

Lesson 3 – Start Small.

You cannot start freelancing expecting a gig worth a lakh a month. You build up to it, in terms of both skills and confidence and ability to deliver and ability to demand money.

We’ve engaged a designer that billed us 500 bucks for a FB post a few months ago. And today, he pays his house EMI from what he bills us! 

If back then he said he would only pick up work worth 1 lakh, he wouldn’t have moved towards financial independence. At least not with us. 

Lesson? 
Never hold out for the biggest fish. 
Start small, but keep at it. 

The keyword is, keep at it. And dont say no. And offer value. More than what you thought you could.

Lesson 4 – Spread yourself wide! It is a freelancer’s paradise

Again, counter-intuitive to what common wisdom is. But has worked for me like a charm. Read on.

I cannot stress enough that everything that’s come to me has come to me because I widened my interests and attention. Just by doing this one thing, I’ve met a LOT of people from a LOT of backgrounds that knew a LOT about a LOT of things.

Each interaction allowed me to pick up more things that I can talk about and can eventually work on. Each interaction made me a tad more interesting for the others to talk to. Each interaction gave me a higher chance to be in rooms that I would otherwise not be welcome in. 

The same reflected in the kind of work I was doing. When I started freelancing, I worked as a marketing consultant for a startup. And I did brand strategy for an agency. And I did an event production for another agency.

No, I am / was not “the best” at any of these three.
I was merely dependable. See lesson 2 above.

When the COVID-19 lockdown happened, my biggest source of revenue (events management) came to a standstill. However, my ability to deliver brand strategy and marketing consulting allowed me to survive. And then I expanded from there on.

Today, I do the following – ad-films production, marketing consulting, digital brand planning, ghostwriting, podcasting, content, investing and more! This spread has allowed me to bill 20+ lakhs in a couple of months). And no, I am not great at any of these. I am not even good. I am just dependable.

And oh, I started small and upskilled and ensured that I delivered more than what I promised.

The point is, go out there. And expand yourself thin. Always be on the lookout for experiences of different kinds, and you will meet people from different industries, with different dreams, and very different lives. And rather than trying to fit them into the mould that you’ve created for yourself, be open and accepting.  

Lesson 5 – Overdeliver. Even as a freelancer and while freelancing.

This one’s quite simple: Say you’re asked to write just a blog post. But when it comes to delivering, you send in a series of tweets along with that blog post, to help get traffic to that post. Or, you share those five insights you had while writing that piece. 

Your clients will see it. They will remember you for going above and beyond. And they would see that you are the kinds to deliver more value than what you are paid for. 

Result? 
You are perceived as someone who delivers value. 
Top it up by being dependable. 
And then top it up by being the one that does not expect a lot.
Why would people not work with you? 
Why would you not scale? 
Why would you not reach the 10 lakh a month number?

Quite simple. And effective.

Lesson 6 – Make yourself discoverable as a freelancer. 

Jo dikhta hai, wo bikta hai. 
Location. Location. Location.
The baby that cries the loudest gets fed first. 

There are numerous parables like that. Each makes the same point. 
Be out there.
Be discoverable. 

You’d start attracting opportunities the second you begin putting yourself out there. You invite people to discover you. And then you back it up with overdelivering. And you invest in long-term relationships. And you become a dependable person. 

How is it that you will not build a solid network that gives you work? P.S.: You may want to read this post on networking.

In the words of Daniya and Chandni (am making them discoverable by adding them here), “Think of it like this: It starts with you seeking opportunities and ends with people discovering you. What happens in between is all the things we spoke about – relationships, offering value, and reliability.” 

And how do you do it? 
Newsletters, videos, blogs, Twitter – just about anything that aligns with your voice. Go out. Show up. Showcase what you’ve done. Talk about your work.

The good part? 
All these things compound

Wait.
What do you think this blog post is? 
Why did I spend 15 45 days writing this?
Why do you think I am ranting on Twitter all the time? 
Why do I overshare? 

PS: I have to admit that despite doing all of the above, I remain VERY poor with my visibility and my distribution. Even though I write a lot, I need to work on this and I am constantly in search of amplifying this. And here is a post I wrote on how to build a writing habit.

Lesson 7 – Collaborate with other freelancers and freelancing platforms.

You know how a single twig breaks easily, but the second you pick a bundle, they’re invincible? That. 

That’s how you should view those on a similar path as you.

Together, you learn and attract more. Ditch that greed (of doing things by yourself and keeping the entire pie for yourself) and find people who want to grow with you. Ditch that insecurity that if you share your connections, others will close those deals ahead of you. Ditch that fear that the client will find someone else who’s better.

And in case you need to find a place to start with, start with me. I’d love to. I am a tweet away. 

Once you have one or two connections, go seek more. Join networks. Go to meetups. Tweet at random people. Ask for help. “Hire” people to work with. The “I” I talked about at the beginning of this post are actually my collaborators. It is humanly impossible to make 10 lakhs a month as a freelancer if you are on your own. You need collaborators. You need to pick work and allocate time and divide responsibilities and remuneration. The 10 lakhs we make is divided between the 6-7 of us and as a collective, we are better off than we would be if we did not collaborate.

This collab also allows us to present ourselves as a “large” company and pick larger projects (in value / impact / showcase) that an individual would never ever get considered for.

From here on, as a collective, we may go become a large company. Or will remain a bunch of freelancers working together. No one knows (I dont know what the future holds and I will not lose sleep over it). But what I know today (as of writing – 11 Dec 2022) is, that I am having a ball (with obvious ups and downs) and I am extremely grateful for that.

I am digressing.
The point is, partner with more people.
Do larger capers 🙂
Start with me, if you want more partners. I am a tweet away. 

Lesson 8 – Be the “easiest” freelancer to work with. 

I can bet that you have that friend that is incredibly difficult to please. You could go to the best restaurant to eat at, on a day that’s going really well and this person will spot a problem. 

At work, you would have that colleague that would ask a thousand questions even before lifting a finger and you would know that most of those questions are a way to deflect work assigned to him. You know, passing the buck. Or the pillow. Or as I call it, playing football and pushing the ball to the next person. 

There are people that you want to avoid even though they deliver great work. No?

So, thought experiment.
Switch places.

If you are that person that is incredibly difficult to work with, do you think people will come to you for work? Will they recommend you? Will they ask you to do things? 

If your answer is, “oh, I am the best. If not work with me, where would they go?”, then you’ve lost the plot and wasted all the time reading all these tips to start your freelancing career in 2023.

Thing is, clients are people. And they seek other people that are easy to work with. They like the idea of being easy to work with. They love their peace of mind.

It’s really simple.
When you’re stuck in circles, who do you turn to?
When you need something solved proto, where do you go?
When you want someone to get you out of the soup without asking too many questions, who do you think of?

Be that person. For others. For clients.
People Clients are looking for just that.

So, while you’re being reliable, also be easy to talk to and easy to work with. And see work coming your way.

Lesson 9 – Be a freelancer that people can trust. 

As I grow, I often find myself working closely with companies that often compete. As I write this, I work for 4 different advertising agencies. And each competes with the other on a day-to-day basis. And while the scope of work I take on for them might vary, I am essentially working for companies in the same business.

Thus, discretion becomes important. And it becomes tough for me to earn their trust. And while I have not been able to find a solution to this, I start with full disclosure. And transparency.

If I am working for competing companies, I disclose that to all them. And I’ve seen that if you volunteer information without others asking for that, people tend to trust you a tad more.

Again, trust is something that you need to earn. With time. The longer you work with / work on something / someone, the deeper the trust. While a post on trust would be another 5000 words, if I were to highlight a few points that help build trust, these would be…

A/ Everything that I have listed in the 8 lessons above. I will repeat some in this list.

B/ Radical honesty. There is nothing better than this.

C/ Keeping word. On your promises. On your delivery. Your Zubaan must have a keemat. Thank you, Rajesh Sir for teaching me this lesson.

D/ Be consistent. I suck at this, to be honest. But I am working on this.

PS: B, C and D are about being the most reliable person ever. Also, scroll up to see lesson 2.

That’s it. I am sure there are more things you can do to build trust but these 4 will cover most of those. And in fact, all the lessons I’ve listed would cover them all.

In the end…

Guess this is about it.

These are the 9 things that have allowed me to build a freelancing career. Trust me when I say this that if I have been able to build one for myself, I am sure you can too.

Also, do lemme know if this was useful. And do tell me what else would you want to read about if you are starting out as a freelancer in 2023. Finally, if you have any specific questions, I am happy to talk. The best way to reach me is on Twitter. I am a tweet away. 

A Few Disclaimers

  1. This post is essentially a list of things that have worked for me. These may or may not work for you. This is a summary of my experience only the results may vary 😉
  2. For context, I hold an MBA from MDI and have about 16 years of experience post that.
  3. Thanks to Chandni and Daniya for helping me write this.
  4. Thank you Samriddh, Hemant, Sanhita for reading early drafts and helping me improve this with specific inputs. These names are not in any order.
  5. There are more things that I can write about. In fact, I am thinking I will do a live session to help people break into freelancing. Would you want to learn from me? DM me on twitter and lemme know.
  6. If not on a live session, I think in the subsequent posts, I can write about the following: how to crack the first client, how to build the network, how to price your work etc etc. But I think that’s a different topic for a different day. Do let me know what would you want to read.

Ultimate Guide to Living in and Remote Working from Goa

Your ultimate guide to remote working from Goa or even work-from-home while in Goa. Insider’s dope, tips, and opinions. Do not miss if you are considering WFH / Remote Work from Goa.

