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New Year, New Learnings — Week 1.

Balkrishna Agarwal 10 min read

2019 has been an awesome year for me. It has been a year of great learnings & monumental changes. There are 2 highlights of the year. The first & the greatest being that I have become a Father. I am sure this new role will teach me things & change me in ways I could never imagine. I hope I do a decent job. The second highlight is that I have started my start-up. Though not in the field of space tech but in making a Business Management app. One step at a time. Presently I call it BizCat (for Business Catalog) but searching for a ever elusive professional, unique & fun name. Please help!

Other than that I made friends with some amazing people. People way smarter than me. The more amazing thing is their generosity, when it comes to sharing their knowledge. I wish I could recollect & write down those meetings in detail. So this post & the ones to follow are basically a collection of all those learnings documents. The learnings happen from Meetings, attend talks, podcasts, reading books, online blogs, tweets, anywhere…. In this weekly-ish newsletter/post, I try to summarize all the major learnings from the week gone by, so it is both documented & shared with the world. Knowledge increases the more you share it.


  1. Read this article which talks about how Tin-Tin won the Moon-Space-Race way before Russia or America. This makes me think about the irony & pun that Calvin & Hobbes comic tells with such simplicity. https://www.markjonesmedia.com/how-belgium-won-the-space-race-thanks-to-tintin/

  2. Bhutan’s constitution determines a minimum forest cover of 60%. Lets protest for such a constitution. This matters more. 

  1. In 2020, do just one thing. Follow this guy @manas_saloi on twitter. He has an amazing perspective & shares really insightful & interesting stuff to read. Here’s his life principles, I wish I can make every teenager read & understand this. Especially like his 10/10/10 framework. That’s do things that make you happy in 10mins, 10 months & 10 years. https://manassaloi.com/2020/01/01/getting-shit-done-happiness.html

  2. The myth of booming middle class of India & India’s middle class has not grown like China. Read a book called “Bridigital Nation” by N. Chandrasekaran earlier. I don’t know the answer of how the gap in India fill out. https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/catalysts/getting-it-right-in-the-2020s/3954

  3. Software UX suggestions by somebody who has intensive experience in China. Repeatedly I read people from all over the world saying that China already is leading in the future tech, the whole world, even US is lagging behind. Whatever happened to the story that India has won the software development race against China. 

  1. The secret of success is simple. Form habits that failures don’t like to do. I call it the philosophy of Probability/Arithmetic, a philosophy which directs my world view. By definition success is what is achieved by a minority of humans, the definition itself asks you to be different from the majority if you are chasing success (by regular definition). An interesting read on how selling life-insurance & habits co-relate. & how you can judge if your actions are in the right direction. Inspiration comes from purpose which is emotional & sentimental & often illogical. Because there is no inspiration in logic. There’s no courage in logic. There’s not even happiness in logic. There’s only satisfaction in logic & there’s no bigger enemy than satisfaction when it comes growth. http://www.amnesta.net/mba/thecommondenominatorofsuccess-albertengray.pdf

  2. This talks about the “Fundamentals of Success”. The thing most impacted me is when he talks about Energy. You have to be high energy individual, this factor is greatly going to determining your success. I don’t agree with authors view about need to be cunning to successful though. I think honesty & humility is far more important & most people are able to see through cunning. 

  1. We more than often share & consume all the negativity around us, we wired to give it more attention. Here is some positivity to start the year with. 

