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Do we really need to work 15 hours a day to achieve success?

I don't remember the last time I worked late nights or even more than 10 hours. My window of productive working hours is from 4 AM till 5 PM in the evening. I work usually 6-8 hours when I have the peak workload and frankly I work 4-5 hours most of the time. Am I working too less? May be. Is it bad thing? May be. Will I be able to achieve a lot more if I put in more hours? I don't think so. I am happy with whatever I doing and that is more important. I look at people these days, mostly working professionals or startup guys and sometimes I feel guilty of not working like them. I want to confess that although I am good in what I do but I don't like working for long hours. I prefer finishing my work as soon as possible and have fun for the remaining day. Now you must be familiar with the non sense logic of love what you do and you will not feel like working. That is stupid. There are trillions of things to do in life and work, you can't possibly love each and every single thing. Things that give you most value or reward may not be interesting, it may be boring also but you still have to do it.

There is nothing wrong in doing things that you don't like. I say start doing those boring things and you would start liking them. Generate interest. I do feel guilty sometimes of not working enough. There are days in the week when I just don't do anything at all and few days I work religiously from 4 AM to 5 PM, but I never really work more than 8 hours.

I like planning things and believe in doing things efficiently. Even if I have to do something beyond my work, like a side project or learning a new skill, I plan it and do it but I never stretch. Everyone works differently and people have differently level of intelligence. I know few people who don't rest until they have a task to do, same is the case with me. When I have a delivery to make, I give my 101% and even more. I think about that task all the time, but I hardly work for long hours. It is not like I can't, I can certainly work without sleep for 3 days, I have done that in the past but when you plan your work really work, you would hardly need to do that.

When I was struggling in my early days of career, I used to freelance in my free time and then after few years I started my company and I struggled a lot, but even in those days I never worked long hours. I planned my week and what work I would do everyday in advance. I tried several tools but keeping a notepad is the best. For instance after company back from job I used to spend at least 2 hours everyday on other projects and on weekends I used to give additional 8 hours. I used to take office cab and I tried my best to utilize my time reading books. Even in the office I didn't make lot of friends. Eating lunch with people, meeting over tea is all great but kills not only time but your energy and most importantly your mind has limited energy every day. If you fill your mind with unnecessary information then you will not feel like working after coming back from office. Try to isolate yourself when you have to achieve something.

These days I am more on a free mode where I don't plan much and I work as things come. I enjoy it. I do work at my own sweet pace but I have earned it by working consistently over the past 15 years. I do give myself few light months of no-plan mode every now and then. It relaxes me. I work on plan-mode from March till August this year and from September onwards I am working quite comfortably. Ask yourself what will you achieve by working 15 hours every day? Unless you are sure that your 15 hours per day will give you lot of money or satisfaction, don't do it. It is not worth it. Instead do other activities like exercises or play some sports. Join some meetup club and go there once a week. Meet regularly with your friends and give time to your family. There is nothing wrong in enjoying life. Work not hard but consistently, that is my rule.

Why you should bootstrap your startup

These days everyone is talking about startups and entrepreneurship. It is quite cool to start a company, build a product and get funded. I am writing this blog based on my own experiences that how I am able to run a company successfully for several years and why you too don't need a funding.

So you have decided that you want to start a company, it is a topic of another discussion and I will write more about it but you should always think twice, thrice and ten time before starting a company and you should have solid reasons for that. Now coming back to the topic why you should not take any funding and why you don't even need it in first place. One thing I feel is very important for all the wannabee entrepreneurs is to answer whether they are starting a company to gain something for themselves or to give back something to the community and society as a whole. In my case I had very strong reasons to start something on my own. I never got satisfaction (technical) in any company work wise. Except my last company my managers and colleagues in previous companies were not technically sound as I am and I never really enjoyed working in company of non intelligent/smart people. May be I am little harsh here but this is just the fact for me and I always wanted to do something cutting edge or at least do something were I have control over my work so eventually I know where my effort is going and the money that you earn working for someone is good and decent but there is always a saturation after few years. More than anything else I always wanted to do something on my own. May it is the way you are brought up. Money was never really the concern for me. I was earning decent salary and but I could never give my 101% on my job. For me starting a company was always about myself and personal gains. I never really wanted to do something for the world. I have always been quite selfish person. I do everything for myself. I could not imagine even now how people can spend 12 hours in traveling and working for years and they don't get much in return. They miss out time with their family and they sacrifice major part of their lives. I knew from the very beginning that I will eventually do everything for myself only.

