I spoke about this in a recent 1-1 and I thought I would pen this here. (Used to do this quite often early and want to restart doing it).
This is in context to being a PM in a large scale company but with appropriate modifications, I feel it works everywhere.
We were talking about focus time. In a large company, there is always a sense of being busy. You might be accountable for making triaging decisions, attending stand-up meetings, aligning stakeholders, prep-ing for exec presentations, among many other things that you are thrown into, on a day to day , hour to hour basis. So, how then, do you carve out time for focus work?
One of the many ways that I have seen work (and I tell my team to do so as well) is to keep your important stakeholders busy. In the case of my team, it is the dev team (and the dev lead). I have nothing against them (or any stakeholder for that matter) ; but it is usually an unwritten rule that devs look up to the PM for anything that they may need help on / get blocked on. So, if you time it and keep them busy during the time when you want to do focus work (say write a deep spec, or analyze competition, or do some data work), you tend to not be interrupted.
How do you do this?
Ensure that the stakeholders have everything that they need for the current project at hand.
Have a ready ‘to-analyze’ list – that you can toss at a dev(s) to go do some effort estimate / tshirt sizing
Send the stakeholders a pre-read of a document that is being worked on with an explicit ask to drop comments (and a follow up meeting to discuss)
The main thing, however is not the external interrupts, during when you are in the zone. It is your internal interrupts, which I also crudely called guilt-checks. Did I give everything that is needed for the designer? Should I give more context to the team? Is there anything due from me for the exec-preso? For this, you basically ensure that you write down a guilt-check list and make sure you are convinced that everything is taken care of.
This blog post (like many others in my blog) is mostly a top of mind dump. What do you think about this problem? Do you have a process to get into the zone? Comment / reply / or engage on twitter (@gcmouli).
After staying put at home (other than a couple of minor trips to Chennai / Kumbakonam) all through the Covid phase, we finally ventured out on a road trip holiday as a family (wife, 12 y/o kid, and me). Writing this as a travel journal format, so that, it could hopefully help folks plan similar trips.
Plan: Bangalore -> Horanadu -> Sringeri -> Udupi -> Kollur -> Baindur -> Bangalore (later added Chikmagalur into the mix)
Day1 (Wednesday) – Started from Bangalore around 1045AM. (Kiddo had his last exam that day).
Used the city route to get out of the city (MG road -> Malleswaram -> Yeshwanthpur -> Tumkur Road -> Nelamangala). Manageable traffic. It was not that bad.
Outside the city, it was Nelamangala -> Yediyur -> Kunigal -> Chennarayapatna -> Hassan -> Belur -> Kottigehara -> Kalasa -> Horandu.
Had packed lunch (lemon rice and curd rice). Ate somewhere in the middle.
Reached Horanadu around 6PM. Temple was practically empty. Had a super darshan. Had packed dinner as well (Chapati and Amul Shreekand). Had it in the parking lot of the temple ; and left around 720PM.
Reached Sringeri around 9PM. This is a dark route with multiple small patches of very bad road, through very dense forests, and almost no habitation.
Finally reached Sringeri at around 9PM. Stayed at Guru Krupa (new serviced apartments that have come up very close to the Temple/Mutt complex). Decent spacious simple rooms. Basement car parking.
Day 2 (Thursday): Spent the entire day in Sringeri. Morning was Sharada temple and Guru Paduka Puja to the Acharya. Afternoon, did a quick sortie to Hariharapura (one of the adjunct mutts in the area, which is about half hour away). Breakfast was at Maruti tiffin rooms (as always). Lunch and dinner was at the Mutt. Saw the night Chandramouleeswara Puja by the Acharya and retired for the night.
Tip 1: Watch out for the badly laid concrete road from the main Bharathi street that goes down to Guru Krupa. Height difference between the concrete topping and the mud shoulder is at least half a feet. I missed seeing it in the night, and hit the underbody of the car. Later in the evening, we saw another car stuck with its underbody scraped up.
Tip 2: Download offline google maps before the trip. Internet can get very spotty in the middle of the forest area. I had downloaded the map, and it was super useful.
Day 3 (Friday): Started early at 605AM. Headed eastwards towards Udupi. Original plan was to hit Udupi for breakfast. But we felt hungry much earlier. Around 7, chanced upon this fantastic restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Good clean veg food.
