So, I met a couple of friends from MDI for dinner over the weekend. While bantering, one of them said that the time at MDI was not the best phase of her life.
To me, this came as a shocker. For multiple reasons.
For starters, I couldn’t relate to what she said. I mean at least for me, I sincerely believe that the most glorious period of my life was at MDI. I had a ball while I was there. My worldview expanded. I found the teachers that I never had before MDI. I made friends that hopefully would last me a lifetime. I learnt that I was capable of more. The ambitious young boy in me turned into a man that wanted to win the world (yet to do so, tbh).
In fact, the best things in my life came from MDI. Every milestone in my life can be traced back to an event, a thing at MDI.
Here are some. My first real job came from MDI (campus placement of course). The job that changed my life (made me travel the world) came to me because of the MDI alumni network (Suvi, Gravity). The only book I wrote happened because the publisher is from MDI. My first short film (as a producer) could happen because a friend from MDI connected me with the director (Anshul). Heck, my company is called C4E and the name came from the game I played at all hours at MDI (Counter-Strike). The house I live in (and dont pay the rent of) is of a friend I made at MDI. The top 5 3 people I will call when in trouble are from MDI. My agony aunt (and mentor and client and all that) is from MDI. The work I do, a lot of it comes to me because of connections I made at MDI. A couple of business partners (most notably the Podium) came from MDI. The investment vehicle I want to create is with friends from MDI. I went to the Everest Base Camp only because a friend from MDI egged me on and lead me there. The only child I am emotionally close to is an MDI friend’s daughter (who painfully is growing fast and discovering her own world, which I may or may not be a part of).
I can continue to write about other insignificant things but I can not ignore the MDI connection. The impact that MDI Gurgoan has had on my life is immeasurable. If not for MDI, I would be a far different person (not sure if I would have been worse or better) but you simply can’t take away MDI from my life.
While I do understand that she may not feel as strongly for MDI as she has a lot going for her – professional success, a family of her own, holidays and all that. In comparison, I have built a single thing that is larger than the MDI stamp on my CV. If I were to die tomorrow, my epitaph would be painfully empty and the historians would find nothing on my CV that’s worth talking about. But a diploma from MDI. And that speaks a lot. And probably this explains the stark difference in our (her and mine) perspectives towards MDI.
I do understand that she may be talking about the two years that we spent on campus. Even on that count, on a day-to-day basis, living at the MDI hostel was among the best of times. We did not have the comforts that we seek, especially at the age of 40, but we did have hope. We had camaraderie. Not one day was drab!
And no, I am not dissing all the things I’ve had or done. Just that none of those has had an impact closer to what MDI has had on me. And I suspect a lot of others.
So yeah. That’s it.
When my friend told me that MDI wasn’t the best time for her, I was surprised. I simply assumed that everyone from MDI would rate their time at MDI as the grandest and largest.
A summary of how I spent yesterday and things that I am thinking about.
7:52. I woke up a few minutes ago. Yesterday was tiring (walked 20K steps). And hard on stomach (ate like a pig coming out of a famine). And very hard on work. Apart from morning pages, I did not even switch on the laptop (a rare thing, considering how busy I am).
Lemme recap the day.
Went on a hike with a few friends to Kokanipada Waterfall (here). Been there a couple of times before this. This time we went without a guide to show us the way. A lot of guesswork, a lot of asking around, and with some luck, we managed to reach the waterfall. I realized that I can do these less strenuous hikes without breaking too much sweat. Which is a good thing. Need to prepare for the EBC. I have just about 2 months to go 😀
Then we got together at a friend’s place to catch up. And to say goodbye to a friend who’s moving out of Mumbai. No no, he’s not going back to his “gaon” cos of the issues with the lockdown. His family has an opportunity at another place and thus the move. Guess this is what life is. People move as and when they get opportunities. I hope wherever he goes, he remains happy and continues to learn and grow.