Version control: V0.1, last updated on 20 April 2021

UPDATE (22 Nov 2022): This post was last updated in April 2021. I am sure a lot of information herein must be outdated by now. Plus, I no longer live in Goa. However, I am hoping to refresh it over the next few days. In case you want to take this up as a (paid) challenge, please write to me at sg@c4e.in.

So, if you are my generation and have seen your share of Bollywood, you would know of Dil Chahta Hai. Or if you are from the one after mine, you would know Dear Zindagi. Both these are probably at the top of the pile of those films that have drilled the romanticized idea of the small coastline of Goa in our heads. Mention Goa and you start thinking to dream of a better life.

The images that come to your head could carry from the Vegas of India cliche (complete with its “what happens in Goa stays in Goa”) to that of a sleepy town littered with parties (and the characters and shenanigans of these characters at the parties) to lip-smacking seafood (Recheado anyone?) to dilapidated castles on top of hillocks (some of these are now hotels) to tourists teeming with frenzy as if they’re gonna die after this trip (not just from India but from places as far as Israel, Russia, and the UK) to, of course, beer cheaper than water!

At least these were the ones that came to my head. Blame it on a million trips that I have made to Goa over the years. My trips primarily were to give all my money to those poker players and rake to casinos floating in the Mandovi.

So anyhow, thanks to the lockdown and WFH getting acceptable, moved to Goa in early Dec 2020, to live and work from here, and see what else the state has to offer. I had a million doubts and a thousand questions and a hundred apprehensions before I moved to Goa. But I took the plunge. Literally.

What I saw was predictable, interesting, surprising, refreshing and more. And thus the prompt to write this guide.

So, here we are. In this Ultimate Guide to Remote Working from Goa, I will talk about what it takes to move to goa and work from here. Plus with the aftermath of COVID-19, remote jobs are increasingly becoming acceptable and people wanting to live and work out of Goa will need reliable, honest, first-hand information. This is that nifty handbook for those people. And for digital nomads and road-warriors and others that may want to work out of Goa.

Oh, standard disclaimers apply. See a list toward the bottom of the post.

Here’s what I will talk about…

  1. First Things First
  2. Why work from Goa?
  3. Pros and Cons of working from Goa
  4. The moving to Goa decision matrix
  5. Living in Goa for work
  6. Comparison of co-working spaces in Goa
  7. Making the move
  8. Misc information
  9. In the end…

1. First things first about working from Goa…

There’s a lot to talk about Goa if I want to do an honest and comprehensive job of helping you decide. Lemme start with these three. In each, I will try to ask a question and the answer to that question will probably help you decide where you want to be once you decide that you want to work in Goa.

1A. The North vs South Divide

Simply speaking, think of Goa as a straight line (it is NOT but just think of it like that for the time being). See this image.

Screenshot from Maps Of India

Assume that Panaji (aka Panjim) is the midpoint. Panjim is the capital city and like every other state capital, it is like any other – traffic, highrises (not really as high as the ones we have in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai), fast internet (really!), ample public transport, etc. But if you choose to live in / around Panjim, you might as well live in Mumbai. Or Bangalore for that matter.

? Hat-tip – Read the section on Internet below.

North Goa (Candolim, Calangute, Anjuna, Morjim, Mandrem, and beyond) is where most tourists (Indian, foreign, etc) hang out. With-in the North, I’d advise you to stay away from Candolim, Calangute, or Baga.

But places like Anjuna and Vagator are very very livable. In fact, if you want to meet and network with interesting people, you have to check these two out. You’d also get access to the sea.

? To me, one of these two is the perfect place to live if you are in Goa to work. But this could be my bias as well.

Oh, most Indian tourists do not venture beyond Anjuna. If you go further north, you’d only find foreigners (and Indians that are more foreigners in their heads than the actual foreigners are). So that could be a good place to be if you want to be in the North and yet stay at a secluded place.

If you are ok living in the interiors with a limited sea view, you will like it at Porvorim, Saligao, Parra, Assagao, Siolim, etc. These are not north per se but for our simplistic map, these could be. And within these, I love Porvorim (a city and yet not a city) and Assagao (essentially a forest on a hill).

South Goa is where we have all the secluded, spaced out, sparse and clean beaches in Goa. This is also where the peace of mind is. Food also, in general, is better in the South, if you ask me. And because these are secluded and spaced out, you typically have holidaymakers here (and not the tourists that seek action of water-sports, dance clubs, etc). If I were to choose a place to be on a holiday, I’d pick South Goa. If you want to work in Goa, I would NOT recommend South Goa. But if you have to live and work in the South, I’d recommend looking at places like Palolem, Utorda, and Majorda. There’s some semblance of life there.

Oh, there’s also what I call the North-East Goa (though locals don’t call it that). Which is essentially Mapusa, Moira, Aldona, and thereabouts. This part is fast emerging as the hub of creative kinds. More on this later.

❓ So, the first decision you need to make is, what part of Goa do you want to live in. Panjim? North? South? North-East? I would recommend North.

1B. Natives, Locals and Migrants

If you are going to spend some time in Goa, you need to be able to understand people here. No, a section of a blogpost can never ever do justice but here’s an attempt.

Natives of Goa are people that were born in Goa, grew up in Goa, live in Goa, have ancestral roots in Goa, have houses in Goa, and plan to be here. Most of these would be in professions from fishing to politics to even heavy industries. These are the ones that of course have the claim over Goa as a place. Everyone else is a guest. And thus needs to conduct themselves as guests. You are a guest as well even if you are moving here lock, stock, and barrel.

Locals of Goa are the ones that have some Goan connection (parents from Goa, close relatives in Goa, married to Goans, etc) and are now living in Goa. In my limited experience, these are the people that have created flourishing businesses here and thus give employment to natives, locals and migrants.

Migrants in Goa are people like me. No connection to Goa. Hail from other places. Now living in Goa. Most work in businesses ran by natives or locals. Some are entrepreneurs that have set up businesses. Some are freelancers. Most are creative, freelancing, solopreneurs – musicians, dancers, yoga teachers, chefs, writers, photographers, etc.

As you start living here, you need to understand who’s who and then conduct accordingly. The natives typically do not like migrants coming in. They blame the outsiders for spoiling nature and the culture. They blame the outsiders for leaving too much mess on the beaches and causing other such nuisance. To be honest, they are probably right. But then, free market. They can’t stop the influx. The migrants (like us need) to understand that as mere “outsiders” we can’t really do much without support from natives / locals. And sooner we start respecting the locals and natives, the better it is. For everyone.

1C. The Good and The Bad

While the entire guide is about good and bad, I want to save time for you by making this nifty list. Each of these would be expanded eventually.

The Good part of working from Goa…

  • Goa is home to so much creative talent and prowess that it boggles my mind that we are not the world-leader in creativity! Plus this creative crowd is always in flux and is moving around (within and out of Goa). This means that there is no dearth of interesting people that you can jam and network with. This to me in itself is a big big draw to Goa.
  • Goa is probably as cosmopolitan as it gets. Really. Just that it’s a tad different than the cosmopolitan-ness that people from big cities are used to. You may not see a lot of fancy clothes but you would definitely see some really eclectic opinion that would make you take note.
  • Goa offers some of the best food that you’d have anywhere in the country. No, I am not a foodie at all. So, can’t comment on that.

The Bad part of working from Goa…

Just two.

  • Nothing is reliable here. Internet, people, electricity, roads, weather, stray dogs. Even people who write long posts on coworking in Goa 😉
  • If you are hoping to create a business here, unless you have a few crores, you would find it tough. If you have ready work from elsewhere that you want to deliver while you live in Goa, you can consider moving. But if you are hoping to setup something from scratch, it would be tough.

More details as we go along!

1D. What I will NOT talk about in this guide…

I will NOT talk about anything that tourists may want from Goa.

Things like best places to party, best venues to do sundowners, cheap shopping locations, tips on watersports, touristy places, Instagrammable locations, etc. I will NOT talk about the history of Goa, the weather of Goa, the culture of Goa, and so on and so forth. There’s enough and more on it.

2. So, why work from Goa?

This is the smallest part of the write-up and in this tiny, biased part, I will try and convince you to come work from here 😀

If my experience of the last 2 months is anything to go by, if your work allows you to work from remote locations, you MUST not miss the opportunity of working out of Goa! Heck, if I were the activist kinds, I would have met the government here in Goa and try to create a program inspired by the mayor of Miami!

I mean, imagine waking up a few miles away from the Arabian Sea and the winds from the sea and squeaks from the seabirds as your alarm clocks. Imagine the quaint vibe, apparently delicious seafood (which I have no clue about – I am a vegetarian eggetarian), and very very affordable options to wine and dine. Now, top it up with scenic exuberance and rich culture that Goa anyway has. And if you need the final push, imagine an opportunity to jam and network with all the eclectic, creative, free souls that call Goa home! 

Why would you not work from here? Life is anyway short and if your work allows you to live and work out of Goa, please do make the move. Even if it’s for a bit. Here are more details for you…

3. The Pros and Cons of working from Goa

Of course, every place has its share of good and bad. While I can fill in reams of pages on the good parts, there are numerous downsides as well. The decision is a personal one but if for you the advantages of working out of goa outweigh the negatives, come join me 🙂

Here we go on the good and the bad, in detail.

3A. Some good things about working out of Goa!

Personally, I have found that living in Goa allows me to be more creative and free. You know how Hemingway said, write drunk and edit sober? Goa is allowing me to do that! I am drunk on the talent of others. And I am sobered by my limitations as an individual. Wow! Poetic! Here’s a “rational” and sober list.

