November 26, 2019
Intro: Welcome to Go Figure. My name is Nadiem Makarim, CEO and founder of Gojek; Southeast Asia's First Super App. Gojek does ride hailing food delivery payments, even on demand massages, you name it. We do it. Go Figure is a podcast dedicated to expose the inner workings of ambitious tech companies in the emerging world. We like to talk about things we like and talk about things we don't like. There are a lot of myths out there that we wanted to dispel. So keeping it real is kind of our mantra.
Nadiem Makarim: Kunal Shah, what an honor. What an honor. Welcome to the show. Welcome to Go Figure. How've you been?
Kunal Shah: Good. Thank you for having me. It's a very interesting format.
Nadiem Makarim: Is this new to you? This kind of format?
Kunal Shah: Yeah. I've done a total of one, one or two podcasts in my entire life, so this is always an unusual format for me. Uh, I've always been on stage and never actually have a discussion kind of format. I've never done a podcast with a founder before. So this should be interesting.
Nadiem Makarim: Really. Okay. So, so this should be very interesting. I'm a huge fan of your work. I'm a huge fan of your talks and speeches. Um, you know, your Delta-4 concept has been something that I use, uh, internally in Gojek and I've learned a lot from you personally. So thank you for being a buddy and a mentor. So for those of you that don't know, Kunal Shah is the founder of Free Charge and the founder of Cred, a new startup, uh, based out of India, but, you know, probably going to go global at some point. A serial entrepreneur and one of my buddies. And so thank you for being on the show and for today, uh, what we wanted to discuss about. You're first external guest to our podcast, and you won't be the last but founder to founder. Let's talk about the dark side. Let's talk about the things that are uncomfortable to talk about and the things that don't get shown too much in the fireside chats and the seminars that we have because they're, you know, the, the overarching objective and the talks that I do that you do out there is to inspire, to shed insight. Go Figure is a little bit different. Um, here we prefer to share the things that usually don't get talked about outside of the walls of, you know, the intimacy of your close friends. So that's why we're here to talk about the dark side.
Kunal Shah: Cool.
Nadiem Makarim: Where do you want to start? When I say dark side, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?
Kunal Shah: Um, the, the darkness that is below this, all the glory that the founders get, right? Do we truly enjoy that or do we dislike that? Do we feel it's a burden? I dunno, you tell me Nadiem. You are like the celebrity of Indonesia for all practical purposes. Does the, uh, glory come at a cost and price that allows you to only live life in a certain way, whereas it's harder to be more real? Uh, and, and I think it's a, it's a constant challenge cause people look up to these founders as some heroes and, and we are just normal people trying to stretch ourselves, to inspire people and constantly be in this mode of insane optimism in front of people and insane paranoia inside. And sometimes in a, in a smaller group and, and constantly switching those sides. And I think a lot of people don't understand that side because, very few forums allow people to be be one. Let's put it this way let's, let's talk about, uh,
Nadiem Makarim: Why is that?
Kunal Shah: I think, I think we've not accepted, at least in the East, not accepted failure as an acceptable more of operating life.
Nadiem Makarim: Which is so ironic because it is the only fundamental way to learn and get better, I think in a micro scale and a big scale. Whichever way. Yeah, it's so important.
Kunal Shah: But I think East is also a hero worship culture, right? I think, and we have the curse of wanting to make people heroes, right? And, and therefore we do not want to see any flaws in them, but they are full of flaws. They are probably a lot, many more flaws. They just have a few spikes. Uh, not the UNICON spikes or, but the thing is a lot of people don't understand that they are equally flawed, right? They are equally having blind spots and not knowing. They are just very fortunate, uh, to be doing what they're doing.
Nadiem Makarim: I think the first time that I began to be okay with vulnerability, I remember this, I was in the middle of a student's a university student seminar. You know, this is a couple of years ago and it was around the time where I was starting to slowly shed this, you know, image of, of invulnerability and someone asked me a question about their own startup and I literally thought to myself, and whenever you think you know, your eye goes up like that and you think, and I'm like, I don't know. And my normal reflex to that would be like to give them a really polished response about that. And at that moment I just decided, and I don't know why I just decided to say honestly, I don't know. That's really not my domain and I don't have any experience in that vertical. So I'm sorry. And you could see these kids just go like, what? Like he doesn't know.
Kunal Shah: Like, it's funny, I still remember, I remember sending you a message probably a couple of years ago and telling you congrats on the new fundraise and, and you went all dark on me. "Kunal, what's the point of all of this and what are we really doing over here and why is this ... " and, and it's, it's such an unusual concern for people to understand that there's a moment for you to be being happy cause you have raised a large amount of money, but that's the time you're thinking about what's the point of life and what are we doing and how does this whole thing play out. And because we are trying to build these large companies in really short period of time.
Nadiem Makarim: Where a normal life, it would've taken what like 20 years?
Kunal Shah: At least 10x more years. So in that time. And unfortunately we still have the same 24 hours per day that we can literally be doing that. And do we sleep? I don't think we sleep, right? I mean I think I'm problem solving when I'm sleeping. Mostly I'm thinking about stuff. I'm a, and I'm sure it's the same for you and people talk about work life balance, right? And as founders like how can you achieve that when you have like high growth, uh, thousands of people depending on you and, and you are constantly making decisions almost. It's like you're driving this 10 x faster Formula One car and every decision can be near fatal and you have to be right 10 times a day on those decisions.
Nadiem Makarim: And if you don't get it right, you can't let anyone know that you got it wrong.
Kunal Shah: And we are not these gifted sage visiting guys that can be always right. We are learning on the job. Most of the stuff that we've learned is on the job. Right?
