By day, Vikram Seth is a Senior Economist working on renewable energy at Shell. By night, he is the co-founder of Bounce Bhangra, an award winning combination of high energy cardio and Indian dance.
In Never Normal Episode 018 we discussed Vikram’s sabbatical – taking a break from work to find balance in life.
In this episode we discuss how Vikram approached making money without a job, and the process and struggles of turning something you love doing into a business.
- How do you survive during an unpaid sabbatical?
- The psychological stress of not having a salary
- What Vikram learned about psychology from Elon Musk at University
- The 2,000 year old ritual that Tim Ferriss still practices to prepare for adversity
- If you want to start something new, should you burn your bridges or leave yourself an escape?
- Overcoming the limiting belief that you are your job
- The massive lie hidden in our education and employment systems
- The creative approach to work that unites the greatest thinkers from Richard Feynman to Ernest Hemingway, David Ogilvy, and Richard Branson
- Tactics for tapping into your subconscious mind to overcome creative blocks
- Dealing with the mental struggle of asking your first clients for money
- Why Vikram (an economist) and his brother Mrinal (a designer and developer) started teaching traditional Indian dance classes
- The common denominator that determines your success in any business or job
- Should you “scratch your own itch” when starting a business?
- How to deal with starting a business and having zero customers show up
- The Magic of the Internet, Micro-niches, and following your own passion
- How the internet is “undoing the industrial revolution” for creators
- Going in to “Fear Mode”
- Balancing “scale of impact” vs “direct impact”
- What if you could keep your job and pursue your passion?
Vikram Seth 0:00
I think everybody should start something of their own. It doesn’t have to be considered a business. But I think this is something that is starting something of your own, where you’re trying, where you create something and you’re trying to sell that in the world. It reflects so much of your own issues back to you that it’s such a good process for people to go through.
Neville Mehra 0:20
Yeah, as I mean, the entire conversation if you were to like extract a sort of meta narrative from this entire thing, it seems like most of what we study about business is numbers and strategy and all of this kind of stuff that Sure, it’s important, and it makes sense. And you and I both do it for a living in different ways. But when it comes to starting your own business and running a business, actually, so many of the potential hazards and avenues for success are like your own mindset.
I’m Neville Andrew Mehra and this is never normal, a show about breaking free from the boring default plan and to living life on your terms instead.
Vikram Seth, welcome back to Never Normal
Vikram Seth 1:19
Neville Mehra 1:20
We spoke last time about you leaving your job as a senior economist at Shell going on sabbatical and traveling to I think we covered Dubai, Japan and India. And we talked a lot about your experience at a 10 day silent scary Vipassana meditation retreat in Japan. And then we sort of went off on a track of kind of the philosophy and meditation and touched a bit on crypto, something I didn’t get to ask you last time a bit more pragmatic, but something I know everybody is wondering, you mentioned that your sabbatical was unpaid that you left on unpaid break from work and it started as a year. How did you fund your life during that time? And how did you even like approach thinking about that? I mean, I think for a lot of people, the idea of taking a sabbatical is maybe radical, but even if their company had a sabbatical policy, or it was like their boss agreed to it, the idea of like not earning an income for a period of time, like a year is just either infeasible or super scary. How did you approach that?
Vikram Seth 2:19
It was definitely super scary, especially for me, because I maybe this is late for some people. But for me, since from the age of 18, I have always had an income and I’ve never had a lack of money compared to whatever I want to spend the money on. So and also, I don’t know, I think this is maybe is like something that comes with being an elder, elder sibling, or something that I always had this sense of like responsibility towards parents and my brother and everything. So one of the ways that manifest it’s like I need to be able to earn to cover myself, because just in case, I need to also be able to cover anybody else, I can’t be in a position where I myself am lacking. So that’s definitely an issue. For me, it was definitely a something which was a fear. So firstly, I was saving a lot, my savings were in a good enough place. And I also deliberately did that because I had a period of time where I knew that I’m going to take the sabbatical, and I had sort of agreed it, but I still had a few months of work. So I mean, very practically, I just made it a point to like cut down my expenditure and, and build up more and more savings, I had a decent amount anyway, I didn’t necessarily spend a lot of time kind of calculating how much I need for one year or two years. Or if I decided I’m not going back then because and the reason for that was because I was very confident that I want to start something like I sort of maybe mentioned last night, like it wasn’t necessarily like a concrete plan of what I want to do. I knew I needed a break. But I also had enough confidence in myself that like if I want to do something, then I should be able to do something where I can start either a side business or some sort of income generating thing. And then worst case scenario. And this was again, the biggest, the biggest kind of fallback for me that worst case scenario, I can call up HR and say, hey, I want to come back to Shell because the sabbatical there was no there was no like required minimum, it’s your sabbatical. So it’s like if you want to take three months, if you want to come back after two weeks for him, like you know, it’s you’re taking it for your own reason so far, for sure. I think actually, at the beginning I was only intending to do like a few months I had actually we can get into this I had actually secured a new opportunity but was securing a new opportunity within Shell to cover me for when I when I come back and to make sure that you know I can I can be in the area that I want to be in etc. So I did have that in I did have that sort of in the back of my mind. But the interesting thing was as the sabbatical sort of progressed and I feel After about nine months or so, when I realized, oh shit, it’s actually kind of hard to earn a lot of money from scratch. Like doing, I was doing a bunch of stuff. I was doing things like coaching, mentoring, running some workshops on meditation and yoga and like almost life coaching type stuff. And they were making money. They were actually they were, they were definitely making money, but they were making nowhere near obviously a corporate salary. Bear in mind, I’ve like just started this out of thin air during my during the sabbatical. So the interesting thing was my psychology and how that was kind of changing, because I was very far away from running out of money. But my sort of survival instinct had already kicked in saying, You idiot, you’re, you’re killing yourself, like you’re going to, like, I probably I probably had about a year’s worth of savings and left that I could live off and earn zero money and live off, but for some reason, because it wasn’t two years worth of savings anymore. Like I started feeling this kind of threat that I need to secure something. So that was, you know, I needed I needed to secure like a proper income. And that was very interesting for me to like, observe off myself, because as I said, like since the age of 18, I’d never sort of been in that. And before that I never, you know, just dependent on parents anyway. So this was probably the first time ever that I had faced that sense of survival, you know, that kind of like just psychologically feeling like, I may not get through it, even though it sounds ridiculous, like I had a year’s worth of savings, etc. And that reminds me of Elon Musk. And I don’t know if I actually don’t know if this story is true or not, I think it probably is. But Elon Musk somehow was like very aware of this psychological tendency to need security before you actually require the security, like you need the psychological safety net, before you actually need the safety net in reality, and so we did was in university wanted to make sure that he could psychologically deal with living off a very low income and convince himself that he doesn’t need much money. And so he deliberately would eat only like rice and beans, because you can buy them in bulk for extremely cheap. And yeah, he basically kept his I think he did an experiment where he was keeping his daily expenses below something like one or $2, like ridiculously cheap, to prove to himself that he can live off this low income and therefore build and do whatever he wants, which is really interesting, because I was definitely in the opposite space, where I was always earning well beyond what I actually needed, and therefore didn’t have that kind of psychological strength around money, but not in the not in a negative way, in the sense of like, I hadn’t built up that kind of mental fortitude to be able to deal with feeling that lack and working through it, instead of just kind of like caving in and going, Oh, shit, I need to get a job now.
