“When you're doing something incredibly difficult, you need to get professional help. Nobody ever decides to go climb Mount Everest and doesn't get a trainer or doesn't train for years before trying to attempt it. But people decide one fine day they're going to become a startup founder, raise millions of dollars from investors, and go through zero professional training on how to deal with that level of pressure and stress. If you go investigate in Southeast Asia, I would say less than 10% of founders have professional help. Finding the right professionals to help you is also huge because it's impossible to go through that journey alone. And we often talk about how a founder's journey is a lonely journey and therefore you need the right team of support who are of service to you. It's not your investors. It's not your team members. It's not your friends. It's professionals who know how to train you for the challenge you're up against.” - Projjal Ghatak
"We should be studying the leaders who are extremely effective at bad causes so that we can apply those principles to good causes. The cause of your point and the quality of the leadership are completely independent of each other. Unfortunately, we live in a world today where there are a lot of global, governmental leaders who are very good leaders, often not for the right causes. Therefore, we have a responsibility to demonstrate leadership for good. And the only way we can sort of compete with leadership for bad is by being equally good as leaders, but for the good." - Projjal Ghatak
"Nir was talking about this in your episode with him. When you talk about distractions, only 10% of distractions are because of external triggers. 90% of distractions are about internal triggers, which is why I think the study of the mind, psychology, and neuroscience, is underappreciated in the world that we live in. We've lived in a world where we've prioritized cognitive abilities, people doing math, physics, and computer science, but as some of these cognitive tasks get overtaken by machines, and it will happen more and more in the next 20, 30 years, as human beings, we really need to study ourselves and really understand how you work out for your mind to put it in a place that it can deal with things in a healthy manner." - Projjal Ghatak
1. The Power of Leadership: Projjal and Jeremy talked about how they initially hesitated to invest in executive coaching due to its perceived high cost but they stressed the invaluable returns it brings. They underlined the significance of a structured coaching approach, emphasizing that leaders must be intentional about it as it enhances decision-making. They noted that leadership involves making choices that profoundly impact a company's future, and highlighted that its value lies in mastering well-informed decision-making.
2. Venture Capital vs. Private Equity: Projjal explained the prevalence of entities in Southeast Asia that label themselves as VCs but function more like small to mid-sized enterprise private equity firms (SME PE), aiming for 2 to 3X returns on investments within a short time frame. This contrasted with the VC model, which embraces asymmetric outcomes and rapid growth. They explained that understanding the differences is crucial for founders and investors alike, as it greatly impacts the leadership dynamics and decision-making processes within a company. They also talked about the significance of a harmonious board of directors in guiding a company's direction, and that it should be comprised of individuals who not only bring diverse expertise but also foster healthy debates and discussions.
3. Effective Coaching Dynamics: Projjal highlighted that for coaches to be truly effective, they need personal empathy and experience in the domain of the individual being coached, similar to having a deep understanding of the "sport" or field they are coaching in, even if it's not identical. He also distinguished between coaches and mentors or advisors, emphasizing that coaches must prioritize listening and asking questions over telling individuals what to do. He suggested that formal training, such as the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program, can provide a solid foundation for coaching.
They also explored the significance of aligning founder-investor perspectives, Projjal's unique perspectives on narcissism, the depth of trust required in such relationships, and the importance of critical thinking in the current instant gratification era.
Supported by Ringkas
Ringkas is a digital mortgage platform aiming to solve the access to financing problem for home seekers in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Ringkas currently collaborates with all major Banks in Indonesia and the largest Property Developers across more than 15 cities. Ringkas vision is to democratize home ownership and create more than 100 million homeowners. Don't just dream about owning a home. Make it a reality. Explore more at www.ringkas.co.id
(02:05) Jeremy Au:
Hey, Projjal. Excited to have you on the show again. We had a wonderful time recording the first time around, and we've gotten to hang out quite a few times since then, including watching Oppenheimer and Barbie together. But you are also an expert on people leadership, and that's something that's been a topic that people have been asking over and over again because of both the successes, but also I think the failures in the region. So I thought this was an incredible opportunity to do a deep dive on this. So for those who don't know you yet, could you introduce yourself real quick?
(02:30) Projjal Ghatak:
Sure. Thanks for having me, Jeremy. It's great to be back on the show. so my name is Projjal Ghatak. Since 2020, I've been running a SaaS company called OnLoop. and we really focus on how to drive high performance for hybrid teams. And, prior to starting on Loop, I'd spent three and a half years at Uber in a variety of leadership roles and also where a lot of inspiration came from what I thought worked or didn't work with sort of leadership practices and management practices. Prior to that, I spent some time as a management consultant and in finance. Sort of, you know, I've lived across a pack in the U.S. I feel like I've not spent enough time in the middle of the world, but I feel like I know both sides of me quite well. And so, I feel privileged to be quite global and how I think about things.
