The Story Rules Podcast E17: Sajith Pai – Foremost thought-leader of India’s Startup Ecosystem (Transcipt)

Sajith Pai
5. General

The Story Rules Podcast E17: Sajith Pai – Foremost thought-leader of India’s Startup Ecosystem (Transcipt)

This transcript has been created using a combination of AI transcription tools and (some painstaking) human effort. Please excuse any typos, grammatical mistakes, inaccurate time stamps, or other errors. Specifically, the time stamps would not account for the intro portion of the podcast.

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Intro hook:

“Whether It’s a start-up or not, narrative building is important. I think of it in terms of ‘lines, not dots.’ Whenever you see someone do a great presentation, sell a great story, etc., I don’t feel there’s an overnight success; that person has put in a lot of work to shape something (from nothing). Typically, the people who have (good) narrative skills, (are the people who) are using it all the time. They would have had preliminary communication going out; they would have articulated it; some bit of self-selection of the audience would have happened over time.
Success happens when there’s a fit between the audience, the product, and the content.”

Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story and unearth the secrets of their craft.

Today we speak with Sajith Pai, VC at Blume Ventures and arguably the most astute observer and thought-leader on India’s vibrant start-up ecosystem.

So I’ve been a fan of Sajith’s writing for several years now. He has the rare gift of being able to discern patterns which are unseen-yet-obvious-in-hindsight. He’s able to then label them making them easier to discuss and analyse. 

For instance he created the Indian consumer stack as 4 parts – India 1 Alpha, India 1, India 2 and India 3. Sajith is a prolific writer on his blog, on LinkedIn and on Twitter. 

Over the years as I followed his writings, I almost always found them sharing something new and insightful, in an easy-to-understand yet engaging manner.

In short, to me Sajith was a rare leader – an accomplished business executive turned successful investor, who was also a gifted storyteller.

I’d been wanting to have him on the podcast for a long time… and I must admit – it was not easy getting him. But I persevered and he was patient and receptive to my request. 

I’m so glad that I put the fight – this is perhaps the most insightful conversation I’ve been a part of. 

There are so many gems across such a wide range of topics. For instance Sajith shares with us:

  • In terms of information consumption, why you should ditch newspapers and instead focus on curated newsletters and podcasts
  • How everyone can sharpen their thinking, learn from others and form better connections by doing one simple thing: writing online
  • Why it is critical to choose the right metrics in measuring and rewarding performance and in telling data stories
  • How data presentations should be about “lines and not dots”

Across all these ideas, the one common thread that stood out for me is Sajith’s deep empathy and regard for the reader. He’s constantly figuring out how to craft his writing so that the reader understands it with the least time and effort expended.

I also found Sajith to be remarkably open about his thinking and sharing his success mantras. 

I hope you learn as much as I did from this fascinating conversation.

Lets dive in.

Ravi (0:25)
Hi Sajith, welcome to the Story Rules podcast!

Sajith (0:26)
Hi, Ravi! Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Ravi (0:29)
My pleasure.
I came across this quote by Li Jin – ex-Andreessen Horowitz – who mentioned that there’s an inside joke at a16z, that they’re actually a media company which just happens to monetize through venture capital. I find a lot of similarities in the work that you do and what they are doing.
I want to talk about a recent appointment you had talked about on Twitter – where you had appointed an editorial (lead) for a VC firm, and you wrote:
“Disha joins us to cover the exciting stories from Blume’s network/portfolio, and storytell + amplify ideas and theses from the Blume fold. We are doubling down on editorial + narratives at Blume.”
Two questions about this, Sajith. One – is every business now a ‘content business?’
If possible, could you talk about when this shift happened? Because when I was growing up, I did not worry about what content is being given to me by HLL or by Bajaj, or whatever. So, I’d love to know when this shift happened.
And two – I’d love to know when you, personally, in your own life, realized the power of content and how you started leveraging it.

Sajith (1:54)
Two good questions. We’ll come to the second one in a bit.
The first one…(about) broadly what happened and when things changed, has a lot to do with how the tools of creation and publishing – by publishing I mean not just stories, it could be videos or audio content as well – moved from the hands of gatekeepers. You had radio stations, newspapers, magazines, books; all of these had editorial gatekeepers who determined what could go (in them) and they mediated between the audience and ordinary people like u. But sometime around the early 2000s – of course, the internet as we know it, began in the mid-90s, through the World Wide Web and the browser, but primarily in the early 2000s through Blogger, through the rise of WordPress, through podcasting, to YouTube – we started seeing all the powers of creation, publishing, amplification come to the hands of people like us. I think it was that point (where the shift happened). Those trends only got stronger, and today you have push-button publishing. Really, we don’t even have to think twice. (With) Twitter, (etc.), anyone can become a creator.
That, to me, is the single most important factor. What it does is, it created this concept called ‘owned media’. (That’s) O-w-n-e-d media. Otherwise, we’ve had paid media and earned media, and organizations mediated through these to reach their audience. Paid media was advertising, that was the hero format; earned media was news. News is of two kinds, one is bad news which you can’t control, so you try to put a spin (on things), but things like product launches, (or) through creating buzz, you could get the media to cover you. So, PR was the hero format for earned media.
But with owned media, o-w-n-e-d media, where you have the ability (to control what is published), storytelling becomes the primary way to influence content and to drive a format. Storytelling is the native hero format for owned media, and the rise of owned media is what has really led to the importance of storytelling.
(That was) a long answer to a short question! I’ll go to the second part. I think you wanted me to talk about when things changed for me, right? That was the question?

Ravi (5:11)
Yeah. When did you realize the power of (content)?

Sajith (5:13)
I had dabbled with trying to create content. If you use Google cleverly, you’ll come across some old blog posts of mine from the early 2000s. It took a small career-crisis in the late naughts – 2010, primarily. Where I kind of got the sense that there was some internal realignment and suddenly, I wasn’t working on what I had been working on, but on something else. I realised that in large organizations you pretty much have an internal brand. To the extent that (as long as) the internal brand fits with their needs and requirements, you will do well. But externally, you don’t have that power.
I decided to try and create an external brand to increase my degrees of freedom.
I also spent a long time, about 13 years in one industry – and felt that I was getting trapped into that industry and wasn’t able to move into exciting ones. So, I said, “Hey, let me try and create content as a sort of calling card and to think aloud and create an online CV.”
I was reading all these interesting books and thought to take something on personal branding from there. I began like that, and in the early 2010s is when I started. I set up my own website; I started creating content, etc.; I kept it going, but honestly speaking…I must have written about 70-80 pieces in the first 6, 7 years. And barring two or three, I don’t think anybody noticed even one of them.
Publishing is much easier today, but in those days, it was long and lonely and hard.
I’ll pause here, Ravi.

Ravi (7:01)
This is so fascinating, Sajith. I love this differentiation between earned, paid, and owned media. One key driver you talked about is technology, and I’m guessing what you’re saying is the need to put out a story and the need to hear others’ stories was always there, we just didn’t have the distribution mechanisms which became democratized with technology.
The other angle I want to talk about, when we talk about businesses becoming content businesses – how every business now needs to become a content business – is, what is the role of content? I looked back to one of the foundational storytelling frameworks which is Aristotle’s Ethos, Pathos, Logos; Logos is logic, Pathos is the emotional element and Ethos is your credibility or trust; if you keep putting out good content which helps other people and is tailored to solving problems for other people, you’re essentially building that ethos part. Which is what you’ve been doing at your own brand level, since the early 2010s, and (is something that) many other companies have realized the power of, and are doing. Blume is doing it; a16z is doing it; do you feel that enough companies/start-ups are doing it, (or do you feel that) there should be much more of it happening? Where do you see the need to share good content, build trust in the customer and hopefully they will come to you if they need (it)?

Sajith (8:33)
I do think there are enough companies doing it. In some cases, there are individual CEOs who do it a lot more. Since I’m from the start-up world, (I’ll give some examples) from the start-up industry. For example – Sugar. Kaushik (Banerjee), who is one of the co-founders of Sugar, Vineeta’s husband, runs a great content creative. Then there is Kunal Shah of Cred. Cred itself doesn’t publish as much, but he does a lot more of thinking aloud, really. Kaushik is there on Twitter, but LinkedIn is the stronger medium for him. Then you have Kunal of Cred who speaks out a lot on Twitter. These are two examples where the organization doesn’t do as much, but the CEO or one of the founders takes on that role.
I do feel that this tendency of organizations doing a lot more of storytelling is a little bit stronger in B2B. Especially SaaS start-ups, where content is used as a way to engage with prospective customers, or to at least get prospective customers to discover you. One part of that is a lot more science – like content marketing, SEO, using pillar content; HubSpot, for example, invented some of the building blocks of this. But it’s not like this didn’t exist before HubSpot. Post-HubSpot there’s a bunch of folks who came together to lay down the building blocks. That’s like the industrialized part of storytelling.
But on the other side, there’s also an art part, which is really saying interesting things and shaping people’s view of the brands. Cred and Sugar are good examples, as I told you.
In short, enough people are doing it. (It’s) more (prevalent) globally, a little less so in India. But it is beginning to accelerate in India as well. Another example is Vaibhav Sisinty of GrowthSchool, who creates great content, etc.
These are three examples that I gave you, but I would say that the best examples of these are global. Funds as well as founders do that.
I’ll pause here and wait for you to build.

Ravi (11:33)
When I was thinking about this, one left-of-field example that struck me – especially when I was thinking about using content to build trust – was Patanjali. They started with this channel talking about Yoga, the right diet, etc.; and built that trust that “Hey, this guy is reliable.” And now, they are monetizing that trust.