Neville Mehra 8:04
So many good bits in there that I want to dive into. I’m like furiously scribbling little notes to make sure I come back to all the little hooks, you’ve thrown me there, I can’t resist the obvious one, which is to contrast Elon Musk living that way, I guess it was during his university days, and now being the richest or kind of perennially floating at the top of the richest people in the world list that obviously worked out well, for him that sort of training. And you even preempted my next question, which is a little note that I have here, I’ll read it verbatim, it’s easy to say I’m going to save money and travel the world. And if you’re a high achiever type, it’s relatively easy to actually save the money, right? Just you have more income than your expenses, the hard part is actually to watch your bank account go down. And I’ve experienced the exact same thing myself. And it’s easy to kind of, like look at it now and be like, oh, you know, it’s such a first world problem or such a fake thing. It’s not real survival, but the psychology of it is true. And if you accept that, you know, if you want to go and do something hard, you know, the only real way you fail is if you quit, and so it’s like ensuring that you won’t quit becomes the most important way to succeed. Especially when we get into the whole infinite games type of thing, right? It’s just want to keep playing, you want to keep going, you want to prolong your ability to do the thing that you’re doing. And if the if the risk is that you’ll you’ll pull the plug on it yourself, then you finding a way to make sure you don’t do that becomes really important. And I can totally relate to the psychological side of what you’re saying where you’re used to seeing the bank account go up every month and some part of the story you tell yourself whether that’s in your case, your role within the family, or just I mean, honestly, it’s ego, right? Like I’m the kind of person who’s good at work. I’m the kind of person who makes a lot of money I’m the kind of person who’s successful and when you see your bank account, lower each month or debt go up each month. It’s it’s like attacking that story. And it’s a it’s a very difficult primal sort of fear to contend with. I think you you already learned Laid out one of the potential antidotes and maybe it doesn’t even need to be as extreme as as the Elan example. I know Tim Ferriss has something very similar that he talks about, which I think actually even goes back to like the ancient Stoics, which is to just have like a almost like a ritual practice of say, once a year, living very cheaply. I think he calls it like the scant list of fair and the roughest of clothes or something like that. It’s might go back like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, I’m sure we could look up the quote and put it in the show notes. But the idea is the same. And it’s, it’s basically to overcome that worst case scenario fear, because for most of us the worst case scenario, and the fear isn’t actually, you know, death or like a lion hiding in the bushes, but our our brain treats it that way. It’s actually just Oh, yeah, like I ran out of money. And now I need to go look for work again. And in the meantime, I got to really like scrimp and cut back on expenses, and maybe borrow money from someone or something, you know, rely on a social safety net, or something like that. And it’s training your brain to realize like, well, that’s not the desired result, fear of that shouldn’t outweigh your desire to pursue whatever your goal is.
Vikram Seth 11:06
So you mentioned stoicism, and I have to bring up the Ryan Holiday. And I mean, just the title of his, one of his books. The obstacle is the way that is, I think, the learning that I got from this exactly what you’re saying, you know, so two things there. One is I was presented with an obstacle, and that obstacle was in my own mind, and I had this fork in the road and the fork in the road was fight the obstacle and get through it. And the other one was run away from the job. And that obstacle was my own mind sort of saying, Oh, you’re running out of money, you’ve seen your bank account, go down, find find a way through it. And interestingly enough, like I don’t, I think this is one of those things where, you know, people ask questions like, What would you do if you had a million dollars? What would you do if you didn’t need money, etc? I actually now don’t think that you can truly know the answer to that until you’re faced with this scenario. So and the reason for that is because I had zero that there was no way I could have known that actually, this is how I would react until I was in that situation where I was seeing my bank account go down. And where I was questioning, where am I going to be able to, you know, earn from during this period. So it was interesting, because that we know how we will react when a certain obstacle comes in front of us. But you really don’t know until that. And that was a really interesting learning. For me. Also, the interesting thing was, because I did, I sort of ran away from the obstacle, that is what I did, ultimately, kind of I mean, I figured out a new way, this is where you know, the point is like, you don’t actually fail until you quit. So I didn’t fully quit, I semi quit. I found another solution. But my solution wasn’t to hit the obstacle head on. And just keep going. Because in reality, I did have enough savings. And I could have just sort of kept moving forward. Yeah, there’s so many things in that. I think the second thing is you brought up Tim Ferriss, and you know, we talked about Elon Musk, also Gary Vee, Gary Vaynerchuk, all of these guys. And I think the more you look into it, the more you might find a similar pattern that a lot of these guys and ladies at the top of their game, I think from much of what I’ve read of them, and listen to them, they have actually mastered this in their own mind, which is to live frugally fight, you know, live well below their means. In fact, I think your dad, there’s a specific thing that your dad said to me and my mom, my mom also shared that he used to say this to them as well. I mean, it’s quite, it’s quite a straightforward thing. But like, if you’ve got $10 in your pocket, you don’t want to spend, if you spend 11, you’re screwed. If you spend nine, you’re happy, right? So it’s just such a basic concept. But I think that that is something which is important for us to consider how that affects your psychology is something that we don’t really think about that much is something
Neville Mehra 14:01
that comes up often I have a lot of conversations with people who are either want to become digital nomads or sort of exploring that space, or just even starting businesses quitting a job. And just a thing that comes up very often is this idea of like, Should you burn your bridges and talking to you about all of this kind of reminds me that I don’t I mean, it’s unsatisfying, but I don’t think there really is an answer. I think it depends on the person because you know, from what we talked about last time, and from what we’re getting at here, clearly, for you having a certain sense of security was very important. And you You gained that sense of security from knowing that you could go back at any point you were sort of emboldened to leave shell because you knew you could go back to shell like your sabbatical, the whole idea of a sabbatical, right that you had a job waiting for you at the end. And it’s like, worst case scenario, this whole thing blows up in my face, you know, call HR as you said, and say like, Hey guys, I’m back. Whereas for some friends and people I know It’s the exact opposite that unless something like forces them, and they really have no alternative, they won’t face some uncomfortable decision. Like they will just avoid it as long as possible or not do the thing that they know they should do until they’re just left with no other choice. And I’ve struggled to give people advice on that, because they ask and it’s like, as we talk about it, I’m just realizing that I think it maybe this is one of those ways where like self awareness is really important, and just sort of understanding what you as a person need. Like, are you the type of person who will always try to maintain security? In which case, yeah, having a backup plan is probably good? Or are you the person who will just sort of like always rationalize and procrastinate in which case, yeah, you just need to force yourself, like, move to a new city, quit the job, burn the bridge, whatever it is, and then you’ll, you’ll force yourself to figure it out. And you will
Vikram Seth 15:49