(03:13) Jeremy Au:
So I guess the fundamental question is what does a good founder slash people leader look like from your definition,
(03:19) Projjal Ghatak:
I was very lucky to spend two years at Stanford Business School. And if you think about what Stanford Business School tries to teach you as a leader, the very first step of it is self-awareness. So before you even try to understand others, it becomes deeply important to understand yourself. And often I don't think leaders spend that time to really understand who they are, what drives them, what are their superpowers, what are their blind spots. And I think That's the first point. And then that transitions into how you show up in an organization and how you're able to motivate, inspire, and bring the best out of your people. And that can vary based on the state of the business, on the size of the business on the scale of the business.
And so there are different varieties of leadership people talk about. Peacetime leaders and wartime leaders, and that's an important distinction. But I think it all starts with an investigation of yourself and really understanding what's happening within you. And unfortunately, in my experience, not a lot of leaders spend that time to do that.
(04:21) Jeremy Au:
Yeah, it feels like you measure them by results, right? And I think every leader also measures themselves by results. So I think it feels like there's a bit of a gap, right? Because you're talking about self-awareness but leadership is like we say, this person is a great leader because he got a company from zero to X million dollars of revenue. So what do you think about that dichotomy from that perspective? Yeah.
(04:37) Projjal Ghatak:
It's not a straight path, though, right? Actually, Michael Bloomberg, I think, posted this on LinkedIn a day or two earlier than Bloomberg started because at 39, he was fired from his job, and it was a massive shock to the system, not something that he had ever expected. And for those two months of notice that he had, he worked like an absolute dog to try and prove people otherwise, but it didn't work.
And that's how Bloomberg started. And so in every leader's story, if someone is a leader for 10, 20, 30 years, it's never really a straight line. And so as a leader, you can't really focus a lot on the results to drive your conduct or your decisions. And that's why often we see leaders make mistakes when times are tough and they haven't seen enough. And I've now had the privilege to be running this company for three years, and we've seen quite a bit. And I see the way I react now be very, very different vs. when things would go wrong in the first year or two. And I didn't really know how to deal with it. And so, I don't think leadership should be assessed by results. I think the world often does that. And I think people glorify success and put people up on a pedestal. But then they are also often happy to bring them down when they're on that pedestal, as we saw with Oppenheimer and sort of that experience. And so I think leadership is very much about a mindset and good leaders stay quite unaffected by the outputs because they know that they can't control the outputs. What you can control is the inputs and you have to show up the right way to control the inputs and leave the rest of the world to work itself out.
(06:10) Jeremy Au:
Yeah, I mean, that's a great example of Oppenheimer, right? So the movie was there, you and I both watched it and that was quite interesting, right? Because, you know, obviously we're talking about building an atomic bomb and so forth. But I think for me, when I was watching it, I was thinking to myself, yeah, this guy's by definition, he kind of knocked it out of the park from a results perspective. You take something that's not supposed to be doable to, doable within a timeframe that people thought was kind of a Herculean effort and it worked out in that perspective. A mixture of luck, the right people, obviously having billions of dollars of America's money also really helped in that, but you know, kudos to him for being that project manager and also being that people recruiter. But I think to myself, like, man, that self-aware leader doesn't really show up well on TV, right? So I was just kind of curious.
(06:51) Projjal Ghatak:
I think leaders also have conviction, and that conviction may not always be placed in the right direction or that conviction. May not lead to good outcomes in the world, but there's usually a conviction, and in many ways, it's a contrarian conviction of a belief of where to take an organization or a government or a project. And I think what was clear from the movie is that Oppenheimer trusted himself to have the conviction around his beliefs. And I think that if you talk to a lot of leaders who've done groundbreaking things, you know, Travis Kalanick included at Uber there was a lot of conviction and, often the world might disagree with it and the world might revolt against it, but that doesn't necessarily make you a bad leader.
(07:36) Jeremy Au:
And I think it's interesting, right? Because a good person, if you define it by virtue, is not the same as a strong or effective leader, right? So those are two different prisms and many people that you may disagree with on a principle basis, but actually, they turn out to be effective leaders and still have some of those lessons, right? The person for yourself to take away, whether you agree with that person's mandate mission, or values, right?
(07:58) Projjal Ghatak:
We should be studying the leaders who are extremely effective at bad causes so that we can apply those principles to good causes. And the cause of your point and the quality of the leadership are completely independent of each other. Unfortunately, we live in a world today where there are a lot of global governmental leaders who are very good leaders, often not for the right causes. And therefore, I think we have a responsibility to be demonstrating leadership for good. And the only way we can sort of compete with leadership for bad is by being equally good as leaders but for the good.