Nadiem Makarim: All of it.
Kunal Shah: So how, how are we supposed to like live that normal work life balance cause you're, there is no way you.. I mean; what is a vacation for us? Like thinking about stuff that we have not taught about at work.
Nadiem Makarim: Making a conscious effort not to think about this stuff that you're thinking about. And that's my vacation.
Kunal Shah: Correct. Yeah. But the thing is that it is just hard doing what we do and, and, and it's glorious from the outside. And I'll tell you one of the biggest things that I do often with people who are new founders is tell them to not start up because I tell them.
Nadiem Makarim: What do you mean not startup? Don't do it.
Kunal Shah: Yeah. When I, when I see an idea that is not good or I see a mediocre idea and I'm known for sharing on pretty aggressively or some of the founders because they don't understand, they will struggle the same 3 years. Come out as a failure. Will doubt their existence of competence. I've seen so many competent guys from Ivy Leagues, uh, IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) all of these places who will like go through the struggle, fail doing a stupid startup and not be able to recover from that. Right. And I think if we allow people to know that this is not glorious, this is going to be fairly dark. If you're signing up for this stuff, at least pick a good team, good idea, all of that. Cause it's going to be painful. And by the way, there is no exception to this.
Nadiem Makarim: I completely agree with that. There is one element that I disagree with. It Is those guys who do spend those three years battling it out on a bad idea and then failing pretty spectacularly, but then getting back on the horse, it's usually those people who can deal with so much failure and get back up that that will eventually succeed in the conventional definition of succeed. Of course, it's a debate about it. But to your point, what I always tell, uh, uh, in, in my, in my other speaking engagements especially to young students is that, you know, my favorite response, and I'm being ironic here, my favorite response to it, "oh, so, uh, and someone goes up to me and says, oh, I want to be an entrepreneur." And I'm like, okay, um, what's your idea? And they say, oh, I don't have it yet, but I really want to be a founder. That is the moment where I have two choices at that moment. Do I tell them the relevant and important information at that time or do I lie to them? And so what I now do is I tell them, first of all, if your entire objective is to be something you will never, ever in the entrepreneurial game, you will never, ever amount to the level of success that you think you want because you're not obsessing about something in the real world that you want to fix a problem you don't want to address. You're obsessing about the image or the vision of you in the future, which is the glorious founder story, of which there's a 99 for every one glorious founder story, there's a 99 or 9,099, um, examples of those that didn't make it, the motivation's already wrong. Um, and so I, I completely agree with you on the point.
Kunal Shah: Well, I actually disagree with what you are just saying. I, I'll tell you what; I think we over emphasize that there are problems that need to be solved. According to me every single thing is a problem. If you're gonna make something more efficient than what it is today, you can define every single thing to be a problem. Let's take an example. Oh, I want to make digital books. Right? But then real problem it solves, okay, you don't have to carry books and you can carry thousands of books now, but the real problem is I want, I want to be able to read one book a day automatically in my brain and and when I'm sleeping or something of that nature. So if you can create that product, books will become inefficient and therefore build to find this problem. I think most people reduce the scope of things that they can build on by defining that. The problem I'm trying to solve for the right thing according to me, is that inefficiency I'm going after and therefore every single thing is inefficient, right? You can almost take every single startup and say it's inefficient, right? You can take any single production and say it's inefficient, right? And you can make something more efficient. Then you can actually create wealth. Second thing is that I think it's extremely important to be in love with the idea of being successful than being in love with your idea. A lot of times people who fall in love with their idea, right? Learn very little because they are so biased that they are not able to read a signal that the market.
Nadiem Makarim: Falling in love with the idea or falling in love with a problem?
Kunal Shah: Problem. Problem is myopic in my view. Here's what I am, what I think is the right way of thinking about interest. For example, I build Free Charge which solve the problem of recharging online and mobile prepaid, I've never used mobile prepaid in my entire life. I have still not used in mobile prepaid products, right? I think it is reduces the scope of what you can be building and the size of what you could be building if you start thinking about problem, because by definition they are much more sharper in nature. But if you say, I want to create a large business, right? And, and I'm going to start backwards of that in where do I start today? What is that thing that I do today that will eventually, that is in a large business, right? Like Free Charge credit. None of them appeared like problems to solve. Nobody even thought it was a problem, right? But the moment you create a better solution, people thought the previous thing sounds like bullshit. Whatever I've been doing with this thing, they moved to this new behavior, right? So things appear to be a problem when you discover a better solution. And a lot of times when we start focusing only on problems to solve, the world is becoming so efficient, very fast that you will not see enough problems if you say that I need to make a large business, where do I start from? What is my entry point over there? And then build a larger business on the ground that is a, is a, is a new way of building businesses in, in a hyper connected world that we are in right now, right? Uh, the whole world's businesses are becoming APIs now, right? So you need to think about businesses, distribution platforms now, right? And you cannot think of distribution platforms unless you really find out what is that entry point through which I will be able to acquire customers, retain them, love them, and then able to cross sell up, sell multiple things on top of that. I think a lot of times people forget that and get obsessed with the problem. The problem is that there is not enough room over there to make things more efficient. A lot of times..
Nadiem Makarim: It will depends how big the problem that you're attached to.
Kunal Shah: Sure.
Nadiem Makarim: So I do come from a different mindset here than you are. But going back to your point about why do you then tell young founders to quit?
Kunal Shah: Uh, it's because if the idea is to become more successful than you should not be in love with your idea. You should be able to accept that it's absolutely a bad idea.
Nadiem Makarim: Yeah. That I agree.