⏩ Goa is probably one of the most vibrant places in the country with a lovely confluence of cultures. There is a diverse community of creative people from almost any discipline that you may imagine. You can whip up the frenzy and some crazy ideas with them. And yet Goa offers you endless opportunities for a slow, lackadaisical, laidback, and serene life. In one line, I’d say Goa exudes a heightened sense of quietude, even with all its cultural exuberance. There’s something for almost everyone.

⏩ If you are a music aficionado, apart from a thriving live-gig scene from across the genres (I can’t even count how many restaurants and bars offer Hindi and English covers), Goa probably has the best EDM and Hip Hop scene in India. Lately even Folk is taking the small state by storm. Plus there are so many traveling artists. If music is your thing, do check out Gypsy Gigs by a friend and mentor, Nupura.

⏩ If you consider yourself a connoisseur of architecture and history, after your work, you may go visit all the grand cathedrals, worn-out churches, and crumbling forts that Goa is adorned with. The architecture here is a melange of rich Indian tradition and strong European cultural influences. I’d say history is every day, a living, breathing part of Goa. Even a regular Goan house has so much to offer that you’d be left amazed. Do share some pics 🙂

⏩ If you love to eat, you’d have a ball. Think of a kind of cuisine and you’d find it here. You have a plethora of options that throw all the right jargon. Organic, vegan, paleo, keto, hand-pulled, machine-made, free-range, cruelty-free, not tested on animals, safe for babies, fished with love and I don’t know what else.

If you like to cook, local markets offer a wide assortment of fresh catch and some of the most stunning fruits and veggies. There are farmer’s markets where home chefs, locals, and small business owners sell their produce. These can give any such market anywhere in the world a run for their money. Goa is anyway known for its chilies (Aldona), Bananas (Moira), Watermelons, of course, Cashews. Plus coconut is as “local” to Goa as it is to anywhere else. You would find a wide range of coconut curries, hand-pressed oil, and even sweets here. I am told fish pickles are really to die for. Then there are numerous bakeries, each proud of their Pois and Puis. The local staple of Ras-omelet-poi (chicken gravy without pieces, omelet, and local bread) is as flavourful as it sounds. The samosas and the egg-puffs I have had here have been the best ever. I just had two samosas from this kiosk outside Las Viegas at Saligao. You have to try him out.

No, do not even hang out around the tourist traps that claim to offer culinary delights to the celebrities and rich kids that come to Goa on vacation. Ok, maybe once or twice for those Instagram pictures to make your colleagues jealous. But not more than that, please. No Thalassa. No Antares. No Sinq. No Cabana. No Martin’s Corner. Please. PLEASE. P L E A S E!!

⏩ Of course, if you are the touristy kind and like to do the things that tourists do, there are flea markets (I could not spot those this year though) at Anjuna and Arpora. There is the Dudhsagar waterfall. There are spice farms. There are river cruises on Madovi and even on the Sal. There are sanctuaries and wild-life reserves and water-sports (Scuba, Snorkelling, Surfing, and more) and paragliding and surfing and whatnot. No, I am not the right person to talk about these as I stay away from them as much as I can. 

⏩ As I end this part, here’s a thing that I love about Goa. People. They are the friendliest that I have ever seen anywhere in the world. If you stay for a while, you can make friends with local establishments and claim a few spots that comfort you enough that you start calling them home. I found mine at NickyM’s and they make the best burgers ever. Do try them out.

Wow! That’s a lot of good! The point remains, Goa is amazing if you want to work from here.

3B. What makes working out of Goa a terrible idea?

While most of what you experience here will keep you hooked, a few things might become an issue…

⏩ To begin with, something as basic as uninterrupted electricity is a challenge here. Power cuts are quite commonplace in and around Goa. While for the most parts (at least in the Northern, touristy parts of Goa), they last a mere few minutes, power cuts could take up hours to recover. I am told the situation goes grimmer during the monsoons. As if irony gods were listening to me, while writing this, the power went and came back a few times.

? Hat-tip – Wherever you decide to live, do ensure that they have a power generator or an inverter for backup.

Internet is a pain in the ass. Mobile Internet is a bigger pain. I have a Vodafone and a Jio connection and yet I couldn’t get see that magical word that starts with 4[1]4G for the uninitiated. It goes down the drain when on the weekends tourists throng into Goa. Even the broadband at various co-working places tends to be tardy. More on co-working places in Goa in a bit.

I am told that you need to have two connections if your work requires heavy use of the Internet.

Since I published this, a few people have reached out to me with their experiences. Here are some…

From a reader on Facebook…

asdad Ok..so i am a software engineer and need fast internet 24×7. So, i selected panjim. Internet speed is 250mbps, which is more than what i used to get in bangalore. Also, panjim have miramar beach and dona paula. You are not away from beach. You should add this point…if internet is must, then panjim n dona paula are safest option.

Even bsnl broadband is very reliable here

Via a comment on Facebook.

From another reader on Facebook…

you wrote that the internet is not reliable for video calls. i’ve been on different forums on reddit, facebook where some people say they get good internet and do webinars, and others say it is very unreliable, as you said. for example, an acquaintance living in socorro said he does webinars and has no problem. he has an ethernet express connection. some people on the reddit group for goa have good experience with G Wave in south goa. so going by all these reports, my impression was that internet should be ok, particularly with ethernet express in north goa, hinterland villages like socorro or aldona or such places, which is where i thought i will shift to. do you think one should count your experience as one among the others, or is what you write based on a wider survey of different connections and different people’s experiences, etcetera?

Via a comment on Facebook.

Lemme respond to this one.

For this piece, I spoke to more than 20 people before writing this. I have got mixed feedback on the Internet. While it may work once you get it installed at your place (I would still not count on it), but when you are out on the road it will be a problem for sure! So that.

Update. 20 April 2021. I am told by people that have moved to Goa in recent times that the Internet troubles for them seem to be waning off. Higher demand from about 50-thousand odd “migrants” has made the Internet companies up their game. Phone connectivity remains a challenge though.

I haven’t been able to talk to any of those film companies that are in Goa to understand how they operate. Once I do, will update. Also, this sounds like such a simple problem to solve, and yet no one’s been able to figure this out!

One time I had to send an email and despite all my efforts, I could not find the Internet. Had to fire up a scooty and park on the roadside to get it done!

? Hat-tip – Do NOT move to Goa unless you know where you are going to get your internet from.

⏩ Then, commonplace, mundane things such as getting your computer (or even your ceiling) fan fixed are a hassle in Goa. Goa simply does not have enough handymen that do such specialized work. And the ones that are here, you need to court those like you court a romantic partner. No, you can’t bribe them with extra money. Easier is to become a handyman by yourself with such things.

Maybe a business opportunity? And lemme give you an example. I had to get a new charger for my laptop (a MacBook Air) and I just couldn’t find a shop around me that would have one. I had to order it on Amazon and wait for like 5 days before it came in.

⏩ I am told monsoons are bad for people who are not from here. The sea goes berserk, almost all the shacks (and restaurants) close down till around the end-August, the rains do not stop for days and wild-life (insects, bugs, frogs, crickets, enthu tourists et al) becomes a regular fixture. Most things that keep you engaged after work tend to shut down and the place leaves you with very little to do. No, I have NOT experienced these first hand – I have only come to Goa as a tourist during monsoons and have not lived here. 

Oh, power becomes even more erratic. Plus, apparently, there’s a big snake menace in Goa in the monsoons.

? Hat-tip – If you plan to be here around monsoons, get a raincoat. And a snake stick. Please. 

⏩ I must mention that Goa has a big mosquito menace and stray dog problem. There are way too many of these all across the state. The strays are not neutered and thus the population. I hate this the most about living in Goa. Of course, most people like to pet dogs and feed them and take care of them and all that. But not my scene. It sucks.

Here’s a “collection” of dogs in Goa.

Dogs of Goa (maybe, will start a page :D)

? Hat-tip – Invest in mosquito repellant sprays, incense sticks. And if not that, get ready to burn coconut shells or lemongrass sticks. And please carry a stick or something to shoo the stray dogs away.

⏩ As I end this, I have to say that unless you are a regular in the party circuit or you enjoy loud, upbeat music at all times, Goa might come off as intrusive after a while. Especially if you are in North Goa – it’s perpetually teeming with high-spirited tourists and party-goers at all hours. You’d find it hard to find a spot that you can take some quiet time off at. Even without the tourist season, every café and beach shack blare loud music tirelessly on their speakers all the time. At 7 AM, at the afternoon when the sun makes it unbearable to be in Goa, at 9 PM and even at 2 AM as the last of the tourists stumble back to their homes.

Ok that was a long list. Phew!

4. What all do you need to think about before you move here?

I call this The Move To Goa Decision Matrix. Lol!

There are quite a few important decisions you have to make if you are planning to work out of Goa for the long term. Here are some questions that you need to find answers to…

4A. North Goa v/s South Goa 

I touched upon this briefly in the introduction but one of the first things to decide is the part of Goa you want to live and work from. North. South. North East. Panjim. To be honest, the choice is yours and a lot of it depends on the kind of person you are.

If you are into a high-spirited life and you like other people around you, you ought to be in North Goa. I recommend North Goa. Really.

Within the North, you need to decide if you want to be around the water or away from it. Plus you would need to identify the part within North that has other people of your ilk. It is imperative. So much so that I will say it again. And make this bold.

In the South, while the beaches are nice and clean and secluded and all that, for someone that wants to work and chill after work, south is NOT the place. I know I will get hate emails on this.

Panjim is a lot cause. It’s a city. Rather live in Bangalore. Mumbai. Why would anyone live in Panjim? Really?

