New Leaders and Imposter Syndrome

https://www.flickr.com/photos/91261194@N06/49737048598

As you grow in your career and if you start leading teams of people, there is an inevitable period of time, when you would suddenly feel – what am I doing? I don’t do tactical stuff? Am I unfairly getting paid?

Remember – as you grow (and lead teams), you are now paid not for just your work. You are paid to take on accountability. You are on point for stuff. You are paid to take on that ‘stress’. 🙂

A leader in my org in the US said – most of his time goes in resolving conflicts. How is that for something worth getting paid for? 🙂 

This was part of a long deep conversation with one of my colleagues ; and I feel that this is something a lot of people (including me) go/went through.

Imposter syndrome in PMs and introspections

img src openclipart.org

Today, I want to write about a conversation that I had with a colleague recently. As PMs in a large company, there are times, when execution takes front-seat (and there are other times, when innovation takes precedence). During these war-time PM periods where one needs to focus on execution, it is very common to hit a form of imposter syndrome, where you start questioning yourself – “what value did I add?”

Our conversation led to two levels of introspection that I suggested – 

a) Step back. Rewind. Think about (say) the last month. How many times did you have to make a decision? I bet that half of these decisions were ones that others would have just said – “Its the PMs call”. This is a huge value add. The PM is where the buck stops. Judgement calls are made by PMs. We own these decisions and stick by them (until of course, in some cases, we are proven wrong). 

b) The secondary thought that occurs when you do the above exercise is – “If not me, anyone could have made these calls.” That is where I vehemently disagree. These judgement calls / decisions are a by-product of days/months of being steeped into the product aspects of what we are working on. It is not a function that another dev can write (sure the quality of devs can churn different quality of code, but immaterial, transferable). The PM is the only person who has actually spoken to someone in Marketing, all stakeholders, Leadership, devs, the vendor tester, the design team. yes, all of them – and that is what gives you the unique context and the ability to make these (hopefully well-rounded) judgement calls. 

I have been through these phases, and I am grateful that I have had folks help me through them. I thought I would share this, just in the case, there are others out there, who face this situation.

Visual Appeal in PM Resumes

img src: pixabay

I was giving some feedback on visual appeal in a PM resume, to a mentee, and had a few thoughts. Typing them here as well, hoping this would be of use to other folks as well.

  • Simple parsable (by human eye and machine) resume format with lots of impactful work data is preferred over visual jazz.
  • Some basics like alignment and balanced text blocks, are a must. Eg. all left aligned text blocks aligned to the same ruler. Pass your resume through a few friends ~ if possible, a designer. They can spot imbalanced text blocks from a mile away.
  • Same font throughout the resume. Make it a legible common font. In the race to make it a one-pager, dont go too small a font size. Dont go below 11 (max 10). Distinguish headers with an increased size, bold, or both. Play with shades of grey to make things stand out.
  • Dont play with margins too much. Always print out as a pdf and check how it looks. There are still some orgs, which print out resumes for interviewers.
  • If you really want to put in some pizzaaz (and it is Ok to do so), ensure that you do it perfectly well. Use an available resume template if needed. There are lots of freely available ones out there.
  • These are just some top of mind points that I thought off. In no way, is this a complete visual tip guide for a PM resume. Are there other tips that you recommend?

Keep them busy!

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?

  1. Ensure that the stakeholders have everything that they need for the current project at hand.
  2. Have a ready ‘to-analyze’ list – that you can toss at a dev(s) to go do some effort estimate / tshirt sizing
  3. 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).

Travelogue: Malnad – Apr 2022

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.

Horanadu Annapurneshwari Temple Arch with sunset behind the mountains

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.

The dense jungle route between Horanadu and Sringeri

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.

Sringeri Raja Gopuram in all its finery in 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.

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Seethanadi Veg – An hour from Sringeri on the Sringeri-Udupi route
Route from Sringeri to Udupi

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.

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Malnad roads 😍

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.

Kollur to Baindur

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.

Sunset from the Sai Vishram resort beach
Sai Vishram beach resort. The Arabian sea is right there beyond those trees.

Some observations about the Sai Vishram resort:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. We went out to the beach for playing. Had an excellent time. The beach is super clean and private.
  5. We then had dinner. Food here is average, but not bad at all. Simple wholesome veg food.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. Later in the middle of the night, we had a huge cockroach dance around the ceiling.
  9. 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.
  10. We also thought, with the kiddo sick, instead of doing a Bangalore return (8-9 hours), we could break in the middle.
  11. 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).
  12. 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.

View from our room. Vismita County, Chikmagalur
Vismita County, Chikmagalur

Notes on Vismita County:

  1. Great property
  2. Newly developed – only about 1.5 yrs old
  3. Very well maintained.
  4. Has about 2 kms of bicycle trails within the property – they provide cycles
  5. Food was really good
  6. 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.

No code platforms and the oversimplification that follows

Air India issues public notice for Builder.ai's ad campaign

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.

My latest email hack to get to / Stay at Inbox Zero

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.

  1. Emails that I get are either actionable or archived for later reference
  2. Those that are actionable are:
    1. emails that I need to reply to
    2. emails that I need to follow-up on / be on my radar
    3. 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.

Book Review: Lets Talk Money

Author: Monika Halan

  • 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.

Book Review: The Richest Man in Babylon

  • Author: George S Clason
  • 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.

The Travenues Story …

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.

https://www.livemint.com/companies/start-ups/spicejet-acqui-hires-ixigo-subsidiary-travenues-11595312803601.html

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.

Most of #DosaWithMouli has been in Sukh Sagar, Koramangala.

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 😉

First cabin at 91SpringBoard and the laptop stickers we printed

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).

Fun fun fun ! (Did I mention the amazing Paratha that the 91sb in house check in their terrace cafeteria

We worked hard and partied hard. By partied hard, I mean, we visited every restaurant in Koramangala ….

Yes. Almost every restaurant in the vicinity …
We did an amazing offsite to Saklespura, won TT tournaments, celebrated birthdays, had a most awesome-max potluck. Phew

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.

We won the Innovation Award at CAPA and snagged an exhibition slot.
We came a close runner-up at the 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.

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