Malnad roads at their best. Wonderful surface quality. Winding around the moutains. With my new automatic car, I had one less thing to focus on (changing gears). Totally enjoyed the drive.
Reached Udupi around 830ish. Krishna temple was not crowded at all, given that it was a weekday (Friday). Had a wonderful darshan. It was Devi Alankaram that day. Finished darshan around 9AM.
The road until Kundapura is a brilliant stretch of road. This is the Kanyakumari National Highway. In multiple places, you can see the Arabian see on the side. Past Kundapura, there are two roads that lead to Kollur. We took the second one (as suggested by Google maps). Road was pretty good.
Reached Kollur around 1015ish. Temple was super crowded. Probably because it was Friday (auspicious for Devi). But good darshan none the less.
Started from Kollur around 1130ish towards Sai Vishram Beach Resort, Baindur. We had good reccos from multiple people about this resort. Original plan was to spend Friday second half. All of Saturday and leave on Sunday.
Some observations about the Sai Vishram resort:
If you are a close to nature person, you will probably like it. Family like ours, who are pretty averse to reptiles and insects, did not take to it too lightly. We found huge lizards, cockroaches and a toad – all within the room.
We took the tent room initially – very close to the beach. You can hear the waves. It was unkempt and we saw the lizards here. Asked for a change in room ; got shown a delux room (higher up in the property and further from the beach), which looked like it had not been cleaned at all.
We came back to the tent room and asked for a full clean up and got prepared to settle down ; but they gave us a beautiful beach cottage right next to it. Great, we thought.
We went out to the beach for playing. Had an excellent time. The beach is super clean and private.
We then had dinner. Food here is average, but not bad at all. Simple wholesome veg food.
We came back to room for a shock. More lizards and a huge toad on the door. We called the staff again. The staff, I should say, are super helpful. A guy came immediately and helped remove the toad and scared the lizard away.
Thats when my son started complaining of stomach issues (pain/vomit/loose stools). Could have been something we ate at dinner ; or some salt water intake during the water activities (as suggested by the staff).
Later in the middle of the night, we had a huge cockroach dance around the ceiling.
The property website says – there might be lizards, frogs and snakes on the property. We had seen the first two, and had no intention on seeing the third. We made plans to leave the next day.
We also thought, with the kiddo sick, instead of doing a Bangalore return (8-9 hours), we could break in the middle.
I should say however the staff were super helpful and courteous. Beach proximity is amazing. I wish they maintained the property better (or had non-nature-focused rooms for families like us).
Signal strength in most places is super low and they dont have intercom facility – so its a huge exercise in itself to call a staff member up in the middle of the night.
Snagged a room at the Vismita County resort in Chikmagalur sometime in the middle of the night.
Day 4 (Saturday): Had an early breakfast and left around 9Am. Reached Chikmagalur around 145PM – right on time for lunch.
This drive is super pretty . Goes through Agumbe. We missed a turn somewhere and ended going through Sringeri, and then back to SH27, through Balehonnur and eventually to Chikmagalur.
Notes on Vismita County:
Newly developed – only about 1.5 yrs old
Very well maintained.
Has about 2 kms of bicycle trails within the property – they provide cycles
Food was really good
Helpful staff. When we had to get some meds for my kid for the stomach upset, they sent someone fairly late in the night up to town to get the meds.
Day 5 (Sunday): Had breakfast around 8AM and left around 920am. Fairly uneventful drive back to Bangalore.
This has been churning inside my brain since yesterday – since I saw the prototype “no code” app ad on times of India recommending Air India to use it to revamp that app.
Just a fancy UI isn’t a better Airline app. By the way, the app looks so much similar to the slick app that travenues platform powers for SG today.
Leave that aside, UI isn’t the hard thing while creating airline apps. Do you know how hard it is to hit the old school airline inventory systems like Navitaire, Amadeus etc. That’s the hard part.
The SSR infra (that powers the addins /ancillaries such as seats, baggage etc) is complex as hell. The revenue team of the airline will drive you up the wall everyday getting new combos of SSRs. The govt will drive you crazy with restrictions. You need an engine to power that.