Sajith (12:01)
That’s a great example of a content-first brand that has entered into many fields. A parallel example is Red Bull. People say it’s a $7bn media company, with a beverage attached.
That’s another example of that.
a16z is the other example which keeps getting quoted around (as a) carry-funded publishing company, or a media company which also runs a venture fund on the side. Slightly snide remarks, but they do both well. These are great examples that you are seeing, to complement your Patanjali example.

Ravi (12:47)
Coming now to people who are not start-up founders who have got a bit of a presence, let’s take a mid-career professional, who is maybe in the age group of 35-40 years, who is very good at what they do, have a lot of good content, and maybe consume a lot of good stuff as well; but they don’t have any great social media presence to speak of, or a blog or whatever. What would you advise them (to do?), that A – how important is it for them to start doing something in terms of building their personal brand, and B – how they can start slowly building up that presence?

Sajith (13:29)
I would say that a big reason for creating content is really to promote yourself, and to drive visibility. That would be a big reason. If that’s not an overwhelming need, I typically find that people who start out to publish a lot more on LinkedIn, they are either going through a bit of a career crisis. Not to say that they’ve lost a job or something, but they kind of feel trapped, and they feel like creating content; feel like creating a brand that will help them get more degrees of freedom. So, clearly, a lot of people who create come (with the expectation that) it will help them create a brand. Creating some visibility for yourself, outside of your normal circles, is typically a key driver.
Secondly creating anything – typically, writing is the easiest way, because it’s easily created or discoverable because of the nature of it, with Google search (you can easily find what you are looking for). Sometimes, people do create podcasts. It’s a bit harder to create and sustain that, but people do. Sometimes they do YouTube, and that’s also fine. But all of this does the second thing, which is that they are all ways of indirectly thinking out loud. The first is publicity for yourself, but the second is ways of thinking out loud. Writing is my medium for thinking aloud. It is hard to think, it is painful; there’s a lot of cognitive energy required and writing makes it simpler. Because writing, or any creative form allows for engagement and feedback, you also begin to take intellectual risks in public. To me, taking intellectual risks in public is actually the fastest way to learn something.
That’s the third part of creation, or storytelling. All of these are linked. Helping you build a brand, helping you think out loud, which improves your business decisions, and the third – learning, which gets accelerated because people give you feedback.
Anyone looking to create should keep in mind that sometimes it’s not necessarily publicity (that you should aim for), but even creating smaller pieces – what sustained me in the first 6 or 7 years of my writing, was the latter two aspects. None of (my works) were really very popular. I struggled on Twitter too. The first 6 or 7 years, I barely had 1,000 followers. It takes a long time to build that up and then it just accelerates.
I would say that helping me think aloud and even the 50-100 people who gave me feedback, and it’s not like they discovered me but I would send this to them, I would send (my work) out to 50 of them, and from that maybe 2 (people) would reply. But, the feedback from those 2 people was interesting. I would say that these two actually help you in your career, to create something. For example, it could be someone who is a salesperson, selling to large institutions. They may say that “these are the three principles of negotiation that I’ve used. I negotiate every day; I negotiate crores worth. These are the three things I’ve learnt.” And that is great wisdom, (from) someone who’s been doing (this) for the last 10 years.
Someone who’s on the other side may reach out and say, “Hey, thanks, Mr. X, for writing this. Add one more point to it”, or “this doesn’t work in this industry.”
This is the broad advice I’d give, that it’s never too late. Start off. There are advantages even if it doesn’t result in (as many people as you would hope for, but instead only one or two) reaching out to you, it helps with fulfilling the second part, which is thinking out loud. I would also say that LinkedIn is a great place to start (creating distribution of your work). Writing on LinkedIn should be the first place for anyone to start because if you’re 35-37 years old, and have been working for the last 12-14 years – even if you have been taking breaks, say for Maternity or so, you’ve still been working for 8-10 years; you would have at least 500 people who know you. You’d get automatic distribution amongst those 500 people. And writing is the easiest way to begin.
Start with doing something very simple. A lot of people don’t realize that they may know something about an industry which is actually interesting to the outside world. Let’s say you find that you’re working in a very boring industry, but there’ll be two or three interesting things that no one knows. You can always start by sharing that, etc.
This is broadly what I’d say, Ravi. Happy to hear your views on this.

Ravi (18:41)
That’s great advice, Sajith. I completely agree.
In fact, my journey kind of mirrors this. I realized it’s important for me because in my case, I was going to be a solopreneur and had to build. I stared writing a blog quite late in life, (around) 2017. So, it’s been about five years now. As you rightly said, you post on the blog and you hear that one should put it on their own blog because SEO is better, rather than to give control (to third parties). But the moment I moved to LinkedIn, it (proved to be) a great starting point. Now, I am not so dependent on LinkedIn but it was the first boost that you need. I completely agree. You’ve got a bunch of people who are already connected to you, and there was fairly good engagement and a lot of good comments and questions that came up.
I did get a lot of work from there. And now, I’m trying to replicate it on Twitter and it’s useful to hear you say that it takes time; 6-7 years. It is incredibly slow. For people who try and start off now, don’t get disheartened. It will take time, but even if it meets the basic, first goal of helping you think through something and put it out there, that’s great. (It’s) very powerful.
Let’s segue to your own entire content consumption, reflection, thinking, and the creation process. I’m very curious about that.
You’ve written about the kind of books that you read; you’ve summarized many books. You are a visile, so to speak – you don’t listen so much, but you get transcripts of podcasts and you read them. I want to talk a little bit about that.
But I want to start with an interesting quote that surprised me. (It’s) not from you, it’s by Paul Graham. He said that, “I don’t read balance sheets or business plans.” He says he prefers talking to founders. Which, in the conversation on Twitter, you were saying it doesn’t matter what early-stage companies have done so far, it’s really the people (making the efforts that count).
What I wanted to ask is – both for your own work which is the smaller part of investing, and the wider part of knowing about India and the Indian economy, Indian culture and all that – what are some common information sources that you don’t give much importance to; that you usually avoid? And what are some interesting sources that others are not looking at, that you depend a lot on?

Sajith (21:19)
You might find it interesting that I haven’t read a newspaper in the last 3-4 years, other than maybe glancing at one.

Ravi (21:29)
Wow! But you’re from a Times background!

Sajith (21:33)
Despite my Times background.
In 2018, I gave it up completely. But even in 2016, 17, I had stopped consuming it.
In the last 4 years, very strongly, I haven’t read a single newspaper. That also means I don’t go to or whatever. There’s some interesting writing about this. The most influential person was Rolf Dobelli. He wrote about this in a book. I forgot the name of the book, but you can Google Rolf Dobelli (books).

Ravi (22:10)
Was it the Art of Thinking Clearly?

Sajith (22:11)
Yes! He wrote the book Art of Thinking Clearly. The same guy has written a book called ‘Not Consuming News’. I don’t think it was necessarily influenced by that, but he did articulate the reasons for it well.
I don’t read any news or anything like that. I would say that podcasts and newsletters and the links that they give – more newsletters, would be the most likely places where I get news-type of stuff. I need to know what’s happening India, for example. I do subscribe to about 70 newsletters, but that’s changing too. I’ll come to the reason later.
Till 2021, I’ve been subscribed to about 70 newsletters. 50-70 ; I keep subscribing and unsubscribing. And the links on it would give me a picture (of what’s going on). You don’t even need to go to the article, sometime you can just click on it and (that suffices).
The other one was Nuzzel, which used to be very popular. (unclear) It’s kind of merged into Twitter Blue, which is going to come to India but hasn’t yet. Twitter acquired it.
Basically, it just goes through your following list and looks at what they have liked. Then it gives you the top 20-30 news sources that are worth looking into.
So, I used to look at Nuzzel. And even Twitter; Twitter is very good. But I would never really go to any newspaper, and I definitely don’t follow any news site like,, etc.
It gave me a very idiosyncratic view of the world, but I think it actually helped because what you do is, you look at what’s called ‘lasting stuff’ and it’s the same thing (Taleb) also says. Try to read more and more infrequent pieces of (literature). If you’re reading magazines, read a monthly magazine instead of a weekly one. If you’re reading newspapers, read a weekly newspaper instead of a daily one. So on and so forth.
There are equally good examples of people who have done very well in life reading a newspaper every day and nothing else, so I don’t think there’s any universal truth. This just works for me.
(About) Podcasts, and podcast transcripts…The good thing about podcasts is you can always combine it with something else, like driving, or walking. But I’m not a good listener (so) I consume a lot of podcast transcripts, and a lot of good podcasts today have transcripts. A particular site that I relied on for newsletters was called I’d pay some 30-40$ a year and it would give me great content; about 5 articles a day. And if you read even one of those five articles it’d be good. They were all good articles.
But actually, over the last 3 months of 2022, I’ve stopped the newsletter side and I’m subscribed to Browser for various reasons. I want to read a lot more around writing books, so that’s forced this on me. But otherwise, I’d say that reading newsletters and not news was one of the best decisions I made.
I’ll stop here, and wait for you to ask me questions.

Ravi (26:03)
That’s so interesting, Sajith, because the pandemic did it’s best to try and wean us away from that habit, but as soon as the newspaper delivery guy was back, we were like, “No. We need it.”
You need something with that morning coffee. It’s just ingrained (in us). I think the younger generations would probably be completely weaned away from that.
You talked about this interesting thing called curated newsletters, where someone else is doing the hard work. I remember listening in a podcast somewhere that the ex-Economist guy (the one who started Browser), he reads some 1,000 articles. That guy is a machine! He’s doing a lot of hard work, so you might as well get that benefit, which is interesting.
Whether it is a newsletter article or a podcast transcript, I’m going to get a little tactical. Do you print some of these out and read it, or do you prefer reading on a screen? What kind of screen?

