A few years ago, because of unusual work hours (20 hours a day I spent sitting on a chair) at the beginning of my career, I gained weight. Lots of it. I was 30 pounds (14 kilograms) heavier what I should have been.
I bought a gym membership. I was given an exercise and a diet plan that I had to follow religiously to achieve my goals. My goals looked daunting to me, and that feeling of overwhelming stressed me out very often. And what did I do when I was stressed out? I ate.
Even after months of getting myself drenched in sweat at the gym, the needle on the scale didn’t move at all. I sat and shared my agony with my trainer one day. He said, “You don’t lose 30 pounds by making a goal of losing 30 pounds. You lose it by making 30 weekly goals of losing 1 pound.”
You don’t lose 30 pounds by making a goal of losing 30 pounds. You lose it by making 30 goals of losing 1 pound a week.
Although my gym had the wallpapers for the purpose of inspiring us, but none of those had the effect on me that this particular statement had. In the following weeks, I focused only on losing a pound that week. I stopped eating junk food because otherwise, I wouldn’t lose that week’s pound (I focused on achieving small immediate goals instead of big audacious one). And started eating healthy. 6 months later, I was 30 pounds lighter.
I realized, this trick not only works for weight loss but for everything in life.
How do you build the greatest, baddest wall that’s ever been built?
“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.” — Will Smith
If you go out and ask someone what their goals are in life, you’d get to hear stories of how they want to change the world for the good of humankind (given those are the people who make goals in the first place). We dream big, which is amazing. But we forget to think about the steps that will take us to our dreams.
Notice that I used the word ‘steps’ in the last sentence because there’s no one magic leap that’d take you there. There are steps. Many steps. We all have our own staircase. It’s possible that your staircase is so long that the final step is not even in the sight, but you don’t have to worry about it. You just need to think of the next step that you have to take.
Magic isn’t in laying a brick
Magic isn’t in laying a brick as perfectly as it could be laid. The magic is in doing it every day.
Let’s say, you break down your bigger goal into several smaller goals. The magic doesn’t happen when you achieve the first goal. Or the second. Or the tenth. Or the last. The magic doesn’t depend on which of the smaller goal you had hit. The magic lies in the process of hitting those smaller goals. Everyday. Forever.
The journey is magical. Because as soon as you’ll reach near to the final step on your staircase, your mind will extend the staircase and the staircase never ends. The magic happens when the staircase goes on forever. And you begin to enjoy the journey than getting crippled by the thought of the final step.
“Suppose that’s done, then what?”
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” — Michelangelo
A few days back, I was discussing with one of our investors about ways in which we can grow Reprime in. And boy, he grilled me with his favorite game!
He plays this game with all the entrepreneurs where he asks you a question about the greater purpose for which you’d want your company to be known for. Let’s take Reprime for example. I replied, “I want Reprime to be everyone’s Alfred. The digital extension of oneself that understands you and not only always follows your commands but also sometimes tell you when you’re about to do something stupid.”
He nodded his head and then asked, “What are your plans for Reprime for next two weeks?”
I was astonished how quickly he came down from the greater purpose to the next two weeks. I replied, “We experimented the hypothesis of running Reprime as an invisible app using Google Calendar’s APIs. And we got users in thousands to use it. But we cannot track how people are reacting to the reminders sent by Reprime. I want to get Reprime out as a Messenger Bot so that we can have a better understanding of how are reminders impacting the lives of our users. That’s what we plan to do in next two weeks.”
He nodded and followed up with another question, “Suppose that’s done and you get positive results. What then?”
I replied, “Once we have the hypothesis validated, I’d want to focus on nailing down at least one distribution channel through which we would keep getting new users. Also, in a manner that compounds the growth over a period of time.”
He nodded and said, “Suppose that’s done. What then?”
This was the point when I said, “Doing this itself would take at least a year. Haven’t really thought beyond that. I have few ideas but very vague at the moment.”
He smiled understanding I’ve fallen prey to his game that I’ve named “Suppose that’s done, then what?”. He continued, “I haven’t heard how’d you make money from Reprime yet. Any thoughts on it?”
I gleamed into the vastness of the sky and spoke, “Because of the nature of Reprime, we’d have a lot of data about what kind of reminders we are sending. I think we can make money by promoting a related content or link along with the reminder.”
