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How to effect meaningful change in team meetings

Ashish Singhal, founder and CEO of CoinSwitch, on the books, talks, and people who have inspired him to be a better entrepreneur

Singhal likes be the sounding board for his team. 
Singhal likes be the sounding board for his team.  (CoinSwitch)

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Ashish Singhal, founder and CEO of CoinSwitch, believes remote working is not productive for leadership roles. With the business having grown 300 times since the pandemic, strategizing and brainstorming needs to be done face to face, Singhal says. Hence, the leadership team of his crypto trading platform, comprising 20-odd people, has returned to working from office. While Singhal acknowledges the benefits of working remotely, one of his biggest worry is that it has hampered people from learning from others’ mistakes.

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“Before pandemic, you would talk to people from other teams, learn what they are doing, and what mistakes they have made through informal conversations. Now, that is gone. Our learning curve has to be much higher than what it is right now,” says the 33-year-old Bengaluru-based entrepreneur. 

Singhal started CoinSwitch in 2017, with two other founders.  He'd begun his career with Amazon in 2011. He then co founded Urban Tailor for a little over a year before joining and Reap Benefit.   

Singhal talks about people he looks up to, on making team meetings more meaningful, and trying to carve out ‘me time’. Edited excerpts:

Who do you consider your mentor and why?

I am inspired by Paul Graham (Y Combinator's co founder and partner), venture capitalists Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, and Steve Jobs. I always go back to their writings to delve deeper into running a business, building organizational culture, or creating products that genuinely address user problems. A lot of things I've done in my life are a culmination of lessons learned from their experiences.

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One of the first books I read on entrepreneurship was Ben Horowitz's Hard Thing About Hard Things. This book has played an important role in my journey as an entrepreneur as it made me realize that entrepreneurship could be a viable option. Marc Andreessen's essays have helped me understand how to create user-friendly products, build outstanding teams, and a great culture. I always return to Paul Graham's talk at Stanford University when I need motivation. And lastly, Steve Jobs — we all know of his innovations. 

One major insight you implemented with your mentor's guidance?

One of the most important takeaway from Paul Graham’s writings has been building something that users need instead of what I want to develop. I have learnt to focus on users' needs and make their lives simpler and easier. For instance, one of the most difficult things to predict when would be the best time to invest in the financial market. Instead of making decisions on the asset prices, we are coming up with a product where customers go for recurring buying plan, as it avoids the risk of timing the market. This insight came from observing what consumers needed.   

What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work?

Being a sounding board is what mentorship means to me. It’s what I try to do with my team. Even when I don't have the answers, I try to ensure my colleagues feel comfortable discussing their problems with me without the fear of being judged. This way, we work towards finding a solution together. The idea is to give them the space to fail, look at the opportunity that lies at the other end, keep on trying without the fear of failure, and do better every single day. 

What time do you wake up and what's the first thing you do after waking up? 

My morning routine keeps changing. I wake up by 8-8.30 am, and proceed to do some exercise. Have breakfast with my wife and then leave for work by 10 am. I allot 10.30 am to 11 am for planning and organizing my day. This time helps me get a sense of what my day would look like and prepare for it. After 11 am , the meetings begin. 

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What’s your go to productivity hacks?

I love to write and take notes. I take copious notes and you will always see me with a notebook in hand. In fact, I have a white board even at home, where I jot down things. It helps me follow-up. Apart from this, we have started agenda document for every meeting. Attending too many meetings annoys me. So, before a meeting, everyone needs to definite what role each person will play in the meeting. It has helped our meeting culture — people now don't need to unnecessarily attend meetings in which they don’t have anything to contribute. 

I also believe in delegating and giving complete ownership of end-to-end decision-making to people. It makes my life easier. 

What's the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?

I have been ending the day with a brisk walk during the pandemic. Apart from the health benefits, it helps me unwind too. Though I don't get to do it as often as I would like, I try to take out a little 'me time' in my kitchen garden. My wife and I love the idea of using homegrown herbs and vegetables.

Any book/podcast/app you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth?

There are some amazing books on these topics for companies at different stages of evolution. Two books that stand out for me are Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on startups, or how to build the future, and Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, how today’s smartest business grow themselves by Adam Penenberg. And as I mentioned earlier, Ben Horowitz's Hard Thing About Hard Things is one of the books I would recommend every entrepreneur to read.

Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.

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