Sajith (27:07)
I used to print transcripts out; I think it’s worth printing them and reading. Maybe it’s me, but I found that I absorbed (information) better when I read on paper. But it works differently for different people; some people like to read from Kindle or an iPad, and use Readwise to capture notes. It depends on your workflow as well.
What I’ve done of late is I’ve purchased a device called the ‘reMarkable 2’. Got it second-hand, in fact. It’s sort of a note-taking device primarily, but also an eBook reader. I download all the PDFs onto it, and I can annotate using a pencil, etc. I can then share it back to my computer and extract the key notes from there. I use that device, the reMarkable 2, for my reading. (I read) all articles, PDFs, reports (on it).
It’s interesting that for books, you can always have physical books or devices like the Kindle to read, but in the case of articles, the challenge is reading it along with mail or on a screen (it’s challenging to read it on a screen). Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s painful to absorb. I like the reMarkable 2. It’s made a lot of difference to my reading. I typically download the PDFs onto the device 2-3 times a week, and it syncs. I download it to a particular app – it’s like a folder – on my computer and it syncs with the device. And when I take the device out, it’s already synced and I read through it. I try and read for an hour a day on that device; it’s easy on the eyes. That’s a tactical intervention that’s helped. It carves out that time, 7:30-9:00 when I’m back and it’s dinnertime as well…it works.
But look, different things work for different people. There are no universal truths.

Ravi (29:22)
But these do trigger thoughts, Sajith. Even for people who might be struggling with that ‘last mile’ thing, that “I want to do it but this might be the final piece that completes the jigsaw.”
This was interesting; I’d never heard of this device. I use a Kindle, but this sounds like an interesting variant of the Kindle which is more relevant for non-book reading.
You mentioned the time, 7:30-9:00. Do you separately try and make out time for pure longform reading, such as books or any other classic work? Or is it usually included in that (time frame)?

Sajith (30:00)
There’s broadly 3 buckets. The first has to do with this particular book that I’m working on, related to the product-market fit. There’s a lot of reading to do with that. Sometimes it’s also conversations. But I typically (go through) books, podcasts, articles in the morning. I Wake up in the morning and spend a couple of hours on that.

Ravi (30:28)
Is this usually pre-breakfast?

Sajith (30:30)
(I do it) either the first thing in the morning, or as the second thing – after exercise. I find that if I don’t do this before I start working, it never gets done. Whatever is very critical for you just needs to get factored in early in the morning before you start work. Once you start work, there’s no end to it, right? Unless you work in a government office, where (you have more free time). But a lot of our work doesn’t end. I’m sure it’s similar for you. You can work for 15 hours a day and it still doesn’t work.
You need to have very finite carve-outs. What I do is, I carve out the mornings into these non-negotiable things like exercise and reading and writing for the book.
To be very honest, it’s not that I’m super disciplined and get everything done every day. But if I can get 3-4 days out of 6-7, that’s fine. I do try and go to office every day, it helps to add structure to the day, so when I’m on the road sometimes I read at least one of those strips on the reMarkable. It’s easy to read in the metro or the car.
But after I come back (home), typically around 7:30-11:00, there’s a lot of messages to reply to. That never ends; that’s part of the work. (But) there’s no computer time really required. Just some short messages or mail that need replies. Around 7:30-9:00 I spend about one hour on the reMarkable, and then 9:00 to 10:30 or 11:00, before going to bed I spend an hour on some book. So that’s the routine; that’s the third part. (The) morning is related to a particular topic; the evening is typically reMarkable podcast transcripts, primarily.
One of my biggest learnings has been to double or triple down on podcast transcripts, because I find that podcast transcripts are the biggest bang for the buck you can get in the world of start-up tech content, because in that world – unlike in business, where someone can write a very definitive piece and publish it in an HBR (Harvard Business Review) or somewhere – it’s very hard for founder to sit and write something. Not every founder does it. So, podcasts become a great way for founders to give their distilled wisdom. It’s very well curated by hosts, etc.
My biggest discovery was that other than the usual 5 or 6 writers (whose works I typically read), like I read anything written by Paul Graham, Eugene Wei, Kevin Kwok, for example – there are some more – I try to read whatever they write. But barring these 4 (3), unless it’s a very celebrated piece of writing and unless it’s been recommended to me by many other people, I don’t read it. What I do instead, is to try and read at least one transcript a day. That’s one target that I set up. It’s about 20-25 pieces a month, which is more than enough. The last is a book. The book tends to be either a novel or non-fiction, or ‘faction’, as you call it.
That’s sort of the routine. I hope it gives you a sense (of my day). It isn’t super disciplined; all this may not happen every day. But this is what happens broadly 60-70% of the time.

Ravi (34:16)
That’s incredible. It shows in the way you’re able to write on such diverse topics in such depth.
I want to talk about the notes you take on the reMarkable. Do you use a Kindle also?

Sajith (34:30)
No, I don’t use a Kindle. All (the) books (that I read are) physical books.

Ravi (34:36)
Do you try and use Readwise using a scanner, or is that too much effort?

Sajith (34:40)
No, I don’t use Readwise. I think probably the most convenient format today is Kindle and Readwise, linked to either Notion or Evernote. I’m not denying that it’s probably the best (combination), but I actually have a slightly different philosophy. I believe that the process is greater than the product. I feel that the primary goal is to hit a workflow and once you’ve come to it, you now need to do everything you can do to support that workflow. I think the primary point of notes is to create something, so, I find that a lot of us get fascinated by trying to create notes and the most elegant notetaking (apps) and become obsessed with tools. But I use Apple notes. It’s not necessarily the best.

Ravi (35:41)
It’s basic.

Sajith (35:42)
Yeah. It’s basic. But, the most important thing is that I can quickly access it whenever I want something. I find that intentionally using a very simplistic, basic tool makes you focus on not the form, but the content. I think the basic purpose of notetaking is to use it for creation. No note app has a way for you to re-access the notes. Let’s say you’re reading a book. Let’s say it’s Trillion Dollar Coach – and you write down 7-8 points, but then you’ve forgotten them. You may write a summary of it immediately, but you’ve forgotten them.
(Suppose) you’re writing something on empathy, and while writing it there was a way for you to go to your notes and look at all the people who (spoke on) empathy and take out those (some) 4 points. But we don’t do that as much. To me, the best notetaking device would prompt you while you’re writing in it, about what notes exist.
I find that all of us get obsessed with creating new notes; no one gets excited about accessing old notes. But if I look at it, I find that I need to push myself to do it. I feel like all the stuff you need is there. If you’ve taken 1,000 notes, you don’t need more than that. Reusing those notes is (what matters).
Of course, I’m overdoing it; I’m over-exaggerating this. But this is my philosophy: process over product. Or workflow > tools. And work with very basic tools or devise, or products. Don’t get excited by newer, shinier tools.
You’re dying to say something!

Ravi (37:47)
This is so cool!
You’re right. It triggers so many thoughts, Sajith.
I’ve had an interesting journey over the last 1 year. You, of course, are aware of Tiago’s ‘Building a Second Brain’ course. It’s amazing – a multimillion dollar course on notetaking!
Interesting world we live in.
It was useful for me. I definitely think it gave me a way to concentrate all my thoughts into one place. That was useful. I did have the Evernote app on my system earlier, but I never used it the way I should have. But now – yes! As you’re rightly saying, my notes are all there.
I’m a Kindle, Readwise, Evernote person. I don’t do too many articles, so reMarkable is an interesting one. I used to always obsess about podcasts also. There are apps where if you liked a conversation in a podcast, you click and it syncs with Readwise and all – at least in the iPhone there are such apps.
Evernote is actually pretty good. If I want to pick up a certain keyword, all I have to do is search and it’ll look at all my book notes, all the notes I’ve written. In fact, the integration is so good that if I search on Google, then one tab on the side is my own Evernote notes.
But that last mile is not happening, Sajith! I’m thinking I’m not actually using it. I don’t actually go back to something I read in 2015. I’ve never done that, so far. I’m still hoping that I’ll use it eventually. But right now, I’m just building that big castle.
Do you have any sort of system to go back to whatever (you wrote down) – especially if it’s reMarkable or (anything else you use)?

Sajith (39:43)
I’ve realized that the best way to go back to something is to create a ‘forcing function’. The forcing function is actually creating an article. What it means is, let’s say you have a newsletter. Every week or every fortnight, you’ve got to release something. Let’s say you keep topics to write about, for example – storytelling in the B2B world. You have keywords like B2B, SaaS start-up, content marketing, SEO, etc.
When you have those topics and sit down to write for it, sort of what the Tiago course talks about is not doing heavy lifts. What that means is, just search for the content that you have on SEO or B2B in your notes. Don’t start blank; you already have content, what you (need to) do is extract it and put it into a Word document or wherever you write. That forcing function of using what you are working on to spur you to search your notes is the best way to access notes, I find.
Saturday mornings, about 10 o’clock, (you’d) sit down, open your (set up), and search one hour of reading. I found that I only did once or twice in a month or two, after which I gave up. Instead, create a forcing function that forces you to look at your notes.
With Evernote, there are some interesting apps or tools, or…what do you call the Chrome (things?)

Ravi (41:48)

Sajith (41:51)
Chrome extensions. My apologies.
Extensions which link with your Evernote and throw out a very interesting note. Suppose you’re sitting to write, and suddenly something comes on, like the South African cricket team and how they use storytelling, just a random example.
That’s a good way (to use apps) – serendipity. Notes should spark serendipity.
The best way to access your old notes is to use them to create something.
Another way is if one day you want to write something and have run out of topics, go through your notes and search for something. Take out 6-7 things about it (from your notes) and write.