precisely and I think, coming back to the point I made before, I think you don’t know how, if you don’t know how you’re going to react, then I think you just need to try one of those two approaches, and see how you react. So I didn’t even burn my bridge there. But I put it on the side and just sort of stepping away from the bridge already caused me a lot of mental anguish, which is really interesting. So then, that learning for me was then okay, so then I need some sort of a bridge or a crutch to to provide myself with a sense of security. But I think you don’t again, you don’t know that. So one approach is just try it just pick one period, burn, burn the bridge, see what happened. And if it doesn’t work, then and if you sort of react very negatively, then I think you’ve got a clear answer there that your your mental makeup is that you need some sort of a sense of security, and maybe then to the practical thing for that, then maybe it’s do a side hustle alongside your main earner. For example. Alternatively, you know, like, you just start with that anyway. And if that doesn’t, if you don’t enjoy that, or if that doesn’t work, or you feel like you were already kind of splitting your mind between too many different things, then then maybe the burning the bridges. But the other point to make is a number of it’s interesting, because a number of entrepreneurs, like very successful entrepreneurs, who I’ve sort of listened to, and paid attention to, and some who I’ve spoken with who have completely burned their bridges in order to start their business. And whatever their advice is that they did a stupid thing, even though they became successful from doing that. And it’s really interesting to see this dynamic, they became successful by burning the bridge because they had no other option. And they had to go all in on the thing that they were building, but you ask them for advice, their advice will be I was stupid, just struggle, do a side hustle, and you shouldn’t burn your bridge, because it causes a lot of pressure on yourself. It’s like, there’s another quote like why put pressure on your passion, just let your passion develop, but by revealed preference, and they actually did leverage and they became successful. So I don’t know where the causality is, or anything, but like, it’s just interesting to see that, that on reflection, they’re like, No, I screwed myself over. This was too difficult to pot. But that part actually didn’t lead them to success, survival bias, maybe it’s
Neville Mehra 18:11
survival by its very kind of like a reverse survivorship bias. So because like they they did survive, but then they’re biased towards towards the approach that they didn’t take in so many things in life, like you want to preserve capital. Once you have capital, before you have capital, you’re sort of like, Yeah, I’ll take all the risks. And now once they’re like built something, they’re they’re more risk averse. And they’re taking today’s mindset and putting it on previous version of themselves. I’m very inherently skeptical of people telling you, hey, I did this thing. And it worked out well for me, but you should do something different. Right? Like that. That’s just as a category of advice giving is one that I would be cautious with. And even going back to the previous point, perhaps this is a bit meta, but like in this whole concept of Do do you burn your bridges or not. But in both cases, I suppose what it comes down to is having a sense of confidence in your fallback plan. And the ultimate fallback plan is you the person, right, and so if you have to burn your bridges, what you’re basically saying, in other words, is, once I cut ties with my current sort of way of being, I trust myself to figure it out. And the other version is saying, like, I trust myself to figure it out ahead of time, therefore, I figured it out. And now I’ll go and do it. But ultimately, like the common denominator is you and the more you can survive all of these little things, and perhaps even the reason why you find all these entrepreneurs who are successful multiple times over and who can figure it out is because they have that confidence because they’ve done it before they’ve proven it to themselves. It’s almost like the whole keystone habit idea where like, you know, he’s one, you know, you flip one thing you manage to find success in one area, and then all of these other areas which are seemingly unrelated, you start to find success also, and it’s again, the common denominators, you You’ve proved
Vikram Seth 19:55
it to yourself 100% I think this relates to identity because What so much of our society is about is relating our identity to our work. And if our work is a company that we work for, which is, obviously not ours, were ultimately not in control, because they were pawning off our agency and connecting our identity to something that is constructed, which is outside of us, the trust is should actually be in yourself, because you got that job, you develop a certain skill, you can do that, again, in a different area, or you can do that somewhere else. And I think this is the desert problem for me, or it’s a it’s a journey for me, maybe not a problem for me, but a journey, which again, during that sabbatical, I did this was 100% realization that yeah, I my two connected to my employer, and not not just that, like as my as my mentor model to connect it to what I previously have been doing in this job, and like restricting my own, or I am restricting my own creativity in seeing, well, I got that job. And I got that job after developing a certain skill set, I can develop another skill set if I want to, if you don’t even believe that if you already start with the premise of I’ve done this for such a long time. Therefore, I can only do that you’re already shooting yourself in the foot. This is the space which for me is really important because this is empowering yourself. And this is I think, where agency begins. And unfortunately, we already have like an education system, which sort of gears you up for I mean, talked talked about to death. But you know, we have an education system, which gives you up for the Industrial Revolution type work, right, like working in a factory nine to five, etc, etc. You’re the employee, just listen to what your manager says, because you don’t want to screw up and cause the factory to burn down. So you have an education system, which is teaching you to sit, shut up and listen and just absorb like that. The problem is that then you slowly stop thinking for yourself and stop being an independent thinker. Our education
Neville Mehra 22:00
system, I’m paraphrasing somewhat smarter here but cranks out cogs for an economy that no longer wants cogs, especially in the West, and in the kind of richest countries. And it is you know, that the future belongs to the the creatives, the creators, the freelancers to independent thinkers. And I’ve written about this myself before, too, there’s this weird sort of thing where all of the people that they teach us to look up to in school, all of the heroes all the people we have holidays, for on the calendar, we celebrate, not a single one of them got there by sort of following the so called default path like but none of them were just like obedient students. And then obedient workers who slowly climbed the corporate ladder and made their way to like CEO of the 200 year old company, after 50 years of working there, we’re sort of prescribed that as a path to success. But there’s this giant cognitive dissonance because none of the people we hold up as successful actually followed that path. I mean, you can, you can spot the lie in the way that we teach. And obviously, there are I mean, without getting too into conspiratorial thinking, like there are entrenched interest groups and incentives and everything for running the economy that way for having people who are sort of obedient. And if you
Vikram Seth 23:09
find someone you admire, look at how they live. And the interesting thing is, if you look at whatever it is, like philosophers, or entrepreneurs, or etc, so I mean, back to the Elon Musk example, look at how the person actually lives, because that tells you where their creativity where their thinking is coming from. And interestingly enough, a lot of these people, you’ll find, they’ll have some sort of a passion, which is where all of their creativity comes from, whether that’s like walking in the woods, or whether that’s in Richard Branson, like adventure, like hot air balloons and going on these, you know, crazy, crazy feats, that that actually inspire him, and then lead to creativity. He lived on a flipping house, but like he was, he was so such a misfit. He lived on a houseboat and refused to have a year he refused. He refused to make his company public for such a long time, and then refused to have like a board of directors so that he could be in complete control a lot of these things. It’s interesting, because you might imagine that you’re the best way to develop some of this knowledge is by just sitting and reading. And but actually, if you look at where the people, if you look at the people who’ve developed a lot of this knowledge and think that doing things in the world, they’re just doing something or following their passions. And through that, they’re being inspired and their thinking is developing. And then they’re capturing that either through a product or through a writing. And that I think is really for me that’s helped and this links back to why is it important for me to sort of just say, alright, I’m stuck. Now I need to go out for a three hour walk even though I might potentially have like work I could sit at my desk and do but I know I’d be far better and more effective at that work. at my desk once I’ve had my three hour walk and thought through every and this is, if I have a presentation or if I have some, you know, meaty document I need to write, I simply will not develop that thinking sitting at my desk, I am looking at my screen, it just doesn’t work like that for me, which is interesting, because there’s so contrasting from what the way our like education system works and the way that we think we’re supposed to develop work now.