Played some poker. Miss the feeling of being on a poker table. And guessing and second-guessing and all that. Must start with it soon. Just that it takes away a lot of time and I need to find a way to make time.
Then met another friend that I did my MBA with. This one after I think 3 years. Again, caught up with life and work and all that. Looked at some pictures from the good times we’ve had in the past. Reminisced about the past.
And then I came back. The ear continued (and continues) to hurt. I continue to refuse to go to a doc. I eventually slept.
And here we are. Morning after. And here are some thoughts that have lingered since yesterday. I haven’t been able to think deeply about. Let’s see what comes out as I write those.
A. I can’t seem to hold attention in a room full of people. Not that I want to be the center of attraction per se but I like the idea of getting people together. I am not sure what’s the grand plan of this universe but I know that people talking to people and spending a relaxed time with each other is what makes life wonderful.
B. The idea of giving away time to make ends meet is not a good one. I need to find ways and means to not be this occupied. I mean I’ve had times and opportunities when I was in a projects business (you know, you’re busy for a long time and then you’re jobless) and I think that works the best for me. This entire idea of always-on work is not my scene. I need to find a way to get out of this.
Also, this has been a recurring thought in my head for the last few days. No, I am not complaining about money or work here. I am grateful that I have it. The issue is that I like the idea of idle time where I can daydream, plan, think, ideate, wander, and all that. This idle time is when I cultivate relationships, meet people, and all that. And this cultivation is what helps me stay sane.
C. I am conflicted. On one side, I want to meet friends, new people, strangers, and more. Even if conversations with those are fleeting. I love spending time with them. On the other, I like the idea of seclusion and staying by myself.
So that. I don’t know what I really am. You know, from the inside. I haven’t been able to think deeply about this. Maybe this is what I need to ponder upon next time I meditate. Let’s see.
D. I am still mindful about not letting too many negative emotions run through my system. And thus this blog. No, I am not hiding anything from anyone. Just that I am trying to acknowledge the negatives and focus on the positives.
So that. A lot to think about, munch on. Let’s see how it goes. Will do this over the next few days. For the time being, here’s streaks.
A note on my scattered-ness and a dump of things in my head.
8 AM. Starbucks Worli.
This trip to Mumbai, I am having a bit of a bad run. Busy more than bad. I am so busy with work that I don’t have time to do anything at all. And old age is not helping. I get tired easily and I need those 7 hours of sleep. The house continues to be a mess. Ok. This is beginning to look like a rant. Lemme not do this.
Back to morning pages.
So, I am at Worli right now. I have a meeting at 1030 and to avoid traffic, I came in early and have parked myself at this Starbucks. I can do whatever in life but I can NOT get stuck in traffic. It takes my soul away like mad. So, Starbucks.
I am kinda scattered in my head right now. I don’t know what to do or write. There are way too many thoughts in my head. This is the first time am feeling scattered and overwhelmed. Of course, the entire world can see my problem with attention. They call it a problem, I call it diverse interests. Listening to this. On loop. Thinking about things. Oh, I am wearing pants. After I don’t know how many years. And I am carrying shoes. For the two meetings that are up next, I need to be in my formal best. And it sucks, especially after you come from Goa where the best formal attire is shorts and chappal. No, the locals don’t dress up like that. They are actually among the most well-dressed people I know. But they accept with open arms if you choose to wear shorts and a tee. Unlike Mumbai and other places.
A large part of this scatteredness is that the work has picked up. And I am juggling three things right now. And there’s so much to do that am scrounging for time. I am making calls from taxis and ricks. I am eating while working. I am sleeping and thinking about things. I can now relate to those Americans that talk about how they need to do 2 jobs to make ends meet. I know that I will have to cut on my sleep if this continues.