Kunal Shah: And I think, people have the sunk cost mindset.
Nadiem Makarim: But to quit my being a founder or quit their idea?
Kunal Shah: Quit their idea.
New Speaker: Okay.
Kunal Shah: And then, and then, uh, I mean, I tell them about the dark side that hey, this, this might result in, uh, your relationship disappearing. And this might, I tell them the dark side that I've seen people go through mental illnesses. People will go through relationship failures. People will lose friends, people will lose everything,
Nadiem Makarim: Sorry; mental illness or, uh, mental, uh, issues or illness. However way you define it depends on the extremity is a given. I just want to point this out. If you start a company and any founder that tells me that they don't suffer from some kind of a mental health issue during, after trying it out for three, five years, 10 years, whatever, uh, to me is a liar. Um, or they're there for sure it was, it'll be one of the most dark things to fight internally are the mental challenges that'll lead to mental health.
Kunal Shah: Let me tell you the scary part. It is depressing when you'll have a successful exit also. Let me tell you why. Because when I sold Free Charge, It was the largest exhibit in India. It's a big achievement. A lot of people made a lot of money.
Nadiem Makarim: And everyone celebrated.
Kunal Shah: and everybody's celebrating. And I was going through this dark phase where I was just almost angry at everybody and obviously figured out I met and I got the relational. I met the Braintree founder in the US and he told me, hey, let me tell you all, all the stuff that will happen to you in six months from now after you exit, because he had just gone through an exit and he said, you're going to have this situation. You will find it weird with your friends. You will be upset with your colleagues congratulating you on stuff and because I'll tell you what happens if you're used to this life on a daily basis, when you exit, when you have a good financial outcome, you have no purpose to be up next day. I remember the next morning after my exit, I did not wake up from the bed for six hours after waking up because I felt that even if I don't wake up today, nothing will change. I mean, it's great. Everything is fine and people are going to be okay. I lost purpose, right? And I think..
Nadiem Makarim: What did that feel like?
Kunal Shah: It feels, it feels really, really dark. And it did hit hits you in months after that because you have this empty life suddenly. And then I discovered there's something called astronaut's syndrome. So astronauts and people who come back from wars feel the exact same depression, uh, because they live this extremely strong, uh, aggressive. Uh, you can die any moment life and suddenly you have peace. Like Astronaut Syndrome is like you've just been on a mission and then you come back and you're stuck in traffic and you're angry at that stupid stuff because you were on such a bigger cause and mission and it almost gives depression to all of them, uh, after the exit because you went through that particular phase. And I could not process it. I was like, just nasty. I on social media, I was to just bash everybody and not realize that I'm just going through that. And I should have just probably past that phase. And this is even after shoring the big ship and like making sure everybody got the money and all of that. So the biggest relation I learned is that there is very little literature about what happens to founders after they exit or they make money or whatever. And it's ...
Nadiem Makarim: Episode is over.
Kunal Shah: ... systematically, it's always dark. In the past people were valued based on the years of experience they had. Now people are valued based on the experiences they have per year. Right? If you think about it as a founder, the amount of experiences that you're having per year is exponentially more than most people, which gets you closer to reality than most people. And the reality is not fun. Right? That's why I tell you a lot of standup comedians go through depression because after making jokes on human behavior, they accurately discover what human behavior is and it's pretty dark. And then you're like, what's the point of this life? So we don't realize that in this accelerated mode of learning and experiencing, you get so close to reality so quickly, right, that most people will get it when they are at 60, 70 and they're already old and fragile and it's okay if they feel that life is meaningless at that point of time, but when you're in your thirties and you find out life is meaningless. How do you inspire your team? How do you feel like the cheer full leader in the morning and like suffer with that? And I think therefore the adjustment of those multi personalities that we live comes at mental illnesses.
Nadiem Makarim: And that the mental illness part I think is exacerbated by the fact that you are expected to constantly be strong. And expected to not to conceal that because, and it's true, you can't have a moping around CEO founder that is going through some stuff and expect to inspire the people around you. You have to put that front up.
Kunal Shah: I think that's where a core team comes into play, right? In my view, they should be able to absorb sometimes and you should be able to absorb sometimes when they are going to those phases and it will happen. It is no escape from that. I think a lot of people don't realize that unless you have a team which can be extremely real with each other. And I think, Nadiem you've done a fabulous job of having a really a good core team that you have. And I, and I, and honestly I'm here to learn more about that. I actually love spending time with Andrea earlier and understanding what is a secret. And he was like, oh, this is how Nadiem operates. And I was like, how has he managed to do this? And I think that is only happened because you've, you have hacked trust by being vulnerable. A lot of people don't understand that the vulnerability is the fastest way to create trust.
Nadiem Makarim: That is true.
Kunal Shah: And in this fake macho leader syndrome, you are mostly distancing with people because tell you why they think of you as this person with you or not rather be what you are and still do your best. And, and therefore you're more relatable and they can understand and empathize with you. And like they will go on the battle with you, uh, if you are real with them. But if you're this fake person, uh, and they discover some other stuff from the outside and, and you're giving this oh we are sorted out. Don't worry. We have all the fundraise sorted and guys, and if you're not real and say guys, we are fucked. Like we need to improve the spotter and this is the situation, then they will like, really sign up for that and even do that for you.
Nadiem Makarim: But I AB tested some of this by the way.
Kunal Shah: Interesting.
Nadiem Makarim: So I did, I won't say with who of our members. So I, I went up to some of my, uh, close leaders and I said, you know, so do you wanna like you always tell me like, you want to be informed of everything, I'm going to give you a chance. So is your answer yes or no? Of course their answer is like yes immediately. So I did it. I did it for about, um, six months where every piece of bad news I would tell this person.