Neville Mehra 25:26
And the worst part is we basically drugged the kids who can’t sit still like the would be creatives we drug them with, with Ritalin, and I don’t want to shame people who need certain medications. But I just think that yes, are we’re sort of saying, first of all, like, the important thing is that you sit, sit still shut up, don’t interrupt a teacher and learn this way. And if you can’t do that, here’s some medication to help you do it rather than say, Okay, well, like, you know, is this method that we’re prescribing actually useful for the results that we want are for the kids to have the best experience and so on.
Vikram Seth 25:57
I mean, don’t get me wrong, that should sit down, shut up thing worked for me. Like, it’s interesting. But it took me a long time to realize there’s other ways as well, yeah. But it
Neville Mehra 26:06
also I mean, just the usual question of what are you optimizing for, like, if you’re, if you’re grading people on obedience, since you’re being obedient is great, but if you’re trying to write like a Nobel winning paper, you know, maybe it didn’t
Vikram Seth 26:17
work? Or maybe you’ve got to break the norm in some way. Yeah. And
Neville Mehra 26:21
you mentioned Richard Branson, my mind went to Richard Fineman with his like drumming, and later art and lock picking and like he would play pranks on the other scientists during the Manhattan Project and all kinds of interesting things like that. He’s certainly a fun one to study. I’ve made it a habit to study creativity and creative principles. And I think there’s it’s almost universal in everything that I’ve read from from comedians, like Jerry Seinfeld, and John Cleese, Hemingway and the great writers and it’s just across the board, they all have a practice, which is a mix of Yes, sitting down and doing the hard work and not giving yourself excuses like inspiration hasn’t hit yet really just having like a ritualistic practice of like, you know, three hours a day, every day from this time to this time I’m in this specific chair, doing the work and then also having that like contrasting that with a varied and interesting life, you know, away from their desk outside of the chair, where they’re, you know, just having different experiences and, and knowing when they’re stuck David Burrell has a he’s got like a nice mnemonic for it, which is I think bed bath or bus when you’re stuck. So either like you know, sleep on it, right Bed, Bath, you know, the old hot shower shower ideas or something like that, which in some ways is just changing your state. Or maybe there really is something magic about hot water. Either way, it seems to work for a lot of people. And then bus is sort of shorthand for like travel, just get out and move go somewhere different get out of the same physical space that you’re in. So yeah, when it comes to creative work, changing things up
Vikram Seth 27:48
a lot of a lot of that all three of those the way I see that the connection that I see between all three of those is that essentially you’re you’re letting the thought process go from your conscious mind into your subconscious. And your subconscious mind is the place which is the synthesizer is the place which sees the connections, it has all the knowledge, but it will only bring it out when you’re relaxed. Hence, Showers. Showers are great because you go into the moment and going into the moment means your conscious mind quietens. And your subconscious mind is allowed to do its thing and sleeping does this that is
Neville Mehra 28:23
exactly how it works. David Ogilvy the the famous ad man, he’s got a version of this. And he’s basically like, if you’re if you don’t know who he is, he’s like if you’ve seen the TV show Mad Men, right? So that like the quintessential kind of ad executive. And what they’re doing is essentially problem solving. Right? It is the almost the purest form of creativity, where a client or somebody is coming to them and saying, Look, we want to, you know, sell more soap or whatever. And they’ve got to figure out some clever way to do that. And that’s the jingles and the commercials you see on TV or a on billboards or in magazines. And so his process, which he’s written about quite a bit, or he had written about quite a bit was to stuff his mind with as much of the information as he could about the industry about the product, like know more about that client and their bar of soap and every other bar of soap on the market than basically anyone in the world and then unplug, learn all this stuff, and then just walk away. And then at some point, whether it was over overnight, or the next day or sometime later, his subconscious mind would would synthesize as you said, all of that together and come up with like, a Ha, this is the thing and then and then he would have some seed of an ad, you still needed to work on it and refine the concept, but that generative bit where new stuff comes from was the subconscious mind. And
Vikram Seth 29:34
that is literally that you’ve just described exactly how I work. That is literally how I work. I will do intense research, and then leave it and then come back and whatever, do whatever I want in life and then come back and I’ll probably mind map a bunch of pages, which pulls all that thinking together and then from that I can produce what I want to produce and that’s far, far more effective for me and
Neville Mehra 29:59
I want to switch There’s a little bit and go back to something we were talking about in the beginning. So we had a, you know, kind of extended conversation on this idea of the psychology of running out of money, saving up money, going to travel, taking time off, seeing the bank account balance go down, you know, one option is, of course, to just deal with it, watch it go down, you know, to zero even. And just like toughen yourself mentally to stick with that. Another option would be to turn around and run right back to your job. In your case, that was an option. I know, it’s not for everyone. But there’s sort of a third path, which is to try to make some money on the side as you’re going. And you hinted at the idea that you’d experimented with that you mentioned coaching, I remember something about teaching yoga also. So what did you try? And what did you learn from doing that?
Vikram Seth 30:44
So I tried a bunch of stuff, it was all quite related. It was all in the space of let’s call it personal development, which covers yoga, meditation, but also like various exercises for self awareness. Bear in mind, I had just come out of a couple of months of doing repassing plus a yoga retreat plus sort of living in monasteries. I mean, I’ve always that’s, that’s always been something interesting to me. I also have always received a lot of feedback that I people find that I am a good teacher, and that I have patients. And so I thought, well, let me just put these together. And why don’t I just try this out? It was more fun. It started out more fun. And I yeah, I put together some workshops. So I ran a couple of workshops, like all day workshops, about five or six hours long. And basically, I just stuffed a lot of content into there. The aim of that was to sort of share some of the insights and experience that I’ve got from doing meditation and yoga and self self awareness exercises, like, you know, introspecting on your values, for example, I mean, something that both of us do a lot. And I wanted to share the power of a lot of these things with others, one because I simply enjoy it like I love doing. And I found quite quickly that I also love teaching it, the problem I had. And the reason one of the reasons I stopped, which is quite ridiculous was that I struggled to charge people for that, because I think this is something typical in the personal development space. Anybody who people, people teaching or running things in the personal development space, tend to be givers and tend to be doing it for the passion. And in yoga as well, I would say it’s kind of conflict around Oh, should I charge for this, and then then you end up not charging enough, and then it becomes unsustainable. See, I tested that out, I worked with it a bit. I enjoyed it, I ran a few of those, I iterated and developed them. And then I got to a point where I had this completely a completely contradicting thing going on, which is that I had this mental struggle for myself seeing my bank balance go down and needing to earn more money. And then on the other side, the thing I’ve sort of created during this time, I was not wanting to charge, I was probably not charging sufficiently to cover that. So there was this dilemma going on internally, which I struggled at that point to manage. And I think this is I think it was a fantastic experience, because you have to go through all of this yourself to sort of come up against your own mental obstacles. And both, both of these were two mental obstacles, one not charging sufficiently on one side, or maybe even not giving enough value to convince myself that I can charge what I need to charge. And on the other hand, not feeling secure enough in my own position that I need to run towards some further income in order to feel more secure. So both of those were my own mental blockers, which which I was fascinated to like encounter, because I didn’t really know I would face these things.