Ravi (42:33)
I need to do more of that.
I do have a weekly newsletter, which has now morphed into a content curation piece in the world of storytelling. One doesn’t necessarily need to go back (and scour through notes) for that. All my content ideas for it are stored in that app (Evernote), which helps. But I think whenever I’ve done any longform (content), it’s really useful (to re-access old notes). All the stuff that one has written in the past really helps.
I want to segue from the content consumption to the reflection process. I really liked an evocative post you had written some time back, called ‘Shower Thoughts.’ I thought you were going to write about a thought that occurred to you in the shower, but then I realized it’s a much more in-depth piece and a litmus test of sorts, to find out whether an employee is truly engaged in the company or not. You talked about this book, or an article, where there are different categories of employees – there may be some people who are only giving about 10-25% focus in the company, but there are those who are giving more than 50% of their attention – the scarcest resource, for a company that they work for. Not one they own or founded. And that those are the guys who are thinking of the problems that the company faces, even in the shower. That’s a good litmus test to see how engaged your employees are. I love that.
I’d love for you to talk about that, and also (about) how you get some of your best ideas. What are the places and the times (when ideas occur to you?) Do you leave it to serendipity and to shower moments, or do you actually try and engineer them in some way?

Sajith (44:14)
Thanks for the kind words about Shower Thoughts!
I think Naval spoke about this, not just him, there are many others too; about how the best work is (the kind that) feels like playing. It should feel like you have an unfair advantage. I find that it’s very important to engineer that in your career. Call it a meta game – there is a game you can play (with it). You can become a salesperson in a SaaS company, or you can become a marketer in consumer products, etc. But if you don’t have an unfair advantage there, for example if you are fungible there and can be replaced, then what’s the point of trying to play that game well? Instead, try to play the game where you have an unfair advantage. The meta game is very important on the career front, or in business, etc. Play the game where you have an unfair advantage.
It took me a long time to get into (the) venture (field), it was a series of happy accidents that got me here. But to me, this is a place where I’m able to have fun playing. I work long hours, yet it doesn’t feel like work. All of us probably have one or two careers (where we have that advantage) – maybe some of us have more – but (we should) play that game.
Shower Thoughts is really a reflection of that. There are certain people for whom shower thoughts don’t feel like work. People say, “Oh my God! Take a break, man! How much will you think about work?” But that person really enjoys it. He says, “I enjoy going back home and doing the same thing I do in office!” They enjoy it.
I read a fantastic article, ‘The Mundanity of Excellence’, about elite swimmers like Michael Phelps and so on; one of the things that distinguishes them is the hours of practice put in. (Swimming in) cold water every morning (at) 4 A.M., etc. He said, “how can you do this?”

Ravi (47:03)
It’s so monotonous!

Sajith (47:04)
Exactly. It’s just repetitiveness. But these people actually have fun doing it. That is what made it possible for them to have the monotonous, repetitive routine.
The unfair advantage is about that. Play the meta game first. If you don’t have shower thoughts – a lot of us who are listening to this (podcast) are super privileged, we don’t have to worry about hunger, etc., and if you’re beyond the (basic needs of life), then you have the ability to use this as a litmus test even the other way around, for you to (ask yourself), “Am I getting shower thoughts about this job? If not, I don’t know if this job is for me. Let me do a job where I get shower thoughts. Where I can do something great.”
This is (what I have to say about this topic.) I don’t know if there’s a follow-up question…

Ravi (48:05)
Yes; the follow-up was about your own process for reflection and ideation.
I will talk about some of the cool ideas you come up with in your writing. For me, I’ll tell you a couple of places (that help me think of ideas) – of course, the shower is a favorite. It always generates ideas and I got a question for today’s podcast in today’s morning shower. But one small way by which I try to engineer (ideas) is that earlier, I used to go for walks. Let me tell a bit of my journey here…for me a walk meant a podcast. Walking can be so boring and podcasts became my way to enjoy my walk. (But) Sometimes, I would walk without a podcast just to let my mind wander, and a lot of people come up with ideas on their walks. I moved from walking to cycling, some time back. Often, I go cycling with a problem in mind, like “I’m stuck on this article,” “I’m stuck on this project,” and often – not always – something will come (to mind).
Similarly, do you have any way to engineer ideas?

Sajith (49:11)
I think you said something very interesting there, about letting your mind wander. There’s one practical takeaway from this – please create conditions where you can be alone, without doing anything. For example, why do we get our best ideas in the shower? Because that’s the only place where your mind can wander. Like you said, I’m going out for an hour, (so) let me listen to something. There’s a joke (on Twitter), about how someone saw a person sitting silently, having coffee, not doing anything…what a psychopath!
Similarly, let’s say you are having coffee with a friend, and you suddenly get a call. You say, “Let me just take this call. It’s very important.” And you answer. Now, imagine the friend just sitting there calmly, without doing anything. You’ll actually cut the call short and say, “One minute, one minute;” whereas if he or she takes out their phone and goes through it, you’ll feel relieved that (at least) they’re doing something. We’ve created conditions where we don’t want our mind to wander. The shower is one of the places where you can’t do anything else, and suddenly you get all your ideas in the shower!
I like what you’re doing, that is to do certain physical activities (and combine it with ideation). It’s something I want to bring back into my life; for various reasons, I stopped running, which was a very important part of my life till 2015-’16, then I slowly stopped running. I want to bring that and cycling, perhaps, back (into my routine) because they’re (some of the few) opportunities to let my mind wander. The last two years it was tough because of COVID; you couldn’t run without a mask and all those issues. It’s improving now.
I would say that what you’re doing is the right thing to do. Create conditions where for 30-50 minutes, you can let your mind wander and you will end up having ideas in each of those sessions. It’s not very important to write it down either, because if it’s an important idea then it keeps coming back to you two or three times.
I find that my ideas for writing come from conversations. For example, when I have sparring conversations with my founders, etc., it comes from there. Sometimes, it comes from reading; sometimes it comes from the contradictions that I spot – if I see a contradiction, (I ask) why is this the way it is? Etc.
I also find that saying/explaining something to someone, and then people saying, “This is very good. You should actually write this down sometime” are all ways in which I get my ideas. I feel that the best thing you can do is to actually do nothing; to let our mind wander. It’s the hardest thing to do today. In the guise of productivity, we find that have to fill every single minute with something. I’m guilty of that as well.

Ravi (52:20)
It happens so often, that I’ll be reading an article and it’ll be time to brush my teeth before bed…it’s so difficult to not continue reading while you’re brushing your teeth, for Christ’s sake! It’s crazy, and you’re right. Creating time for aimless wandering is useful.
We talked about content consumption and reflection, and before (we get) to (your process of) writing on paper, I’m calling this a narrative building process in your mind where you grapple with all these ideas and try to figure out, “Hey, what does this mean? Is there a pattern here? What is the contradiction?”, as you said earlier. I have 3-4 points around that.
One point I’d like to talk about is maintaining the balance between going in with a hypothesis so that you don’t go in (with a) completely blank slate, but guarding against confirmation bias when you’re trying to write about a particular topic.
There’s this famous line that you should have “strong views, weakly held.” I remember you saying in Amit Varma’s podcast that you’ve trained yourself to change your views if the data (they were based on) changes. It’s really difficult to do that. So, how can someone try and build that muscle? How have you managed that challenge?

Sajith (53:47)
(Well, it isn’t hard.) I think one superpower I have and have trained myself on, is to admit when something is wrong. I have no ego when it comes to learning. A variant of this was when a friend of mine was going through some trouble with his business. I took him to a senior person in my company, and that gentleman said something very interesting. He said, “Look,” – and this guy was a South Indian, middle-class boy – he said, “Look, the thing about you South Indian boys is that you typically aren’t business guys.” He was just being stereotypical I think, but let’s stick with this; “You don’t understand that in business, you can’t have an ego. The business can have an ego, but you can’t. If you need to salute something or salaam something, humiliate yourself to get something for the business – you should do it. You make money that way.”
That stayed with me. The larger principle is what Dhirubhai Ambani used to say, “I’ll salaam anyone to get my file passed.” The business has an ego; the businessman can’t have an ego. Similarly, the learner can’t have an ego. You need to learn by taking intellectual risks in public, and that’s the fastest way to learn. Part of taking risks in public is saying, “I was wrong.” And I am very happy to admit that in public. Internally, a lot of people argue with me – even young folks – they push hard, and finally I turn around and say, “You’re right. I got this wrong.” And that disarms them, and then people love to get engaged with you, (when they’re giving you bad news, etc.) I think it’s kind of a super power; I have no ego.
I had a boss who wanted to be right all the time. He was a very successful guy. I don’t know if it works today, but it worked for him (back) then. I find that that leads to much less debate, because you don’t engage or take intellectual risks in public since you don’t want to be wrong. I think that I have to put out a strong view.
(When I take risks, I acknowledge that) yes, I will be wrong; there are times where I start writing and share a draft with people and they write back and say they don’t agree with me. I’ll change things. Maybe not a full 180 (degrees), but I’ll change them. All of these go together: taking intellectual risks in public is primary way to learn; strong views, weakly held is a big mantra for me; three – not being embarrassed to acknowledge that you’re wrong. This invites the best people to come and give you feedback. They feel that you’re not going to shoot them (if they criticize you). So, all of these go together.
The other one related to this is that I am very happy to give credit to good ideas and people. I don’t have the feeling that I have to think of every great idea.
What I’m trying to do in all of this is to create a platform for truth to emerge. I am a chief evangelizer for truth to emerge. It’s fine, because I feel like eventually who will get the credit for that? I am very shameless about giving credit to people; acknowledging that they’re right…all of this goes together. It is something I’ve trained myself to do. I am not embarrassed I’m wrong (unclear).
It may not work for everyone.

Ravi (57:39)
I think one place where such a skill comes from is that your work is good and you’re secure in that. (You think,) “I don’t have to do anything more or less; I know I’ll get some things wrong, but over a period of time if I’m getting a reasonable hit rate, then I’m good.”
Were you like this even when you were really young? Or was there some incident which slowly helped you mould (yourself) towards this (thought process)?