Kunal Shah: Okay.
Nadiem Makarim: At the end of it I asked them, you know, so how do you feel? And the person had a really bad time because there is so many things that were completely out of this person's control that was not actionable, that was only increasing the level of fear. And this particular person had, not fear issues, had like anxiety issues and was not very good and adept at dealing with bad news in general, right? Because more stressed out person, which is a very common, very common. Some of the best people have this, uh, characteristic. Uh, but I stopped after six months and it improved. So, you know, yes, there's a difference between vulnerability, which is based on authenticity. And there's a difference to opening up your heart to your team constantly. Those are two very different things. But without the Kevin and Andre who I share everything, every fear, every insecurity, everything. And of course my family and my friends that I do that. That's still my outlet. Um, you know, I don't think I would've survived. So you need, when you say core, you need that group of people who you know are, is tough.
Kunal Shah: Because, uh, let's put it this way, your existence, you're real, the real Nadiem exists, not in you. It's in them. You are on cloud. Let's think about it that way, right? Like concentrate all of your personality in just in you and not kind of evolving along with 10, 15 people who are plugged in through APIs in you, uh, you are likely to collapse. So you've done a cloud architecture for yourself and by plugging different APIs and different people what you've done and obviously you have to know which API to plug where also, right? Like certain things like you need to have a zen like person in your life. You can tell them anything and they'll be like, hmm, Nice, interesting. And they should have no reaction cause they will take any blow and tell you that two right sentence that matter that part of time and not a big lecture cause you're not in the mood of lecture in that point of the time. Right. I think just finding that right APIs to become a cloud or a platform as an individual is extremely important for founders. Right.
Nadiem Makarim: How important is the Personal API group, the people you don't work with in your life?
Kunal Shah: It's extremely important because there are certain issues that you will be going through in your own relationships or you'll be going through your own anxieties and anxieties are something that just needs to be finding an outlet. They are meaningless at times when we worry about small, small things. But unless we express that right, we will not process it. Sometimes thoughts become clear when we express them. Right? But sometimes you can not express uh, unstructured thoughts to some of the work guys because they will be like, you are not even making sense. But at least having some of the guys in your personal life where you can absolutely not make sense and they should think nothing of you, they should be like, okay, Nadiem, you are Nadiem for us. And not this celebrated fortune 40 under 40 founder. Cause that's when you can really not having to play this magnanimous role and just ramble sometimes.
Nadiem Makarim: Yeah.
Kunal Shah: And, and, and we have to cause there's so much stuff that is going on in your mind that you need to just sometimes say it, right?
Nadiem Makarim: Or do therapy.
Kunal Shah: Yeah. Or therapy or therapy sometimes is helpful. Uh, if you obviously find the right person to do it with. Right. And I think just being able to express process starts right. And, and I think the brain needs constant defragging. Right. I'll tell you one more thing that I've seen in traits and on founders, unless you have the ability to convert pain into fuel, you will not survive this game.
Nadiem Makarim: That's I agree.
Kunal Shah: Yeah. So and ability to convert pain into fuel on a regular efficient basis requires you to be having a lot more clarity and anchoring in life, right?
Nadiem Makarim: Yes.
Kunal Shah: And, and if you do not have that level of clarity in life or security in life, right? Like Nadiem, some of the stuff that you've done for your leaders and on how you've treated your Capitalization Table and Esop is legendary. And honestly, I have a lot to learn from that. And that gives you this amazing amount of security that you believe that even if this does not really end well, you'd have done extremely well for people that you've kind of got signed up for doing this for you. And that gives you this amazing superpower to just fight it out. Cause you are not fighting an easy battle. You are, uh, in the most competitive market, in the most competitive category, uh, and on almost all dimensions, right? And, and you probably are fighting with lesser capital, uh, in on many fronts. But the thing is, unless you have a team that feels that extreme amount of, uh, passion just the way you do and like a cloud, you will never be able to create this kind of outcome. So I've noticed people who convert pain or failures into fuel, uh, just go really, really far.