Neville Mehra 33:53
Oh, that’s such good attitude, though. I love that fascinated to encounter my own mental blocks. I highly doubt knowing you that that the challenge was you hadn’t packed enough value into what you were doing. If anything? I would I would guess it was the opposite.
Vikram Seth 34:08
Yeah, it was it was a Tony Robbins kind of thing where the first session Tony Robbins did, he basically confused his audience because he shoved all of his knowledge into one session and people never came back. I
Neville Mehra 34:19
can understand why that would be what like how that can happen. I could see myself doing the same thing. I mean, it’s some of these things too. It’s like you focus on one focuses on all the all the other challenges of going into business and you finding customers and all that stuff. And you realize that actually like taking something that you know, and sort of dripping it out in bite sized chunks and not overwhelming the audience is perhaps the hardest part, right? You have so much that you want to say and all that. But that piece aside, going back to something you said earlier of like the way your identity becomes tied to the place that you work for. I think that’s a huge piece of it. Also, it’s something that I faced and something that’s come up in conversation before where you know previously we Your work like you basically had some negotiation with a boss or HR somebody at one point to decide your salary. And then okay, that’s sorted. And now you just show up and do the work. And maybe you have an annual review from time to time. But when you as Vikram are going out into the world and saying, like, hi, please pay me, Vikram, for this thing, you have all sorts of like self worth and imposter syndrome, and who am I to be teaching this or selling this and asking them for money and all sorts of things like that, that come up? And I think that’s if you’re selling like vault cleaning services to giant banks or something, right, maybe it’s easier to deal with that. Because you’re like, all these big banks have all the money in the world, and like I’m providing some service that they need, and that’s fine. But when you’re selling like yoga classes to other, perhaps young people who are early in their careers, and you know, they’re just, it’s a different target market, it’s maybe a lot harder to say, Oh, this thing that I’m providing is valuable, and I’m comfortable taking money for it. And I’m the right person to teach it. And they should give me money. And it’s so much easier to just say like, Oh, hey, guys, if you want to pay something, that’d be nice. Thanks. How did you resolve that? I mean, what did you make sort of deliberate decision to say, I’ll just keep doing all the yoga and meditation stuff for me on the side? I mean, you mentioned earlier, something like not putting pressure on your passions. So was that did you sort of just decide, okay, like, this is something I enjoy doing. But I don’t want to try to make money from it, or where did you leave off in that whole internal discussion?
Vikram Seth 36:26
I think this is about time that we bring in the other thing that I started during this, which we’ve we haven’t touched on at all, as yet, which is bounced Bhangra. And the reason I bring that up here is because I shifted my focus, I shifted my focus away from running these yoga workshops and self awareness things. And I put that energy and also a fair amount of that content into something else, which we had already started earlier, but really picked it up after on it so that that and that bounced Bhangra, which I run with my brother. And we started it essentially, we conceptualized it before I took my sabbatical. But we’ve conceptualized it essentially, because of my sabbatical. Prior to the sabbatical, I was in this kind of mental limbo, affected by as we talked about last time, you know, my friend passing away and being away from family, etc. So talking to my brother about this, he was he, which he always is amazing at pulling me out of this hole. And one of his his first go to solution is always go to the stuff that you have always enjoyed doing. So whether that’s watching comedy, listening to music, or, in our case, both of our case dancing to Bhangra, which is a high energy, North Indian folk dance, it’s kind of evolved over time and become merged a bit of, you know, hip hop and other modern styles. But essentially, it is this dance form, which we’ve been doing since we were kids. And his solution was a you’re not feeling so great, right? Now you’re going to be doing a sabbatical. And you’re going to have to have something to do in that sabbatical. And you’re going to have to put your energy somewhere, I’m a very high energy person, and if I’m working, so so the point was that, yeah, I put a lot of my energy and creativity into my job. But if you remove that out now, and if I’m doing a sabbatical, and I don’t have something that I have to create something, otherwise, my energy stays inside, and that goes into a dark place. And that that’s obviously not helpful. So it has to go out into the world. So the way we did this, we sort of conceptualize that at this point, but we really kicked it off. Once I came back from my meditative travels. And essentially, we just the story around this is itself kind of funny, like I was debating back and forth, how we should do this, what we should do, and my brother completely out of his own character spontaneously created a Facebook event saying we’re running this workshop, we’re running this dance fitness class. And this is the day this is the time booked it completely out of his character. But it worked really well because that gave me something to focus on. And so over over the period of the sabbatical, we started running these sessions. And this is a whole other thing, because this presented new challenges. The first session we ran, basically, nobody came to the second session we ran only are very close, like our best friends came to because we asked them to, and then your by session 10. We were like doing like, but the point was, we were because nobody was coming. But we started this as a way to channel our energy into something we enjoy. And to give me some sense of focus, bear in mind, like I still hadn’t developed all of these ideas around running the yoga workshops and all of that. So the interesting thing was how that evolved as well, more and more and more and I I overcame the challenge of charging people money that was sufficient to cover the sessions and sufficient to cover what we needed much faster in the bounce Bhangra, Bhangra dance cardio classes space, then I was able to overcome that in the yoga self awareness space. So because of that it was
Neville Mehra 40:17
what do you attribute that to me? What was it about bounce that you found easier to charge for? Or is it just because you had some practice at that point, or what was it?
Vikram Seth 40:27
I’ve been dancing since I was like 10 years old. And I think I just felt more comfortable and confident as a teacher in that space. Even though I was I received a lot of feedback that the yoga self awareness workshops that I ran with extremely effective, I think, personally, it sat with me better, that I felt like it was a more tangible product that I could see. And I think the other thing is also just less sense of this is maybe not true. And this is maybe just my own mental construct and blocker as well. But I think one of the things was that I saw that the purpose of the dance sessions was that you just have people come in enjoy themselves and uplift themselves. And you’re not necessarily trying to pull people out of out of a hole or something like that. Whereas on the self awareness side, my mental blocker here, I think, was that a lot of people are coming because they need help. And they need, they need support to help themselves through some difficult period in their life, for example, and I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable, you’re charging them like an arm and a leg to, to be able to get that support. There’s also a far more spiritual side to all of that, which I see having having done with a partner, which is entirely free and voluntary. It didn’t sit with me very well, that something which is essentially free and spiritual. Again, this is this is a belief system, which which I have evolved through over time as well. But at that point, for sure, I definitely felt like I shouldn’t be charging much for this. It was it was almost like, yeah, that it’s a belief that you put in your own mind that this is something sacred, I shouldn’t be charging for this. Whereas Monroe didn’t see like that. I saw it as like, Yes, this is this is something which is conveying high energy, and I’m doing something here, and therefore I can charge for that. But again, with that, with the Bumrah classes, we started off charging something ridiculously low, like three pounds per session, we would have needed like 2x, the max capacity of the room to even break even on that thing. So very quickly, I think after about three or four sessions, that three or four pounds went to 10 pounds. And by that point, it went to like seven pounds, and then 10 pounds. And so it’s interesting, because that itself, the pricing was our own journey of getting comfortable with seeing our own value. This is what I think everybody should start something of their own. It doesn’t have to be considered a business. But I think this is something that is starting something of your own, where you’re trying where you create something and you’re trying to sell that in the world, it reflects so much of your own issues back to you that it’s such a good process for people to go through.