Sajith (58:10)
You said something very important.
It has been in sync with my role and my work. Venture is a place where you can and will get 8 things wrong, but the 2 things that are right, of which 1 is super-right, is enough to take care of that. I think I do have these tendencies that have become stronger. And these are tendencies which help you in your work.
In Times, I don’t think I was as (bold); I was a little more cautious. But broadly, one thing I’ve always been okay with is changing my views. In Times, I was not as forthright about this – accepting that I was wrong – but I was very happy to change my views. That doesn’t mean that I vacillated one thing to the other, but I say that, “because of this, this, this…this is likely to be true.” And then the discussion is about “because of this, this, this.”
I was always clear about laying out the assumptions and why I’m saying something.
This was there in Times as well, because a lot of the work I did at Times involved new projects, etc., where you’d be making a lot of hypotheses. I’d try to spur the discussion around assumptions.
But you’re right; I do have the luxury today of being secure (about my work). My job is very outcome driven. Trying to do the right things in the right way doesn’t matter. I’m not an accountant in that sense. Broadly, if (out of a total of) 10 investments, 1 does brilliantly and 9 fail, I’ve still made a lot more money for my company. I know what you’re saying. I acknowledge it to some extent.
But I would also say that all of us can have aspects of this; one is to be open to changing your views when the data changes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That humility ripples through the entire organization.
And the other one is related to strong views weakly held. Setting up your hypothesis and also the assumptions and what needs to be done for it to work. It’s linked to the first part as well, and being unafraid to change your views, (and helps to) actually test things out.
I hope I’m able to clarify this.

Ravi (01:00:46)
Very much so.
I would like to move to another technique of narrative building, which is the ability to see or discern patterns in data which may not be very apparent to somebody looking at it from the outside. You have the ability to study something from a distance, find patterns, and then, most interestingly, to come up with new vocabulary or new terms that everybody can (use) and say, “Oh, I see it now. Yeah.” You’ve done this so often now that there’s so many options (of occasions) to choose from. I want to talk about two quick ones, including one detailed one.
The whole labeling you’ve given to India’s economic classes…the different ways in which you call it, whether it’s India 1, India 1A, India 2, etc.; there are people who call it Bharat; I love this other one that you wrote in the Indus Valley Report which is SaaSTra.
I’m going to quote from the report, “It is worth noting that none of the SaaS unicorns in India have come from serving the domestic market – from Zoho to Freshdesk to Druva to Postman to Zenoti, all of them are global plays. Much of their revenue comes from serving global customers. Is a Bharat SaaS play possible – one where all of your customers are based in India? Well, yes, but the playbook that is emerging for domestic SaaS plays is a SaaS + Marketplace model, one where you use SaaS software as a hook to fashion a marketplace, and then facilitate transactions and take a cut of it, sell fintech/loan products. I like to call this model as SaaSTra – a portmanteau of SaaS + Transactions. It is this thesis that Indian SaaS would grow as SaasTra and not a pure SaaS like in the West, that inspired our bet on Classplus and Procol.”
You’ve looked at something which is different and are able to point it out and label it; this is a useful skill, I believe, in storytelling and narratives. Not too many people do it, although in each of their industries and functions, or departments, I’m sure if they think about what they’re doing, they will come up with such patterns. Is there a trick to doing this? How can you get better at it?

Sajith (01:03:04)
At some point, there needs to be some native interest, or native talent. I’m not a big fan (of the belief) that there is something intrinsic to someone, but I think there is some native interest you would have in this. I probably think there’s half an academic living within me because of the fact that I can just bring out these concepts. I find that they play a very important role as thinking tools.
I don’t know who said it, maybe it was (Alfred) North Whitehead? “Man advances by making things automatic.” (Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them). I don’t know the exact words were.
You progress by making things which are complicated, automatic. Like fire. Imagine it’s 3000 B.C., you are sitting and trying to create fire, control it, but now you take a lighter and just light it. There are hundreds of examples you can give of this.
I’d say that in business as well, you advance by taking a concept and making it automatic or easy to understand, or universal. Like position. In marketing, all of us have studied – there’s a reason we study concepts – the idea is once you give a name to a concept, once you’ve structured it out, then it’s universally understood and you can play with it, or link it to another concept. You can say, “Okay positioning and segmenting – how are they related?” Segmenting is also a complex concept. You can take positioning and play with it; positioning for senior citizens; or where does positioning work? Things like that.
I feel that we advance in business by taking certain concepts, making it automatic, and then getting time, instead of spending it trying to understand complex concepts.
These are the reasons why I create these concepts or constructs, because they communicate complex ideas in very simple terms. They come out of a deep respect for the reader’s time. To me, the fact that though my content is free, people pay for it with attention, (matters to me). What I’m now trying to do is to get paid with more and more attention. For example, there was a very senior person (related to) business policy, etc., who wrote to me for Indus Valley. It was a long mail; I said, “Look. This is one of the highest currencies.”
Nobody has paid (money) for it, but this is the equivalent of getting paid a few lakhs, because that person took out 40 minutes of his time to sit and write that.
He was a very well-known person, and he engaged with that, and the person has paid for Indus Valley with the highest currency possible – his time and attention. (Attention matters) more than his time, because you’ll get his time when you write with him and all. But his attention, his focus, that’s what you’ve got.
My goal today is to get paid for my work in the highest currency possible, which is time and attention of someone who is very valuable.
To make that possible, I need to simplify (the content). I try to reduce the intellectual energy that is required to consume my work. To write a complex topic and serve it as a liquid diet is my goal. There’s a term for the writing I do, the conventional term is ‘classic style’. There’s a book called ‘Clear and Simple as the Truth’ which lays this out; Steven Pinker’s book ‘The Sense of Style’ also describes it. Amit Varma also teaches a similar thing, he calls it ‘Clear Style’ – it’s the same thing, where you try and give clarity to the treader by making it as simple as possible for them to understand the basic concept.
The deep desire that I have to make it easy for the reader is what leads me to create these concepts, to give them these mental building blocks and make engagement easy. There’s a little bit of interest (that I have,) in creating monikers (and all). There’s a lot of internal things in Blume, which I’ve coined that I can’t share, but I do this within Blume as well. Many of those concepts have helped us discuss these things and get clarity. We have a certain way of categorizing founders, investment decks; all of it has come from my engagement with the team. It does help to short circuit the process of discussion and discovery.

Ravi (01:08:21)
I completely agree, Sajith. A visual metaphor that comes to mind when I think of what you’re doing is – imagine a basket full of different kinds of beads. If you had to take it all with you then it’s unwieldy; you may drop stuff. what you’re essentially doing is picking out 4-5 connected beads and threading an idea through them and making a necklace that’s easy for me to carry on one finger. Then, I have space for more.

Sajith (01:08:59)
That’s brilliant!

Ravi (01:09:07)
The next idea I want to talk about from a narrative building point of view is a concept I call norm and variance. One of the best tools in the hands of a storyteller to get and hold the very valuable resource which is the audience’s attention, is the power of surprise. You see that throughout the Indus Valley Report, because almost every slide has something surprising. (It feels like you say,) “You think you know your country? Well, you don’t.” There’s so much, starting with the brilliant photo of the guy selling pens on the street with a QR code scanner.
Sometimes, it’s not too difficult for somebody to spot something surprising, like that guy who was selling pens. But in a lot of situations, it’s not apparently surprising; it’s not surprising on the face of it. But a good storyteller has the ability to step back and find what is surprising about it by doing what I call ‘looking for the right norm’.
I’ll give an example from something you mentioned in another podcast, that tremendously surprised me. We all take for granted that India has a certain amount of venture capital floating around and there are a bunch of VCs and PEs, and there’s enough activity happening. It seems adequate – well, we don’t know whether it’s too high or low for a country of India’s size. We just take it as is; we don’t question it. But what you said in that conversation was that India is ‘over-ventured,’ – it was the first time I’d heard that term. The number that you used to support that (claim) was (by saying) that if you compare the Indian economy versus Turkey or Mexico, we have about 22 times the venture investments coming in. We are a much smaller economy, but we get far more interest from global capital. Then you talk about some really fascinating reasons for that, including our engineering talents, Silicon Valley, all of that.
We can dive in to that specific one, but the skill that you bring here is interesting, that I teach and it isn’t an easy one. It’s that when you come across a number, you have to first question it, and say, “Something seems off here.”
So, how do you even come to that hypothesis to check how much India’s venture-vs-GDP is when compared to somebody else? That’s my first question; that’s where the seed comes in. Once you’ve found that out, then the insight becomes interesting. But how do you think about it as a potential for an interesting insight?

Sajith (01:11:50)
I told you earlier that my writing style comes from a deep desire to simplify things for my reader. I don’t have a proto-typical reader in mind, but I have someone who’s intellectually curious and always questions me, saying, “Toh kya?” (“So what?”) I find that when I write that way, I have to extract juice for this reader in every passage.
The article started out because there was a tweet I came across…it was a very interesting conversation that I was part of, about the Indian middle-class, etc. But I also saw that India is growing, and I was trying to combine these two contradictions together. Venture was growing in India like crazy. I wanted to combine these contradictory facts together, and trying to explain them was how the article came to be.
But I say that with a lot of respect; I had to be very careful. I didn’t want to say, “India has too much money floating around.” I had to use a particular word, (I’m not sure if over-ventured was the right word). But it came from a deep desire to explain the contradiction to my readers and to myself, and the deep desire to create context for my readers. As I said, “so what?”
India is a big country, but when you explain that though it is a big country and the real engine (of its economy is) around 40-50 million households, but there are similar households in Mexico yet their industry is smaller. How do you explain that?
A lot of what I do is, I try to explain contradictions that exist; (you have) two opposing facts – what could join the two together? Typically, there’s a theory which joins two opposite texts. I think it is trying to explain this to my reader, whoever he or she is, where I create these building blocks; try to simplify things; try to create context; if you don’t have a deep respect for your readers’ time, then you will broadly write something (that highlights that). I’ll give you an example. Internally, the code word for the Indus Valley Annual Report was IVAR. But in the report, you won’t see IVAR written anywhere, because it’s an internal term. Externally, you’ll always see Indus Valley Annual Report. Even the link for it was Indus Valley 2022. It comes from a deep desire that I don’t want my reader to think even for a second of something if they’re not going to use it anywhere. When do you use acronyms? You use them when you want to use it repeatedly. Organizations have 3-letter or 4-letter acronyms, etc. But with your reader, you want to create no burden. And that is what (my) writing is (focused on). It comes from that; I want my writing to be read and absorbed, and I’m willing to do anything for that.

