If I'm going to be young and stupid, it better be with an idea to solve something that helps millions of people.
4:30AM. Touchdown at Panaji Airport, Goa. The air was cold, felt colder since I had taken a chance for the first time, entirely on my own. There were hardly any people at the airport despite the wonderful weather, thanks to the pandemic.
The office was a 50 minute drive but the rates were scathingly exorbitant. I remember texting Nikhil Bhaiya at 4:30 in the morning (my first Slack message) inquiring whether the cab rates were actually this high or if I was being duped.
I reach by 6 and that's when I learnt my first lesson, a lesson in patience. For over an hour I kept ringing the office's doorbell respectfully, and no one answered. I started to worry if this was some messed up prank or worse, as my mother feared, a setup with a nefarious ulterior motive.
Fun fact : My mother actually thought that this company was a front to terrorist activities and I would be kidnapped and transported via boat to some cell which was why I had been called alone to an Goa.
Locks clicked and I came face to face with a barely awake, well-built, baby faced guy, wearing a plain grey t-shirt, boxers and a "what the heck's going on ?" look. Kaishu Sahu, CTO, Farmako. I remember thinking "He looks barely a year older than me !". After an awkward exchange of introductions, we stepped into the most messed up apartment ever I had ever seen in my life.
To call it unclean would be undermining the degree to which this place had been trashed. The dining table was cluttered with uncountable meals of food and unwashed plates, giving the apartment what it's unique smell . The office space and tables were littered with soda cans, Dorito bits, used tissue papers, wires and spilled drinks. There was even a hole in the wall for some reason and a dark circular spot on the ceiling (some in-house cricket tragedy I guessed).
Every other breathing space was sucked up by electronics, wires, routers, multiple testing mobile devices, a broken printer, a destroyed microwave, large whiteboards scribbled with product ideas and printouts (credits : Nikhil Bhaiya) of pop-singers and trending memes
I think the maid had clearly given up by this point. A door handle had been broken, kitchen cabinet doors had unhinged, fridge was packed with food that was no longer edible (1 open beer dated 6 months), and there were scattered piles of groceries, spices and massive amounts of some body building protein mix (credits : Kaishu Bhaiya)
"It's just 1 month", I breathed as I picked the guitar, something that always calmed my nerves. It had stickers of the company logo and Y Combinator's logo on it. I shared a quality conversation and a plate of rice-cakes with Kaishu Bhaiya. We talked about college life, programming journey, interests, ideas and the history of the company. I'd totally fund the guy too ! The amount of technical knowledge he possessed was a lot more than most other people I'd met in life. Funnily, that's where most his expertise ended too. As I saw him hesitantly wash the dishes, I could guess that this was definitely a rare occasion.
I crashed on the couch for about 2 hours. I woke up to the smell of chicken that the cook was preparing. Being a vegetarian, I recoiled and I looked around to find a friendly, spectacled, bearded face grinning broadly at me. Aman Bhandula, CEO, Farmako Healthcare.
We exchanged introductions, jammed over the guitar and then entered Kaishu Bhaiya's room to wake up the lean dead body sleeping on a mattress beside the bed; AirPods plugged in, bedsheet from chin to toe, dead-asleep after what I guessed must've been a stretched out code-tear. Nikhil Kumar, Technical Lead, Farmako Healthcare. He greeted me with a slight nod and a ✌️ and went back to sleep again.
I onboarded the website and web application project that evening. Aman Bhaiya was leaving the next day for a last rafting adventure with his college friends, so that evening, we shared a bowl of Maggi and an amazing conversation about entrepreneurship, networking, morals and how Farmako went from being a barely surviving project out of Aman Bhaiya's hostel room, where they had to save up to purchase 1 printer, to the rocketship startup it had become 2.5 years later.
"They're great people, but I'm just an intern." - I said to myself as I lay down to sleep, planning on quitting after a month of programming, Goa and learning the inner workings of a startup. I was going to be proven wrong.......big time.
Living with the Hackers
If you're changing the world, you're working on important things. You're excited to get up in the morning.
~Larry Page (Co-Founder of Google, Alphabet)
A classic morning at office started with me waking up to enjoy a walk nearby and then a quick cereal breakfast. Some college and programming work would follow. The cleaning helper, Nikita Didi, showed up at 9 and we shared light conversation. I'd cleaned most of the apartment a day after onboarding so even she felt happy to go the extra mile in wrapping up the rest of the trash. She was the unofficial tour guide who taught me a lot ranging from how to identify ripe fruits to finding a watch repair shop around.