Neville Mehra 43:19
Yeah, as I mean, the entire conversation, if you were to like extract a sort of meta narrative from this entire thing, it seems like most of what we study about business is numbers and strategy and all of this kind of stuff that sure it’s important. And it makes sense. And you and I both do it for a living in different ways. But when it comes to starting your own business and running a business, actually, so many of the potential hazards and avenues for success are like your own mindset. Like the thing that keeps coming up over and over again, is you the individual, the entrepreneur, the person who’s doing it and I’m sure the same is true in a different way for for just a regular job. But as you said, once you start something, it really does reflect all of this back on you because yeah, you’re forced to go out and ask for money, you’re forced to make decisions about like, do I feel comfortable charging for some spiritual service and other decisions like that. And something also, I just want to highlight based on what you said, it’s something that took me a long time to I sort of learned this through books and listening to other people, but I hadn’t really internalized this idea of like, scratching your own itch, where you know, it’s sort of intuitive to do some kind of trends analysis to realize that like crypto is cool right now. And 3d Virtual reality stuff is kind of like emerging finally, supposedly, and so maybe I should go develop like an Oculus app that lets you browse crypto prices in like a 3d world or some nonsense like that, right? Where you’re just taking things that are like trendy and hot and we’re like lots of VCs are pouring money into it or whatever, right? It has nothing to do with you as a person. It’s just this sort of cold analysis of things that are likely to take off and The problem with doing that is that everything is hard. It doesn’t matter what you do everything is hard. And there’s a high chance of failure no matter what you do. So right off the bat, if you’re going to fail at something, you might as well fail at something that you enjoy doing. But that’s, that’s sort of like a negative view on it. The less negative view is that in order to succeed, you have to stick with it, even when it looks like it might fail and when it’s difficult, and so you went through the early bounce sessions, and I remember this where it’s like, hey, zero, people showed up today, or only our friends came today, or, you know, we’re charging three pounds per person and four people came, yay, we almost covered the cost of lunch,
Vikram Seth 45:36
but not the cost of the venue that we had to hire to get those people to come to us.
Neville Mehra 45:41
Right. So like, Yeah, we had a few people show up, and we still were negative money. And every every future session that we run until this gets better will be more negative money. So like our bank, once again, our bank account balance is going down. As we’re trying to run this business. I thought people start businesses to make money. And like, we can joke about it now. But like, these are real struggles that you face psychologically, when you start something and because bounce for you served an additional purpose. Like this was something that you love to doing, and an outlet that you needed for your energy. Anyway, the stakes, were not simply if this makes money, it’s a success. If this loses money, it’s a failure. Like you had a vested interest in doing this and going regardless, of course, you wanted to be successful, of course, you wanted people to come, of course, you wanted to make money. And now obviously, you know, for people who are listening who don’t know, like, if you’ve won awards, you’ve been featured on the BBC, you’ve been I think, when partnered with Virgin Airlines, and like, you know, I mean, it’s blown up many orders of magnitude from those early days, but you would have never reached that level if you had quit at any point along the way. And quitting would be the obvious thing to do. When zero people are showing up. If you’re totally dispassionate, if it’s just this, you know, 3d Crypto app where you’re like, Okay, I’m just gonna create something that that might be successful. And then if it’s not successful, cool, I’ll move on to the next thing.
Vikram Seth 47:00
I think it takes a very certain type of person, a very specific personality to sustain something that they have no interest in, and are only doing it for making money in the business people. There are definitely people who can do that. But it takes a very specific personality, who is so determined to make it that it doesn’t matter what they’re doing for everybody else, you can only sustain something you really are interested in. So you mentioned earlier, infinite games, and bounce Bumrah for me, and my brother is essentially an infinite game. It’s a game which you keep playing. It’s a game, which you’re not playing to maximize your quarterly earnings or maximize how many people come this month or maximize how many awards I win this year. It’s a game that we keep playing, because it’s something we fundamentally enjoy. Like, I enjoy Bhangra, I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy the sessions. So as long as I can physically do the sessions, I’ll do the session in the process, if we’re making money, great. And that allows us to keep building it bigger and bigger. But it’s essentially become a creative outlet for us. And a way to share, again, a way to share our energy. And the way we sort of translate, in this case, specifically, the music and the energy and the culture of Bhangra and everything that surrounds that into an empowering art form and message. So I mean, it’s something I’m fundamentally passionate about that I will just keep doing it anyway. And I think that’s the way to go. So we sort of had a bit of a chat about this earlier. And you kind of had to remind me of the content that I’m I had previously shared with you. But again, I think from from Gary Vee, who I quote so much, I just think he’s such a genius in the way he’s broken. So many of these things down is, you mentioned trends, trends keep changing. And something that Gary Vee has shared a lot is where we live in an age now with the internet, where there anything that anybody is interested in, you can find a group of people on the internet somewhere who is also interested in that thing. And what that means is that you can have a micro niche of something, and you could still potentially find like 1000 people who are interested in that same micro niche. So if that’s the case, and that micro niche, I mean, we had this example of like somebody who cultivates worms, for example, like such a random thing, but I’m sure that their person probably find like 1000 people around the world on the internet somewhere who also loves to cultivate worms or cultivate like a specific type of worm. I mean, you can go so narrow into what the thing is. The point of this is that that means you should no longer need to chase the hottest trend. In fact, if you just chase Focus on what your fundamental interest is, at some point, the mainstream actually ends up picking up on that something dumped something may or may not become hot in the mainstream. But whether it does or not, you can probably still find those 1000 people who can sustain your business in this area simply by following your own passion. And I think that is such a game changer in in the scope of options and and what’s available to us compared to the generations before us. Like, even you when we were kids. This simply didn’t exist. Like how, how much effort would it take to find the people who are interested in your micro niche? Well, you’re pretty much stuck to the people in your specific locality. Because you have to go out and find these people. And then how do you find them cold calling, or like dropping flyers through or putting ads in the newspaper, like the way that we could communicate with people was so limited, and so narrow, that some of this stuff wasn’t feasible, but because we are all now connected to this global network, which just keeps getting more and more efficient, and connecting and bringing more and more people on, anybody can basically just pursue their own interest and find others who can do the same thing. And what that ultimately results in then is that you can have this cottage industry of 1000s and 1000s, or millions of micro niches, where you kind of go back to how things were pre industrial revolution, where everybody was their own farmer, everybody was producing their own food, everybody had their own plot of land, you know, you had to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, everybody was doing their own little thing, you didn’t have the centralization of you didn’t have Amazon, and all of these things, because it just couldn’t work like that. And we didn’t have industrial processes, and we didn’t have concentration of capital. So everybody had to do their own version of their own thing, the benefit of that was that you have a sense of meaning and what you’re doing because you’re producing something, and you’re producing that thing from start to finish. So if you’re producing a shoe, well, now you know, one person, one person does the glue, one person does the stitching, one person does the design and like nobody is actually seeing the whole product, apart from maybe the strategy people who are not actually creating anything with their own hands. Whereas previously, you’ve got the shoe maker does the entire thing start to finish, there’s a certain satisfaction in that the Industrial Revolution and basically made it so much more cost effective to just centralize all of that split it division of labor have one massive company which does this for like the entire world, or like five or 20 instead of 1000s and 1000s. But now we’ve come it’s so interesting that we’re coming kind of full circle, where we we potentially have this we can have both now we can have we can have I can work for Shell, which is a massive centralized energy company, which pulls in so many people, I work on a tiny little thing, and somebody else works on another tiny thing. But separately, I can do bounce, Monroe, and I can be one of 1000s of people who teach Monroe clauses, I could make that big, or I could make it smaller, it doesn’t really matter. And I can find my, my following my real true 1000 followers, and I can sustain a business there and satisfy myself. And if I really wanted to be able to do that full time, etc.