4B. Work from Home or Co-working Spaces?

I am the kinds that needs to step out of the house to work. Even when I am in Mumbai, I need to go to a Starbucks to work, if not a co-working space.

So in Goa, even though I have access to a fairly comfortable house (thanks to Rajesh Sir), I had to have a co-working space to work out of in Goa. And that’s the first thing I did once I moved here.

Similarly, you need to ask yourself if you are the kind to get work done from home. Or you need the ambiance and vibrance of a public place like a co-working space. Or even a cafe for that matter.

In fact, the cafe guys in Goa, in general, are very very kind and nice. They don’t bother you much, but the chairs are not comfortable. My back’s already arched like a bow!

More on co-working later in the piece.

4C. Does your work require video calls?

If your work requires a lot of video calls, PLEASE do know that the Internet is NOT reliable here. You WILL find yourself in a precarious position quite often. It gets embarrassing after a while. My team now knows that if they have planned for a video call, in all probability, I would be behind a grainy connection.

No, not even the co-working spaces I’ve been to offer a reliable connection (except the Design Centre at Porvorim and Clay on most days). Plus, at the co-working spaces, there are hardly any “telephone booths” where I could lock myself in a quiet chamber to take these video calls. I found the Delhi / Mumbai co-working etiquette missing here in Goa.

Update. 20 April 2021. Repeat. Internet seems to be getting better.

4D. What kind of work do you do?

I am a freelance writer (and editor), a marketing consultant, a podcast producer (and host), and an events producer. Most of my work is management, coordination, and working in isolation. Most of my data is on the cloud (and data gets synced when I get internet).

So, if you are like me, you’d probably get by. So, if you are a coder, designer, writer, photographer, etc. you would largely be ok. However, if you need constant, uninterrupted connection, you will be stuck. So if you are in support, extensive team management, or more, you’d find it tough.

So yes, in one line, remote work is possible in Goa but only for a select set of professions. I mean if Lucky Ali can live in Goa and release a damn new video on the Internet, who else would face the challenge?

Oh, and if you need gyaan on getting things done, Notes For Growth may be your answer.

4E. Some approximate numbers about expenses in Goa (aka Money)

In my limited experience, living in Goa is cheaper compared to living in Mumbai and Delhi. From what I know of friends and their expenses in Bangalore, Chennai, and Pune, Goa is comparable. I don’t know about Kolkatta and other metros.

In Goa, the best part is that you could be price or a pauper, you can find something that would suit your budget. You can get accommodation at Rs. 400 per night (at hostels) to Rs. 4 lakhs per night (at presidential suites) and everything in between. Of course, these two numbers don’t add any value.

So for comparison and context, you can rent a “good” 2 BHK house in Goa for about 20K a month in most of the areas where you’d want to live. I know people that pay 30K for a villa with a yard and three floors. And I know someone that pays 18K for a villa bang in the middle of the forest. And someone that pays 21K for a fully-furnished swanky 1BHK. And someone that pays 1.5 lakhs a month for a 3-bedroom. So that.

In terms of food, you can eat well for about 80 bucks per meal (at those Udipi joints), and then if you want to pay more, you are free to go to those fancy places, that are aplenty in Goa. My meals are at NickyM‘s and each meal is about 200. In case you go there, say that you are Saurabh’s friend and they would extend a 10% discount. Promise.

I did not pay an electricity bill. But I am told it’s about 500 bucks. I did not have an internet line at home but if you were to get it installed, you’d pay a one-time installation fee (most times this can be waived if you are taking a long-term connection) and your monthly bill would be in the 1500 ballpark. This would be enough to do video calls and stream Netflix. But reliability would remain a question.

Here’s a quick table.

GoaMumbaiDelhi
Rent for a “decent” 2BHK HouseRs. 25000*Rs. 55000Rs. 35000
InternetRs. 1500Rs. 1200Rs. 1000
A “regular” meal Rs. 80Rs. 100Rs. 80
Petrol per liter (as on 5 Feb 2021)Rs. 83.4Rs. 93.49Rs. 86.95
Utilities (electricity, help, water etc)Rs. 4000Rs. 6000Rs. 3000
A quick comparison on cost of living

*Update. 20 April 2021. This seems to have jumped all the way to 50K in the recent months even though we are staring at the fag-end of the “season”

So that.

If I’ve missed something, do ask me your questions and I’d try to respond to the best of my knowledge.

5. A guide to ‘living in Goa’ as you work from here

So in case you do decide to work from here, you need to start thinking about living here. And life here is kind of different from any other place I have lived at (Delhi, Gurgaon, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai). Here are some thoughts. Divided into sections.

5A. Accommodation

You have tons of options. So many that it’s impossible to capture those all. Here’s my attempt.

Hostels. Goa is probably the place in India that started the hostel experience revolution. From dorms to private rooms to entire apartments to gigantic villas to even forts. You can have your pick.

BnB. There are tons of people that have spare bedrooms and they let these out for long-term (and short-term) rentals. I am planning to do this myself! You can get to live with some interesting people here. How to find them? Well that’s a question even I don’t have an answer to. May be create a matchmaking service for people like that?

Co-Living. A better hostel, a lesser hotel. A communal living experience. You know, how you have in hostels in colleges? That. You create a community of doers and tinkerers and all that. Entry is via some gatekeeper (CAT score!) and each person has to behave and each person is responsible. I am thinking about this. Like a residency for creative people. Admission via gatekeeping. For people who are serious and not just flirting with the idea of moving to Goa. That. Let’s see.

PS: I am told Nomad Gao (not a typo) is a good option for people that like co-living. Though I haven’t been there.

Rental Houses. Simple. You know, like you’d rent out at other cities in India.

5B. Getting Around

No. You do NOT want to get a car here. You need a two-wheeler. A scooty. You can rent for a month-long lease at 4K kinds (negotiate hard). I pay 6K a month because I got it at a time when there were a lot of tourists.

? Hat-tip – PLEASE keep a litre of petrol in the boot of your scooty. Petrol Pumps are kinda sparse. And no, don’t buy from those road-side kiosks that sell petrol in upcycled bottles. They sell a mix of piss and water and turpentine oil that couldn’t keep a fire going for its life.

Some people prefer small cars (Tata Nano or Maruti Alto) but I still recommend a Scooty.

There are bike taxis (called pilots) that you can use. You can identify these with their yellow mudguards. But they have designated spots as pitstops and you can only hail them from there. Unless you are lucky and you can flag someone. Plus there is no rate card per se. so, it comes down to what you can negotiate with them.

If you do need a car, you can rent via GoaMiles (though local taxi operators hate this. They say it dents their earning. I say it makes them more accountable. One of those never easy to settle debates).

Or you could use local taxi guys. They are all over the place. Especially around popular tourist areas, famous restaurants, and other hotspots. You would spend a little more but you would be far more peaceful.

5C. Spending money

You need to use GPay a lot. Even though you may try to explain that Paytm, BHIM, and other apps also use UPI, people will insist on GPay. To a point that they would tether you to their wi-fi networks.

No, the credit cards don’t work. The ones that accept will do so reluctantly. And will charge you a 2% markup. Unless you are at a 5-star (in that case, you don’t need to read this guide!) or an establishment ran by someone who thinks longer than making money from tourists in just one season.

5D. After Work

After you are done with work, you have like a million things to do here. You can explore the wilderness, meet other creative kinds, other folks that are trying to find themselves hers. You can connect and network with the ones from your ilk. There are classes on everything from scuba to yoga to dance to cooking to marital arts to even brewing wine!

My favorite thing to do is go stare at the sea. Like this one.

From one of my walks after work.

? The best thing you can do? Find a co-living, co-working commune. I really want to create one. Does anyone want to partner up?

6. The ultimate comparison and guide of co-working spaces in Goa

This is something that most people seem to ask for. Lemme make a list of a few places and how I look at those. Some disclaimers…

  1. This will only include the places that I have personally been to.
  2. There are a few that I have heard a lot about but I haven’t been to. I have included them but have refrained from giving a comment.
  3. Plus there are some places that are not really co-working spaces but offer what you need for work. Including those here as well.

Before I dig in, the good part of almost all co-working spaces here is that there is good power backup. The bad part is that the Internet is not the best. Even with their leased lines. Oh, most of these offer a great vibe, have a brilliant community, and create so many opportunities to meet new people! So, when I look at a place to work from, I look at the following…

  • Facilities
    • Ambience (Have they put any love into putting the co-working space together?)
    • Internet (How fast, reliable is the internet connection?)
    • AC (I need AC if I have to even breathe. Even if I were in Antarctica, I’d ask for one!)
    • Seating (I need a comfortable chair and a table at the right height).
  • Community
    • What kind of people does the place attract? Hippies? Creative kinds? People whiling time and merely wanting to hang out? Etc.
  • Price
    • Money is money.
  • Services
    • FnB (Can I order food? Coffee? How good it?)
    • Restrooms (Clean?)
  • Misc
    • Access and accessibility (How far are they from civilization?)

So, here is a list of the pros and cons of various coworking spaces in Goa. I tried to embed the table here but I could not. 🙁

But if you are lazy, easy reference is…

  1. Design Centre (Porvorim – map) for undoubtedly the Best Internet in Goa. They charge 400 bucks for a day pass and 6000 for a month-long plan.
  2. Clay (Anjuna – maps) for the best community and vibe. They charge 500 bucks for a day pass and 10000 for a month-long plan.
  3. NickyM’s (Baga-Calangute – maps) for the best hospitality. This is more of a cafe. So there’s no commitment per se. But you’d want to keep the tab going. No?
  4. Royal Enfield Garage Cafe (Baga – maps) for the best view. However, this is also more of a cafe than a co-working place.