Nadiem Makarim: I love that analogy converting pain into fuel, but I feel that there are stages, there are sequences of coping mechanisms, um, that at least I experienced on the first level is trusting your team. That's the first resilience. So if we could talk about like all these things that prevent your bones from breaking if you're in a fighting sport, right? So like yoga would be an example of it. Like the first level of protection is trusting your team members. K, for me that was the first thing that got me through most of it. Trusting and to a certain extent, enjoying your team members is two different things. Uh, you have to trust them to enjoy being with them, but you also have to enjoy being with them to continue to feel the trust you have to like, which is why, you know, we had these debates about is as a startup, a sports team or a family. And I think the most effective ones, you cannot avoid being both at different times. You cannot. So first is trusting the team. That's your first level of resilience against the darkness. The second level of resilience, the sequence is this sense of overarching purpose. The stronger your purpose, the more you can deal with pain. But I want to be very clear what purpose means here. A lot of founders have the perception that purpose is the mission statement of your company. Okay? And they mistake it and then they go down a rabbit hole of depression. They don't understand why, I'm living my purpose. And the reality is that you're not your mission of the company and your individual purpose may not always be as one. The closer you are between what your company does and how it behaves to your individual purpose as a human being, the closer it is, the more alignment you get and the more you're in a state of flow, the further you are. These two things and any deep takes a huge amount of self awareness to begin realizing how far the gap is. So, but it's very easy to tell. It's when you're shaky, when you're shaky, that means you're, you're diverging. When you start feeling like, why am I doing this again? That that's that question that you ask, why are we in this? That's when usually what you're doing and the purpose of who you are are beginning to diverge. So the second part about this resilience is about purpose aligning, not always, but a big overlap with what you're doing. This is very important. This overlap between your personal mission, sorry; not mission, your personal sense of purpose and the mission and what the actions of your company are. Must have a pretty significant overlap. There's a third sequence and is the final one, which I've only recently began to acquire disability and this is. How do I put it? It's very hard to describe. It is the ability to enjoy the journey instead of evaluate yourself on the outcomes. This is by far the hardest one in the world of tech startups whereby every victory and defeat is a public, especially when you're a B2C. Every victory in defeat is a public defeat. Public victory. And so you have to society telling you, you suck or you're great and it's like this roller coaster. When you've had enough of these ups and downs, you begin to realize that when you're on the way up, a down is coming. And when you're on the way down, an up is coming, most people make the mistake of thinking up means up, up, up, up, up. Yeah. And then they missed it. If it's down, there's no light at the end of the tunnel. So that awareness of the cyclicality of how life behaves and how startups behave begins to give me the confidence that this is just the process. I'm just in the flow. And if I don't start living in the present and enjoying the flow, I'm just going to get lost. And I stopped being so judgmental of myself for outcomes out there. And instead I try to just be present in the game, in the sport itself. And this is just an extended training period in life. So I take a longterm macro approach and that creates distance and that creates calm. That whatever happens, it's okay. I'm playing a 20 year game. It's okay. I Dunno. I Dunno.
Kunal Shah: I think there's an interesting way of thinking about this and you mentioned about your personal purpose and company's purpose kind of be in the same zip code at least. Uh, and you mentioned about self awareness, right?
Nadiem Makarim: Not only purpose, demonstrated actions that support that you can put whatever you want on your mission statement. And I mean, but yeah, go ahead.
Kunal Shah: I think the reason; what I've seen the best companies feel like cults. The reason they feel like cults is that values are not written but lived, right? And it almost feels like a religion then. Right? Religion has rituals, religion has sacrifices, religion has a code through which people align and a lot of times we forget that a cult also has the ability to kind of make big things happen, right? When you talk about self awareness, right? I have seen founders ... By the way, uh, the thing that a startup can do is sometimes make money but it always guarantees you work a crash course in self-awareness because trust me, you will be slapped hard to know what you are and what you are not. And if self awareness is not exponentially growing, first of all, you should not be a founder. You shouldn't call it off and say; "It looks like I'm the same." Cause compounding of you and your company. The function of how you get clearer and once you are clear inside, you will see the world to be more clear ways. Right? Like I mentioned, I remember you once told me; "hey, I've removed all the social media apps from my phone or whatever. Right? And I think that's an interesting thought because what you figured out is that, uh, the need for external validation on your action is such an interesting problem to be because you'll be up and up and then people need stories. So they'll bring you down and down and, and if you just like disconnect from yourself from that and say that; "hey, I don't care what's happening and what's being written about me and spoken about me and I'm going to just do my job well and focused on that." You will have dramatically better outcomes, right? If a team sees that the founder's mostly about public perception and not about customer love and customer loyalty or customer dedication, uh, then they will also worship the same God which is the PR God, right? And, and not do any real stuff. And I've seen that so many times. It plays out that people mimic the founders, uh, in every single company. And most times you'll be realizing that if you're not a high self-awareness founder; like why is my team doing lots of this bullshit? They are only amplifying what you are doing right and you don't realize that because you don't know that you are that right. If you are all about; "oh, let me appear in Forbes and, and let me just have my speech everywhere." And that's your primary driver of motivation. Your team will also mimic the same behavior instead of trying to go on the trenches and just building stuff that people will love. But if they see a founder who is extremely paranoid about every single customer feedback and interested in knowing how is this being solved and what is the NPS (Net Promoter Score) of this and like then the org will mimic that as well. Right? So I think the founders have this weird or unique ability to set culture by their everyday behavior. And unless they are self aware, they will not correct it. And then we'll be shocked when their org mimics that behavior in a hugely exponential manner. And it's too late by that time.
Nadiem Makarim: Because they don't see it.
Kunal Shah: They don't see it.
Nadiem Makarim: In themselves and therefore they don't see it in the organization until much later when it's already been entrenched. I want to talk a little bit about this public perception and about the reason why I stopped social media about two years ago. Cause I think this is a very salient point. If I were to tell you that I stopped social media because I didn't care what people think of me, I would be lying to you. I'd be lying to you. And anyone who says that I have credibility issues with that person, normally if they can convincingly argue to me that they don't care at all what people think, I don't think that's true. I don't, I think that no one can truly not care. I care about what people think of me, but that's just something that I have to deal with as a social human. Um, and I think everyone to a certain extent cares what people think of us because we are social beings. Having said that, founders can be on one side of the spectrum and the other side of spectrum, there are hypersensitive people to public opinion who are very reactive founders and there are people who are less reactive and you know a little bit, you know, the subtle art of not giving an f, you know, like, so it's, it's, it's, they are on the spectrum. Now what I wanted to say was that no matter where you are in the spectrum, do not think that deep down in your court, just because you pretend to see that you don't really care what people think doesn't mean that you don't number one. So please know thyself about whether you actually care and if you have identified yourself on the spectrum whereby, you know, I'm pretty sensitive to this stuff. You need to take proactive steps to remove those opportunities whereby other people can bring you down and make you feel bad, worse, et cetera. I sat there with my, uh you know, leaders just loved talking about like, "Oh, I know everything that's going on in the company. I tell my team members I want to know everything as it," you know, I was like that for a long time. Um, about a year and a half ago or two years after I started to stop my social media, I realized the impact of stopping that distraction and it had a huge cognitive impact on my ability to, to be calm and less anxious. And I told my team, it's like, tell me what only things that are actionable on my part. Only only tell me bad things that are actionable on my part. If there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it, do not tell me because all it will do is depress me or make me feel bad. And I've got a million other things that are actionable that I need to focus on. So this whole thing about having perfect information on everything I think I disagree with.