Neville Mehra 53:22
You just see that was a beautiful weaving together of what were in my head a few separate narratives, right like the Kevin Kelly 1000 true fans idea, and and Gary V’s that, that we kind of started with, which I’m very familiar with, and I think are sort of like the seeds of the creative economy that we’re in now. And we talked earlier about the Industrial Revolution, and just the way that like, you know, education is still in that mindset. But I never really connected that back together that what we’re doing is going back to sort of the individual kind of craftsman type economy and then to your own story with balance, where it’s like you get to do the thing that you’re passionate about regardless now, kind of standard conventional wisdom at this point is start something and then grow it into a big business or grow it into a business that can pay you or sustain you. And instead you’re on this path where you have a job, you have security, you have all the good stuff that comes with that. And you still have the ability to do this thing that you’re passionate about is that and spoiler alert, like your sabbatical ended and you went back to shell, right? That’s the part that we that we haven’t covered yet. So let’s go there. Right, because we talked about the sabbatical. We talked about sort of the process of starting it and some of the struggles that you faced along the way plus meditation retreats, and then some of the things that you explored from like business standpoint or just pursuing your own passions, and you ended up starting bounce Bhangra during that time. So how do we get from there back to shell, what was the conversation in your mind like you found this thing that you love doing? And yet you went back to work?
Vikram Seth 54:52
There were some things which pushed me back in and some things which pulled me back in the things which pushed me back in but the one of the main ones which we already talked about was money. And that struggle, which I sort of slowly thought like this too much like, I haven’t figured out how to manage this in my own head. And quite frankly, I guess, impatient around that, and impatience with growing either the yoga self awareness workshops, all balance. So and when I say impatience, I mean, if I had just focused on those could I have faced the obstacles, gone through the obstacles and come out on the other side with a sustainable, profitable business, which I could live on. Or could I have, for example, got it to a point where I could then take a business loan to sustain myself, I didn’t think of any of that I was in fear mode. So that was a major push that fear mode, what happens when you go into like flight mode. So typically, like, you can’t think you cannot be creative in that process. So you fall back on what you already know. And what I already knew was shell, I know that I can go back and I know how it works. So that was a push a pull was that just before I had taken the sabbatical, shell was creating a new department, which was called New Energy, essentially, renewable energy, and E mobility, etc. So coming up to date with where, where the world needs to be. And for me, that actually was my passion. And it was actually initially one of the reasons I joined the company in the first place. Because again, for me, what drives me is empowering the world. And one of the fundamental ways technological ways that I saw, of empowering the world was sustainability and renewable energy. But when I joined Shell, they sort of didn’t have they didn’t have much going on in that area. And I did sort of I got a bit sidetracked got interested in whatever else was going on. But I always had in the back of my mind that this is what I’m looking for. And so so when my when I was taking my sabbatical, literally at the same time, shell had announced that they are creating this new division, that was the pool site that if I’m going back, to show that I want to go back in a place where I can find more meaning than I found before. And for me, that was this, this space, that’s something that I started working on, and was able to secure like a role in, in that space, and sort of that that sort of made it, I’d say, pellet made it palatable is probably too harsh. But I needed that change as well. And I needed I had gone on this journey of meaning. And I needed to continue that journey of meaning it wouldn’t have, it wouldn’t have sat well with me if I sort of just went back to what I was doing before, felt emptiness, and felt like I wasn’t progressing the world in some way that wouldn’t have worked because I’ve, I’ve already evolved, and I’m on this journey of meaning, and I need to continue that, like see you smiling. Yeah, no,
Neville Mehra 57:51
I’m just thinking about like, this kind of feeling of like going and doing yoga and all this stuff and being on this path. And then going back to like, giant oil company, and just yeah, the the sort of mental gymnastics you would need to play to sort of justify to yourself, because on the one hand, the money is nice. And on the other hand, it’s like, yeah, there was all that stuff. That sounded good. I wanted to pursue it. And yeah, I’ll just, you know, put that in my pocket. For now.
Vikram Seth 58:18
NASA actually said, No, it’s a it’s a very good point. So this is, I think one of the other things that I face, prior to my sabbatical, I have been in shell for six years or so everything I did was working on huge scale project things which once you once the project goes live, it’s affecting hundreds, hundreds of 1000s, maybe 1000s, hundreds of 1000s, or millions of people, huge scale projects, which have big impact, both positive and negative, because everything has two sides. Anyway, that was again, another thing I struggled with, in both bounce and yoga side that my impact that I have in these sessions is far more direct, I can see the people in front of me, but the scale was minuscule compared to what I was used to. And again, all of this, this is why I think the balance of both works well for me at the moment still, is because it’s kind of like I want to do it. All right, I want to have I want to do something where I have huge impact on the world and huge positive impact. And I get that through show I can have a huge positive impact, especially where I am in renewables at the forefront of of this space, which, you know, I already see other innovations ahead of this now, but that satisfies that side. But the other but the problem with that is I don’t see direct impact. I’m not sitting and working with people. It’s so it’s very a morphus like, yeah, we can build a wind farm, but I don’t see the people who are benefiting from that. Like it’s far more abstract. Yeah,
Neville Mehra 59:54
especially there’s something in renewable energy. It’s like carbon that wasn’t burned before. is like the actual impact of it. So it’s very intangible, you sort of know that like the world is better in some way. But yeah, I mean, not just because you happen to be sitting in an office in central London as opposed to like sitting in the wind farm, it’s still just, yeah, it’s abstract and intangible by nature.