Ravi (01:15:25)
Very interesting. I think just the ability to find these contradictions even though they may not be apparent to an external person (is spectacular), and then (explaining it) from the point of view of the reader and trying to connect those contradictions with some theory; maybe you can just talk about theories as to why you believe that India is a little over-ventured.

Sajith (01:15:50)
Specifically, I think the belief comes from the fact that for a country of 1.4 billion people, the real economic engine is 30-35 million households, which I call India 1, (consisting of) 100-odd million people. They account for about half the country’s economic output, and if anything, their power is growing. COVID has actually benefitted this class. They are the salaried class, with regular salaries, regular income, etc. We can predict the future easily (for this class). They invest in the stock market; everything you read about is largely (concerned with) this class.
But despite being so small and being the engine of e-commerce, etc., we are the fourth largest – we could be the third largest next year – venture market in the world. That is what I call over-ventured. How is it that despite the 30-40 million households who largely bear the burden of economic growth in the country and drive progress, that’s slowly growing but not as fast as it should, why is there so much focus on start-ups in the country? For that, there are other explanations too. It helps that India has a very evolved, elite engineering class which navigates between Silicon Valley and India; it’s also a growth market; there are multiple factors. But this is (basically) what I meant by over-ventured. How is it that despite having such a small economic engine – relative to the population – India is able to outperform many other large markets, like Germany? Germany comes nowhere close to India. You’d think Germany has a much bigger economy, (but it’s) nowhere (near it.) (You’d think it would be) twice the size of India, 80 million large; but it comes nowhere close to even half of India’s (performance).
There are various other factors, I’ve oversimplified it. The idea of the entire article was not about over-venturing, but using over-venturing as a lens to understand India.
I think the thing about contradictions, is that they come out of a deep curiosity about the country and having the global outlook where you look at something afresh with baby eyes, so to speak. I don’t do it all the time, but it happens once in a while and comes from a deep curiosity. I was sitting in the Bangalore Airport once, and I saw a dhoti-clad passenger next to me. And I thought, “What a world!” Everything is written in English at Bangalore Airport, there’s nothing in Kannada.

Ravi (01:19:06)

Sajith (01:19:07)
At the airport, in the shops – the shopping area, like Crossword and all; I don’t think anything was written in Kannada. Not the directions to the bathroom and all that, but (inside the main airport).
Then the view came of the burden on him, and then the idea of the ‘English tax’ came from that. That there is a tax we’ve put (on certain things) that makes it difficult for him to engage (with his surroundings).
So, it comes from that curiosity and I think different people will have that. But if you don’t have the innate curiosity, it will be a challenge. The curiosity is what allows one to detect contradictions.

Ravi (01:19:51)
There’s a term that – sorry

Sajith (01:19:54)
Please go on.

Ravi (01:19:56)
There’s a term that Prakash Iyer had written about, called vujà dé, which I guess is what you were displaying there. Which involves seeing something ordinary, that all of us see all the time, but noticing what is unusual about it. That’s an important skill to have.

Sajith (1:20:18)
I came across something similar and I thought it would be the next Indus Valley. The founder of Polygon, which is a Layer 2 blockchain, tweeted saying that they’ve tied up with the Maharashtra government to put caste certificates online. I thought that was fascinating. Because blockchain, Web3 – (it’s all) cutting edge (stuff) being used for something that is ancient!
Some people may have noticed it, but to me it was fascinating to see these two worlds intersect like that.

Ravi (1:20:56)
I think it’s great, Sajith, that you always have the curiosity and vujà dé antenna open. I think that’s a skill people can, and should, develop.
I want to talk about the actual writing process, now. We’ve talked about all these narrative building tools; do you have a preferred time and place to do your actual writing? Especially for slightly longform content?

Sajith (1:21:22)
Firstly, the meta. I find that all of my reputation rests on a few pieces. You might think I’ve written so much, but there’s an article in which I introduced a community of Indians called Indo-Anglians. It was my first hit; India 1, 2, 3; Indus Valley; (there are some) 3-4 (articles). Remove those 4 pieces and you’ll come down to “what has Sajith done?”
A lot of the conversations I’ve generated concerned those 4 pieces. I came to the conclusion that epic pieces matter a lot. Even with Indus Valley; there are 2 podcasts that I’ve (been a guest on) thanks to the Indus Valley (report). There are a lot more conversations, like the senior person writing to me, it wouldn’t have happened without the epic piece (that was the Indus Valley Report). So, my view was that…sorry, not my view, but my conclusion was that ever year, I should focus on 1 or 2 – at least 1 – large, epic pieces. And I make time for it, and I plan it out. Those pieces take a lot of time.
The first epic piece for 2022 was Indus Valley. Last year, I did 2 – one on valuations, called Exhaust Fumes; the other one was the Indus Valley Playbook, which happened in the earlier part of the year. It was a long article; Balaji tweeted it, etc.
I would say that it takes a lot of time, and it’s almost like a small book that you need to plan out. But apart from that, I do monthly thinking-aloud pieces. (I try to do them) once a month, at least, if not twice a month. Those pieces just (showcase) a desire to explain something to the world, or just share something and get feedback. Typically, it’s been around start-up related stuff, but not always. I also try to use forcing functions there (like writing) a newsletter. There are two newsletters, one is The Visile, which I do with a friend – Rohit Kaul, which is a summary of the podcast transcripts I listened to that month; it’s a monthly newsletter. The other one, which is, is more irregular. But I’m trying to make it (be updated) at least once a fortnight; where I write original pieces. I’m trying to use that as a forcing function to create an original piece.
There, what I’ve realized is that even if I don’t write for a month, there’ll be a thought which builds in you and suddenly one day it’s just there. And I’ll (spend) an hour or an hour and a half writing. It’s very strange; I don’t typically have meetings in the morning, I use (that time) for mails and stuff like that.
I remember coming back from a workout session, with (a thought) within me. I started writing from 8:30 (and went on till) 11:00, and then it was done in 2 and a half hours.
There are long pieces that take a lot of time. Usually, the short pieces are within me; they’re simpler and tend to be of 1,000-1,500 words. That’s how it happens.
I do things intermediately as well, like in 3 sessions, etc. But I found that when I have to write a 1,500 – 2,000 words piece, I plan it over a weekend. Start writing on Friday evenings – that’s one session. Saturday mornings and afternoons are another session. Saturday evening might be one session; Sunday might be another session at best. (They tend to be) 3-hour sessions, about 3-4 of them. I don’t think you need more than that to write a piece. That’s how my writing process is (for short pieces).
With larger places, I do make a table. I structure out sections and broadly decide what I’ll write in those sections. Having a table in Word or Excel actually helps to structure it out.
Broadly, out of all the sections, there’s a narrative that (gets) built. If you set out (to write about) contradictions, starting takes a little bit of time.
“Hey, here’s a contradiction. This is it – A is not equal to B. Why is A not equal to B?”, “Okay, to understand that – we need to understand C. C explains A, B, C; D explains where you can’t use C to explain A and B.” and done. That’s the article. But the structure of this flow takes a bit of time (to make). And I always feel like the core of writing is that 1, 2, or 3-hour session where every building block of yours is in the air and you’re just structuring it into that 1 thing (explanation). I’ve heard people talk about coding and it comes close to that – where you hold everything in your head and it’s just structuring into one thing (that needs to be done.)
This is about (my) writing (process). Broadly, there’s two types of writing (for me) – longform and shortform. This is how it comes through. Like I said, there’s no universal truth.

Ravi (1:27:25)
You’re right.

Sajith (1:27:25)
There are people who do the exact opposite of what I do, and they do it well.

Ravi (1:27:28)
These are great points, Sajith, in terms of taking that 2/3rd of a chunk (of time out). I sometimes struggle with finding that and I often say, “Okay, can I do something in half an hour?” and that might be a bit of a struggle. So, I think you’re right. At some level, everybody has to find their own way (of doing it.)
I was recently listening to Tim Ferriss talk to Morgan Housel, of Collaborative Fund. Morgan writes brilliantly, and his writing style is – you might have heard of it – he writes on walks. He says, “I can’t sit in front of a desk and write.” He’ll have an idea and then he’ll go for several walks around his neighborhood and think about it. And once he comes back, it’s all formed in his head and he’s able to write. It’s interesting how different people use different ways to write.
Another point you’d made about writing was about the impact of the WAC Course from IIM-Ahmedabad. I’d gone through that, the Writing Analysis and…was it writing analysis?

Sajith (1:28:26)
Written Analysis and Communication.

Ravi (1:28:28)
Written Analysis and Communication. There we go.
You mentioned one piece of advice from your WAC days that stuck with you, which was each sentence should connect with the next one, and so on. So you need to build upon the other. That triggered a thought; it was around that time that I was talking to my dad, who reads a lot of stuff about spirituality, religion, and culture. There’s a style in Tamil poetry called Anthadhi. It’s anta and adhi, and follows that (meaning) to a T, wherein the last word or phrase of one sentence becomes the first word or phrase of the next one. It builds upon that. The most famous example of an Anthadhi is the Abhirami Anthadhi. I should learn Tamil and read some of these gems in our literature.
It’s interesting how some of these techniques have been around with us all the time, and how we use it (in so many versatile ways).
Do you try and deliberately use them when you’re crafting sentences?