The Hackers would wake up by afternoon, mostly after the cook showed up. They were in a separate league of their own. Based off of Paul Graham's interpretation of people, given a chance to choose between being a hacker or a painter, I'd definitely go for the former. It feels like a complex personality on the outside, but on the inside, it's just an innocent, inquisitive, relentless child, with a yearning to build something great.
Hackers are actually the most interesting people. They're a beautiful combination of contrary idealogies. They'll know how to tackle some of the most complex problems but have difficulties overcoming basic obstacles in life.
Kaishu and Nikhil Bhaiya are pure hackers by soul. They learn and implement new technologies at breakneck speed but take hours to decide what to order for dinner. They trust revealing their identity to no one online and have the most complex authentication setup on their machines, but throw the apartment keys on the floor. They claimed to be busy with new ideas all the time but they also managed to find time to install Linux OS on my PC (three times over, at this point). They have their socially awkward moments with the people around, but not a day went by when they failed to ask whether I'd eaten enough. They keep arguing on countless occasions, blaming each other for bugs, but somehow reconcile and deep down, even though they never acknowledge it face-to-face, carry great respect each other.
They can't express it, but they do care.
And I just don't mean the word "hacker" in the computer programming fashion. These fighters can hack any problem. On a classic weekend, you'd see Nikhil Bhaiya rewiring the WiFi connection in the office by hand or Kaishu Bhaiya dismantling electric sockets to fit iOT devices to automate lights and fans via voice recognition. They're your classic open-it-up-and-see-how-it-works engineers.
And then you'd find these same people microwave frozen Coke bottles or descending on an ascending elevator or speeding past cops when asked to pull over. (we came close to an arrest twice)
The more I got to know about them, the more I learnt, not just about the tech stack we were using or the brilliant system architecture they'd designed, but about how to bravely explore a new idea, get version 1 out quickly and keep punching at the problem, with undying hope for a breakthrough. Pure entrepreneurs. Relentlessly resourceful (as Sam Altman would say).
Launch, Inspect, Iterate, Repeat. Pretty inspiring, if you ask me.
"...the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently - they're not fond of rules - you can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things....."
~Steve Jobs (Apple Inc.)
The days are long but the decades are short
~Sam Altman (Open AI, Y Combinator)
I was on a work-ethic path that would have eventually killed me at some point. I didn't even realise this since I always felt pretty cool about learning some new skill instead of spending some time with friends and family or even exploring and experiencing new avenues. Even if I'd spare 5 minutes, I'd run off to pursue some new programming skill. This wasn't sustainable. I was clearly missing out on a lot and not even understanding how important it all was. I was running away from a truth but all this would have eventually led to nowhere.
Writing code is probably one of the easiest things you'll be dealing with in life.
~Nikhil Kumar (Farmako Healthcare)
Nikhil Bhaiya has a way to extract what he wants to know from you, no matter how hard you try to hide it. Friggin hacker. It seemed intrusive at first but later it did feel nice to share problems with someone as uptil then, I've a habit of playing it all pretty close to the chest.
He gave me an hour long advice on why it was actually really easy to always be busy with work in life, the hard part was gratefully acknowledging all the people who stood beside you and giving them time too.
He'd snatch me off to trips to nearby forts, cafes, ice-cream parlours, beaches and slowly I began to comprehend, the depth of why however stupid it seemed, it was really important to go off-plan and try something new out. If you ask Kaishu Bhaiya his biggest regret in college life, he'd tell you he wished he'd learnt the guitar. Nikhil Bhaiya wishes he'd spent time on learning some non-technical skill too.
It was a great couple of days, beginning to understand and learn from these unlikely mentors on what life actually seems like, out of college, in the real world.
I learnt how to drive a scooter, the 1st time at 2am outside Anjuna Fort, Goa, on Nikhil Bhaiya's relentless persuasion. He kept joking about kidnapping me. Once when the electricity went out, the 3 of us spent an afternoon pencil-carving and the evening, programming out of a KFC fast-food joint.
We'd go to Artjuna Cafe, 20 kms away, to code, mainly because Nikhil Bhaiya really liked the cheesecake there. Or say drop by Gai Kajus, a cashew nut factory that was Kaishu Bhaiya's #1 spot to kick back with a class of dry-fruit milk.