Kunal Shah: It's a great framework. I think all B2C founders are by design likely to be high empathy, otherwise it'll suck at being a B2C founder. Right? High empathy is a double edged sword, right? Because you feel everything. And because you are the sponge that can absorb almost everything. It's important that what kind of innovation comes to you. Now actionable is a great framework, but another framework I would say is that, uh, who's saying it, right? So if people who are more competent than you have achieved more stuff than you, and when they are saying it, pay attention because it's almost like free advice. If people who are envious, uh, please understand status is a zero sum game, right? So sometimes if I can not go up, I'll bring somebody down to feel good about my life when it comes to pure status as a game, money is not zero sum but status is, right? That's what the very famous thing that uh, nothing talent talks about. Now, if this is true, you're to understand whose feedback is coming from, what. Is there a motivation? Is there a true insight or you to empathize? So a lot of times I should get so much hate for no reason because I had an exit and made money. But most founders don't even get funding, right? And I don't think I'm smart founder compared to most people. Like people are really bright gone to IIT. I'm a philosophy major doing tech startups. Uh, but they cannot accept that. And I used to get so much hate for no reason. And then I used to understand it more and I should just asked them; "are you okay?" When they spew hateful comments. And they would almost literally break down every time when I asked him; "are you okay?" Cause you're clearly not hitting me. You're hitting this.
Nadiem Makarim: There's something else.
Kunal Shah: This pain that you are going through. Can I, can I talk to you? So I must have already spoken to a hundred, 200 founders who were earlier used to be just trolls. And people used to juat put hate. When I started asking them on private message that; "are you okay?" I clearly see there's some pain that you're going to, can you talk about it?And I felt better because suddenly instead of trying to defend, I could see where their feedback was coming from and suddenly they became your champions. One thing I've learned. Uh, it was an insight from this weekend. The part from shame to pride is shorter than part from shame to normalcy.
Nadiem Makarim: From shame to pride is shorter...
Kunal Shah: Than pride to normalcy.
Nadiem Makarim: than pride to normalcy.
Kunal Shah: Okay. If you're ashamed of something, a much, much easier to make you proud of that versus make you think that it's not okay and it's normal, right? Same way when you take an emotionally sensitive thing and you actually make their thing to give you feedback or like make it their moment to get attention from you or whatever you are converting that shameful moment into a pride or a proud moment and you can flip them almost emotionally. People don't understand that it's much easier to convert a religious fanatic to to a different religion versus trying to make them an atheist.
Nadiem Makarim: Interesting.
Kunal Shah: Right? Cause when you're an extreme version, right, you are likely to switch. The decision to extremism is extremely short. Right? So what I'm trying to say to that is that a lot of times we don't process feedback in cohorts. We process...
Nadiem Makarim: We don't segment it.
Kunal Shah: We don't segment it. That where is this coming from? Is this feedback; is somebody's upset about your success because they are not successful. They're struggling for years, not be able to raise money, right? And now I empathize a lot more with that and I talk to them, right? And I tell them how much it's all about luck too, right? And like I constantly have not gone off on social media. I share everything I feel because very few people are sharing, cause they are constantly trying to be this perfect people, right? So suddenly when one of my posts will have 10,000 likes and one of them will have a hundred likes because I am writing to share, not to get likes. And the moment you get "de-addicted" to chasing likes and all about expressing, you will be surprised how much of an authentic following that you'll get where people will be actually willing to give feedback. I recently wrote on Linkedin, "Hey, I want to make CRED better. Can you give me some feedback?" And 1500 high quality comments like almost two years, a roadmap over there.
Nadiem Makarim: Fascinating.
Kunal Shah: And that happens when you're truly out there.
Nadiem Makarim: Instead of showing, oh CRED, just raise this much....
Kunal Shah: And one more thing I've learned in media is that when founders raise money, they put founders pictures on the news articles. I think it's completely wrong because it creates massive envy. Why should, why is the company logo not there? Right. It's a very Asia problem. I think like we've put make these founders heroes and we start believing all of that stuff. Like I would....
Nadiem Makarim: The founders start to believe it too.
Kunal Shah: Yeah, that's the problem, right? Because they think that they are gods but they are not. And, and like, like if I, it is, uh, I mean I've actually just specifically request media don't put my pictures cause it is not me. It is a team that got this far and I don't want one person to be celebrated over here and let's not create this aura around this one person. I'm happy being a Kunal Shah on Twitter with not even a real picture, just some version of me over there. Uh, and that has, that was never talks about CRED. It talks about everything other than CRED, which is useful because people want to see that version. And I think a lot of times people don't understand that power of personal media like what you're doing with this podcast, right? Like you talked about earlier that how even though it may not have that massive audience but how targeted it is because people want to listen to this stuff, right? And, and there are very few authentic conversations that people are talking about real stuff versus the propaganda stuff that you need to constantly do in public domain. So I think, I think it's a fine balance in. And one final point on you mentioned about the public perception thing, right? If you will live for public perception, you'll become cloud of that versus...
Nadiem Makarim: Meaning the APIs connected to you are going to be also PR machines.