(08:32) Jeremy Au:
You know, this always reminds me of Harry Potter. There's this class at Hogwarts called Defense Against the Dark Arts. And then there's always this recurring debate, which is like, we have a class of Defense Against the Dark Arts, but we keep talking about the dark arts in order to understand how to defend against it. So maybe you should just scrap the whole program altogether. And I always thought it was mildly hilarious. I don't know if was it a recursive argument at some level, but it's a practical class, right?
(08:54) Projjal Ghatak:
Yeah, keep your friends close. Keep your enemies closer. And so if you don't understand them, you can't beat them.
(08:59) Jeremy Au:
Yeah. I think there's an interesting dynamic because of that cognitive dissonance. I mean, if I don't like you, I don't want to learn from you. I think that's a simple one. So it's easy to learn stuff from people you like. But like you said, there are many people that you don't like, or you respect them, obviously, but you don't like them, but you still can learn from them. Do you have any advice for people to be thoughtful or how to kind of get past that hurdle to be like, okay, this is something I want to learn?
(09:20) Projjal Ghatak:
It's a really good question. And actually, I've seen myself go through this evolution. I am much more comfortable today learning things from people I don't like because I am more secure about myself. And often when you have that visceral reaction to something where you want to push it away or shove it away, there's something within you that is not certain enough that is pushing it away. But today, and as a founder, I come across VC associates often who are not respectful.
(09:49) Jeremy Au:
(09:50) Projjal Ghatak:
And just because you're a founder, they think they can talk a certain way, and before I used to get very affected by it because I used to feel disrespected but over time, I figured that was my own insecurity and if you're more secure about yourself, you can smile at it, take the pieces you want, not take the pieces you don't want, and then move on. And so, you know, I often think about how the external world affects us, although the trigger might be external, what is actually happening is internal.
(10:19) Projjal Ghatak:
And you know, Nir was talking about this in your episode with him around. When you talk about distractions, only 10 percent of distractions are because of external triggers. 90 percent of distractions are about internal triggers which is why I think the study of the mind, psychology study of neuroscience is underappreciated in the world that we live in. I think we've lived in a world where we've prioritized cognitive abilities and people doing math and physics and computer science. But as some of these cognitive tasks get overtaken by machines, and it will happen more and more in the next 20, 30 years, I think as human beings, we really need to study ourselves and then really understand sort of how you Work out for your mind to put it in a place that it can deal with things in a healthy manner, right?
People go and learn karate and kung fu and martial arts. We don't learn martial arts for the mind, but the mind also requires the right martial arts to defend itself against threats. And when you feel safe, you're then able to absorb. And actually in the world today, you know, we have, we have two powers, the US and China, and they tend to dismiss themselves holistically. I was in China about a month ago and frankly, I was mind blown and I was mind blown about how well that country runs. And unfortunately, everything you do in the Western press is very negative. And I think China is an example where we may not agree, with sort of the way the country runs, but what that country has been able to achieve is absolutely spectacular. And I think everybody should be studying it to understand more about it.
(11:48) Jeremy Au:
Yeah. I think it's spot on which is like you said, it's like martial arts, right? You can be in a highly stressful fight, but if you have done through that practice, you can carry over that state of mind from the practice to the combat. How should founders, for example, practice, and get themselves ready? I think you mentioned self-awareness is one thing, and I think you mentioned it was like resetting your mindset about the interaction, but how else would you recommend people to be thoughtful about this process?
(12:13) Projjal Ghatak:
Yeah, when you're doing something incredibly difficult, you need to get professional help, frankly. And when I think nobody ever decides to go climb Mount Everest and doesn't get a trainer or doesn't train for years before trying to attempt it. But people decide one fine day they're going to become a startup founder, raise millions of dollars from investors, and go through zero professional training on how to deal with that level of pressure and stress. And I'm very proud to say that today I have a coach, I have a therapist, and I have a psychiatrist. I have all three, and they all play very different roles in evolving my mind, to deal with the ups and downs of building a startup. And if you go investigate Southeast Asia, I would say less than 10% of founders have professional help. And I'm massively grateful for the work that my team has done to get me to where I am today. One year ago, I wasn't in a good place and I sought professional help. That's been a massive game-changer.
I don't think I would have been here today if I had not sought that help. And so finding the right professionals to help you is also huge because it's impossible to go through that journey alone. We often talk about how a founder's journey is a lonely journey and therefore you need the right team of support who are of service to you. It's not your investors. It's not your team members. It's not your friends. It's professionals who know how to train you for the challenge you're up against.