There are more that I have tried and worked out of. Here’s a long list. I’d leave you with a few shots from Clay (which is gorgeous, if you ask me).

And one from Royal Enfield Garage Cafe.

This is from Royal Enfield Garage Cafe in Baga. One of my favourite places to work from.

Do let me know what coworking you go to. And what you find interesting there. I will add it to the list.

7. Making the move…

So, now you know the goods and the bads of Goa. You know your work can happen from here. You know of the co-working spaces. What next?

Move here!

Let’s say you are ready to make the move. Now, how do you do it?

So, in easy steps…

  1. Come here for a month. To start with. It would help if you have a local contact. I am happy to be the contact, in case.
  2. Carry two different mobile phone connections. It’s a pain to get a Jio mobile phone connection here. The others (Vodafone, Airtel, etc) work when they feel like.
  3. Live at a touristy hot-spot so that everything that you may need is easily available. You may not like it. People may smirk at you. But please do this.
  4. Inform your work colleagues that your access and availability would be limited.
  5. Take a month-long acco (insist that it has a ready Internet connection – it would be tough to get it installed for just a month), preferably close to a co-working space (in case you need better connection, ambience, etc)
  6. Talk to others that do your kind of work (code, films, writing, etc) and identify a location that offers you access to others of your ilk. This will be important to get you to start feeling at home.
  7. Get a house for yourself. Insist on basic furnishing (unless you are rich) and get paperwork FOR sure. You would need it for things like mobile phone connections, Internet, etc.
  8. Get immersed with the locals and natives where you take your house. Even if you are an introvert. This will help you become a local and not just remain a tourist. This is the most common mistake migrants make when they move to Goa. They don’t mingle with the local community. You HAVE to. Especially in Goa.

That’s it I guess.

8. Miscellaneous info about working from Goa

This part has things that I could not fit in other places. While these may be minor, some people may want to know more about them before they make the move to Goa.

8A. Staying fit while in Goa

A lot of people I know are as anal about their health as they are about work or money or other things. In Goa, there are plenty of options for that. From long walks to running on the beach to yoga classes to even fancy gyms (aka fitness studios) to massage parlours to swimming to dance, you have it all here.

The best bet would be walk / jog on the beach. But do keep a stick handy for them strays.

8B. Safety in Goa

Beaches are more or less safe at almost all hours. Actually, Goa in general is safe when it comes to petty crime. I have been routinely leaving my helmet perched on the scooty and it is yet to go missing!

No that does not mean you let your guard down. Just keep your eyes and ears open and you’d be ok.

The cops are friendly, the locals keep to themselves, and the shack owners may want to fleece you with overpriced food but they want the beaches to be safe. They’ve understood that it’s in their long-term interest to offer safety.

Of course, there would be a few unscrupulous elements but that’s everywhere in the world. My rule of thumb is, give respect and you shall get it!

8C. Finding work in Goa

Let’s say you move here. And for some unfortunate reason, you cant continue with your work. What do you do? If you are like me that don’t have any sellable skills (writing, designing, singing, photography-ing, hustling et al), how do you find meaningful work?

Well, they say that Goa is like a village. Everyone knows everything about everyone else. And I have seen that in action! Numerous times. So much so that I am cursing myself for not knowing how to make connections at these villages. I suck at networking 🙁 You will need to find your place in this village to get work!

The best way to get work in Goa is through closed networks.

Some Facebook groups are very active and people from the community share all sorts of opportunities. I recommend Offbeat Goa. Do check it out. I know someone that knows the lady that started it. I have met her just once, that too for like 0.2 seconds and thus I don’t have a personal opinion per se. But If gossip is to be believed, she’s an incredible woman. #note2self: need to make friends with her.

In terms of the kind of businesses, there are film companies (famously, Anand Gandhi’s Memesys Lab), event agencies (C4E Goa :D), design companies, social media agencies, production labels, alco-bev companies, and more. And of course, there are traditional businesses like mining, shipping, trading, etc. And FMCG, auto, finance, etc. Of course restaurants, bars, shacks, etc. So, there are jobs for sure! Quite a few.

But then there are more takers than that. You’d have to work hard to land one. Really.

Plus salaries are a fraction of what you’d expect in places like Mumbai. So that.

Oh, a word of caution. If you have decided to move here for good and you can’t find the kind of work that you really want, please be a tad flexible. I’ve met writers that have become bartenders, guitarists that have become travel bloggers, event managers that are now chefs, and so on and so forth. You get the drift.

PS: I am considering if things don’t work out, I will probably run a cafe here. I hope I get enough to support all the bachchas that I have 🙂

8D. Medical Care

This is something that I found lacking here. Even though Goa has a few medical institutions like GMC and Manipal, I found even the first-aid kinda lagging. But again, luckily I haven’t had the need to go visit a doctor.

But if you have any medical conditions or young children or old parents, I will not recommend the move.

8E. Going back from Goa

In case things don’t work out and you have to move out from Goa, I am sorry that it did not work out. Here’s what you must do. In bullet points…

  • Take back cheap alcohol. Of course, there is a limit to the number of bottles you can carry back 😀
  • PLEASE do tell me why you’re going back. It will help me update this page.

So this it is. For the Ultimate Guide to Living in and Remote Working from Goa. Hope this was helpful and told you things that you already did not know.

9. In the end…

Some disclaimers

  • This comprehensive guide is from my experience of working remotely from Goa for 2 months. I work as a brand planner and marketer and gross generalizations are my bread and butter and I could be biased. So, read with a pinch of salt.
  • Plus, the way I look at things could be different from the way you look at em. So that!
  • For context, I am 38 40, M. Single, and no kids. So please be advised.

Credits

  • I am lucky that I know a few people that know Goa really well. Special mention to Nupura and Rajesh Sir. Both these are super-connectors and have helped me meet more people. These connections helped me get around fast and understand nuances better. Further, Rajesh Sir and VISCOMM allowed me to live at their home while I looked for more permanent accommodation. And Nupura chaperoned me around in the first few days and showed me around the “village”
  • NickyM‘s for the free Internet and the warmest hospitality I have experienced in all my travels across the world.
  • Riyanka for helping me with a draft of this one. She is among the best writers I know of. Do reach out to her if you need someone.
  • And everyone else that made me feel at home in Goa. And everyone that did otherwise.

Oh, if you come to Goa, say hi! If you need something fixed for you while you are here, lemme know. I know someone that probably knows someone 😉

And if this guide helps you make a decision, do let me know. I am very active on Twitter. And do tell me how to make this better!

Over and out.

P.S.: One more thing. Do point out any mistakes – factual or otherwise in the piece so that I can make this better.

Tweets vs Blogposts

Even when we are in 2020, why do I prefer blogging over tweets? As a creator, as a learner and as someone that wants to grow!

Hola! 

If you are a longtime reader of this blog (or blogs in general), you would know how blogging as a hobby has been sort of replaced by things like Instagram, tweets, and so on and so forth. Both in general and for me. And how blogging is now a lot more “content marketing” where companies pay peanuts to desk monkeys to churn out words that trap those search engine spiders logs. And how the “content” that is created does not really do anything good to any reader, even if they may want to read about that topic. And how there is so much content that it’s impossible to filter noise and signal; assuming you know what is signal for you! And how long-form writing by non-writers is dying a slow death? 

It’s sad that so many people sharing so many deeply personal anecdotes with so many strangers is all gone. I mean it’s now moved to Twitter and Instagram and all that. But I am not sure how many people are blessed with the talent to push their thoughts in mere 280 characters (or maybe 2200 for Insta). I, at least cant. Not that gifted. May be if I work hard on writing, I may learn the art of brevity? 

And this is why I have kept the blog alive. And this is why I love the idea of writing letters (come, be my pen pal?). And this is why I like the idea of journaling, diary entries, notes, etc. 

The thing is, a blog allows me to push my unfiltered thoughts, things I am thinking on, things I am working on, things I seek opinion on. And put those somewhere on the world wild web. For others to see and respond to and allow me to think better.

I miss those times when I’d be brimming with ideas about the blog posts that I’d want to write. I’d have a draft folder thicker than all the 7-8 Harry Potter books combined. And I’d look forward to publishing posts and wait with bated breath for that one rare comment that I would get once in a month or two. It was another level of exhilaration. Something that the Twitter generation would never know – after all, tweets are far faster to engage with 🙂

Anyhow. 

So, today, I am thinking about where do I want my content to go (this is what I’d do with my blog – write write write till I get tired; vomit out all my ideas, thoughts here; and since the blog is in the public domain, I’d try harder to put forth better arguments; and by the time I was done writing, I’d have some sort of clarity). Here is my attempt to think with my words. 

And, with that, here we go. In no order… 

1. Individual as a Media Company

In the times to come, unless you are a media company (even as an individual), you’d lose out. As a business, as an individual, as even a rock or a vegetable. Stories, media, content would help you stay relevant. 

You thus have to think like a media company and churn out content that is valuable and interesting and all that. 

2. 1000 True Fans

The entire idea of 1000 True Fans would be far far more relevant in the times to come. Creators (a word I used when I applied for Gumroad’s gig for customer service) would live lives that they want and will rely on patrons to support them with micro-transactions, micro-donations. And with time, you would see more and more people go down the creator route. We are already seeing the likes of Patreon, Onlyfans, etc allowing people to create economically sustainable lives. 

3. Writing

As someone who likes to straddle multiple things and at some point in time make an impact for a billion people, I need to be very very good with words. After all, words do move mountains. And these words will open doors for me, allow me to know more people, satiate my curiosity, and so on and so forth. 