I spent a lot of time with Nikhil Bhaiya, since he was who I was mainly interning under. The lean, spectacled, piercing eyed hacker has a kind of Megamind like vibe. He knows all the hacks and glitches of the game, but chose to stay more on the good side. As Aman Bhaiya says, he's an ocean of knowledge, and just from talking to him, you learn a lot, although it does get overwhelming after a point as he just won't stop talking. He's different from everyone I know. He'd kick back with a Coke at 6AM, sleep till 3PM and blazingly ship code afterward till the next 6AM shot of caffeine. Funny thing is, from his attitude it looks like he's laid-back, but has the most control over his mind and time, always slamming deadlines.
We used to get lost couple of times near beaches, scrambling to find our scooter. He'll still always blame me for the first time when we went on one of these walks and by mistake my hand knocked out his iPhone from his, resulting in a scratch. I still carry recordings of him scolding his heart out at a food delivery executive, when our order delivery got cancelled midway. Boy was it a satisfying 2AM dinner at some random bar after about 3 hours of argument with the food delivery management team.
Kaishu Bhaiya seems like he's chasing the goal of being the best hacker. He has infinite hunger to learn something new and build something cool with it. And boy does he always manage to surprise.
He mostly keeps to himself and is always worried about something all the time. It may ranges from anything like a new bug to not getting a credit card approval from some bank. You'll never see him anywhere without a backpack containing his laptop, strapped to his back.
The craziest adventure we shared was an unfruitful 3 hour, 50 km drive across Goa to purchase guitar strings, everytime being redirected to a closed shop or even in one case, a private bar (thanks Google Maps !) for some reason. Like I said, he couldn't say or show it, but he did care deeply even about trivial things such as this.
Removing a trash version now and iterating it to perfection is a lot better than waiting to build the perfect code.
~Kaishu Sahu (Farmako Healthcare)
I'll admit it wasn't always easy and amazing all the time. Like I said, being vegetarian, I took time to get used to the smell of chicken in the apartment. I remember feeling left out when they went to the gym. Their disjoint, nocturnal work schedule did bother me a lot, since we rarely had meals together.
Kaishu Bhaiya always claimed eating less food so it did bug me when he stole food we'd bring( later, Nikhil Bhaiya and I secretly just bought extras :) ). Working with Nikhil Bhaiya also requires some next level dedication since he'll continuously keep barraging questions and thoughts whilst you try to concentrate and code. Also, it took infinite amount of patience to keep the office clean and organized and regulate food wastage.
But they were worth it. All of it. I just wished I'd told all of this to them much sooner as it got sorted really quickly when we discussed it later. I guess that's how most friendships work, you must carry no secrets or emotional debt. You fight but you never forget the underlying connection you always carry.
I don't know how exactly most of these detours or experiences shaped me or what I learnt from them, but it just made me a lot stronger to face any challenge that came my way. It gave me enough hope that no matter how formidable a problem seemed, there always had to be a hack around it, and you could always find it. I even learnt a thing or 2 about responsibility, selflessness and a scientific mindset from these unconventional teachers.
Study the unusually successful people you know, and you will find them imbued with enthusiasm for their work which is contagious.
Not only are they themselves excited about what they are doing, but they also get you excited.
~Sam Altman (Open AI, Y Combinator)
Aman Bhaiya, Ankita Didi and Arun Bhaiya were working remotely but somehow they'd managed to collaborate and pull off a really minimalist but beautiful design for the website and the blog. We coded it out.
A month flew by. The website was ready. Aman Bhaiya had finalized an office-cum-living-space in Noida, India and we were about to scale up with new recruits, products and customers.
He called us to start shifting, but I chose to go home for a week to spend some time with family whilst the new office was being setup. On 1st March, I pushed my last bit of code, hailed a cab and barely made to the flight in time, almost forgetting my laptop at the scanning area (this seems funny now, but could have become a really bad experience had I not felt the bag was missing something as I was walking down the final passage to the flight doors.)
As the flight climbed higher, a sense of fulfilment gripped me. This wasn't your standard "beachside retreat" story but it was soothing and transformative in its own unique way. I smiled. Only a few hours back, 3 crazy engineers were scribbling product ideas on an office whiteboard 15000 ft below. The cabin lights dimmed and as my eyes started drooping, I remember feeling really optimistic about the next chapter.
Little did I know, what was oncoming would introduce me to a new family and then break us all to unimagined levels.
Life is like a book. If you don't turn a page, you will never know what the next chapter holds.