(13:43) Jeremy Au:
Right. I think for founders and, I was a founder too, right? And I was in a very lonely spot in Boston when I was building my last company. And I think for myself, I engaged an executive coach and a startup coach and that was very helpful. But I think what I remember especially was before I kind of pulled the trigger. I kept thinking to myself, like, wow, this is really expensive. You're eating like, ramen and you're working out of the incubator lab and then obviously, the company starts to take off a little bit. So now you have some money to potentially invest in this, but then it feels expensive. It looks expensive. Your friends don't really talk about it. So I think that was a big hurdle I went through. Did you experience something like that? Or have you heard of that concern from other founders?
(14:17) Projjal Ghatak:
I mean, to be honest, it took me two years before I decided to pull the trigger. And a big part was that belief that this is a worthwhile investment to invest in myself. But if you get a coach doing two sessions a month for 90 minutes a month. It's going to cost you, if you get a really, really expensive code, it's going to cost you between 2,000 & 4,000. And you would hire an SDR in the Philippines in a heartbeat for 2,000 & 4,000.
(14:45) Jeremy Au:
That's one way to put it.
(14:47) Projjal Ghatak:
But if you think about the enhanced productivity you can have in terms of your productive capacity, in your ability to connect dots, in your ability to stay calm in adversary, in your ability to inspire effectively. The ROI on that is huge. I think what people struggle with people stuff, and I know we'll get into it, is that it's hard to measure. When something is hard to measure, people do invest not the right amounts because they can't see the ROI. So people will invest a lot more in a CRM system because that translates into dollars and cents in revenue. And so you can see and feel that much more clearly, but the impact that an executive coach might have on you or a system like ours might have on you is harder to quantify. And there's actually lots of learning from the fitness industry and we can talk about that too. But I think it's important to talk to other founders and understand what drives it? And one of the worst things people do is when they're in crisis, they get a coach and that's the worst time to get a coach.
(15:48) Jeremy Au:
(15:48) Projjal Ghatak:
Cause by then sometimes it's too late, right? Like
(15:51) Jeremy Au:
(15:52) Projjal Ghatak:
Go for your annual health checkup. That's much better than being a Stage 4 cancer, right? And so I think it's very much an education process. I know that there are investors, paying at Monk's Hill who really understand people leadership well, and I know he counsels founders the right way. And so for us in Singapore and Southeast Asia, it's really about the ecosystem sort of maturing, I would say, that in Silicon Valley, you would see a larger percentage of founders getting coaches. And it's just a more mature ecosystem. So I think we're moving in the right direction. I think the other thing to be said is that there are a lot of bad coaches and that is also a thing.
(16:27) Projjal Ghatak:
And part of the reason why I started coaching a few CEOs is because I felt like you can't coach a CEO if you've never been a CEO. And there's not a lot of VC back CEOs, coaching CEOs in Southeast Asia, versus if you look at the coaches in the Valley, they're often retired. In fact, Bill Campbell, who used to coach some of the best leaders in Silicon Valley used to do it for free once he retired. And so it wasn't really a profession. We don't have that luxury in Southeast Asia yet, but hopefully, in five or 10 years, we'll, we'll build out an ecosystem that's very good.
(16:57) Jeremy Au:
There are a lot of different ways we can take this conversation. For me, first of all, I a hundred percent agree with you about ROI. Your company's growth is a function of your team's growth and your team's growth is a function of the leadership growth. And the leadership growth is a function of your personal growth, right? So I think the rate limiter of everything is actually the CEO's. So there's a tremendous amount of ROI but I wanna double clear what you said, which is that it's hard to measure. So how do you measure, how do you make the case for yourself, to your board that you want this coach? How, how do you make this case first?
(17:25) Projjal Ghatak:
Yeah, to be honest for me, and I'm actually a clinical anxiety patient, and I'm now under psychological and psychiatric care for anxiety. However I saw my productive capacity massively decline, so my ability to deal with problems was greatly hindered, and I couldn't put in the time and effort that it takes to effectively run a startup. And so for me, what I realized is that I was operating at 50 percent of my normal productive capacity and I could then feel the difference when somebody came up with a problem with how I reacted. And today, even though I sleep less and probably worked more, when a problem comes at me, I'm excited because I'm excited to solve it because most founders inherently are problem solvers.
And so, I've spent many years of my life being a problem solver in companies. And so for me, that was sort of the trigger when I felt that there was a very direct impact on my productive capacity and my ability to deal with problems. Obviously, we do that in product form, and if you want to, we can talk about that. And so what we're trying to produce is giving a clarity score. For every team member in terms of what's happening with their wellness, what's happening with their goals, what's happening with their feedback and the clarity score looks very much like a readiness score on an ordering order or a recovery score on a will bend and then gives you insights into what actions you can take to enhance your clarity and depending where things are broken, and that might be with someone's productive capacity of well being, or it might be they don't have clarity around their goals, or they don't understand what they're really good at.