Sajith (1:29:39)
And thank you for (telling me) this Anthadhi example. I’m going to Google it as soon as we are done with this (podcast).
(getting back to the question,) absolutely. Writing – I’ll repeat – is about reducing the intellectual burden; ensuring that the intellectual energy consumption of the reader is minimal. And the best writing narrative is when you take the reader, get that person’s attention, and then don’t deviate from it till you reach (the end). It’s almost like Google Maps: I take you from point A to B. And through that, I show you what’s on the sides, on left and right. I get you to B.
While doing that, the idea is that every (point) should lead naturally. A should lead to B should lead to C, D, E, F, so on. I find that it’s not that you can’t have breaks or segues, or sections – then you just do section breaks, and explain why the section break is there. All of us have had these moments when we get into a book and start reading, and suddenly it’s like – wow! Your mother or wife comes and tells you, “Hey, you’re still reading?” and you say, “Oh, yeah,” and you suddenly realize you’re 60 or 100 pages down! (But it feels like) I just started now.
That’s great writing, that holds you and just strings you along. That’s fiction, and it’s a little easier (achieve this) with fiction. Non-fiction or business writing is harder. It’s not as easy to get someone through 60 pages. But even 600 words is not easy. Attention (spans) today (are short).
Look at how all of us read. We just see something on LinkedIn, click on it, (read) 2 paragraphs and done. It’s not easy at all (to hold the reader’s attention nowadays).
Hence, everything I do is structured.
I’m not saying everybody (that’s) relevant sits and reads my work, I’m not saying that. But sometimes, you do have to write long (articles); there’s an audience for everything that you do; the concepts are complex, but the way in which it’s communicated doesn’t have to be. (One should) always keep these two (things in mind).
You can have very complex concepts, explained in very simple language. I always worry when writing is extremely complex to understand, (as) a lot of philosophical writing (tends to be), I feel like the person explaining it hasn’t understood what they’re trying to say, or that they’re trying to obfuscate it.
If someone is trying to write something and it’s not clear, ask that person to rewrite it. (Ask them,) “What are you trying to say?”
Typically, what I say is – explain it. It happens in start-up pitches too. In fact, people have written start-up pitches to me and I told them “No, I didn’t understand.”
Explain it like you would explain to your grandfather. Because with your grandfather you can’t use concepts like ‘platform’ and all that. When you explain (to him), (you have to be as basic as possible, like) “this is what we do. We sell this and get money.” Or, “We hope to get this money.”
I would say trying to explain it to your grandfather, (imagine an) intelligent narrator, like the smart 55-year-old uncle or aunt, or a very curious 17-year-old niece; try to explain to these personas. It seems to help out a lot.

Ravi (01:33:31)
I love that.
When we were talking about connecting sentences and building upon (the other ones), another book that my memory triggered is this one called ‘The Elements of Eloquence’ by Mark Forsyth. Have you read it?

Sajith (01:33:46)
I’ve heard of the book. It’s about rhetoric; I haven’t read it.

Ravi (01:33:52)
Because you mentioned sometimes non-fiction (as a genre tends to be harder to use to hold people’s attentions), but this was a non-fiction book that I couldn’t put down.
He writes so well! It’s about writing and as you rightly said, the figures of rhetoric. It goes far beyond the similes, metaphors and analogies that we learnt. But the way he writes it (is so amazing). (He) takes so many examples from classic literature, from Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and a bunch of other (sources); but also (makes many references to) present day pop song lyrics, to show how these (techniques) are universal; you’ll find them all over. He did something similar to the Anthadhi thing, where he would introduce by talking about – let’s say, alliteration; and then he would talk about multiple examples of alliteration. Funny tones and all that; then he will end with one example of alliteration, but will say “this is also an example of synecdoche”, or whatever. And then he’ll start the synecdoche chapter, and he’ll go (on with examples of synecdoche), and say these are also examples of (another figure of speech). It’s fascinating. He did it for about 30-35 figures of speech. It’s hilarious and a really good read.

Sajith (01:35:15)
I’ll keep this in mind. It sounds interesting.

Ravi (01:35:19)
I want to move into narratives in organizations. You get pitched (to) a lot, so there was this one narrative that is used for pitching, but I want to talk about the narrative used for critical business reviews. You have a bunch of portfolio companies and I’m sure they do a bunch of reviews with you. Maybe monthly, quarterly, whatever. And in doing so, I’m guessing they present a lot of data/numbers, to you, in terms of performance and how the industry is doing, etc.
Before coming to the narrative element of these reviews, I want to spend some time with you on whether organizations – the ones you interact with – really data-driven?
(The other question is,) in my own experience of having worked with organizations, I often found that discussions and debated would be driven by gut-feelings, emotions, and half-baked data. What is your (sense of/judgment of) their ability to have a very data-driven discussion, versus (emotionally-driven ones)?

Sajith (01:36:18)
I agree with you. Yes, there are many data-oriented cultures. I’ve heard Amazon is like that. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have not worked there. So, it’s hard for me to say.
(In) Times, there were meetings which were very data-driven, but there were also meetings which were not so data-driven. I don’t think there’s any universal truth.
With respect to data, I think that the culture of having strong hypotheses and using data to determine if those hypotheses are right is not as common in India, (or) even as much in start-ups as one would like to (see). Specifically, I think the most critical aspect here is determining what data and what metrics matter.
One of the areas where I worked very closely with my founders is triangulating between the goals, the metrics, and the incentives to align behavior. Obviously, to reach the next level of funding, you need to hit A, B, C goals; be it revenue or GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) goals; customer goals, etc., or AOV (Average Order Value) goals, etc.; How do you measure the success of those (goals)? You need to be very careful (about) what metrics matter. For example, for a media company, if you measure the total number of users and don’t have a metric of the length of user sessions, and the incentives are primarily linked to the number of users, what you end up with is an organization where they are incentivized to bring people for half-a-minute sessions, and not to spend any (extended amounts of) time. It’s very important to determine what your north star metrics are, what the check metrics to your north star metrics are, and more importantly – I always focus on controllable input metrics. (I don’t) even (focus) on the output; the output is clear. Output is revenue. I’m not denying that. But what if you find that the revenue is determined by the number of closures, and the closures are determined by the number of pilots you do? There’s a direct correlation between the number of pilots, number of closures, and revenue booked(/books). The number of pilots is determined by the number of outbound calls you make. So, the controllable input metric is increasing the number of calls. What is it that you need to do? You need more sales, or whatever, do it. And then incentivize the controllable input metrics clearly, (specify), “You will do this much, and if you do this much, very good.” The alignment around that is critical.
(The places) where I’ve seen challenges in organizations is not that data is not used; everybody looks at data, but the step of determining what data is relevant, and determining what conclusions to draw from data is where things go a little wrong. Otherwise, data is all over (the place).
I’ll break here.

Ravi (01:40:25)
That’s very fascinating, Sajith. I remember you had mentioned this in one of the Visile editions, where you talked about Zoom using daily meeting participants as a metric, and you pointed out that it was interesting that they didn’t talk about total number of meetings or users or signups, or app downloads, because somebody could have downloaded the app and not really used it. That’s not what you wanted. Choice of the right metric is important, and then tying it with the overall goal and the incentive (is also what matters). Metrics can be abused; how you check metrics (and all) is very useful.
A related question to build on this is: is the requirement to find out what the north star metric is more critical for organizations that are in the early stages, and haven’t found the proper product-market fit yet? Or do you think even large organizations – you’ve been in The Times, and others – also struggle with the actual metrics to figure out (how to) optimize (their business)?

Sajith (01:41:56)
I think it’s a little more important (in the) early stages, which have not hit PMF (Product Market Fit), because you don’t even know what metrics really matter. For example, deciding on user versus engagement metrics matters a lot, and more critically, retention metrics matters even more. There’s a hierarchy of metrics, and what happens in larger organizations like Times, etc., is that user metrics by themselves are enough because they’ve been in existence for a long time, … Like the Times for example doesn’t want engagement metrics; they can’t measure it either. How many minutes (people spend reading a) newspaper. You can measure session lengths on the web, but in newspapers you cannot. They do surveys, but we all know that nobody reads for more than 15-20 minutes. But, that’s fine. It’s how it is.
I would say that with respect to larger organizations – yes, ideally, you should. You get to see warning signs very fast, but it isn’t used as much, and it’s probably not important, because you see warning sings in revenue, etc., also. In the early stages (of a business,) what you pick and how you pick it matters a lot. There’s a recent book by Andrew Chen…I can’t seem to remember the title for the life of me! It’ll come to me. It talks about network effects…

Ravi (01:43:45)
Is it The Cold Start Problem?

Sajith (01:43:47)
Yes! The Cold Start. The cold start is how you crank up the marketplace. I don’t know why I forgot it.
It talks about how in Dropbox, deciding to focus on the data size – they were looking at people who stored lots of data; these were the most valued customers. They discussed them as high-value customers – turned out to be a mistake, because a lot of students were using Dropbox to store music and video files. Versus, when they looked back and said look at the customers who continuously use it, and lots of changes happen, (because) they’ve been updating the data, and those were the most core customers, or high-value customers, in fact. Because they were using Dropbox to sync data, and it turned out to be a better predictor of who would pay. They found that students don’t pay; they store a lot of data, but they don’t pay. Payment was linked to customers who were syncing data and not just storing data. The way you define metrics matters a lot. The right metric has to align between the strategy and the goals. This can go on and on, but (I’ll stop here.)