Kunal Shah: The wrong APIs, yeah. And you will normalize to that and you'll normalize to that which cannot resolve anything because they are looking for like social media is like Twitter particularly is an outreach machine. They're looking for the next topic or person to bash. So by protecting that APIs, can you build a great product? I don't think so cause they're not interested in making a better product. The interesting outreaching on the next thing.
Nadiem Makarim: It's a very dangerous game to play the PR game. I think, I mean every company has to play it, but when the individuals in the company start playing it, this is I think a very risky game because the end goal is unclear. And the end goal almost has nothing to do with the wellbeing of your organization. If it depends on those individuals. It's also very hard to encourage as many people in the organization to get out there and balance the narrative and to make it seem what the reality is, which is the team. To be honest, you know? Yeah. Founders work hard, but way more people within the organization work even harder. You know? And people don't call that out. They'll always say; "the founders are not my company." No, I've got some crazy people of all levels that are working harder than founders or leaders in the organization. And it's not, it's not just that. And this whole thing about work life balance, it's a very, very interesting thing because at the end of the day there's two camps. There's the camp that believes that is complete rubbish and that it cannot be achieved. Um, and okay, so I'll tell you my perspective then I like to hear yours.
Kunal Shah: Sure.
Nadiem Makarim: I think that the people whose alignment of their purpose and what their company is doing, if that alignment is very high, if that overlap is very big, then work and life will permeate almost seamlessly. Um, they'll be thinking about work everywhere they're going, et cetera. So if that is the definition of work, life balance, which is a compartmentalization of your life, that won't work for the most fulfilled purpose driven founders, it's in them, it's who they are. It's not work and life. It's, this is who I am, this is what I want to achieve, et cetera. So it's almost like, and that sucks sometimes for their families and for their friends because even when I'm hanging out with my friends, of which half of them are actually working in Gojek, I still talk about Gojek all the time. Um, which annoys some of the spouses and some of the other friends who don't really, are not interested in tech. Having said that, one of the biggest transformations had to happen to me when I had children. So two years ago I had my first child and now I have two baby girls. And, and what happened at that moment was then a reorientation, not a reorientation, but a re-expansion of my purpose in life. This is biological. I had no idea. It just hacked me interested immediately. It just hacked me. And, uh, what happened then was I was faced with a choice of very, very tough choice of leaving early to work to see my kids to bed every day, which I knew deep down was more important thing to me. Then the concept, most experienced founders already figured this out very quickly. The number of hours you put into something does not correlate to the impact. It's completely wrong. Working hard does not mean putting in just hours. It's about impact per hour. Same with engineering and the way everything in life is like that, but it's not that I wasn't worried about that, about having less impact. I was worried about the perception of being seen by my team members as checking out; as being checked out or being lazy. You have no idea how much, how deeply insecure it made me to have to leave the office visibly everyday at around 5:30, 6 PM right.
Kunal Shah: Interesting.
Nadiem Makarim: Um, to go home and have that confidence to say I choose my children versus all the consequences. I knew people would have the perception of me in a role modeling position in an organization that I am constantly being looked at by my team. I had to make that call. But guess how I figured out that was the right call. After doing it, after some time, the guilt subsided and the sense of fulfillment increased until now I'm already neutral again. And that means that I did the right action that matched my personal purpose. And that's how you know, these are the little hints the world is trying to tell you. Whenever you want to make a tradeoff, try it and see if it's making you feel crappier or better. That's the easiest way of actually seeing if you are within this alignment. And I don't think a lot of founders focus on that feeling and AB testing that.
Kunal Shah: I think that's perfect. I think the effectiveness of what you did right, probably got you more focused. Got You. More focused on what have you spend your time right. Because unfortunately you can probably get more capital, you can get more time per day so...
Nadiem Makarim: I quit having lunch by the way, which turned out great for my health. I did this intermittent fasting thing, so I had that extra hour as well, and it was made me feel healthier, lighter, cognitive load, et cetera.
Kunal Shah: Perfect.
Nadiem Makarim: There are hacks around it.
Kunal Shah: So effectiveness takes; the thing is that let's say you would drive a very different type of meeting structure saying that, hey, I would love for you to come more prepared for this discussion or what is actionable from this discussion? Uh, I think the moment you start doing some of these things, the impact per hour can significantly improve when you forcefully reduce the hours that you can put, right. For example, a busy founder is a sign of not prioritizing and which is not good for the org because the org is also manifesting that same thing. Right. And I think, I believe founders should be not busy. They should be having enough time to think now if they do that with spending time reading books or spending time with kids or going on vacation. Like one thing I've learned in Free Charge was terrible, is that I took zero day vacation for five years of running Free Charge.
Nadiem Makarim: What?
Kunal Shah: Right. And I think it was terrible for my team because I wasn't clear on many things cause there was no downtime to really think what I want. Right?
Nadiem Makarim: Of course. True reflection.
Kunal Shah: Correct. And a lot of people forget that the word vacation comes from vacay, which is vacating your mind. And, and, and I was just constantly in the game because I felt the same amount of guilt saying that, how can I leave expecting all the guys to work over here? But..
Nadiem Makarim: It wasn't necessity based. Right. There was an element of peer pressure there and the burden of a role model.
Kunal Shah: And first time founders, they always believe that they have to do the most amount of hours because how will they inspire otherwise? But leadership is not hour leadership is about impact.
Nadiem Makarim: Yes.