So before you even think about getting funded you should have the reason to start a company very clear because getting funded depends on that reason.

Now why people seek funding. This is my opinion.

1. It is cool to get funded.
2. You will get respect from other after getting funded.
3. You need money to sustain your company.
4. You want to hire more people to work in your company.
5. You will get rich after getting funded.
6. You and your company will get famous

Technically all these seem like valid reason to seek funds but you should keep in mind that someone will give you money in return of control/stake of your company. You will not be free to do whatever you want. You will loose authority over your company.

For a moment lets go back to the reason why you want to start a company and for whom you want to do it and think again about these points above. Getting funded is sometimes really need because you may want to scale up your already running successful business but these days I see people think that will build something after getting funded. I think it is stupid to jump in the funding process with just an idea or prototype. Recently I also came across people who want to be like serial entrepreneurs, they want to start with an idea, develop prototype, launch and seek funding all within a span of few months and if that doesn't work, do everything again with a new idea. I think this is again very stupid. One should spent sometime in the market, at least few years. Nothing really happens in few months. When I met these people I ask them again the reason why they want to start the company in first place and they could not convince myself or even themselves. They just want to look cool.

I realised this a little late in my career that earning money is probably the easiest thing that one can do. If you have the skill then you will find a market for it. I think everyone who is working for someone as an employee and frustrated in life can do something outside their job to earn money and which is again starting a business only but you need a good reason to start a company. It is not like you wake up one day and start a business. Your reason to do something on your own should be very solid. In case you are not happy with your job then you probably need another job.

There is no shortcut
Do you know that I have worked in 10 companies in my career? I changed many jobs until I found the one that was somehow not bad for me and I stayed their for my last 6.5 years. I have been freelancing since my college days. I started taking small projects back in 2002, so when I started my company in 2010, I had already worked in the market for 8 years. I started with Visual Basic projects then Linux consultation and training and then I started doing Excel VBA work before moving to web development. I started working in 2003 and did job for almost 12 years. Starting from 2002 till 2015 for almost 13 years I was working almost 7 days a week, After my job hours, I would work on my projects and I got married, had kid and also managed to live a normal life but it required lot of discipline and extreme hard work. I had very strong reason to work hard continuously for 12 years. I sacrificed a lot, I hardly took family vacations and spent time with my friends but it was all worth it now. I did all this because I just wanted to reach a point where I can easily leave my job. May be in your case you need to give at least 5 years but I do not understand why people expect magic to happen in few months. There are no shortcuts. If you do not have the determination to work hard then you are probably better with your job. I did all this and gained a lot now. At this point of time I am of course generating more revenue, I have regular clients, big clients and we are the best in what we do. It took us 12+ years, so what. If I include my freelancing time then I am in the market for 14 years now. That is a lot of time.

Seeking funds in the very beginning is for losers who don't know what they want in life and they just want to follow others. You should first start a business, start generating revenues and seek funding only when you want to scale up. By the time you are running a company successfully you will probably not worry about getting funds. You will find ways to scale up yourself without external inflow of money. I am by no means highly successful business but being a 6 people company we are making quite an impact in the market, we are one of the most sought after Atlassian consultants in India and whole Asia pacific for that matter. We have been into Drupal development since the beginning and have developed expertise for Non Profit Organizations. All this is done by just 6 people. We do not have a fancy turnover to showcase to other but we are quite content and happy about our work. We are growing steadily revenue wise, client wise and we hire more people only when we really need to, not for the sake of it.

In the past I did have low time and thought of winding up everything and going back to comfortable job but I never could do that, not because I am emotionally attached to the company but because I am used to earning a lot more money in less time now. No job could pay me the money that I am earning now. I worked hard for it and I want to grow more from here now. I live a pretty humble life but I enjoy earning money. It gives me high and I feel good and happy. I may have become greedy but we have developed a skill set and people need us. So why not get the most out of it.

