Are you a serial entrepreneur or aspiring to become one? In the interview below, Rajesh Setty shares tips from his own life on how to deal with fear and everything else in between from being a novice to a full-fledged entrepreneur. He delivers gold; read on and you’ll know.
Ishita: In all of the different endeavors and positions you hold, what has been your experience with fear?
Rajesh: I don’t consciously think of the role of fear because I’m more of an action person. To me, it’s like the arcade game where an animal pops up and you hit it with a hammer. That’s how I think of fear; it keeps popping up now and then. But if you have a hammer, which is in the form of an action, you can whack fear down, and when it pops up again, you keep whacking it down again and again to keep moving.
Fear can make you do either of two things: It can either make you take no action or it can make you take massive action because you are fearful. In the first case, it can only lead to more fear because not only are you fearful of the situation, but you haven’t taken any action so you fear things will get worse. What I’ve learned is that the easiest way to tackle fear is to find out the best possible action to take, because it’s the only thing you can do at the time. Do it with your own knowledge and your network of people to help you.
Ishita: So you almost don’t give fear a chance in your mind?
Rajesh: I think it’s always there, but I am mindful of the attention I give to fear. Because there are only 24 hours in a day, the more time I spend thinking about fear, the less time I have to take action.
Ishita: As an entrepreneur, have you gone through any anxiety during the startup phase of your businesses?
Rajesh: Yes. Especially during the time of my first company, fear popped up on the 27th of every month because there would be no money for the payroll. Someone who owed me money would say, “Oh, the check is in the mail”, and I immediately knew what they meant: They had not sent the money yet or simply forgot. There were so many people depending on their salaries that I thought “Which cricket star should I borrow money from?” I always thought, and still do, in terms of the worst-case scenario. What if I could never make money for payroll? What would happen? So long as I had an itemized plan, I was okay. But when there was no plan, my weekends and evenings were gone until I had one — I didn’t stop working until I had a plan and that principle continues today.
Ishita: How do you deal with the uncertainty of a particular venture or plan as an entrepreneur?
Rajesh: The first thing you have to be comfortable with as an entrepreneur is uncertainty. Because what’s the alternative? The alternative is to be certain. If you know exactly what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen, there’s no fun in that. If you’re going after a big goal, things WILL be uncertain and that’s just a fact. So it’s better to become comfortable because if you know things are uncertain, you become flexible and are more open to getting good help.
Ishita: I feel right now people are particularly sensitive and fearful about their jobs. Have you noticed that? What do you tell people about those feelings?
Rajesh: Yes, I wrote about this in my book and used my first job as an example. In the first six months of my job as a journalist, none of my articles were published. My boss was a really cool person and would say “We ran out of pages” or make up some crazy excuse. But he always added a feedback, “If we were going to publish this, I’d suggest you to make these changes,” and he would guide me on that. Finally after six months, my first article got published. That’s when he said, “Rajesh, I should tell you that in the last six months there was always space, but your articles really sucked, so I could not publish them. But now you are infusing enough drama into your articles that I think they are good for publishing. Media is all about sensation; nobody reads bland articles.”
This helped me understand that the media amplifies things a thousand times, which makes people think “My god! Things are really bad and I should be scared that things will fall apart!” And from there they can either act on the things they DO have control over or get worried about things they don’t have control over, like the economy or unemployment or terrorism. There are only two choices and only 24 hours. So the more the time you spend on things you can’t control, the less time you have left to do the things you can control. When times are tough, don’t people need more help? And if you have the capacity to help people, all of a sudden the market size you are offering to expands. And if you don’t have the capacity to help, then invest actively in educating yourself so you DO have the capacity to help. The help has to be fast because people will think it’s invaluable and uncommon, so they’ll give you a premium.
Ishita: Can you give an example of what type of help you mean?
Rajesh: It’s very simple. When times are tough, if you are a really good sales person, or you have really good techniques to generate more leads for people’s businesses, wouldn’t businesses be interested in working with you so that they can get more leads? Because they know their settlements are not working. They would be willing to pay more because they know that there are only few of such people available in the market and if they want to get one, they have to pay more.
Ishita: That’s a very interesting point that you make. When times are tough, more people will require your help.
Rajesh: The way to be ready for it is to keep on helping people whether the times are tough, or good, or bad, or anything, so that people know the value that you bring. So when the times get tough, you are in the back of their mind. When they think about leads, guess who comes to their mind first? You! And when they call you, and find out that you are available, they will pay you a lot of money. They are willing to pay you a lot of money.