Kunal Shah: Right. And I think that thought process came to me in the second time, uh, being a founder that I spent probably two hours per day on average in office now versus spending all the time in office cause automatically it forces people to use that time effectively. And I'm having more time to think, meet people, learn new things. I'm hear in Gojek trying to ask questions to you Nadiem and I mean with even Andrea and Kevin that how do you do this and how do you do that? And imagine if I could do that every day and still run the company, I'll be so much more effective cause I'll solve... I got three insights that I made notes of today, which only happened because I had the time to shut down from my day to day and actually think about something which can actually be implement in my company. But a lot of times we don't get that. We don't read books, we don't get time to read anything. And our knowledge is not gonna compound unless we have external stimuli constantly driving that.
Nadiem Makarim: That's exactly how I felt in the first couple of years. I felt like, so where am I actually learning stuff from outside? I learned a lot from my team members about where my learning from outside when I don't have time to think in the same way that the revolution of the smartphone elevated the science of UX design due to the lack of space in the smartphone. So to, does that work with your calendar?
Kunal Shah: Yes. Amazing.
Nadiem Makarim: Okay. So, so one of the things that I always recommend to leaders in tech companies is show me your calendar. And they're always skeptical in the beginning. I show them the calendar and I'm like; "You see this? Next week, I'd like you to experiment cut 50% of, so it makes sure you have 50% empty. I don't care how it's up to you."
Kunal Shah: Oh, there is simple hack for that.
Nadiem Makarim: What do you do?
Kunal Shah: You put a calendar the time for yourself and block it out.
Nadiem Makarim: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That's what I mean. So you block out your own calendar; 50% every week and obviously what did they start doing? They started cutting the uh, cadences. Suddenly they're like; do I really need to be in this cadence? Am I contributing anything? Is an emails sufficient? Et Cetera. There's all these implicit assumptions of things you have to be in that are on a regularized basis. Some you do of course, but the quality and the impact of why you're doing that or just for the sake of it, because we should have a weekly meeting on this. We should have a biweekly meeting on this. There's so many assumptions there that can question and that just floods up time. And I'm like, so I tell them at this level of leadership, where do you think, where do you find the ad hoc conversation of bumping into someone and then running something that you wouldn't have otherwise? Plan, where does serendipity happen?
Kunal Shah: Yup.
Nadiem Makarim: Where do you just sit down and read for a bit? Sometimes I would just sit down in the office and I'll read for half an hour, but I have now the track record and the level of personal security to do stuff like that. Right?
Kunal Shah: Sure.
Nadiem Makarim: That takes like I'm, but I'm idiosyncratic in that cause I get to do that and people won't really criticize me.
Kunal Shah: Sure.
Nadiem Makarim: So for a huge amount of everybody else doing those bold moves that actually add to your own development, add to your wellbeing and add to your growth as a leader; man, people are so scared of doing that.
Kunal Shah: But I don't think they have to wait to get to sort of achievement and I'll tell you why. The best way to see the chessboard is to not be on the chessboard.
Nadiem Makarim: The best way to see the chessboard is to not be on the chessboard. Explain
Kunal Shah: If you are in the day to day action; being the knight, being the king, being the best soldier out there on the chessboard, trying to drive things. Where do you get to see the whole chesboard?
Nadiem Makarim: I get it. It's like playing Warcraft 2 from the perspective of your Ogre. Doesn't work.
Kunal Shah: Yes. But if you may be the best guy out there, uh but you don't see the whole game. And, and unless you, every now and then look at the whole chessboard and see where your positions are and what you need to do and take some calls, right. You will never get better at the game. But a lot of times founders have this need to be this best warrior.
Nadiem Makarim: To be in the trenches.
Kunal Shah: Yes. To be in the trenches is youthful when you're the CEO, not the founders. Here's the key difference. The founder is in an evolving game and sometimes it means killing the first game that they started and moving to the next game because they need to survive. And CEOs are designed as missiles who will kind of go and attack something so that it to be a, if you are founder and CEO you need to have dual personality.
Nadiem Makarim: Interesting.
Kunal Shah: The CEO is in the trenches for x amount of hours doing cadence, doing reviews, looking at OKR, all of that stuff. A founder is looking at the game, not just their own game, the whole world's game. How is this whole thing evolving? What's going on? What's the real uh, map looking like right now and when you get that chance, and by the way you cannot read that from a consultant support. Can you can you really read a consultant's report on mobility and know the insights? No, only when you will travel to India only when you will talk to the founder in Australia or you will kind of speak to somebody over some or some other place and figure out the nuances and how markets are moving. You will get how your game is looking like. One of the things I've learned when I was in my break between two startups was something called contrast traveling. So, I'll tell you how it works is that I used to go a developed nation and underdeveloped nation together in one trip.
Nadiem Makarim: Always coupled?
Kunal Shah: Always coupled. So, I'll switch from let's say uh, let's say a Morocco to Switzerland like in almost together. And I actually understood India better by doing that cause the contrast ratio actually made me see my country better, right? And only when you do these things you actually see what's going happening in your own business. But a lot of times you are so busy and getting little information about what's happening in the world whereas the world is moving so fast, the shelf life of a business is less than five years now. You need to be in the next game and the next game, the next game and the next game. And unless you've seen the game, you're playing that game, that's going to end. And a lot of times we become obsolete because we were the best player of that game that is not relevant anymore.
Nadiem Makarim: So to keep doing well in the sport, you can't be playing the sport constantly.
Kunal Shah: Yeah. Cause you will become extremely good at that sport and the sport maybe off the Olympics.
Nadiem Makarim: Fantastic. Kunal thank you so much. We've run out of time, but this has been such an inspiring and insightful session. Thank you so much for being a guest. Please come again for the next one.
Kunal Shah: Thanks for having me. Bye Bye.
Nadiem Makarim: Thank you.
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