So coming back to the topic that you should think first about the reason to start a company and for whom you are doing it - yourself or for the society. One should take funds only after you are running a successful company but not in the beginning. You will loose the focus right in the very beginning. One should start with the ambition to learn something, one should focus on earning money from the very first year and stay in the market for few years then decide that do you really need more money or not. May be someone will give you money based on just an idea and a stupid prototype but it is like begging someone to support you. Why should you take money from someone when you don't exist anywhere in the market. I think one should stay in the market and run the company for at least 3-5 years before even thinking about getting funds. In Sparxsys we are primarily into services and we have had few successful products in the market, we will probably build more products this year too and based on my experience I don't think I will ever think about seeking funds. There is no fun in it for me. I find it shameful asking someone to give me money and finally one should learn about running a company. You run a company for 5 years and you will learn far more than any graduate from A grad business school.

If you want to get in touch with me to share your experiences then you can write to me at ravi [at] sparxsys [dot] com. May be we can learn from each other.

How I struggled with depression

How to cope with Depression

This blog is about my struggle to fight depression despite doing good business.

I used to be quite arrogant about the fact that I am quite disciplined when it comes to managing my time. I do everything on time and when they are supposed to be done but over the past few months, 5 months to be precise I am loosing this good habit of mine. As an entrepreneur or freelancer you need to be self-disciplined to do accomplish your daily tasks. Last 5 months were not really very great for me, it is not that my work is suffering or I am not making money but I have this feeling all the time of not achieving enough. It is really causing lot of trouble to me and I feel sad most of the times. Initially I didn't even realize anything was wrong with me.

Personally I like to challenge myself all the time and though last quarter was quite great for my company but personally I didn't do much myself. Everything was in fact great for the company - because I worked really hard in the 2nd quarter and sparxsys did really well but in the 3rd quarter I just didn't do enough, may be because everything seemed so right. Due to that fact I feel the work might suffer in coming months. I lost few leads and could not deliver some of the projects on time. I also planned to finish the JIRA video series which I wanted to launch last year. There are just so many "Pending" tasks in my issue tracker. I feel very bad about it. I realized that the reason for all this bad feeling that built up in me was primarily because I was not using my mind very much for doing new things. I worked really hard for few months followed by hardly any work for couple of months and it really affected me.

I was depressed
May be I didn't want to say that but probably this what depression is :) I have been working from home a lot these days and eating too much. Gained little extra weight. I am watching too much TV and just spending time on useless things. I think it is ok to get into low phases, you can't stay happy all the time but good thing is that I am getting out of it now. I did not even work at all for many days continuously because there was no motivation left or may be I was not doing anything exciting enough to give me "kick" (like Salman Khan movie).

It is not at all good to stay depressed as it will lead you to make bad decisions and it affects your relationships with clients. I really fought with few clients (sorry for that). Clients are usually annoying but since they pay us so we have to learn to tolerate them and still provide good service. There are lot of factors that contributes to depression and you need to keep a balance of every aspect of your life.

I think I am almost getting back to normal now and following things helped me. Just wanted to share with everyone.

1. Stick to a routine
I forced myself quite harshly to follow a daily routine. I started with organizing my work-rest-eat-sleep time on google calendar and I pasted notes all over my room. Yes this is crazy, when there was no space left on the walls I started writing on the door. I went crazy but I really need to remind myself to get into a discipline. Nobody likes to work hard and especially without any motivation it is even difficult but once you spend your day productively it feel really good and gives immense satisfaction.

2. Track your activities
I have been creating weekly sprints for our team every week, but it doesn't really help if you are struggling to manage your time and without a boss it is more difficult. I cannot expect my team to complete the weekly tasks if I am not doing it myself. I tried a different technique for few weeks. I simply kept track of how many hours I am working vs planned hours. Plain old effort variance technique. I know number of hours at desk doesn't mean productivity but I just wanted to stay focused and wanted to make sure that I am at least sitting in front of computer. During my down days I didn't even feel like looking into my laptop. So this technique kinda helped me. If my work efficiency was over 75% for 3 consecutive day then I would reward myself (more on that).