Try creating the web check-in infra backend to performantly call multiple APIs and get your pax on the kerb side happy.
Try optimising on the routes that the backend inventory platform throws at you to show the most relevant routes with minimal hops, in a few efficient calls coupled with cacheing.
I love the concept of no code / low code apps. But please for heaven sake don’t trivialise complex apps by showing pretty UI prototypes.
Update: AirIndia and builder.ai are locked in confrontational conversation and even contemplating a notice.
To set context, I am a very heavy email user. I tend to not like unread emails. I like to respond in a timely fashion (often times, very quickly). I am always on the lookout for good hacks. This is for my official email. I 💗 Inbox-Zero.
Emails that I get are either actionable or archived for later reference
Those that are actionable are:
emails that I need to reply to
emails that I need to follow-up on / be on my radar
emails that I need to read later / watch later (meeting recordings etc)
As far as the ‘archive’ part in (1), I just hit Archive button. Exchange email search is pretty good. If the desktop ain’t that good, the Outlook Web Exchange (OWA) is leagues ahead. So you can choose. (I usually go to OWA for searching purposes).
For the ones that are actionable, if I can respond quickly to an email immediately, without having to refer anything or having to write a long-form email (I try as much as possible not to do this) and hence most likely not taking more than 30s, I action immediately.
For those emails that I need to read, refer, respond in detail, it goes into a folder called _Current (the underscore is an old habit to bubble up in text sort). Just adding it as a favourite folder is good enough actually. Other emails that go into the _Current folders are misc to-dos that I need to keep track of or det done.
I usually am following up stuff closely with <5 people. In my current scenario it is 3 – two of my direct reports and my engineering manager peer. All emails that are on the radar for follow-up go into the respective _Current<Person> folder.
Automated system emails from AzureDevops, FinanceReports, HR automated emails go into respective folders using Rules.
I keep scanning my Inbox 2-3 times a day to funnel stuff into the above CurrentFolders. Once or twice every week in my team meeting or 1-1s, I chug through the _Current<person> folders. It remains there if it requires more follow-up, or gets archived when done.
I have been doing this for the last 2-3 weeks, and it has been working like a charm. Let’s see how it works in the long run. One of the things I know I would need to worry about later, if there are more folks that I need to follow-up closely with. But then limiting that list would reflect my management / delegation abilities.
Easy read. Talks about familiar concepts but in a very pragmatic manner. Simplifies a lot of concepts.
If you want deep details, this is not the book for you. I wanted to read this book and Richest Man in Babylon, before I moved on to my next read – Psychology of Money.
Some main points that I recall and stood out to me:
Set up your cash flow streams – have separate accounts for spend it and invest it – and set up transfers.
Life insurance and health insurance are very important
Separate out Life Insurance from investment. Just do term insurance. If you do not reap the payout, it is a good thing (nothing untoward happened). The premium is the money you pay to someone who is backing your risk.
Mutual funds are great. The book explains market cap and indices in simple language.
Index funds are one of the best investments if you do not want to be tracking your investment too deeply.
Physical gold and real estate are still popular mainly because of legacy reasons.
Having a roof over your head is great, but that should be it. Don’t go in for investment purposes.
I am glad that both of these books are of the same philosophy as I am (my belief is reaffirmed) that, at the right time of your life, when you can afford it, your own owned roof above your head is a good investment.
I do have a personal caveat for the age-old second property ownership debate – again – at the right time of your life, and if you can afford a second home and the property is at a good location to let it out for a decent rental, I think its a good investment. It earns for you.
Overall this book is a good breezy read. Surprised myself by finishing it off in a day. Concepts are much more lucidly explained with good relatable examples. I think the relatable is what differentiates it from other books. The examples it provides, such as the pushy insurance salesman, and the uncle buying a property because someone told him it would appreciate 3X, are scenes that we see in everyday life in India.
This is a classic from 1926. One of the things that I realize is that – the typical questions that one faces about money and savings have remained pretty much the same. If one were to extrapolate, since the book uses parables from Babylonian times, maybe we could say that the questions have been the same from those times.
The concepts in the books are familiar ones.
The language – especially dialogues between folks in the stories – is archaic. Will take some time to get used to.