  1. How to select a Independent Board Member for your company & also have a support peer group needed for founders. Also link it with Mr. Don Valentines (Pt. no. 14) talk below where he talks about how boards of big companies become complacent, maybe mostly because none of them is independent & from a different background/level. https://bothsidesofthetable.com/what-makes-a-great-independent-board-member-4f2837963e30

  2. Marvels success formula. How do you bring randomness & unpredictability into the familiar. 

  1. https://hbr.org/2019/07/marvels-blockbuster-machine?ab=hero-main-text

  2. Why pricing shouldn’t be based on value delivered but is more about positioning. In a restaurant, one wouldn’t want to pay for a glass of water but would easily pay for a bottle of water. What will be your pricing strategy for a teleportation device? https://invertedpassion.com/why-you-shouldnt-set-prices-based-on-value-created/

  3. What you sow is what you reap. What are sowing in 2020? 

  1. My family business is from Textile & Garments sector. I have always believed this segment to be foregone as a loss making sector overall due to extreme over supply, frequent fashion changes, size-cuts, dead-stocks, late payments, etc… The issue has been in my perspective. I have seen examples where niche sectors within which are extremely resilient given the right business model. This is about brand Manyavar & how it has achieved that distinction in a highly competitive sector, its all about the vision. 

  1. Don Valentine, Founder of Sequoia Capital, talks about their investment strategy & how they believed in a sector shift & invested in not just Apple & Microsoft but developed in the whole ecosystem of tech from softwares to disc-recorded-data systems. An amazing insight. 

  1. A discussion about how iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, et al… have increased the income of Artists & specifically musicians. What this has done is that also made it easy for more artists to come online & somehow things are going back to how they used to be. The struggle to be successful was easy for a short-time but now its again as much a challenge as in the past. 

  1. Related to above how people normalize risk based on the safety, so that the total impact over time remains the same. The more we change things, the more they remain the same. 

  1. An interesting read on when & how to use/not-use hashtags in Social-Media, esp for brands.The key being, don’t use a hashtag if it is not going to make the experience better for the user. 


I attended a meet organised by echai.in on ‘Building Startup Teams’. It was a amazing session where 3 founders shared their insights on what goes into making a winning team, here are the highlights,

  1. As your organisation grows by a factor of 3, your challenges morph. A 3 or 9 or 27 or 81, etc… person teams have different set of challenges from each other. As the team scales, systems & processes take over.

  2. Culture evolves but keep the feedback mechanism strong. Word from down in the chain should reach up effortlessly & openly.

  3. Communicate organisation goals clearly. So that team is aligned with the management.

  4. Trust but verify for the first year of the employee. Honesty is non-negotiable.

  5. Have a Director seat in the organisation dedicated to Learning & Development of the organisation/employees.

  6. Talented people need ruthless executives.

  7. It cant be a transaction of money with a co-founder. The quest should be about building something both believe in.

  8. As a CEO, your team should be able to trust you. Just skill is not enough.

  9. Key Person should draw 20% more than market value. (Goes with the thought that, You look after the company, I will look after your career)

  10. Hiring should be done by core team only after self-evaluation. A reference is good & needed but cant be the sole reason to hiring.

  11. Make your team feel successful everyday. Make them entrepreneur by giving incentives. Last years incentive becomes this years fixed salary & the bar now rises.


    As a last item, I am reading a book called “ The Hard Things About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. I am supposed to read at-least 1 book every week, so that I do at-least 52 books this years. Sadly this week I am done with only 50% of this book, wish me luck. Here is a summary of what I have understood so far. One thing I can say without doubt is that, anybody who wants to start a startup or work in one, should invariably read this book.

    Ben has been in eye of this tech storm by being part of some key times & companies like Netscape, which has been instrumental in making Internet reach every desk. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Ben has been instrumental in innovating & bringing the cloud infrastructure that now rules the world. This book gives a clear picture of what life in a startup feels like. How the floor is pulled off from under you in a flash. How pushing the world forward has challenges which are insurmountable but still need to be done. How external factors can decide fate of people & what it takes to navigate this world.

    If you are in a startup be ready for Struggles. Be Honest. Your team is the most important. Your values should be in place & it should be visible. Communication is most important, esp when you scale. The quality of product is non-negotiable. Take care of the People, the Products & the Profits — in that order. Invest in training of your team, nobody has learnt everything. Scaling is a learnt skill. Don’t hire & fall in the trap of anticipated growth. Hire for todays scale.