In one word, my words will give me access. And thus I need to get more active and more aggressive with this! 

4. Text vs Pictures vs Video

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures. So, to improve the output by a 1000×1000, I need to pivot to doing videos at some point. Not sure though when.

PS: Thanks, Annkur for the nudge. Do tell me what would you want to see on a video from me. 

5. One, single, unified home for content

Right now, my content is scattered at multiple places – my own website, medium, blog, Mailchimp, tiny letter, substack, and more. And with each passing day, these platforms are only going to grow and more platforms would come in. And thus the content will scatter even more. 

And as a result, my patrons (and the ones I want to get access to) would probably not find what they are looking for! 

So I need to find a solution to this. May be I will use the website to showcase the best work and one blog destination to dump these thoughts? I don’t know yet. 

6. Tracks that people want to read about

Continuing with the scatteredness, it is no secret that I am a scatterbrain. My writing, output, and other things are spread too thin. I talk about marketing, entertainment, content, podcasts, entrepreneurship, writing, habits, notes, poker, and a million other things. 

And thus there is no way I can give a consistent experience to readers that are interested in just one genre. I mean if you are a filmmaker, you may want to read what I had to write about The Trial of the Chicago 7 but why would you read about how I refuse to have a kitchen at my home? Or that walking barefoot is the thing you need to practice but living in a city like Mumbai, it’s literally impossible! 

So once I know what and how and where all I am writing, there has to be a way for people to identify “tracks” they want to consume and they must be able to go down that path easily. For example, when you are subscribing to newsletters on those large websites, you have an option of subscribing to certain sections (kind of content) and receive updates from only that section, that track. I will have to implement that! 

7. Twitter

Lemme talk about Twitter. The thing that got me down this path! 

The thing with the tweet is, even though there is a permalink of the tweet per se, to me, a tweet looks and feels ephemeral. It is something that’s hanging in the air. I’d love to change it and have a more solid, permanent, tangible link. Like a URL to a website. A website feels a lot more solid to me. Oh, by the way, the public URLs that I host on my own website on? They are tough to pull off – I keep trashing my website every now and then and I start from scratch! I need to fix this. 

Plus, while most of my greatest connections have come via Twitter, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that it’s the primary destination where I create content. It can at best be a distribution platform. And heck, it’s a powerful destination! No? 

8. Writing to pay your bills

Making money and pivoting to being a writer! This is a big one. And this is what I am most conflicted about. 

The thing is, I’d love to be on substack or Patreon or something because I like the idea of monetizing my audience, my true fans. Even though I do NOT write with the intention of making money off my writing, I have been told by at least one person (thanks, Krishna!) that he is happy to pay me for what I write. Apparently, it adds value to his life. And that to me is music. 

For two reasons. A, I add value. The reason I even write in the first place. And B, people find it valuable enough to pay! 

So, if I can get 1000 people like Krishna, I’ll be free from the rigmarole of holding onto a steady job! And I can potentially take a step in the direction where I won’t have to work for others. And spend my life like a dog chasing cards – in random pursuits, where the chase itself is a reward! 

Of course, once I start seeking money for what I write, I need to not get sucked into this honeytrap and go down the desk-monkey route. 

The other thing that I am sure of is that I do not want to “profiteer” by sharing things I know. Whatever little I know, I know those because I have had generous people who were kind to me and shared things with me without expecting anything in return. And it is not right for me to profiteer when I myself haven’t paid for those! So that!

A big part of me thus does not want to charge at all. May be I’ll accept donations? I can ask people to donate whatever they deem is ok. But then, while I go with the pay what you go model, do I want to guilt-trip people into paying? Dunno. 

And if and when I do go the monetization path (in whatever shape or format), I need to decide how do I do it. With Patreon? Substack? Stripe? Ideally, I’d love to have a button or something (may be stripe connection to WordPress) on my own website. Let’s see. 

Sigh! You see the conflict? 

9. Accountability.

This is a big one. Right now, I write things as and when I feel like. There is no structure, no predictable cadence, no topic, no accountability. But once I decide that I want to be a writer for hire, I would have to be a lot more accountable. Someone said it right that a predictable routine is one of the secrets behind a free, wild, flowing, interesting life – the kind that gives you experiences that you long for. And the experiences that can shape you into a better man! 

So, I need to probably pull them socks up and get to a routine. For what I write, even if it’s across genres and all that. No?

***

So yeah, these things. 

What started as a rant, a comparison between tweets and blog posts has become a tome that I am not sure who would read. 

I will decide over the next few days and I will of course keep you guys posted. Till then, it’s over and out! 

Personal Branding 101

9 Lessons and Tips in Personal Branding for modern knowledge workers, especially as work becomes more distributed and remote!

Personal Branding 101

Hello!

In this tome, I will talk about lessons I learned from a conversation with Ashish Kila (a friend from MDI) on personal branding. When I showed him a draft of this one, he said that this is more of Networking 101. I disagree and I think I will let you decide. 

A quick intro to Ashish Kila (AK)


AK manages Perfect Group and apart from all the fabulous work around value investing and the impact he has had on his community, he has worked really hard on his personal brand to improve his network. He has ensured that the right kind of people know him for the right kind of things. I mean talk to anyone from the world of value investing and there are odds that they would have heard about him if they aren’t friends with him already! 

So, as a practitioner and student of branding and marketing, I sat with him and tried to decode how he’s done this.

Before I launch into what he said, some disclaimers… 

  • This is based on my notes from the meeting that went like a whirlwind. AK had so much to share and I had so little speed with my scribbles and notes. So I may have missed a lot of what he said. I may have also attributed things to him that he may not have said. AK, I am sorry for this. 
  • I am presenting the conversation as a set of “lessons”. AK did not make this classification into lessons per se. 
  • These “lessons” are in a specific order – each lesson builds on the subsequent one! 

Wait.

What is a personal brand? 

If I am going to post this 2000-word tome on how to build one, I better define it. 
Your personal brand is nothing but the sum total of your reputation, the value of your word, the experiences that people have had with you, the after-taste they are left with after they meet you, the kind of work you do (quality, quantity, timeliness, etc) and more such things. 

And why is personal branding important?

Well, the information economy we live in, every opportunity that comes to you comes because of your personal brand. 

Gone are the days when people would look for the absolute best person to do a gig. Sounds counter-intuitive but clients these days would rather work with a reliable person. And not with someone they don’t know, even if that person is THE best ever. 

So, unless you are like furniture in your workplace, you will need to work on and cultivate your brand. 

And, without further ado, here are the lessons! 

1️⃣ Lesson 1.
If you are an entrepreneur just starting out, you are the face of your brand! And rather than investing in a brand for your company, work on building your personal brand and you’d notice that it would rub off onto your business! 

In AK’s case, post his MBA, he joined the business that his father started decades ago. When AK started working with his father, as the cliche goes, he was fresh out of the boat and he had to work hard to create his brand in the value investing world. And of course, with time, that has helped the brand Perfect Group. 

This is probably the biggest lesson for me. Even though I am a marketer for hire, I have remained behind a veil all my life. If I want my business to flourish, I need to be out there a lot more. After all, I am the biggest advocate of my business! I thus need to work hard on my personal brand and that means work on content and appearances (and heck, even put my photo out there).

2️⃣ Lesson 2.
Identify themes that you wish to be identified with.

Malala – Women’s rights
Bill Gates – Software, Global health
Piyush Pandey – mustache, advertising 
Ranveer Singh – irreverence
Sanjay Bakshi – value investing 

Get the drift? 

And EACH thing you do MUST be a part of that one theme. And the theme must be so simple that a 5-year old must be able to understand that. 

An easy way to think about themes is to think about the hashtags that you would want to be identified for. 

Lemme elaborate on AK. He clearly stands for three things, IMHO. Value investing, Community, and Leadership. Each thing he does – teaching, mentoring, masterclasses, tweets, blog posts, etc serves one of those themes. 

If you are someone like me that chases multiple things, pick and choose three hashtags that you could stand for!

And here is a question for you. What are your themes? 

For me, all my life, I have taken pride in being a Jack of all trades and thus have remained all over the place when it comes to my personal brand. I met a friend the other day and he said that no one knows for sure what I do! But now, after this session, it will change. I will stand for creative entrepreneurship, startups, and impact. Yes, these are fuzzy. I need to work hard on my brand. Will evolve with time. 

3️⃣ Lesson 3.
Add value. 
Each thing you do MUST add value. If you can not add value, forget about trying to build a personal brand / network.

AK is known so wide and far because he is out there helping others, connecting them, gifting them books (relevant I must add), being of use. And tangible use at that. There are enough and more armchair activists. A conversation with AK adds real value. To a point that I’d be happy to pay him. 

If you want a network / brand, you MUST add value. Around the themes that you want to be known for! 

4️⃣ Lesson 4.
Create content. 
One easy way to add value is to create content. This could be a blog post, a podcast, an interview, a well thought out tweet, or a simple link that allows your followers to derive value from.

Content is like compounding. It takes consistent effort over the long-term to see the tsunami of results. 
And like compounding, sooner you start larger the results.
Like compounding, start with a bang! Start big. Let the law of numbers work for you! You can’t expect to do tiny things if you want an enormous impact. 

Oh, and each piece of content must have a well-planned distribution strategy. It is no longer enough to just churn out valuable pieces. You need to take them to places where your audience is! 

A simple and powerful tip that AK gave me? Find a publication that has a wider reach than you. And write for them. I am on it. 

5️⃣ Lesson 5.
What you do on SM is important! 
On Social Media, most people (apart from your friends and family) follow you because they get to learn from you. And what you post adds value. 