So on work, like I said, work has picked up. And that means that I no longer have to seek help (if I can continue to deliver to existing clients). Just that the work I do is low-value and thus I get paid shit. No, this is not even building my brand per se but it’s helping me tide through. This tide through is important. A friend told me something cool. She said when her husband quit his job to do a startup, they cut their expenses so much that they would take buses and trains and avoid taxis, etc. They decided that they need to lay low for a few years and consolidate and build from thereon. They did all of that and more. And they did tide through. And today they are doing great with three houses, fancy cars, and whatnot. May be I am in that place right now. Even if the work I do is low value, it allows me to survive. And that’s what matters. I need to lay my head low, work hard and try to upgrade the value of work, and do more.
And yes, I continue to look for more work. Higher value. Point me in the direction!
Apart from this, I need to book my Goa travel. While the decision to live there and create a coffee shop is still not firmed up, I need to help a friend manage an event on the weekend and I need to be there for that. The good news is that events are making a comeback in Goa at least. The bad news is that the ticket size remains dismal. Acche din aane wale hai 🙂
Oh, I met Ashima and Parijat yesterday at their house. It’s a big feat, considering they have a dog at home that hates me. But I survived the day and we got some work done and Ashi stuffed me with some of the best Rajma Chawal (my comfort food) I’ve ever imagined in the world and we talked about all the decisions that I need to take in life.
What decisions? Here’s a list that I chatted with Ashi on…
Where to live (Mumbai? Goa?)?
How to get fit and live for long?
How to manage money?
There were 2 more things that I have redacted.
I have to say that a simple conversation with her is so so therapeutic! I could speak freely without any fear of any judgment or bias. And while I don’t have answers but I do have direction. For example, for the Mumbai vs Goa decision, she simply asked me why do I want to get out of Mumbai and I realized I don’t have an answer, except seeking a cheaper place to live. And suddenly, places more than Goa opened up! I mean why not Delhi? Pondicherry? Pune? Thane for fuck sake! Yeah, yeah, Goa gives me access to eclectic people and creative crowds, and newer opportunities. But that’s that. If this is my years to lie low and consolidate, why get stuck on Goa?
Yes, I am more confused than ever. But I do know that the variable I was looking at was incorrect. I need to fix it. Let’s see what I decide.
Before I move onto the next thing, here’s a plug. Ashi is a homeopathic doctor for people like you and me. And pets. I have referred her to a few friends that need help with their pets and EACH person has great things to say about Ashi. You must see her website and in case you want a homeopathic opinion for your pet, do reach out to her.
So I was in a car yesterday that was as big as a lavish1BHK in Mumbai. I pine for a time when I’d have a car. I am not materially attached to it. It could get scratched, bumped, and all that. It could be any make, model etc. But I need a vehicle to get around. In fact, I think I should actually live in a car and shower at the hostels and all that. After all, my best ideas come to me when am either showering or I am in transit! Lol!
What else? Nothing I guess.
I started this with a rant on Mumbai and lemme end with another Mumbai rant. This trip, I am having a bit of a lucky run. Oh, I have to mention that I am having a bit of a lucky run! I said that I am scrounging for time. Every time I miss the deadline, somehow, magically the client would push it! I know this is not sustainable and a time would come when everything would come on my head at the same time. So, need to pull socks! I have used this pulling of socks a few times. Need to expand my dictionary.
I talk about how I spent the weekend, think I am thinking on and new things am planning!
8:18. I thought it was 8. Time flies. Anyhow. Morning Pages. A new week.
This one comes from, well, a Starbucks! The one at Versova. I cant imagine to tell you what a relief it is to have a business that is operational and allows you to work in peace (and offers Jazz music as background noise). I wont be surprised if I decide to stay back in Mumbai just for a Starbucks! Really!
Or maybe create something similar in Goa? I wish I had the money and I would have done that!
Anyhow, so, the weekend was spent like a thug. Watching TV, eating like a man who’s been starving for years, going to dinners, lunches, coffee dos, taking pictures, tracking the sunset, making phone calls etc etc. Primarily with friends from MDI (more on this later). I think that’s not a bad life to have if you have a stable job. I mean you get paid a bomb and you spend all that money on fancy things at fancy places with fancy people. What’s wrong with that? Who cares if young activists are being jailed? Who cares if people are losing their jobs over tweets? Farmers are anyway not our problem. So let them stay camped on the borders of Delhi. COVID is no longer a threat. Let’s party.
