Ashok Kumar ER is the cofounder of online mutual funds distribution startup - Scripbox
The lockdown triggered by the spread of the coronavirus has entered into the last phase and entrepreneurs, the original hustlers, have had to make a plenty of changes to their daily routine to adapt to working from home (WFH). Their daily schedules have been disrupted and their long drawn out usual meetings have been replaced by video calls. Not to mention the stress of a looming economic slowdown and pressure from investors.
Moneycontrol looks at how a scrum of business leaders is dealing with these fast changing times. In today’s edition of Virtual Leaders Pratik Bhakta spoke to Ashok Kumar ER, the cofounder of online mutual funds distribution startup - Scripbox.
You can read other editions of Virtual Leaders here.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: What does your average day look like now given your normal routine must have been disrupted by the lockdown?
A: After the first few days, I settled into a 9 AM to 7 PM routine. Discipline is the key to be effective and productive. I take a 15-minute break keeping every digital device away, every two hours and insert some form of workout (yoga or climbing stairs) to keep the blood flowing. I do not stretch my day beyond 7 PM and log off. There is a tendency to stretch the day with WFH. I believe it is not sustainable.
Q: How have you been engaging with your colleagues and employees during this lockdown? Did Scripbox undertake any specific steps to keep the staff motivated during this gloom period?
A: More than ever before honest, direct, and candid communication is the need of the hour. As a startup, the first question you should answer proactively for your employees is about the money and the runway we have. We catch up with the entire team at least once every week where we share business updates, answer questions from employees, and share some jokes. We made every meeting a video meeting so that we see each other on a daily basis. Our employee engagement activities now include Yoga, online games such as PUBG and Counter Strike, art, craft, cooking workshops, fitness sessions and more.
Q: Have you found some means to e-socialise with your teams outside work, given all of your colleagues might be remote?
A: Several of our teams are catching up with their teammates on Friday evening and weekends to play games and even share a meal. Water cooler and coffee conversations in the office are certainly missed but I am told, jokes and banter continue to flow which is great.
Q: Now that you are working from home, how much time are you spending with family/kids? Any specific activity that you undertake regularly with your family members, which you thoroughly enjoy?
A: I take a full one-hour lunch break and spend time with family and even squeeze in board, video and card games like WII Sports, Monopoly Deal, Uno, etc. Kids have online school, and that keeps them busy. We also catch up for coffee and snacks during the day.
Q: Since you are a fitness enthusiast, now that outdoor running has stopped, how are you keeping yourself fit and healthy?
A: I certainly miss outdoor running in lakes and parks. Since the lockdown, I have been cycling within the apartment complex and have not missed my 20-30 minute daily cross-training sessions. These are without equipment using body weight. Amazed to see so many videos on YouTube which can be used to get guided training and stay fit when confined to home.
Q: Have you always had a separate workstation at home or did you set that up because of the lockdown? Can you share a few lines on how you have set up your workstation?
A: We have a study room which has a proper workstation set up. Since we all are learning and working from home, my wife plus two kids, we needed three more workstations. To solve this, we have converted the dining table as an open desk and kid’s study tables have become make-shift workstations. Highly recommend regular neck exercises to avoid injuries as these are not ergonomically designed space.
Q: In the middle of all this negativity, what are you doing to keep your mind off from business and all the bad news around?
A: As a philosophy, I encourage myself and others around to ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ attitude. No point, getting angry and agitated with the ‘reality’ in front of you. It is not easy. I practise meditation daily and have managed to get my family members to join me for a few minutes at least. That is helping I must say.
Q: Did you manage to catch up with any old friend or a relative in this time period, someone who has not been in touch with you for a long time?
A: Yes, I make a list every Monday and try to speak to at least one friend or a relative I haven’t been in touch with. I make it a point to talk and spread positivity rather than concurring with the gloom.
Q: For market participants, this has been a difficult time, given the stock market crash. How did you engage with your customers during this crisis? Have you relooked into your own investment portfolio in these few weeks?
A: We increased our customer engagement by at least five times in recent weeks. We are engaging with them through webinars, 1:1s with leadership, video campaigns and various other content marketing tools. The key is to communicate, communicate and communicate to bring calmness both with data-backed points and emotion soothing pointers. But at the same time, be relevant, empathetic and provide actionable advice. We have done well here.
Yes, I did check my portfolio. Well-planned asset allocation means that I don't need to make any knee jerk decisions and related actions. I have actually stepped up my SIP towards my goals.
Q: What is that one major piece of management learning that you have gained during this forced lockdown and planning to carry on even after we all come back to normalcy?A: ‘Risk is something that is left after you thought through everything’... I carried this definition in my head in theory. Recent weeks have made me see it in reality. As a leader, my ability to remain calm and face the reality with brutal honesty and rally myself and my troops with positivity and objectivity was put to test. We did well and are preparing for a better future once normalcy returns.