So, each piece that you put on SM, it has to add value. And it has to be a part of the theme that you wish to be known for. 

Oh, please stay authentic. And while you are being authentic, please ensure that your content is relevant for your audience.

6️⃣ Lesson 6.
When in Rome…
What he means is that you need to tweak your content and appearance and message and conversations for the Social Media channel you are on. A tweet is different from a FB post and is different from a LinkedIn conversation. And so on and so forth. Most of us are guilty of trying to fit the same thing at all places. I commit an even greater sin – I am inactive on most channels apart from Twitter. 

So, identify the channels you want to be on.
Create things that would do well on those channels.
In a format that will get the most relevant eyeballs (most relevant; not just most).  

7️⃣ Lesson 7.
Engage engage engage! 
Identify key people in your domain.
Look at various channels that you think your target audience is on.
And engage with them.
And ensure that EACH engagement adds value.

Also, the channel could also mean things beyond the Internet. For his community work, AK has to take out hours to be present at community meetups, industry forums, and whatnot. Yes, there is life beyond the Internet. 

So, engage. At the place where your audience is! 

I do this but I am yet to see the results. I am largely on twitter and I’ve made lists of marketers that I like and respect and I try to engage with them. May be I don’t add enough value? May be I need to tweak my filters? 

8️⃣ Lesson 8.
Jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai. 
Anyone from India would know of this adage. Translated in English, means whatever is visible, will sell. 

So, get out there and seek out opportunities around your personal brand. And ensure that the word is out there.

Yes, it is time-consuming.
Yes, it’s a lot of effort.
Yes, there are hardly any tangible outcomes. 
Who said it was going to be easy? 

A Network / Personal Brand takes a lot of work to cultivate. AK has invested a lot of time and effort into it. What we see right now is an outcome of hard and consistent work that he has put in over the last so many years! 

9️⃣ Lesson 9.
Use technology to your advantage. 
AK mentioned that he uses Whatsapp broadcast lists to share relevant things with relevant people. He also mentioned that he takes copious notes on each person, each meeting. He knows where to slot who. He knows what will move who. He knows who to reach out to when he needs help with a certain thing.

It is such a simple and yet powerful idea. While I am pretty adept with tech, I think I need to learn this. 

***

To be honest, when I was meeting AK, I did not expect to learn so much about networking & personal branding from a “financial brain” but guess that’s how life is – hits you from unexpected places when you are off-guard. 

Also, AK has kindly agreed to help the readers of this letter! Please do reach out to him. He is on every platform you imagine 🙂 

Also, apart from these 9 things, some other notes that I took that I can’t seem to slot into a lesson are… 

  • Think long-term. The long term is 10 years. Not 10 days. 
  • Iterate. Tweak. Experiment. There is no formula for what works. What works for AK may not work for you. And vice versa. Some people are plain lucky. But you will have to put in serious time and effort to be able to do this. 
  • Students are your best bet when you want to get feedback on things fast. They are smarter than you (like all newer generations than you) and they have zero context. Thus they are fearless and can question the very tenets that you stand for. The lesson I am taking away is that I will approach all colleges around me and try to be their marketing SPOC and challenge my understanding of the discipline.  
  • Testimonials. Videos. AK is a big advocate of this. Even though report after report pointing that video is what people consume more than anything else, I have my reservations. I will let you decide.
  • A great rule of thumb is that assume EVERYthing you put out on SM will end up on your CV for your prospective clients / employees / partners / colleagues to see and dissect. 

So, yeah.
That’s about it.
What are some of your “tips” for building networks / personal brands?  

And like I asked you in the beginning, I think this is a piece on personal brands. AK thinks this is more apt for networking. What do you think? 


Saurabh Garg
Met AK and wrote this in Sep 2019

PS: One more thing. 
Plant seeds. 

AK did not really give out this advice but it occurred to me while I was talking to him. 
Planting seeds is to seed opportunities that have the potential to grow. 

Lemme give an example to further illustrate this. 
Even when you know that a certain conversation will not lead to your personal brand, please engage. Plant that seed. Let the world know. And then let that grow. Create opportunities. Wait till you get lucky. Law of numbers. Create chances so that serendipity strikes you. Say hello to that poor fellow who’s got the middle seat and is jealous of your window / aisle seat. 

This post, for example, has nothing to do with the themes that I wish to be known for. And yet I am putting in time (took me about 2 hours – yes I am slow) to write this. I am planting this seed. This will hopefully make me known a tad more. This will probably get a larger audience than my SM presence can ever get.

Originally posted to the subscribers of my weekly newsletter, Shoulders of Giants. Subscribe to it here

Note Taking 101 for 2020 and beyond

A 3000-word guide on how to take notes that work for you!

Context. A couple of days, a friend asked me how I take notes and while I was giving him gyaan on that, I realized, I could write a piece on it! So, here we are.

PS: In SoG 40, sent in Dec 2018, I wrote about how I take notes for the first time. And 18 months on, most of the process has remained the same! Except that Evernote has been replaced by Roam. And that one tool has allowed me to streamline my process far better. Let’s dig in!

So, how to take notes that actually work!
I am dividing this piece into various parts. These are the philosophy, tools required, the actual process of taking notes, and more.

Read on.

A. My philosophy of taking notes

This is going to be the longest part!
Lemme start with a simple question.
So, why do you take notes?
Easy peasy.
Note-taking aids in learning better. See this free course and do it if you haven’t.

Thing is, the act of storing information helps create neural networks in the head that moves things from your temporary memory to long-term memory. Plus, I have observed that if I write things in my handwriting, the brain tends to make stronger associations and I can remember things for longer.

And of course, you want to save information and data and notes and tidbits and all that, that you think can come in handy as you go along! You know, sometime in the future?

Lemme give an example.

Imagine you and I worked on a start-up idea 2 years ago and we made elaborate notes on it, including sketches and all that. Now, after 2 years, suddenly, somehow, for an important work presentation, you need to refer to some charts from that idea. Of course, you remember making some notes! But for your life, you can’t find the piece of paper (or the notepad) that you took those notes on! You see, back then you spent hours on those notes, and now that you cant find em, they are worthless!

So, the notes you take must be taken in a way that allows you to retrieve those notes FAST.
THIS IS THE CORE OF HOW I TAKE NOTES and you must too!
Repeat. I MUST BE ABLE TO RETRIEVE NOTES.

And the process of retrieval MUST allow for serendipitous connections to happen. This serendipity is what makes us humans better than other living things. You know, how you often get some of your best ideas when you are thinking of something different altogether! It happens because deep down at the synapse level, your brain has made some connection between those things!

Lemme give another example, to give gyaan to my friend when I was looking for my notes on #noteTaking, I realized that I had actually written an entire SoG on #noteTaking and this could be a good time to do a redux. And thus, this SoG! I also “remembered” the Coursera course on learning that I have linked above. It also made me stumble upon the painful memories of how my ex-girlfriend managed her closet (will talk about it in a bit).

So, repeat. A great note-taking system MUST allow for serendipity!

A1 – Your notes as your wardrobe!
Think of taking notes as your wardrobe. While wardrobes and the management are personal to people, I think there are the following approaches that most people can be slotted into…

A1.1 My ex-girlfriends’ method.
She would dump all her clothes in a pile in the almirah. In no order. To make matters worse, she had three different almirahs at three different places in the house where she would store clothes. Which to her worked because, in her head, she had all her clothes in one of the three predictable, known places.

But when we had to go to a party, she would have a hard time finding her party dress (yeah, she had one favorite dress). And to find that dress, she will empty all the three almirahs. And more often than not, she wouldn’t be able to find her dress and make do with something that is easily accessible.

Most people take notes like this. They save things in an un-orderly manner. At multiple places. With multiple methodologies. With no means to retrieve. And when they need to revisit those, they do not know how to find the notes they want!

Plus, because they are looking for a specific dress (aka note), they ignore other great dresses (or notes) that could prove to be better at that time! You know, serendipity?

So, notes must allow for the retrieval and help bring to surface seemingly unrelated connections!

A1.2 A shopkeeper’s method.
Imagine walking to a store that sells clothes. You tell him that you want a shirt in Salmon Pink color. He’d ask you your size and in less than 1 second he’d pull out a piece of the exact color and size that you asked for. If you then told him that you wanted a Baby Pink or a Rose Pink or a Blush Pink or some other minor variant of Pink, he’d find it as fast as you can rattle of the color name. Aren’t you amazed at their speed / system etc? They organize things so neatly that you can use their shelves for ASMR meditation! Imagine ASMR and notetaking in one piece! Serendipity!

So, how do they do it?
Well, every time they get new stock, they either stack the inventory neatly (which takes a lot of time) but makes the retrieval fast and easy. After all, you need to serve the customer fast!

Some people take notes like that and it is super! Except, all the time you invest in taking notes is essentially sunk, and more often than not, you do not need all notes that you take!

Lesson? Note-taking must be reasonably quick!

A1.3 The Sheldon method.
You know Sheldon Cooper? He is so predictable and so orderly that there is no room for adding newer things. I mean his closet would probably be arranged by days or color or even by superheroes. It works great for him but may not work for you and me. Look at him arranging Howard’s closet!

Plus, it would leave no room for serendipity!

A1.4. My best friend’s method.
So, he is somewhat like Sheldon and somewhat like a shopkeeper. So, he has these 4 different closets, each with multiple shelves. In one he puts all his shirts, in other, he puts all the tees, and then in yet another, he puts his pants. So across these 25 shelves in those 4 almirahs, he’s spread his clothes methodically.