If the stories about the clay tablets and the contents mentioned, are true (I did not go and research further), then it is definitely fascinating education about the advanced civilization that seem to have thrived in Babylon.
I am summarizing just some of the brief concepts here:
Put a minimum of 10% of your earnings as savings. Try to live your life within the 90% as thought that much is your earnings.
If you have earlier debt, after you keep aside your 10%, keep 20% of your earnings as debt clearance. Go and renegotiate with everyone you owe money to and establish some a credible new repayment schedule.
Gold (money) should multiply and not idle.
One should not be miserly either. Keep aside for saving and enjoy within the remaining means.
Work hard and increase your ability to learn. I found this interesting – because it explicitly states that strengthening your skills by working hard can increase how much you can earn.
Keep money aside for old age and dependents.
Lend money to credible folks whom you know will multiply that money for you. (Interest) – the story of the cattle and the ass, told by the money lender, is a pretty interesting one.
Wherever you are in the financial strata, you can bounce back, if you put your heart and sole into it. Story of the slave who later became a camel trader
It is a fairly easy to read and a good revision of familiar concepts. I had been wanting to read this book, which has been on my book shelf for long. The first few chapters might seem daunting, mainly because of the archaic language. But once, you chug through them, you will get used to them.
Moving this from my twitter pinned thread to here. It is time that I move on, and this is a logical intentional move to ‘get over it’.
On July 21, 2020, we announced that Spicejet acq-hired Team @travenues. What a fantastic 2 years that has culminated in this outcome today. Brief history thread with some experiences thrown in.
Aloke Bajpai (@alokebajpai) and me have known each other since around 2015-ish. And yes – for those curious, the relationship did start with breakfast-and-dosa. I have been doing the #DosaWithMouli ever since I got into the startup ecosystem. No-agenda conversations over breakfast. Just get to know each other and the awesome stuff folks are building. I have met a significant percentage of my network through #DosaWithMouli.
Back in March of 2018, the idea to start travenues was born. @alokebajpai and @rajnishkumar had always wanted to do a b2b travel play, and we felt that this was the opportunity. I was hired as VP – Special Projects for ixigo. Was still exploratory at that time. I looked around for a co-working space in Bangalore. A cupboard at home was the IT stock cup-board for the macs procured. Printed biz cards, stickers from Printo. You get the drift 😉
Met and befriended so many folks at 91Springboard – folks like Sanket and his merry band at digio.in ; lalit and his gang at groww. Fun time.
With tons of help from ixigo’s HR/Talent team, we were lucky to onboard a rockstar team (with experience from the likes of swiggy, grofers, amazon, matchmove). HR, Admin, Finance were all remote from Gurgaon (for those wondering, yes, this is definitely possible).
We started off with a small 6 seater at a co-working space. The early days were heady and fun. It is amazing when you are part of the team where the team starts to build from zero (literally create gitlab account and do the first commit).
We worked hard and partied hard. By partied hard, I mean, we visited every restaurant in Koramangala ….
Meanwhile, I was out at CAPA and aviation festival conferences, getting our next few airline prospects. We won a couple of accolades – the Innovation Award from CAPA and the runner-up at the Amadeus Startup Pitch at WIT.
Learnt a bunch of sales, persuasion, partner management and a whole lot of other stuff on the go (did I mention thats the best ever way of learning stuff!).
With my bi-monthly red-eye trips to SG in Delhi, our relationship with our first paying customer (SpiceJet) forged deeply. Travenues engineers worked super closely with the SG counterparts and built this amazing next-gen e-commerce platform, that we were so proud of.
What we had built was something that did not exist, a beautiful B2B E-commerce SaaS platform for the aviation industry – call it a ‘Shopify’ for airlines, if you will. Configurable and extensible to the hilt, and deployable on any airline within months.
And I was out there pitching to new airlines in the South East Asia Region. There was definitely interest and we were moving forward (albeit slowly, but that is normal for the aviation industry, as I was told by Industry veterans).
That is when CoVid-19 struck. Quite understandably, the climate was not right for several of these airlines to invest in new tech. (in fact one of the airlines even liquidated).
SG was bullish about this, and very aligned with the future of the platform, and the wide opportunities that it presented. And culminated in the acqui-hire announcement.
