Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Amit Somani - 40 years of ideas and advices


What does a man leave behind? A pertinent question that creeps up, esp. around milestone birthdays.

As echoed in one of Amit’s favorite songs, “Ek din bik jayenge mati ke mol, jag me rah jayenge pyaar tere bol” <We’ll all die one day, the only things that will remain are our thoughts/words>, I believe his legacy are his thoughts and words, translated into ideas and advices.

The man needs no inspiration  His ability to create viable business ideas out of any little conversation, piece of information, observation, is unparalleled.  There have been many recipients of his ideas over the years. But most of what I reflect here are an outcome of our daily bathroom ritual.  i.e. Me standing outside his bathroom door, listening, while he is showering away his ideas. <He does not believe in wasting a single second.>

His days in the Silcon Valley, esp. during the advent of the internet boom spurred many ideas. Some of the early ones I recollect are:

Global Buying, Local Delivery: Every year we used to be challenged when it came to sending gifts to our parents in India around their birthdays. So he thought why not use the internet to allow folks like us to purchase gifts globally but have them delivered locally to their home cities. There were lot of variants of this idea, over cups of tea with our friends, Kaushal and Krishna. But sure enough, while we talked, there were others who started successful sites with the same concept.

Local Buying, Global Delivery: So he came up with a reverse idea. He told me, that there are lot of folks living outside of India, who miss those bhakarwadis from Pune, sandesh from Kolkutta or Kurtis from FabIndia. How about sourcing these items from local  markets and figuring out a global delivery mechanism?  A survey followed around the most popular regional items people miss. But of course, the logistics marred this one.

Way before the shaadi.com and the “Band Baja Baraat ” era, Amit had come up with the idea of a complete wedding portal (from online match-making to planning to execution). He wanted his mom to run it, given her expertise and knack in that area.

The mobile and the social networking era, along with the move to India, brought its own share of ideas. The furore in his voice, the twinkle in his eyes and you know there’s another one coming at you soon. A born problem-solver. Though I think most of his ideas are due to his ability to co-relate trends, technology, and human behavior. 

A Daydreaming Amit
  • A search engine optimized for SMS searching.
  • A mobile-app discovery tool to search for applications based on relevance and popularity.
  • A methodology to gauge effectiveness of ad campaigns using social networking tactics.
  • A career guidance program for Indian schools aided by online assessments/aptitude testing.
  • A college discovery portal to help Indian students select the right college based on specific criteria.
  • A blog/service to curate experiences (basically allow folks to share their unique experiences about a city, its public transport, things to do, etc.).
     With some whacky ones, like:
    • A service that delivers your own self-written letters to you after 5 or 10 years. Would be cool to see how your thinking has changed over a period of time.
  • GPS tagged car keys/mobile phones(to eliminate the daily ritual of looking for these items).
  • A fluid-filled, yet wearable bodysuit which can control body temperature via hydrodynamics principles. Image the energy cost-savings across the globe!
  • A women run men’s shaving salon (just to get that daily dose of feel-good factor :))
Btw, being a foodie, his creative juices presented themselves on our plates from time to time. Some of his successful culinary innovations include:
  • Basmati Burrito - burrito with basmati pulav, grilled paneer/veggies, and salsa.
  • Masala Margerita – margarita with mint, ginger and masala.
  • Mango rasmalai – Rosgulla (sweet cheese-balls) in mango and saffron puree.
  • Uttapam-pav- thick rice crepe sprinkled with chilis and veggies and stuffed in a sandwich.
  • Oats Side up: Spicy pan-fried sandwich spread of oats, besan and yogurt.
Well, needless to say, lots of “What an idea, Sirji! :)” moments in our household.

But his idea-crunching abilities are only paralleled by his uncanny ability to give gyan. (Could be a side-effect of having many mentors as well as mentees in his life, coupled with the weekend rendezvous with the TED talkers and those self-help books.)
Laying down some of his pearls of wisdom:

So, What’s your goal in life?
Though this was passed on to him by a bade bhaiya <close family friend>, this can be called Amit’s signature question.  This question has irkingly served as a wake-up call to a lot of the younger somani clan. (His younger brother, Abhishek, can swear to that. Well, at least the irking bit.:)). But it’s his way of imbibing focus and alignment of energies towards one’s priorities in life.

Good enough is better than perfect.
Amit doesn’t believe in perfect. Like a true baniya, he thinks instead of maximizing returns. Back in his college days, when everyone used to spend days studying for exams, he said he’d still excel with half that effort by focusing on just the right topics. 

You don’t have to be the first, you just have to be better.
But in life, he says coming first is not key. You have to be a better person, a better businessman, a better employee, a better son and father. You have to constantly improve yourself to be better.

Visualize success.
Most of folks who know Amit will say he’s a visionary. But on a trip to Pune and a car-ride with a friend, he figured out that that’s not enough. You have to visualize, even daydream about how success would feel like. That is the most powerful way to get over your own inhibitions and go for what you want.

Learn from others mistakes.
The old-school theory that men should learn from their own mistakes is too time-consuming, he says. Smart men learn from others mistakes.

Don’t tell me 10 things why it wont work, tell me 10 things how you’d make it work.
A self-proclaimed optimist, he always uses this line on me. (And I’m sure, his team also hears this occasionally.)

Connect with people when you don’t need them, not when you need them.
Relationships are your most important assets, so make your sincerest efforts to cultivate them and keep them buzzing.

Surround yourself with smart people.
He says the biggest opportunity he’s got in his life is to be able to hang out with so many smart people. Most of his life learning has come by watching them or listening to them.

Golf is a mind-game. Its actually like life. The calmer you are, the better your chances of winning.
His favorite game for years, golf has taught a lot to him. And he’s taught golf to a lot many.

And finally, Life is too short.  
Very true, esp. for the kind of vision he has and the kind of things he wants to do. But I just want to remind him that “Life begins at 40”. :)

So here’s a Heartfelt Happy Birthday to the greatest problem-solver and advisor in my life.

ps. I had once told Amit that I could write a book if I could get my head around all the ideas and advices he’s shared. So, how about gifting him back one of the ideas or advices (or even moments) you’ve received/shared with him?