Vikram Seth 1:00:18
Exactly. And on the other side, I have this like, very small scale, not impacting a huge quantity of people, but the quality is there. And I, and I am there. And there’s a sense of presence. And I could, I mean, quite literally, I can see the smiles on the people’s faces, and I can see the change in them. And their confidence levels, when they, when they get a certain thing, or when they get a certain move, or when, at the end of the session, they’re satisfied, because they had a good workout like that. It’s sort of like, I think, again, going kind of meta again. But I think humans are social creatures. And we live in a society now, which is, firstly, quite virtual. And secondly, it’s very impersonal. It’s we live in a very impersonal society, where typically you would know that like 500 people in your village, you everybody knows everybody, there’s a sense of trust that like, I think this is another reason why big companies still work. Because in big companies, you have that network, you can have that. Well, any company really, but I think this is again, the thing that’s being reflected out in these two worlds that I’ve put myself in that running the bounce session of building a community. And we’re kind of not replacing, but we’re kind of being inspired by something which is fundamental to everybody, which is feeling that sense of belonging, knowing everybody, having those people around you and connecting directly with them. It’s a very different thing. When somebody like you, if you contact balance, Monroe customer service, you speak to me or my brother, and you know who we are, because you come to our classes, and we’re the ones who teach the classes. And we I know who you are, I know what your name is, I know which classes you come to, I know how what your level is, I know, it I know, we know a lot about each other. And it’s so it’s personal. If you have a problem with a wind farm, that Shell has made good luck trying to deal with that, right? Like I mean, that’s simply the structure. It’s an impersonal structure, right? I think this is the thing that the benefit of the impersonal structure is that that’s, it’s impersonal not because it wants to be impersonal, it’s impersonal because it’s optimizing for efficiency. And it’s optimizing for scale. And that’s good, because that helps achieve something which you can’t achieve at small scale. But it loses to some extent, to quite a large extent, in some places. On the other side, we we’re optimizing for imbalance, we’re optimizing for a high quality, personal experience, that’s, that is why you come because we give you this personal experience, we know what your name is, you can see us, etc. So
Neville Mehra 1:03:09
a few interesting things there. I mean, one, this comes up most often, I think, in the context of charity, where you get someone like perhaps a controversial example. But let’s say like Bill Gates, and his sort of de facto philosophy is, you know, go out work, do the thing that you’re really great at in the world and get the world to pay you for that and make your in his case many billions of dollars. And then you know, kind of second mountain second half of the career, go and donate a bunch of money. And even if it’s not exactly that kind of linear of a progression, still the idea that like make your money doing the thing that’s good at making money, which is sort of what you’re doing at Shell, right? Like you have this skill set as an economist applied to energy, right, an area that the world spends a huge amount of money on. And so you’re sort of making your money there. And then in a way, you’re kind of using that freedom or whatever that buys you the life that it buys you to then go and do the thing that you’re passionate about, and have a community and have all of that the charitable example would be use that to donate the money. But then there’s the there’s the counter argument for the charity side of it, which connects to what you’re saying, which is like a yes, that’s good. But part of the benefit of charity is actually seeing the faces of the people that you impact. And so if you’re just like writing a check, and never, you know, going and building somebody a house and seeing their face or whatever, then it’s a very different thing. And so it seems like in a way, you’ve sort of found a solution to that with this, like, kind of dual approach of having something corporate, whether scale and where there’s money, and then having something that’s like passion, and it’s still a business, you’re not running a charity, but it doesn’t have the same pressure that it would if you were, you know, forced to extract making a living out of it, if that makes sense. Yeah.
Vikram Seth 1:04:51
100% 100% And I think that’s something that we’ve gone back and forth on with bounce as well, where we wanted to be more aggressive on making A business. And that actually hasn’t worked quite a few times, because it’s such a because that starts to create kill our creative outlet sometimes. And because we don’t have to do that, by taking some of that pressure off, we can be more creative, be more experimental in that space. But coming back to what you were saying about charity, yeah, I think that’s, that’s 100% Correct. Because there’s a reason that charities use the face of a child in a developing country, as opposed to just text or as opposed to just saying, we’re going to give you a, we’re going to donate your money to some random selection of individuals out of the 10 million that we serve, like, that doesn’t mean anything to anybody, it’s never going to encourage you to do anything, you have to show the face of a single individual, because then you start the put, then we, as the viewer start to develop a story around that. And why because that’s how we develop stories. That’s how we connect with people, we connect with them. I mean, even look at shows advertising, you know, you will see like one person looking at a light bulb or something like that, like, it’s, it’s a very different thing to put a picture of a wind farm or a solar farm. And it’s, that’s great. Yes, we build technology, but nobody cares about the technology, you care about what the technology is doing for people. And obviously communication and advertising and marketing, know, everything about this, you mentioned Ogilvie earlier or Gilby, I mean that there’s the company still exists pretty bloody big. And they have courses as well. And one of the courses is applied behavioral science and behavioral science is all about affecting psychology and affecting, knowing what makes people tick. And then, of course, in that context is used for marketing and advertising. And so much of this thing is about pulling the emotional strings in people. I mean, you could look at it as manipulation. But I mean, that’s how we speak to each other. But that’s also storytelling. That’s also how films and books and novels work. And I think, and all of that. And so I think, again, coming back towards saying earlier, like we have this fundamental need to know people on a personal level. And I think for every individual that that balance between work, in my case, impact at scale, and for personal contact is going to be different. And there’s probably other elements in there that you might want to optimize for. But I think for me, I know myself, well that I only did bounce and didn’t have something like Shell, which is impacting at scale, I would feel like I’m not fulfilling my potential because I’m doing something which is maybe too small. Now, maybe I can scale bounce up, which satisfies that. On the other hand, if I was only doing shell, and I wasn’t doing it well, to be honest, one of the things that I specifically do in Shell is mentor people, again, so that so this is not affecting people outside of the company, but within the company, I’m connecting with people and mentoring people within so that I can, again, have that personal connection. I absolutely loved going and visiting like sites, ie industrial sites, and factories and, and things like that earlier, because you meet the people in the factory, you meet the people who are building the thing that you’re sitting that me as the economist, I’m trying to, like, optimize their value creation process, but they’re so bloody abstract, it’s so much more interesting for me when I actually go to the factory, and I meet those people. And although that person might only be there as like a manager, or factory worker for like a year or two, at least in my head, when I’m sitting there doing my Excel spreadsheets, I know like, Okay, I am actually helping this guy, Peter, or whatever, to do his job better, etc. So I think there’s so many ways that achieve these things. And that’s, I think, more the takeaway that maybe I want to share in this is that I found a way of doing this for myself. But I think this is the starting point of self awareness. And you need to do stuff in the world to have reflected back to you what you what you are and what you want. And then once you know that, then you can shape the world and shape whatever the hell you’re doing in a way that gives you what you’re looking for. This is Steve Jobs, whole quote around, if you poke the box of life, you will find that it bends to bend to you and I’m paraphrasing, but you can poke the box and shape the box in a way you know, the moment the moment you realize that you see a gap in the world and you can you don’t need permission to to do something about that. You can just do something about that. And people will follow him. I don’t have qualifications in teaching Dawn, right, but I am a dancer and I’ve been dancing for 25 years. So I use that as the basis to give me the confidence to go and teach. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of yoga, I’ve done a lot of personal training, like in the gym. I’ve picked up a lot that I have experienced there, but you, somebody who’s running a business doesn’t need to have a qualification in business to run a business.
Neville Mehra 1:10:19
It’s almost an anti qualification in some ways. I was I was sitting here trying to think of some pithy way to end it to summarize our conversation. And but I think you’ve done it beautifully. And you mentioned applied behavioral science. I mean, to me, that’s what all of this is, right? It’s applied behavioral science on yourself. As you said, it all starts with self awareness. Just going out there trying stuff, doing stuff, seeing not only how the world reacts, but how you personally react, learning something from that and then adjusting and trying again and doing more. So thank you, Vikram, for joining me again. Thank you