Phew. What a journey. 0->1 at its best. And it would not have been possible without my fantastic team, Aloke Bajpai, Rajnish, and all of the support teams of ixigo. Y’all know who you are.
Suhas Motwani pointed me to honeycode.aws. This is airtable + zapier + more. Prepare to get disrupted (again). This is the amazing power of platforms. The thing is – AWS probably did this in half the time and effort (or less) that the startups pour into it – because they have the blocks, and it took a small pizza team to put it together.
This is probably the biggest fear of startups – what if one of the big guys created something like this!
The biggest thing that jumped at me was the design –
Neat airy design
Humaans type image
Deviation from their usual black-blue-orange scheme
EmberSerif for headings – not seen serifs on amazon pages before.
Very refreshing from the usual drab designs that Amazon typically has. Someone at Amazon really stuck their neck up and did something different. Kudos.
Communication (n) – a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.
During this very difficult time of the entire world fighting the CoVid-19 virus, companies have been forced into this new normal – a way of getting things done through entirely remote teams, connected virtually through mediums such as Google Meet/Zoom (meetings), Slack / MS Teams (asynchronous communications), and of course good old Email.
In this blog, I will attempt to condense my decade or so of learning to communicate properly. These are years of communicating with geographically dispersed teams across three continents, with teams that worked on strong waterfall models, with teams that have been extremely agile and dynamic, with cross-functional teams (business vs tech vs product), with teams that were amicable vs hostile ; you get the gist. Disclaimer – This subject is huge, and I am still learning.
Up until now, good/great communication has been seen as a productivity booster ; but now, with this new norm, it is a necessity ; and can potentially do harm if not done properly.
Just to recap, the advantages of good communication remains the same as always:
Unambiguously transmission of information
Take quick decisions
Reduce communication strain (reduce unnecessary back-and-forth flow of information)
And lets dive into the thick of it. These are points that are in no particular order (of importance or otherwise).
There is not a more trite advice than writing concise short emails ; but people still do not follow it.
Subject line should always say exactly what the email contains. This is the first level of mind filter. Use it to your advantage. If it is important, use tags such as [Important], [Blocked], [Need Your Approval] etc to identify actionable emails.
Start the email always with a sentence on what this email is about. Most people will choose to read the email or not or park for later depending on this.
In this first sentence, always ensure you are setting the expectation for the reader on what she will get out of this email. Use phrases such as ‘short list’, ‘summary of..’, ‘detailed explanation of ..’.
Use bullet points thereafter. The human brain processes this much better. Seeing three bullets (with explanations if required) gives the user a sense of quantifiable effort required to read/process the email – than three paragraphs (which will 90% get skipped).
Last sentence – always summarize. Highlight or bold or identify with [Summary]. The hurried email reader will be super happy.
Use the right channels. Tag the right people appropriately.
Decide when to write on channel and tag someone or DM someone directly. Its important. If the Signal-to-Noice ratio becomes unmanageable, focus workers such as developers and designers will inevitably mute the channel.
Use @channel very sparingly – only for appreciations and announcements
If you are a leader, and you are going to be doing this often, have a separate channel for the same.
Have a separate channel for fun and banter.
Decide early whether you want to have project based channels (#new-design-revamp, #add-apple-wallet, #loyalty) or any other way of identifying channels (#android, #ios, #frontend, #ui, #design)
Use threads to your advantage. Keeps the channel clean.
Use the ‘Sent to Channel’ also option sparingly. It is always confusing to see the same thing in two places. Reserve it for important information that you want to surface to the entire channel.
Zoom / Hangouts / Phone:
Always set context on email / invite. Always repeat context in the first 2 minutes of the call (if you are leading the call).
If there is a decision that needs to be taken in a meeting, there has to be someone who will continuously need to be on the look-out that, the conversation steers in that direction.
If it is a catch-up call, that one person needs to ensure that, there is equal mic-time for everyone.
For detailed discussions, Amazon’s written spec method or a separate presentation-followed-by-discussion is the best. We should all accept reality that not all discussions can be done in a status/catch-up meeting. Relevant folks have to get back together virtually and do it separately.
Short focused meetings help attendees feel that meetings are not a waste of time. A few vague meetings are enough to change this perception. As a leader or yet another meeting attendee, let us do each of our bit to ensure that this does not happen. (This is also called meeting fatigue).