And there's a hierarchy there on what to investigate that can then enhance the clarity of the person. And so I think about the word clarity a lot on how in a hybrid world. Also, clarity is harder because often, you investigate clarity by spending time with your team members. And that's something we don't have the luxury of in the same way versus in a pre-COVID world. And teams that are clear produce better results. They are happier. They are more productive. They don't burn out and achieve business outcomes. And you can start drawing that link between your health of you, and the health of your team, and how that translates into Achieving results. And that's our reason for existence. And that's why we think a lot about how you measure things effectively. Because if you can't measure them, it's very hard to make them better.
(19:52) Jeremy Au:
And I think that's a great way to tie off the better about how to make the business case. But I want to double-click on what you also said, which is that many bad coaches. So what's the difference between a good coach and a bad coach and how do you tell the difference?
(20:03) Projjal Ghatak:
Yeah, I think one of the ways I put it is that I don't think there's any tennis player in the world who has a badminton coach, right?
(20:10) Jeremy Au:
(20:11) Projjal Ghatak:
I strongly believe that you cannot quote someone for a role if you have not at least played the same sport, and the sport of a founder CEO is very different from that of a mid-level executive at a corporation.
(20:24) Jeremy Au:
(20:25) Projjal Ghatak:
And there are many people living mid-level corporation jobs and becoming coaches and then aspiring to coach founder CEOs. They can be very good coaches for mid-level managers, but they wouldn't be great coaches for founder CEOs. So for me, first is, do you have personal empathy and do you have personal experience with the sport that's getting played sure, if you can, maybe be a triathlon coach. If you've been a swimming cycling and running coach at different times, it doesn't have to be exactly the same, but you have to have strong empathy. That's one.
The second is that people are often confused between what is a coach and what is a mentor or an advisor. The biggest difference there is as a coach, you have to be deeply listening to be in, ask orientation, versus and tell orientation because the goal of a coach is realizing that for every individual, the answers are inside them and it's your job to then investigate to get them to the answer because when someone comes up with the answer themselves, they are much more likely to implement that versus advice they're receiving or being told to do, especially people like founders who have strong self-conviction about what they're doing.
And then three, ideally they should have received some sort of formal training. So I was lucky that when I did my MBA, I did a one-year program called the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program, whereas in a second-year MBA, you coach both in a group and individually, nine first-year MBAs and then you go through a very structured program on how to learn and that's really the basis of sort of my experience getting trained. People talk about certifications. I have mixed reviews about certifications and how good a job they do at making someone a coach, but I think that the two biggest issues are whether you played the sport and do you have the patience and listening ability to largely stay in an ask orientation, versus a tell orientation when you're coaching someone?
(22:23) Jeremy Au:
No, that's super interesting. I love the part about ask versus tell. I remember I was backpacking in Peru and Bolivia as a student and I was on a bus and there was this Israeli guy and I was like, Oh, why are you here? And I'm full of optimism. This guy's a middle-aged guy. And he's like, Jeremy, I'm here to find myself. And I was so confused because I was like, I mean, you're here, right? Why are you in Peru and Bolivia finding yourself? It's funny because I kind of understood what I was saying, but it took me so many years because I was like, yeah, the joke is that, he's with himself an entire time round. So he's just traveling around the world. Obviously, I think having a new environment and travel lets him obviously explore new frontiers. I'm just sharing this story because, not because it's bad, I think travel really helps unlock new ways to see yourself. So it's not about that. But it's more like, I still remember I was just thinking to myself, like, you're already here, right? And so I think there's an interesting dynamic about, why you said finding yourself, that self-work is hard.
(23:13) Projjal Ghatak:
And so I think people often use finding yourself in the wrong way. I think in many ways, what you're trying to say is what makes them feel alive. It is unfortunate that there are a lot of people zombying their way through life and not really understanding what really makes them feel alive to better structure their days. And I know that sounds like a humongous privilege because there are people who just have to do what they need to do to pay the bills. Those people unfortunately don't have the luxury to select that, but when people talk about finding your passion or finding your calling, I think it's too abstract.
I think it's very much about what your everyday life looks like, whereby at least 50% of your hours are spent doing things that energize you and make you feel alive. And that's a much more tangible way of thinking about, let's say, finding yourself. But unfortunately, I think, I talk about this a lot. People often solve symptoms because they don't understand the root cause of the disease. And some people call it first principles thinking. But as we know, that's rare in the world. But it's really about energy and I love high-quality conversations and that's my drug. And if I spend 12, or 14 hours a day having high-quality conversations, I'm never going to be burnt out, but if you make me a process engineer for four hours a day, I guarantee you I'll burn out in two months. And so burnout also has no association with how hard someone is working.