3. Find a boss
Leaving my full time job was a major decision. Of course I did that only when sparxsys business was well above threshold and we were making good money. One thing I didn't foresee before leaving my job is how to stay disciplined without a boss. I have been my own boss for a long time now but it happens all the time that I start loosing my focus, mainly because there was no one to ask me questions or there is no weekly report to submit to anyone. I felt the need of a boss. After lot of thoughts I finally made my wife my boss. She has her own business and she stays quite busy with her work and taking care of our 2 year old daughter but I asked her to spend some time on keeping an eye on me and my work. Now I share status of all the tasks, projects, revenue with her and she make sure I do what I am supposed to do to achieve the targets and I started paying her salary for her time. May be I will hire a new boss if more time is required in future.

4. Reward yourself
As I just said earlier that sometimes when you achieve something you planned for you should reward yourself. I really like to eat rogun josh, I could eat it every day but I tried to first finish my tasks and also achieve work efficiency of over 75% for atleast 3 days in succession to treat myself.

5. Separate Workplace
As I am writing this blog I can hear discussion on upcoming Delhi elections on TV in the other room. Sometimes when something really interesting comes up on tv, I leave everything I am doing and run towards the other room to watch the whole thing and when I check the clock, it is already 2 hours wasted. It is very easy to get distracted and I cannot help it, I am also human being and I too get distracted. There is no other way but to cut the distractions. I work in my separate home office where no one is allowed to come when I am working. I also try to keep this room as clean and organized as possible. Dirty room doesn't motivate to work for long hours.

6. Share your targets with others
During my weekly sprint meeting with my team I discuss the the upcoming personal and team targets with everyone and we discuss how much was achieved out of what we planned, we don't use any metrics to measure but it is mostly a feel of work done. We discuss openly and it really is embarrassing to achieve the least amount of work. For the past few months it was me who was not achieving a lot but I knew there was some problem that I need to fix with myself. When you share your goals with your team it also encourages you to take action on those goals no matter how small or big they are.

7. Ask family members to not disturb you
Working from home is something very new to Indian culture. When family members see you working from home they think that you are available for daily chores and little stupid chit chats. It is difficult to say no to them and even if you do they don't take it seriously. So you have to be harsh and make rules. I do my daily chores like bringing Milk, Eggs, Bread, throwing garbage early in the morning and other misc things are scheduled post 7 pm. I am still struggling to make more effective rules but I know this is quite important and you too should make a point to ask your family to understand that if you are at home all the time it doesn't mean you are useless creature. I am probably earning more money than ever, all by sitting at home and people who travel to Gurgaon and waste many hours in traveling are still better than me, at least in my family's mind. Indian families are not ready yet to accept that money can be earned by working smartly.

8. Unwind after work
I wake up between 3-4 AM and then I work till 6 AM and then I go to gym everyday. Health is prime important to me and even during my down days I made sure to not miss the gym. After 7 PM I usually go for evening walk. It really helps to unwind and relax your mind. I usually call my friends around this time. During the day I really look forward to this time. I come back home and spend time with my family and play with my daughter, by 9 PM I am usually dead tired and find it difficult to stay awake.

9. Take vacation regularly
Last month I took a small vacation and it really helped me to relax. When I came back I was quite energized, in fact now I feel that vacation was all I needed. Last year I worked really hard to bring business to sparxsys and achieved lot of goals. As of now we are probably the best JIRA Consultancy and Training company in India. During the last few months of the year I was probably too tired mentally to think straight and I made this mistake to continue working without taking any breaks. Now taking regular vacations is my goal. In fact this year I am planning to work even less. I will experiment working only 4 days a week and lets us see how it goes.

10. Pomodoro - really amazing technique
Finally I would like to mention one technique that really helped me to stay focused on the work. It happens with me quite a lot and in fact everyday that I am working on something and all of a sudden I switch to something else for few minutes not realizing that the other task/activity will suck my energy and when I come back to the original task I am all drained. Also it is difficult for me to keep working on a task continuously for a dedicated amount of time. Pomodoro technique says that you work continuously on a single task for 20 minutes, take a break of 5 minutes and again work for another 20 minutes followed by longer breaks. If you interrupt yourself then start again from 0 till 20 minutes. There are lot of apps for this technique. Search on google to know more about it. Really helpful.