This is great but when he has to dress up, he needs to go to each closet and each shelf and then decide. This does two things. He misses some great combinations that he can wear if he could see all his wardrobe at the same place at the same time. Plus he takes time!

This walled-garden worked well for boring people that wear predictable patterns and combinations. But if you want to get crazy and do new things, this may not work.

Think of how you organize your files in folders and sub-folders and then further nested folders. You bury the files so deep that it’s literally impossible to look at multiple files at the same time. The method worked great to hide porn when we were kids. But now that life has little more meaning, this nested folder approach just won’t cut. No?

So, you need to be able to see your notes in toto and they can’t be buried under structures and all that.

Here’s a quick / dirty way of visualizing these…

So, like closets are personal, note-taking is personal. And you need to find the approach that you like. Just that you need to stick to the five principles. Your notes…

  • must allow you to remember (aka retain) better
  • must be reasonably fast to take
  • must be easy and fast to retrieve
  • must allow for serendipitous connections
  • must make zoom-in and zoom-out possible with reasonable speed

B. Tools that I use to take notes

So, now that we have established the philosophy and principles, here are tools that I use to take notes…

B1. I use a physical, old-school notepad to record everything that I come across. Nothing is missed. Even the pauses that people take while talking gets into my notepad!

B2. I use Roam (been on it for about 3 months) where I transcribe everything that I initially put on the notepad. Before I had access to Roam, I used a combination of things like Evernote, Asana, The Brain, Google Sheet, and even my EA for that matter!

B3. Web-based clippers like Wordbrain Memex etc that automatically save all that I browse / see etc. This allows for a quick search on the pages that I may have visited but not found good enough to be saved.

B4. I have enabled all history on all websites that I use – things like Google, Twitter, location data, auto-completes, etc etc. Thing is, I am one of those that believes that privacy on the Internet is a myth. I may try whatever I wish to, someone out there would have access to my data and would target me with ads! So, stop trying!

Before we jump to the process, please allow me to submit that as long as you know what’s your note-taking philosophy and the reason why you take notes, tools are not important. Tools, like other things, will evolve with time and you can not become a slave to a tool!

C. The process I follow to take notes

The holy grail! The meat. The crux. The reason why you are here!

The process has largely remained the same since the original piece. The tools may have changed! So, the process is…

C1. Use tags extensively.
For EVERYTHING.
Every piece of data that you save (called a block in Roam) has to have a tag. Think of a tag like a connection to the world. A note without a tag will get lost. There is no way to navigate to it. And more tags a note has, better it is!

For example, if I am listening to a conversation between screenwriters, I would use tags like screenwriting, filmmaking, sgInterests, creativity, name 1, name 2, and so on and so forth. Often I have more tags than the actual piece of information.

Now imagine I am brushing my teeth with Colgate, that is endorsed by Sonam Kapoor that worked in a film scripted by a person that I saw the talk in the instance above unless I use tags and links, I would never be able to connect my daily chore to writing for films! Ok, shitty example. But I guess you get the drift!

Thing is, you have to make sure that the tags are consistent across all your tools! This is the linchpin on which great notetaking rests. Tags allow you to link notes to each other. Tags allow you to zoom-in and yet zoom out. Tags allow you to find meaningful and often, meaningless connections.

More on this in C3.

C2. Use your hands!
I take pen-paper notes as much as possible. If I am not sleeping, I have a notepad within an arms reach. Even if I am walking or something. And then I digitize these notes. Back then I wrote that if I am on a date, even then, I have a notepad on me. That has changed :D.

When I first wrote about taking notes, I wrote about how I write (bullets, index, etc). But after almost 18 months of sustained use, I have realized that I have stopped following any particular template. So, I’ll skip it.

For times when I can’t carry a notepad, I use blank visiting cards. I’ve also sort of spewed them all over my house. See this thread. If I am walking, I cant take a note per se. But I have these cards. If I am watching TV and the notepad is not around, these visiting cards are right next to me.

C3. When on a computer?
If I am on the computer, I use Google Chrome (even though its slow af) and use things like Pocket Web Clipper, Memex, Pinterest button, Feedly, Google’s Keep, and so on, and so forth. A quick glance at my extensions tells me that I have more than 50 active extensions on Chrome, most of those manage tabs or history! Most people would scoff at this but I really like to capture all that I can.

In my emails, I have tools like Hubspot active to archive those.

Plus when I am reading on the computer (or seeing videos or something), I keep Roam open in a tab and I keep dumping links, thoughts, etc in it.

And, on a day to day basis, in no order, I use the following tags in Roam to archive notes / information…

  • whatIRead – I keep a list of things I read. I add my notes on those, add links and tags. For example, for this Bloomberg story about Ambani’s, I have tagged it as Mukesh Ambani, #sg5stars (a tag I use for best of the things I come across). The things I read, I often write #sgTLDR – a short summary of what I read.
  • People – like a CRM, I take notes of calls made, things that I did, etc. Of course, I can’t capture everything but I try to get the most of it. For example, today I had 6 conversations that were worth saving for later. This does not include conversations with friends, family, etc. And neither do these include inane chats.
  • toDo – things that I need to do during the day. The ones I do, I mark them as #sgDone
  • sgThoughts – ideas, thoughts, and other things that I don’t have tags for. I often club this with #parkedIdeas, #toWrite, #currentThings etc.

There is more. But tagging is like wardrobing. You need to find a system that works for you.

C4. The phone is not an office tool!
Call me old-school but I do NOT consider the phone an office or a productivity tool. I do not check my mail on the phone. I do not read on the phone. I do not use the phone to learn by watching videos etc. The only thing I use it for is podcasts. I want to stop even the podcasts but I don’t know an answer right now.

Phone to me is communication, entertainment, navigation, and payments device.

If there is something that I see on the phone that needs saving, I send it to myself on a WhatsApp group that has just me on it. And then I log in to a computer and then copy-paste it in the right place. If its a tweet, I “like” it and it gets saved in my Pocket. If its a LinkedIn update, I “share” it on the WhatsApp group that I have with myself. Ditto for videos. I tried taking notes on Notepad in the phone but I kept forgetting about those – like I said, unless I write things with hand or put tags onto them, I don’t consider those as “notes”.

C5. Digitize all hand-written notes and compile them in one place!
I compile all information from all sources and dump it on Roam. Like I said, I do not dump anything without the tags that I spoke about earlier. Repeat. Tagging is the cornerstone of great notes. Plus the double-linking in Roam allows me to find connections between things that I did not know existed!

So, I digitize things that are not automatically in Roam.

The sifting and sorting of things from digital sources is easy (copy-paste and some manual processing using Google Sheets). People like Tiago recommend that we use automation looks like Zapier and IFTTT etc to get things into one common repository. I like the idea but I can’t afford the monthly, recurring payments for those tools as yet. You may want to try. And you MUST read this piece by Tiago on note-taking and listen to this conversation between him and Perrell. Both are long but both are good!

The tougher part is digitizing notes that I have scribbled with my terrible handwriting!

When I got started on this PKM journey, I’d do it every day but now I do it once a week. This does two things. When I revisit things after, say, 3 days, I am reminded of things that I would otherwise forget. And second, once I set time away for this information management, I get to do deep work with on it. You know, without distractions.

Oh, I still use help from my EA on transcribing some of the notes. Though I am trying to do less and less of it. I have realized that the act of transcribing helps with retention and serendipity.

C6. Assign tasks to action items.
Everything needs to be actioned goes into Asana. Again, I maintain those tags that I have used on my Roam.

That’s it.

D. How do my notes help?

So, I had to write this piece on note-taking. I ran a quick search in my Roam (and nowhere else). I found that I’ve written about note-taking a bit and the search throws references to Tiago Forte (have included already), Andy Matuschak (skipping it for the time being), Zettelkasten (the principle on which Roam is based), and the fact that I wish to be a super-connector and a quote from Bill Gates about notes. And other things things that I don’t want to publish here. Without the notes, I wouldn’t have known that all these are connected. So, there is serendipity for sure.

Here is how my notes look like. The faint blue lines are things that are connected to #noteTaking in my Roam!

Second, this act of writing this piece (about 3500 words) took me less than 2 hours. I wrote the entire piece with the help of just the Roam. I did not have to open another webpage (except for referring to the old SoG, making the cover image for the post and finding a youtube link for Sheldon’s sorting thing). So, there is the ease of retrieval for sure. And it’s fast!

Third, since I have started to use Roam, I now have a large repository of notes. This is growing larger by the day! This means that every time I have to refer to something (for a meeting, a project, or something), I just glance at my notes and I am ready. Yay!

Finally, I must say, a note-taking system is as good as the number of notes in it and the tacit connections that you can draw from that. This is the second linchpin of the note-taking system (apart from tags). You need to thus spend time on it. There is a learning curve but once you are over it, you will NOT go back. In fact, there is this entire school of thought emerging in the PKM circles where they compare taking (and maintaining) notes to digital gardening (you know how gardening requires a lot of work initially and then it gives you this beautiful garden that requires tad less maintenance? That! See tweets from my list of digital gardening geeks!

E. Finally, a word of caution

Do NOT let these notes become the end goal in itself. Notes and note-taking is your slave that you must use to become better. Not the other way around.

A great note-taking system can be one of the differences between you reaching the peak, vs you almost reaching there! If you do not have one, may be its time to start implementing one!

And here’s an offer. If you want to put in place a note-taking system for youself, I would love to help. Lemme know and let’s do this 🙂

That’s about it for the time being. Over and out.


Wrote this originally for SOG (original at SoGv4-10). Should you want to receive the weekly SoG’s in your mailbox, sign up here.