The other thing that really frustrates me about modern literature is that people associate overwork with burnout. Overwork might make you fatigued. It might make you tired, but it's not going to make you apathetic, which is what burnout is. And so, in a world, where producing content is cheap and easy, and AI will make it even cheaper and easier, there's a lot of content out there and not a lot of the content really investigates to actually what's going on versus provide lip service to buzzwords that people like and will read.
(25:13) Jeremy Au:
That's a really fascinating dynamic here because it reminds me of like, I was reading this article about the medicalization of grief. So obviously there is depression. That's a real symptom, but obviously, grief very much feels like depression because you're grieving the loss of someone. And then I think there's a very big debate, which is like, how long is grief supposed to last? Because if it's too long, we should give it a pill. And you know, I thought it was a fascinating, obviously article, but I think it was about the medicalization of what is normal versus abnormal. And I think burnout also goes through that definitional debate, which is like, it kind of goes back to what we said, finding yourself, right? It's definitional. The wrong definition can lead to the wrong question, which leads to the wrong search for the answer.
(25:51) Projjal Ghatak:
No, absolutely. And I think often it is things at a surface level versus two or three or four levels down in terms of investigation in terms of what is the root cause. So if your revenue is not growing as a company, you're not going to solve your revenue problem by thinking about revenue. So you have to break down that revenue into its very constituent parts into the right input metrics to understand why that revenue is not growing. But often, there are CEOs freaking out about revenue not growing. Revenue needs to grow, but that's not going to solve anything. And that anxiety is not going to solve anything either. You just have to very logically and calmly investigate things to understand what's really going on.
In a world where we live for instant gratification and we live for the proverbial dopamine hit, I think in many ways, we have a thinking crisis in the world where we aren't thinking deeply enough about things and if you don't think deeply enough, we'll be solving the wrong things.
(26:48) Jeremy Au:
Yeah. I was chatting with a Vietnamese founder in education tech just a few weeks ago, and we were just discussing how the investors kept asking about his financial metrics. And he kept talking about his product metrics. And then I kind of said exactly what you said. I was like, all the investors are measuring the cow by how much milk it makes, but don't really care whether the milk, the cow is healthy or not. And so I think there's that language, but also the financialization of what a good company is. And I think that's something that investors play a part in contributing to that thinking as well.
(27:17) Projjal Ghatak:
Which is why founder-investor fit is huge. One of the things I got very lucky with is, that I have investors who fully understand why I do the things I do, even if it may not be beneficial in the three to six months time frame, and understanding what is the longer arc here that we want to follow. And often, the distinction I make, unfortunately, in Southeast Asia, there are a lot of people who call themselves venture capitalists, but what they really are Small Middle Enterprise Private Equity, the SME PE, and they're trying to get a 2x to 3x return on every investment. That's what they're trying to do. So trying to identify an investment that will three X in three years and not lose money. That's a different asset class, and I'm not saying that's a bad asset class, but it's a different asset class, and venture capital is very much about asymmetric outcomes, but when you, when ecosystems are young, and VC is is a well-established concept to call yourself. There are a lot of people calling themselves VC when they're not VC. And actually, I met someone recently who really understands the distinction. He was very honest and said, the reason why we focus on B2B is that we see ourselves as SME PE, and we want our investments to be returning 2 to 5X consistently.
And I'm like, That's great. Ecosystems require all kinds of capital, but often as a founder, if you have a longer-term vision of what you want to build and what you want to disrupt, if you don't have the right investors, you might end up hating working for your own company and that is just a massive course. And so I really feel like I got lucky and feel incredibly aligned with the way I think about the world and what my investors do. And we may not always agree. We fight in every board meeting and that's good. There should be healthy trade-offs into why we're doing what we're doing, but they tend to sort of see my point of view once I'm able to explain it.
(29:07) Jeremy Au:
Yeah. I think that's super frank. I think I was just discussing that over lunch today, actually. It was, as the conversation was really fundamentally are we looking, part of it is because Southeast Asia, there's a frontier market. So people are just thinking about what was a, like you called SME private equity versus a VC outcome. I think that was not very clear 5 to 10 years ago when a lot of funds were being raised and a lot of commitments were made to LPs about a strategy. But yeah, I think now I think we're starting to see that, I want to say bifurcation, but a little bit more clarity about those two different dynamics.
And it's not wrong for a VC to have some like I said, three to five X outcomes. But the question is, are you clear that this is the investment and that this is the best way, like you said, to nurture it through across-the-board meetings, right? Because that strategy misalignment at a board level can really destroy a lot of value for both sides if you're not clear about it. Whereas, if you're clear about it to yourself and you're clear about it to the founder, then it's like, Ooh, okay, you know, it's.
