Ten Pieces of Advice to Wrap up 2019
By Ganesh Rengaswamy
I recently had the great honour of delivering the keynote speech at the Annual Entrepreneurship Summit of my alma mater, IIM-Calcutta. In preparation for this event, I started by reflecting on the passage of time since I’d been in school — trying to find the threads from who I was back then to what I have become, what I’ve stood for, and what I’ve learned along the way. I was determined to share the more nuanced lessons that I wish someone had taught me 20 years ago. What came out of this exercise was as much advice I’d share with my own daughter (who inspires me every day) as it was advice for an audience that I hoped to inspire.
First, a simple beginning: I did not expect to be here and I am grateful for where I am. If you had told me when I was growing up that my life would contain half the wonder and magic that it does these days, I would not have believed you. I come from simple origins, after all.
But there are a few core beliefs and key lessons (learnt from my friends, colleagues, entrepreneurs I work with, peers and family) that have led me to this unpredictable place, and here they are:
- Persistence: a prized virtue, but one that is less talked about. I was always inspired by Nelson Mandela, who said in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” And a long walk it was for Mandela and South Africa, including 27 years of imprisonment for him. Closer to home and within the Quona portfolio, IndiaMart is a great example of persistence and keeping the faith — a 20+ year journey that culminated in an IPO that was oversubscribed 35 times!
- Clarity of Purpose. Always be asking yourself: What and where is my zone of impact? In the Netflix series “Inside Bill’s Brain,” Bill Gates shares the middle school experience where he and his friends learnt about scientists, astronauts, senators, businessmen, etc. to explore what they wanted to be when they grow up to have an impact. Not all might have the foresight and vision of Bill, but it’s never too late to start and it keeps one centered around a purpose.
- Opportunities can come from the most unexpected quarters. Warren Buffett has been quoted as saying, “the harder I work, the luckier I get,” and it’s true — preparation makes it possible to be ready for unexpected opportunities. And while opportunity knocks more than once, I’ve always felt you have to keep an eye out not to miss it.
- Try a sales or service job early in your life. It teaches immense humility and helps you shun inhibitions early in your career, while providing an opportunity to learn so much about people. Knowing how to listen, how to sell, when to step up, when to give someone space — are all things you can learn from selling to or serving others.
- Picking up new skills and learning is a continuous process and can come from unkown places — watch out! Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, yes. But he continued to audit random classes that piqued his interests, including a calligraphy course taught by a Trappist monk. He later said, “If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.”
- Pick mentors early in your life. I didn’t do this very successfully, and I wish I had — the right mentors can be a guiding force or source of enlightenment in navigating a confusing world. Mentors don’t have to do what you want to do in life, and sometimes they come from unexpected places — some of the best mentors are the people you look back on fondly, when at the time, learning from them was tough.
- Read extensively. Reading drives curiosity, expands horizons, challenges conventions and ignorance, enables connections to people, and it’s what I credit with taking me from being an Indian lad to being a global Indian and global citizen. I don’t get to do enough of it now.
- Remember that the world reciprocates your sentiment. If you resent the world, the world resents you. But if you remain positive or unflappable, the world is an easier place too. As the author Paulo Coelho says, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
- Approach everything with a desire to be fair. Treat people the way you want to be treated. I know the world isn’t always fair, life isn’t fair — but if each of us approached others the way we want to be treated (fairly), we’d make a bit of progress there, I think. It’s hard — and I’m still learning.
- Pay it forward. It’s not always easy to make time for others in a busy world. But the best way to pay back mentors, advisors and coaches who made time for us is by making time to pay it forward by helping others.
And one final thought: Your attitude is everything. As Kahlil Gibran said, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”
Ganesh Rengaswamy is a seasoned entrepreneur and venture investor who leads Quona Capital’s investments in India and Southeast Asia. His venture investments include Coins.ph (sold to Go-Jek), CreditMantri, Fisdom, IndiaMart (IPO’d), JULO Finance, KoinWorks, NeoGrowth, Shubham (exit to Premji Invest), SMEcorner, Sunday Insurance, and ZestMoney. More about Ganesh can be found here.