Ishita: In your own journey have you encountered that?
Rajesh: I have. I have also been lucky with mentors in my life. Right now, I have three mentors that I work with. Since I’m always taking action, sometimes I can be running in the wrong direction very quickly. You keep on taking action, and you keep running, but then you don’t know what direction you’re going. I meet with my mentors consistently. There is always somebody asking me good questions that I might not ask myself. Because there is so much good information available to us, if you know for what question you need an answer to, you will probably find good answers.
Ishita: In your story you said it’s all about asking the right questions. So my question is how do you know which ones are the right questions to ask?
Rajesh: That is where you get good help. Think about it: Months ago, you had not worked with Seth so closely. But over the last few months your work with him brought about drastic changes. You now know the kind of questions that he asks — he doesn’t make you look small, but keeps asking questions and you think “Wow, yes, I didn’t think of that, let me go check!” Very soon, you will have noticed in your own life that you’re asking better questions.
When you were born, your parents were speaking a language. Let’s assume that they were not speaking German. So you would not either. All of the sudden, you do not start speaking German, because there is no way for you to come up with German words. You learn by interacting with your parents and siblings, and very soon you watch them, you listen to them, and you start taking actions. You are deeply influenced by what is happening around you especially while you are growing up.
In your case, you joined Seth and knowingly or unknowingly, automatically, the way you thought about marketing changed. That’s what it is to go out and welcome it.
The more time you spend with people who bring about a new way of thinking in your life, the more different you become. You talk to your old friends whom you haven’t seen in a year and they say, “Ishita, you think very differently now.” You don’t notice it because it has been an everyday thing which has changed slowly, day by day, step by step. They notice it because they haven’t seen you for the last year.
Ishita: I think that’s a very interesting concept. It’s funny because I actually pretty much notice certain changes; I’m very self-perceptive and I reflect and introspect a lot and it is true, it almost happens by diffusion, you’re there and you’re soaking it up. I guess like a USB drive almost downloading all this information.
Rajesh: Yes. That’s the advantage for the nine of you who enrolled in Seth’s MBA program. Some others may be stuck thinking “It’s six months — a whole new world and I’m not sure what this will lead to”. You and eight others took action, and that’s how you welcomed this new world of thinking which has become a part of you now.
I was so happy for you that I called Seth and I said I want to send books to all of you, but I wasn’t expecting anything back from any one of you. At some point in time, people did help me, and I always remember that. I did this without looking for any return.
Ishita: Well, firstly thank you so much for those books. I just devoured them in a matter of days. The Fulcrum Effect was just wonderful.
Rajesh: I’m so glad you liked it.
Ishita: Upbeat is a resource. It’s more than a book; it’s a tool that you can keep going back to, which is absolutely invaluable, so thank you for that.
What have been your biggest fears in your journey?
Rajesh: Over the years, the fears have changed and transformed. Earlier, it was “Can I really measure up to the job that has been entrusted on me?” Because I don’t want to let down people that have put trust in me.
Whenever I had employees, I always wanted to make sure that for the rest of their life they have a good feeling that the time they had spent with me or my company was valuable for them.
Ishita: And how did you grapple with those two fears?
Rajesh: Basically, the mentors that I had really helped me think through this. I had a few fears in belief systems. One of the belief systems was that you can’t lose what you don’t have. That means when I go and reach out to someone, what can they do? They can reject me, right? But I don’t know them, so if they reject me, it’s not as if I had their approval, so I’m not losing anything I had before. You can’t lose what you don’t have, and most of us fear for a fictional loss. Suppose I wanted to ask for an endorsement on my book. There are only two choices: The person on the other end will say yes or they will say no. But they have not endorsed me before, so it’s not like I was having something and now it’s being taken away from me.
The only loss is a fictional loss which I can fear and then choose not to take action, which in turn means I am guaranteeing my loss by not acting! So your best shot is to ask, make that call, take action. That’s what keeps me taking more action. Another thing I hugely acknowledge is that there is help available in the world, you just have to look.
Ishita: By “help” do you mean resources, network and people? Or is help spiritual, like God, or faith?
Rajesh: In this context it is the former. Let’s suppose that in my network, there is someone called John. Is his life better because I am there in his network? If John asks this to himself, he will either get a yes or a no. It won’t be in the grey zone. If I can bring an opportunity, his life will be better.
As long as I keep doing it without looking for immediate returns, I’m building up emotional capital. By law of averages, out of the ten people you help, eight of them will forget it. And it’s okay. If you’re not expecting anything, whatever comes back is a bonus. It is an expectation management from your side. It is not a problem that the other eight forgot; the question is was I expecting anything from them? If I was not, then it’s okay they forgot.