(29:59) Projjal Ghatak:
And this is why 2020 and 2021 were backward for the ecosystem in many ways.
(30:05) Jeremy Au:
(30:05) Projjal Ghatak:
Because it brought in a lot more constituents to the ecosystem that just had a shallower understanding of things because it felt like a get-rich-quick scheme. And the reality is that venture capital is not a get-rich-quick scheme either for the venture capitalist or for the founder. And I tell people being a founder is the worst financial decision you can ever make. If it's about risk-adjusted return, don't do it. And unless there is a particular mission that you're somewhat obsessive about, it's just not worth it. It's not worth going on the path. And that doesn't apply to opening a small business, doesn't apply to opening a restaurant. But if you're going to go on and take on massive industries and be a true disruptor and build something really new, that's very hard. And it's going to take a very long time. And it's going to take a lot of sacrifice.
And unfortunately, I don't think a lot of founders fully realize that and which is why when things get tough, you see people freaking out. You see people doing stupid things that hurt their reputations. You see people getting vindictive to the other side. And it's really unfortunate. And it then hurts other founders because it increases the level of suspicion about everybody else in the ecosystem. So every founder who embezzled money is doing a massive disservice to every other founder because now just the trust level goes down and the VC-founder relationship in how it should operate is one that's built on very high trust. And if we change that, it's just going to hurt everybody.
(31:33) Jeremy Au:
Yeah, I think there's a fine distinction. Well, it's not a fine distinction at all. I think there's a big difference between founders who fail and founders who are doing criminal activity. I think there's a big difference, but I think where it feels fine is like that moment. I think both have that high-stakes dynamic to it, right? So everyone likes high stakes, high stakes, high stakes. And I also understand that sometimes, if you're building a service, there's no regulation. There's no what's the word? Norms around it. So I can imagine it's there. I mean, you had Uber obviously had that dynamic where I was entering. Markets that didn't have regulations to support car riding. So I think that's, but I think when there's a fiduciary duty and breach of it, I think it's something very different. Right. And I think that's a shame. Yeah.
(32:14) Projjal Ghatak:
Yeah, and I think, the other thing that happens is nobody ever goes and commits large crimes overnight. What happens is, you do something small, which feels insignificant. And then you do a second thing to cover up that first thing. And then you do a third thing to cover up that second thing. And then over time, that ends up being pretty egregious. And so one of the things that I've gotten very comfortable around is that in months where revenue growth is zero, just tell you investors revenue go to zero. Don't change the answer. And yeah, you will get four emails where they will not be happy, but they will move on. And then it will go back to where it is. But if you're like, Oh my God, what are they going to say? Are they going to lose respect for me? Are they going to think I'm useless? That's when that fear and that insecurity make you start doing things wrong. Because ultimately, for every bad thing that happens that's a crime, underlying it is some shame or some fear.
(33:10) Jeremy Au:
(33:11) Projjal Ghatak:
And the intention is to self-protect and sort of not give into that fear or the shame. And which is why, like, you know, going back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation, a lot of it goes back to building up your own self-certainty and realizing that no matter what the outcome, people will respect you, people will give you another opportunity, people will invest in you again. As long as you don't do bad things, a lot of people think they may not get a second chance. This is their last shot, they've got to make whatever they can of it. And it is that anxiety and that fear and that shame that leads to bad outcomes. And, I've been reading and listening and learning a lot about what makes narcissistic people what they are. And if you look at what sits at the bottom of it, it is deep shame and the only way to change that is to cure that shame. But, you know, going back to what we were talking about, often we just see the surface activity and we judge it versus being curious about what's really happening beneath the surface.
We fail to investigate what's going down deeper and often, we realize that there's a deep vulnerability there that needs to be fixed, so bad behavior can be changed if we understand what leads to that behavior.
(34:27) Jeremy Au:
Yeah. I think that's the awkward reality, which is that when you choose to be a founder, you're not doing this out of pure virtue to save the world. You're also doing this because you want to. For myself, I was ambitious. I was hungry. I wanted to challenge myself. I saw an opportunity. So I was opportunistic. So I think there's all these different internal factors that said, this is something I think is doable and I want to be the person that does it.
(34:50) Projjal Ghatak:
No, absolutely, and I think that, but I strongly believe, I'm a very old-school founder, and so I believe that if you do not believe in the mission, there are many other ways to be ambitious and do really well. I think big tech has made a lot of people really bully, and it's actually a much safer career path. You can join Meta and work on products that impact billions of lives and make an impact too. But the stakes are very different when you are the person and no matter how big or small the org is, the buck stops with you. And that is incredibly stressful with a two-person org or a 50-person org. If there's no one above you, but if there are people above you, then it's very different, which is why every CEO needs a coach because everyone wants a manager and everybody has a manager except the CEO.