“Classic mistake,” he concluded.
“A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience’s attention, then he can teach his lesson.” — John Henrik Clarke
At this point, I knew he is done with his game and I’ve failed miserably. But I also knew that he never lets his students go away head hung low.
He spoke, “You’ve been biased by how the biggest companies in this world make money. But those models work when you’ve gotten north of 500mn users. What if you don’t reach there? How can you make money with 100mn users? Or with 50mn users? Or when you’d have just 10mn? Or just 1mn users? Can you make money with just 100k users? You’ve skipped all the steps in between. You know where you want to go but you don’t know how to go there. Think about it. Even hypothesis about these scenarios are enough but I want you to at least think of these steps in between. If you cannot even think of hypothetical ways of making business at these various steps, may be Reprime is a brilliant solution to a problem, but not a brilliant business to build. And most probably, it’ll fail eventually — two years later may be — but it will.”
These were hard words to digest but that’s what teachers are for — to tell you when you’re about to fall off a cliff and redirect you in the right direction. They don’t tell you answers straight away but they point you in a direction where you’ll find the answers yourself. That’s what all best teachers do.
The discussion took away my sleep for a full week but a week later, I had the answers with me. And right now, I’m even more excited to build Reprime not only as a product but also as a business.
I learned how I must not only think clearly of the ultimate goal but also of the various steps in between.
Eating an elephant
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
We’ve heard of the proverb very often and you’ll find books, videos and blog posts about it are spread in plenty throughout the internet. But rarely anyone speaks about the hard part when eating the elephant one bite at a time. Soon, the elephant starts to smell.
After several months of continuously eating the elephant, you would lift your face up to see how far you’ve gotten and you’d be saddened to see that you’ve only finished one leg of the elephant — the rest of it still lies there, smelling.
I’ve learned that to avoid such a situation, instead of eating the elephant all on my own, I can cut the elephant into big chunks and distribute them among other people to eat their part. When many people eat, elephant gets eaten before it starts to smell.
In life, this often means asking for help. In some cases, it could also mean, building your team/tribe/gang.
Using snowflakes, create an avalanche
“Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.” — Vernor Vinge
Every small startup (including Reprime) wants to be named among the biggest companies in the world. Ambitious people dream of nothing lesser than impossible. And sometimes, that’d mean beating one or more of those current big companies at their own game and take their place.
The pages of history are filled with cases when a small company made a big company go irrelevant. Most of these times, the reason the big company lost the game was that they kept denying the competition until it was too late.
Nokia CEO ended his speech saying this “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”.
Nokia didn’t do anything wrong. But they didn’t do all the required right things either.
Yashica and Kodak kept denying smartphones as their competitions until they rendered them irrelevant.
The first camera companies only counted other camera companies as their competition but the thing that has beaten them was not a camera.
The big companies get beaten because they deny a small startup doing something small. All big things start small, and that’s the first bite off of the elephant. The elephant doesn’t even pay heed to the little bite that you bit off.
Eventually, you’d have followed the path of aligning yourself with other startups/companies by acquiring them or partnering with them. This would become your tribe among which you’d cut the elephant and distribute it.
And soon, the elephant will be gone.
Avalanche is created by tiny snowflakes.
The day I realized how any wonder can be broken down into tiny little pieces, it seemed to me I’ve unlocked a pandora box that can be used to achieve anything ambitious, anything unrealistic and anything impossible.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been practicing applying this knowledge in everything I do. I still fail sometimes because the amount of thinking it requires is just enormous, but every time I do it successfully, the rewards are enormous as well.
When I decided to write a novel a few months back, I immediately started writing the sketches of various characters that the story would have. I have several missing links in my story, but every weekend, I sit, think and write about one part of the story.
I know when all of those pieces will be woven into the novel, all of these separate pieces will be edited ruthlessly and some might even go away to never return, but every time I finish writing a part of the story, I get one step closer to writing the novel.
Take care of the small things and big things will take care of themselves. Life is Lego. Arranging little things will make bigger things appear.
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I am the founder of Reprime and BulletStory. I am an introvert, read daily and write regularly documenting my learnings and stories. This story was first published on Medium.