Ishita: You seem very practical and you keep things in perspective. You’re almost detached from it.
Rajesh: Yes, that is true, because if you are attached, there is suffering. You get attached to anything, and if it is removed, there is suffering.
I don’t worry about the outcome. I cannot control it, and also my actions will get tainted if I’m worrying about the outcome because then I won’t be focused on my actions. I’m worrying about an outcome I don’t have control of, which means I will do a bad job in carrying out my actions as I’m not focused, further creating problems for my outcome.
Ishita: What do you do to alleviate the feelings of anxiety or fear when they do occur?
Rajesh: First thing I do is to just accept that this is happening. Because if you don’t accept it, if you deny it, then you lose focus. If something is going to happen, accept it. Now you are in a state when you know this might happen and all you have is you, your knowledge, access to new knowledge, your network, and access to the new network. More than that, you don’t have much. With all that you have, come up with an action plan to take some action. I always want to take some action quickly, because while I’m acting, I don’t have the time to feel fear. So the sooner you get engaged in action, the easier it is to alleviate that feeling.
Ishita: So first accept it and then indulge straight into action. Is there anything that helps you accept it while you’re in a fearful state?
Rajesh: I always look at the alternative. Is not accepting really an alternative? Or is it just a way to delay or postpone acceptance? If that is to happen anyway, why delay it?
Ishita: That’s very insightful. If you deny it, it will be get bigger.
Rajesh: Yes. Not taking care of it will only make it worse, which means I will have a bigger problem to take care of. You will pay for it or pay for not paying for it.
Ishita: Yes, I read it on your website too.
Is there a quality about you, or something significant about your personality, that has gotten you to where you are now?
Rajesh: I believe that life is more meaningful when you enrich the lives of other people. It’s more meaningful for me, and it’s also more meaningful for the people whose lives I’m enriching. It’s a double win. It’s win for me and win for them, so I’m always looking at how can I enrich the lives of people, and that keeps me happy and allow me to keep doing what I do.
Ishita: That’s beautiful.
After having gone through all your experiences, your startups and being a speaker and author, is there something that you fundamentally know to be true now that you only believed before?
Rajesh: I always believed that I’m an eternal work-in-progress project. There’s never going to be a completion, which means I’ll always be learning. I approach life in the mode of wonder, and that keeps things in perspective. When you asked me for an interview, I was in the mode of wonder and curiosity. I was interested to know what questions you’d ask me. And now here we are having this conversation. That makes life very enjoyable.
I’m very curious about everything and that’s what makes life so much fun. People ask me “What is the plan?” And my plan is very simple. I want to work on really cool projects that can change the world. I want to collaborate with really cool people. I’ve made investments in all sorts of companies. Some people think there is no theme to the way I’m investing, but what they’re missing to see is that I’m not investing in the companies but in the people.
When I meet people, I can ask questions. One easy question is how can I help them? Or how can they help me? Or I can say for the rest of our lives, how can we add capacity and make each our lives more meaningful? I don’t necessarily look for returns. Because life is a long way to go and things will work out in the long run.
Ishita: That takes the fear right out of the equation because you’re not focused on it.
Rajesh: Yes. People have a fascination for Newton’s Third Law of Motion that action and reaction are equal and opposite. They can give something and they say, “What can I get back?” That’s something that happens all the time. They give they get; they give they get. Through all the life, they are used to the transaction. You give, then you will get. But in real life, if you think about it, there are times where you give, and there is a delay before you get. For example, when you joined the six months’ MBA with Seth, you gave first. After a delay, for the rest of your life, you started getting something in return for that investment. You now look at life very differently.
If I say, “Ishita, the way you are going I think you should focus on public speaking, go and learn something on it”, and you say, “But Raj, what can I get from it tomorrow? I mean I don’t have any speech to give tomorrow.” If you say that, you will not focus on it. With public speaking, the return will come, maybe five years from now when you’ve given 100 speeches.
Ishita: Absolutely. People look at the short-term return instead of just taking it in and realizing it will come later.
Rajesh: Yes, things can happen. Sometimes you get a return, sometimes you don’t, but when you are investing in yourself, what you become is already the gift you’ve receive.
About: Rajesh Setty is an author, entrepreneur, alchemist and speaker. He is involved in a few companies as a founder, investor, operating executive or board member. He lives with his wife Kavitha and son Sumukh in the Silicon Valley.