For important meetings. one person should always take down notes.
Brainstorming sessions are a different beast, which I will blog about later, as a separate post.
Hope this free rambling set of communication learnings help. Will try and write more on these in the days to come.
Context – I had never worked in a co-working space until about a year ago. Made some mistakes, moved, made some mistakes, and moved again. So I guess I want to pass on these learnings to others who might end up in the same scenario.
Washrooms. Sounds gross/crude – but take a team member of either sex to go inspect. And inspect once more (another day) towards the evening. Will give you an idea of how frequent they clean.
Washrooms are non-negotiable. If they stink one day, do not dismiss it as – perhaps just that day it is stinking (community managers might tell you that). If it stinks even one day, run away. Shows the seriousness of the management.
Community Managers. Talk to them. Chat up with them. They are usually friendly. Ask how long they have been there. How much autonomy they get in running the center <– this is very important. Observe how they give a tour. The prouder they show you stuff, the more ownership.
Common Area. Ensure you ask for common area. Space for having lunch. Space for just ordering tea and sitting/taking a break. Make sure it will remain. Make sure it is mentioned in the contract. In one of the spaces we were in, common area suddenly was sold off to a client. Ensure that the common area is spread out. Nice to have – common areas / nooks spread out across the floors. Common area is different from play area. If your team is young and fun, look for TT tables/foosball etc. Again, make sure / ask if it will remain and won’t disappear.
HVAC (Air-conditioning) – This can really mess up workspaces and your team. If the floor has central AC, check who has access to the thermostat. Make sure it is handled only by the fac team. Walk around and check if temp is uniform. AC draft balancing is a science. Inspect on two separate days at different times – If it is too cold or too hot on either of the days, something is wrong. And if it is wrong on that day, it will be wrong many days. (Same as washrooms). Non-negotiable. At one time, my guys were wearing hoodies and working.
Infra – Check for seepage. AC duct drips. Glass cracks etc. If these exist on both days of your visit, then the team isn’t good enough to maintain the facility. We had buckets under the AC ducts in one of our workplaces.
Meeting rooms – Check if there are enough for your team. Check if at least some of them have TVs / whiteboards. Check if the TVs have HDMI/Chromecast. Check how to book meeting rooms. If they say whatsapp or physical book/register, run away.
Even if one of the meeting rooms has a sign saying – “Reserved for company Foo” on both days, think twice. Long reservations of meeting rooms for companies does not usually bode well for others.
Food – Best case scenario if the Coworking space has a wet kitchen on a terrace of a cafe attached. Food brought in from outside and heated doesn’t usually bode well. Do peek in to the pantry/heating room. Check for hygiene.
Pantry – Coffee/water dispenser area – bare minimum. Take a close look at the counter where the coffee machine / tea / sugar is kept. How clean is it? Can give you an approx idea as to how effective housekeeping is. Look at the sink. Loaded? Clean?
Internet – Look for the wifi routers. Ask about how one signs in. The best guys have location based auto sign-ins. Sub-optimal ones have a user-name/password to sign in. Check the speed. Ask the community manager to show fast.com results on their mobile. Check if they have back-up internet providers, if one provider conks off. Ask about any specific requirements like – we needed port forwarding and a static IP for our biometric machine.
Housekeeping staff – In both of your visits, look out for house keeping staff. Are they on the move. Are they even there? Ask for the cleaning schedule. Do they deep-clean on weekends? How many staff they have? And who supervises them? How does one request help from them?
Parking facilities – a lot of the co-working spaces do not have enough car parking spaces. Two wheeler spaces are available though, but they are paid for. Check the process for that.
Entry / exit formalities – Ask explicitly about security deposit, what it covers. If you are customizing stuff, explicitly check if there are any re-fitting charges. We removed a glass partition and were shocked to hear about a refitting charge !!
Over-all, basically, if you are working out of a co-working space, there are always trade-offs / sub-optimalities. These are proportional to the per-seat rent in most places. The higher you go, the better it is. There might be exceptions of course.
It is up to you to figure out, at which point your company is, how much you can pay, and which of these trade-offs you can live with. Happy co-working folks !!