Lastly I forgot to check what I wrote long time back - Are all startup founders unhappy? Things are fine with me now, I am back to normal work. After all this I am quite happy with the fact that I know what went wrong and I will make sure that I will not make the same mistakes again. One of which is over working. I wasted couple of months because I was exhausted myself completely and it took time to recuperate and just like body, mind needs rest. Most importantly I knew something is wrong with me and I tried ways to change it.

I am exploring ways to meditate these days. Lets us see how it goes. I will share the outcome and also I have been writing after a long time. Writing is really my passion. Whenever I am in doubt I write and it clears lot of confusion just by writing my thoughts.

Have a nice day! Enjoy

Never ever work without a written contract

Contract

I formally started Sparxsys in March 2010. I am just an engineer by education and never really learned anything about managing a company or a team. There are specialized courses like MBA for such stuff, I do feel sometimes about not knowing all these things when starting out, but I know from my experience that you can always learn it in the field and that learning is life long.

Today I want to share something I learned.

At Sparxsys we are currently into Drupal development services and JIRA trainings. This post is all about software services and how you should deal with clients. In web development services client will share the requirements of what they want to build. May be they are looking for a web portal or some web based application. Over the year I have learned so many things about requirement gathering where you understand the client's requirements and store them in written format, finalize it and offer a solution to the client. This is better known as Business Analysis, I am not an expert on this topic and I don't want to be, but I can definitely share my experience here. This post is not about on how to do requirement gathering, probably I will write another post on it but I want to share how to deal professionally with your clients. It will give you peace of mind and also make sure you are safe legally.

Never ever work without signed contract
You know what I mean. When you start your own company, you may not know about these things, I didn't know too, there is no one who can guide you well. You can't afford to hire lawyers, they are a**holes anyways. What I have learned in all these years is that contract is just a paper where you write what all X number of services your company will offer in return of Y amount of money in Z many days or months. Don't worry about fancy language, it could be in simple English that everyone understand. As you grow your clients you can improvise this contract.

Your contract should have.

  • Amount
  • Attach the finalize proposal that contains the list of features
  • Deadlines/Timelines of deliverable
  • Payment Schedule
  • Termination clause
  • Penalty for non delivery
  • Penalty for non payment or on time payment

Make two copies of the contract, both parties should sign it and keep it with them. Also mention in the contract that additional features or any changes will require separate discussion and will be treated as change request. After certain point of time your client will say that "I want this feature too" or "You promised that and didn't deliver it". You can always refer to this contract to remind your client about your initial agreement. Of course this contract is for both the parties. Your client can also refer to this document if you don't actually deliver what you promised. More importantly it will give you peace of mind and that really means a lot, at least to me personally. Nobody wants to get into legal matters and in case of disagreement court cases are worst thing to do but having a document will ensure that you have clearly written down your offerings. In most cases this is just enough. We never really had a situation we had major disagreement with client and signing a contract is something that we always do.

I did make several mistakes where I didn't ask the client to sign the contract and due to that had conflicts later on. Client can refer to the conversation you had long time back but if it is not written and signed then it is not part of the agreetment.

There are few other things that I want to share with everyone. Nothing related to the contract. Just my experience.

Never do any personal favors to your clients
Your client may ask you to do some favor like "creating a website for their wife", "Add this feature for free", "Setup this for free".

Never do anything for free. Personally I know and can do lot of different things. I am quite comfortable in server manangement. I know hardware stuff really well. I am also good in excel. I am comfortable working on linux, windows and mac. Overally I have good technical understanding of things, thanks to my experience of over 11 years as of 2014 but that doesn't mean I will do thing for free. Usually client's ask me for favors all the time. I define favors as something that you can do without charging money. Usually I say no to things I don't specialize in, even if I know how to do it but more importantly I know from my experience that people don't respect for things that they get for free. I have done lot of favors to people and now after bad experiences I have learned that people don't remember these favors.

Money is all you should care about
You will hear and ready everywhere that people want to start business because they want to do something good for the society or world, that is bullshit. I believe that you should first care about yourself. Business is all about making money. I have no hesitations in saying that I need to get paid really well. Of course that also means that I will provide good service to my clients and always be honest with them, but whatever decisions I make are always oriented towards making profits, otherwise there is no point of doing business. I guess it is true for everyone but people don't want to openly accept it.