Ravi (01:45:11)
Is there any good book recommendation that comes to mind on just this topic of choice of the right metric, apart from Andrew Chen’s book?

Sajith (01:45:20)
I don’t think there’s a book as such, but there’s a bunch of articles which you can check out. A little more (from) the start-up world. Lenny Rachitsky, or @lennysan on Twitter. His newsletter occasionally has a couple of articles (that are helpful for this theme.) It depends on what kind of products – like what matters for top-down sales, or what matters for different marketplaces, etc. Lenny has a popular post on this one, that talks about different metrics and more.
Otherwise, there’s no real book as such, at least not as far as I can recall.

Ravi (1:45:49)
That’s a great source. It’s useful.
Back to organizations and review meetings; you’re clearly saying – make sure that you optimize the right metric. The second point I wanted to talk about in regards to some of these review meetings or portfolios that you go through is, how important is it to have narrative skills on the part of the start-up founder or finance leader, or whoever is going to be making the presentation. Where do you see the current level of that narrative building skill?

Sajith (01:46:21)
Whether It’s a start-up or not, narrative building is important. I think of it in terms of ‘lines, not dots.’ Whenever you see someone do a great presentation, sell a great story, etc., I don’t feel there’s an overnight success; that person has put in a lot of work to shape something (from nothing). Typically, the people who have (good) narrative skills, (are the people who) are using it all the time. They would have had preliminary communication going out; they would have articulated it; some bit of self-selection of the audience would have happened over time.
Success happens when there’s a fit between the audience, the product, and the content. For example, let’s say you have 60-year-old grandmothers and you are a stand-up comic going out there to talk. It’ll be very hard, right? You need a certain kind of audience. And the audience need to self-select themselves into it, which is what success is about.
Anyone seeking to use narratives to get something through, like a proposal or a certain view, has to do a lot of work leading into the meeting, to set the context; to set the agenda. You can’t leave it (for) the meeting. You need to have a clearer understanding of the context. You need to understand what assumptions are important, and you need to communicate why A, B, C assumptions matter more than C, B, A assumptions. You need to do a lot of buy-in, etc., so that when everyone comes, you can say, “Since A, B, C are so important…”; everything is very logical.
It’s a line, not a dot. Don’t leave it only to the meeting. It’s not a question of coming and speaking well. It’s effectively a way of shaping worldviews and using your writing or presentation to illustrate what seems very logical, but has actually been shaped in the background.
The other thing is, even for feedback and narrative…the reason narratives and storytelling matter is – one of my big learnings Is that you don’t get the kind of feedback from a client or from a senior person, if a certain quality doesn’t go into the basic artefact. For example, you’re going to meet Tata’s CEO, N. Chandrasekaran. When you go, even if it’s just a draft proposal, even if it’s a very detailed one and looks very amazing, it’s not like he’s going to spend 15 minutes reading it. Senior people have an instinctive sense of when a lot of work has gone into something. It’s like a 6th sense; they also get a sense of how serious a person is. You need a certain quality of artefact for him or her to (even) give feedback. What I mean by that is, if I need to go to my boss, the amount of work I’ve done going into the meeting will give me an exact value of feedback. If I put a lot of effort into it and it’s just a 5-minute meeting, the person will say, “Oh, you’ve done a lot of work! Let me give you an hour.”
The quality of their feedback will be of a higher caliber. The volume and level of the feedback will be at a certain level. So, storytelling and narratives are lines, not dots.
For a very critical meeting, the quality of work done and the quality of (the structure that explains) why this thing matters, where it fits into your worldview, where it gives you value, and you have done not just the last meeting but a set-up meeting beforehand to create and share those artefacts (it will be better). There’s so much value and work in those artefacts that people will give you that kind of feedback (that has been earned by the work). That makes the process better.
There’s no overnight success story; there isn’t anyone who is winning proposals or convincing someone with one or two sentences. There’s a lot of work that’s happened in the background to (make that success happen.)

Ravi (01:51:35)
That’s very useful, Sajith, because it triggers the idea that McKinsey would tell his consultants, to get that prior buy-in. The last meeting you’re doing should be just a formality, where you’ve already met each leader individually, taken them through the key findings, proposals, ideas; taken their inputs, so they also feel a sense of ownership, and when you’re finally presenting – politics can always happen, but at the end of it if the person is in line, then they will hopefully connect and agree with what you are saying.
Having said that, even when you’re going for that prior meeting…you can’t just throw at that person. You have to have – as you rightly say – a line, not dots. I love that analogy, by the way. Line versus dots, because the dots look disparate and confusing and you can’t find a pattern. The line makes people see a pattern.
Apart from the techniques we’ve spoken (about) so far, if somebody has a crucial meeting the next day and they’ve got all the data, what would you suggest to them to be able to find that narrative, to build it so that they have a better chance of making an impact in that meeting?

Sajith (1:52:41)
It’s very important to find common ground and drive alignment. Like I said, you need to have respect for the reader. The person (you present to) is like a reader for the narrative you are building – but more critical, (they’re a) decision maker. You need to understand how you dovetail your narrative into that person’s narrative. Everyone has a narrative, it may be articulated and apparent, or it may not be. Your job is to find out, “Okay. I’m meeting X person. (What narrative are they likely to have?)”
For example, a start-up is pitching to a large company. (The start-up now) needs to understand, “Why does the large company need my product?”, “My product helps to get simplified insights from data. And this company is now unable to get insights, and they suddenly have a lot of data so I need to help them.”
Now, if, for example, I’m able to shape this and articulate that (by saying,) “Hey Mr. or Ms. X, you’re trying to do this, and this is how we can help you.” It’ll be easier. They’ll think, “Oh, great. I want to do this and these guys can help me do that.”
There’s an extent to which my narrative, (the) sub-narrative, dovetails into a larger narrative and gives a push to that narrative, “This will succeed.”
If you are telling me that my product will help you do X (task,) all you need to do is give me this, that’s fine. It’s very important for you to understand (how you can transform your narrative.)
There’s a critical meeting tomorrow, and it’s a mid-level person presenting to a CEO, do everything you can to find out what the larger person’s narrative is – spoken, or unspoken – and how you can link it to that. The first sentence you make should be, “Sir,” – or madam – “you are trying to do this. To achieve this, let me tell you how this project can help.”

Ravi (1:54:42)
I love that.

Sajith (1:54:43)
That is the critical thing. You fundamentally show that you are aligned to their vision.

Ravi (1:54:54)
Incredible. That’s such a beautiful way of sharing a clear actionable way to build that narrative.
We could go on, Sajith, but I think it’s been two very insightful, fascinating hours.
I’d like to wrap up with a couple of questions…one – what’s the one book you have gifted the most to others around you? It can be fiction or non-fiction.
The next one is more of a leisure one; do you have any guilty pleasure in terms of ‘junk-food content’, so to speak? For example, I love watching these sketch comedy shows on YouTube, whether it’s Lee Mack, or Key & Peele, or Foil Arms and Hog, and a bunch of others. What would be your guilty pleasure? And (what is) the book that you’ve gifted the most?

Sajith (01:55:47)
The book I’ve gifted the most is Andrew Grove’s ‘High Output Management’.
I’m canvassing for other books as well, but I think it’s the only book on business management anyone needs to read. Andrew Grove – he was like the 3rd founder of Intel in the late 70s or 80s.

Ravi (1:56:15)
Was this after ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’?

Sajith (1:56:18)
I think it was before. He wrote this as a business guide and introduced us to the concept of OKRs. He didn’t call them OKRs; he called it something else. He introduces how to run meetings, and how to run 1-to-1 meetings as well.
I need to re-read it, but it’s something I’ve gifted the most. I’ve gifted it to all my founders.
A lot of people have succeeded without reading the book too, so it’s not like you need to read the book to succeed. But it’s a good book. It gets you a set of frameworks, and the most important one that it gave me helped me to move (away from a previous one that was not as good for me.) When I was in an individual contributor’s role for a brief time, I had read ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport, and that influenced certain things in me. But I realized that when you are accountable for a team, that book isn’t good (for that situation.); it doesn’t have the relevant frameworks. The better one is what Andrew Grove says – he talks about your output being the combined output of a team that you are responsible for and you are influenced (by). Concepts like leverage and all comes from that. It’s an incredible book; it’s the one I gift to everyone.
Guilty pleasures…interesting. One of the things I try to enjoy of late is desi (quintessentially Indian) Hip-Hop. Divine, thanks to the movie (Gully Boy); I listen to Kohinoor, (Baba Sehgal). There’s also a variant called Delhi Hip-Hop. There are artists like RAGA, Kr$na – Krishna with a dollar sign.
I’m also trying to translate this particular one called Jamnapaar by RAGA, into English. Let’s see how much I succeed with that.
So, that’s my guilty pleasure. There you go.

Ravi (1:58:48)
That’s lovely, Sajith. For a person who is actually staying Jamnapaar(across the Yamuna), in Noida! That’s wonderful.
This has been such a pleasure, Sajith! Thank you for taking out time and sharing all these wonderful insights, thank you so much.

Sajith (1:59:04)
Thanks, Ravi. It’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

And that was Sajith Pai, leading VC investor and thought leader on the Indian start-up ecosystem. 

A few things which stood out for me in the conversation

  • The importance of careful curation of your content sources (and listening to more podcasts!)
  • Keeping at the writing game – success takes time. Also it is important to have a few “epic” long-form pieces
  • Choosing the right metrics to optimise, especially for early stage companies
  • Narratives are lines not dots. A lot of preparation for success in a critical meeting should happen before the event itself.
  • Most importantly, the need to have deep regard and empathy for the reader’s time and effort

If you find this content valuable, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to them. It’ll help others like you discover these insights!

This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Amisha Jha and all-round support by Sanket Aalegaonkar.

Until next time, may the force of good stories be with you

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