(35:37) Jeremy Au:
To wrap things up, is there any piece of advice that you feel is perhaps underappreciated or that you often share with the people that you coach or who come to you for advice?
(35:47) Projjal Ghatak:
Yeah. I think that often people want to solve business results, so they're very, very focused on solving business results. And often when I take on a client, I'll really understand that person's wellbeing and their productive capacity before we talk about anything in the business. And because we are all ambitious, because we're all results-driven, myself included, when revenue doesn't grow, it's stressful. I have to take a step back and think about what sits at the base of it because when times are tough, that's when I need to be at my very best to solve problems. And that means I need to take care of my ability to think versus do. And often when a founder comes from employment, like when I came from Uber, I was very busy doing it. That was a big part of my job, but a big part of being a founder is to think, and some of the best insights come when you're doing nothing, but you're still working, you're thinking about what you're doing, but sometimes founders feel like, Oh my God, they have to work all the time. They have to be in a gazillion meetings and be working on things till four in the morning. If you don't give yourself time to think, you will probably hurt your business more versus giving yourself the ability to come up with original or unique insight that will take the business forward.
(36:57) Jeremy Au:
Right. Yeah. And on my end, I think one thing I often share is a framework, which is called outside in versus inside out. So what I mean by that is sometimes we're talking about something and the person is like, I need to do this because the market is this, this, this, and this is the best product launch and so forth. And I'll be like, okay. There's a certain cause and effect. The market needs it, therefore the company needs to do it, therefore I need to change, right? And I would say, this is an outside in, which is the outside environment is telling us we need to do something about the inside. And I'm not saying that we don't discount that, but let's look at it the other way around, which is inside out. What does the inner core of you want to do, Therefore, what does the company want to do? Therefore, how does it change the environment, right? And I think that inversion of cause and effect, to some extent, at least lets people understand that, for example, you mentioned strengths. There could be a strengths perspective versus, like you said, what does the environment want? And it's not to say one is better than the other, but at least we know that there are two different ways to approach it, and I think that can actually unlock quite healthy conversation about the trade-offs.
(37:47) Projjal Ghatak:
That's, you know, people talk about product management, and often product management is listening to the problems, but not listening to the solutions. And that solution needs to be within or else you won't be able to authentically defend it. Do you get it to the depth of insight for it to win in the market?
(38:04) Jeremy Au:
100%. Yeah. On that note, I'd love to kind of summarize the three big key takeaways I got from this conversation. First of all, I love what you shared about what is the value of coaching. What's the value of good leadership? What does good leadership look like? I thought that was tremendous because I think we had this very honest conversation about how you and I both ended up engaging executive coaches, for example, because we needed help. But both of us felt it was too expensive, and it took us years to both pull the trigger. I think there is a structured way to approach the business case, that there is value, that is actually highly cost-effective, that's high ROI at the end of the day, as long as you're being intentional about the fact that you as a leader, are Making a lot of decisions on behalf of the organization, right? So I thought it was really important.
The second thing I really enjoyed actually was a little bit about, I think to some extent the ecosystem of private equity versus VC. What does good leadership look like? What does a good board look like? What a healthy debate looks like. I think that's all very constructive and I thought it was a frankness about there needs to be self-awareness by the founder about what the best growth path is, but also self-awareness by investors about what the company actually is and what the growth trajectory is. And I think that was a really good call to action for more self-awareness by all parties in the Southeast Asia ecosystem.
The last thing I really enjoyed was the perspective on what good coaching looks like. I thought it was not easy because we all want to say all coaches are great, but we also know that's not possible. But I love your perspective that you have to play the same sport in order to be a great coach. I thought about not using the example of tennis versus badminton. I talked about totally different sports. So I think I agree with you. But also I think what's important is that you added other stuff that makes it very hard, which is that you have to be someone who's willing to ask and be patient rather than tell, and that you actually want to do it. And I think that's why there's such a shortage of coaches. So on that note, please go hit up for coaching. I don't know how many more people will get a copy of your book, but, can you share how people can reach out to you and OnLoop?
(39:48) Projjal Ghatak:
LinkedIn is the best. And so, I'm Projjal. I also have a "PJ" in my name now in case Projjal's too hard to remember. So you can either approach all a PJ and find me. And there's only one OnLoop as far as I know. And so please reach out on LinkedIn. I'll be very happy to chat with anybody that we can help.
(40:03) Jeremy Au:
Awesome. On that note, thank you so much for sharing your perspective.
(40:08) Projjal Ghatak:
No, thank you, Jeremy. This was actually a lot of fun. Thank you.