  • Never hesitate about asking money
  • For small to medium project, at least take 60% advance
  • Do not start work until payment is received

I want to emphasis on the last point. Client might agree to the payment and payment terms but never believe them when they ask you to start the work and payment would be made in few days. You will make clients for a long time, be strict when it comes to the timely payment, otherwise client will take you for granted. I made this mistake intially and that resulted in late payments by several months, during that time client will also add new features and knowing that your earlier payment is due, you will be under pressure to accept that. So be strict about the payments from the very beginning.

Client's are not your friends
Never ever make friends with your clients. Ocassionally socializing with them is ok, May be you can go out with them for lunch or drinks but I personally avoid it all the times. The more you become casually with them the more your business will suffer. In my case, being a very small company client's usually interact with me, right from the very beginning till the final delivery, and even during the support. Right now I can't really afford to have multiple people taking care of various departments in our company. I do multiple roles like sales, business analysis, project management, accounting and client support. Clients know that and they also know that I am the owner/founder of the company and have most of the decision making powers. So just keep your interaction with them very formal.

and finally..

Prefer formal wear when meeting clients
People make judegments by looking at you. This may seem like a small thing but the way you dress up does give a strong message to the people you deal with. You don't want to hand over an Invoice of Rs. 2 Lakh to your client wearing a torn jeans and t-shirt. I hope you get the message. In winters I even wear blazers, of course it is not comfortable but it is all about the money!

These are just things I wanted to share based on my experience. I am no way an expert but have learned from my mistakes. Hope it helped you. You can always reach me at ravi at sparxsys dot com to share your experience. I will be glad to know how you guys are doing these things. We can always learn from each other.

Good bye and have a great day!

P.S. - I will soon share the sample contracts and other legal documents in this blog.

Clicked on MS Outlook by mistake and it reminded me of my happy job days

Microsoft Outlook

Today I clicked on outlook icon by mistake, all of a sudden it brought back so many memories, mostly good. I worked for 11 years before diving into my startup completely. I have always been honest to myself and all other people around me about my journey so far.

We have tendency to showcase our best on social networks, most of it is actually fake. No one will share their true feelings. It is like a small self dosage of happiness that we seek in terms of number of likes. We upload pictures of partying, enjoying with friends, pictures of happy moments. I think it is all fake. Everyone does it and I do it too.

The point is that everyone around me thinks that it is really brave and cool to start something one your own, but in reality it is quite the opposite. I am not brave to leave my job to start my company. The real reason is something else. I was never a good employee, I was never good in working for someone else. Though I really miss my job days sometimes. It was so much fun. I really had amazing time in job.

When I was working

  • I never had to worry about the money.
  • There was a cab to pick me from home.
  • I never over worked.
  • I used to play TT or Carom in office for hours.
  • The weekends were off.
  • Going to Ambience mall for lunch 4 days a week.
  • I got opportunity to travel Europe.
  • I worked entirely from home for the last 3 years flat.
  • There was no pressure from my Manager.
  • My whole team was in France, US and italy. None in India that means Zero politics.
  • I used to work from blackberry most of the times.
  • I loved my profile. I learnt so many things.

I really had no issues with my job, in fact it was a like a dream job for me, but still I left it to focus entirely on my business and to grow my company. My job was great but my heart was not into it.

Managing your company is not cool. If you are not happy with your job, then find a one that makes you happy but don't think of starting your own company. Working for someone is not that bad. When you start your own company, you have 100 things to worry about - paying salaries, office rent, managing clients, managing team and so much more. It is like 100 jobs at the same time. The reward is also not good. You may earn more money but you will not enjoy it.

Having said that, it doesn't mean I am not happy. I just feel I could do much more and achieve something bigger. I think this feeling of under-performance is always there. Doing something on your own and opportunity to learn so many things gives me immense satisfaction which was not there when I was in job.

I wrote about this feeling of unhappiness earlier. You can read it, may be if you are like me then you can probably relate to it. I really look forward to meet like minded people who are on a similar path like me. Contact me at ravi [at] sparxsys [dot] com to share your thoughts with me :)

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