Damn. I feel so so so guilty of wasting time over the weekend. I should have simply worked and finished things that were open on my plate and used the time to meet people while I am in Mumbai. Damn I need to be less critical on myself 🙁
But then what’s gone is gone. I can make sure today is better! Will try to not waste time. Let’s see how it goes. On to morning pages. As I write this, I know I will not have the time to work on #book2. I will try to but I can’t promise. Let me get on with it and unlike a journal, lemme try to write about things that are clouding my head. You know, the original purpose of morning pages.
A. Mumbai vs Goa I don’t have very structured thoughts here. Ofcourse. Lemme just dump things here. So, when I am in Mumbai, I feel I have more time on my hands. I don’t know why. It just feels like that. Maybe because I spend less time chasing the Internet? And the entire city around me trying to work and get things done and all that? Maybe because of moving around / traffic etc, I think I am a lot more planned with time and all? I haven’t been able to pinpoint. Let’s see how this week goes. And I’ll hopefully figure out the answer.
But I have to say that I spend a lot more time in traffic when I am here. I mean, on the weekend I spent 9 hours commuting. Really. 9ish hours. Andheri to Worli. Worli to Bandra and back. Worli to SoBo to Worli to Bandra to Andheri. In Goa, maybe cos I don’t venture out of North Goa, I spend far less time on travel?
So that. Guess this week will help me add many more dimensions to how I am thinking about Mumbai vs Goa thingy.
B. Friends from MDI Like I said, over the weekend, I met friends from MDI and it was nice. I was myself and there was this tacit camaraderie that I think I miss when I am with others. I guess that’s what shared backgrounds do. I guess this is what they mean when they say that relationships compound.
The other thing I realised that I am not the life of the party. I was with friends and most of our conversations were dry, drab, philosophical and you know, boring. JKB came in and suddenly, the place and mood was so much lighter and better and funner. JK is amazing. Glad that I can call him a friend. But the point is, I am not that. No, I dont want to be that. I am just stating.
The other thing that I realised is that I do not have a lot of friends or people that I go back so long with. While its fairly easy for me to meet new people, I think I shouldve invested more in people. No, it’s not too late. I will invest starting now. I think the drive I was on where I would prioritise myself over others need changing. I need to be there for my friends when they need me. I think Vivek will laugh at this 😀
C. Starbucks. How can I write something and not praise Starbucks? So we were at this new coffee place in Bandra where all the hipsters were hanging out. This group of friends and I were trying to find a place to sit. There was this lady sitting on the table next to it. We asked her if the table we wanted was empty. She politely said, yes it was. And we sat. And then I thought I knew her. I asked her if we’ve met. Lol, no, not as a pickup line. She said she worked at a Starbucks in BKC and now she’s here. And then, she told me that she remembered me (and not my name, which is ok) and told me that my regular order was an Americano and I would come in early and I would take the only chair and table at the outlet. And then she said you are still dressed the way you were all those months ago (formal shirt, linen shorts, chappals).
Insane how well trained these people at Starbucks are! The lady remembered how I dress up, what order I had and where I sat. And I havent been to that particular store in
Oh, here’s a pic from that new place…
D. My first Clubhouse After lurking in the shadows for so long, I finally made my Clubhouse debut. In a room where we talked about books. We were to talk about a passage from a book that has left an impression on you. I talked about a para from Jack Kerouac’s brilliant para from On The Road. It goes…
…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
From On the Road by Jack Kerouac
I think I enjoyed being there. Need to use it lot more.
So yeah, that’s about it for today I think. Have a crazy day / week ahead. I like this rushed life to be honest. I am not made for taking it easy!
9 Lessons and Tips in Personal Branding for modern knowledge workers, especially as work becomes more distributed and remote!
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!
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.