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How to be an effective CEO in the clean economy with Nikhil Vadhavkar

on • 32 min. read


We've had serial entrepreneurs, power sector veterans, techies, and people with finance and energy trading backgrounds, but Nikhil Vadhavkar is one of the few first-timer CEO’s we've had on the show. Not only is he an alumnus of academia at a very high level – Johns Hopkins, MIT – but he leveraged that background to start Raptor Maps.

This SaaS company provides owners and operators of both utility-scale and C&I projects with digital solutions to boost production and manage the health of their assets. Raptor Maps plays a vital role in scaling the industry through software that records and tracks asset performance, digital solutions for asset management and remediation challenges, and the deployment of solar robotics.

Here are Nikhil’s B3P’s (“Big 3 Points”):

11:02 - Get in the weeds, get your hands dirty and fail quickly. The quick pace necessary to make decisions and try new things will likely lead to failures. But that’s crucial for company growth. That is how you to learn and move on. Embrace failure because it’s rich in lessons… if you’re willing to learn

20:03 - If you want to be a CEO, don’t worry about what constitutes the “perfect idea.” Find (or create) the seed of what you believe will be successful, and iterate. If it’s not the current idea, it will be the next one. You’ll need grit and courage to see growth. 

23:03 - While making new hires, always have a technical or hands-on component of the interview process. This will help you determine what you are looking for with the new hire. For example, if you are hiring someone for your sales team, do you care more about their ability to pitch someone on the spot or research a company well? Then test that ability. This will also show you how that candidate reacts to the challenge, not just how well they perform.

Thank you Nikhil for coming on the show.


Also listen on Apple, Spotify, Radio Public, Amazon Music, iHeart, and Google Podcasts.

Mike Casey:
Hey, cleantechers. Welcome back to another episode of Scaling Clean. As listeners know, our show is totally focused on interviewing CEOs to glean usable best practices and tips on how to build, run, and lead companies. One of the things I'm fascinated by is the backgrounds of our guests. We've had serial entrepreneurs and power sector veterans. We've had techies, people with finance and energy trading backgrounds. But Nikhil Vadhavkar Vadhavkar is one of the few first-time CEOs we've had on the show. He's like Jesse Grossman with Soltage. Not only is he an alum of academia at a very high level, Johns Hopkins and MIT, but he leveraged that background to start Raptor Maps.

Mike Casey:
This Boston-based SaaS company provides utility-scale and C&I owners and operators with digital solutions that boost production and manage the health of their assets. It enables the industry to scale and meet climate goals. Raptor Maps software provides a system of record tracking, the performance of assets, digital solutions for asset management and remediation, and enables the deployment of robotics on solar. Nikhil, welcome to the show.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Thank you. It's great to be here, Mike.

Nikhil Vadhavkar’s Background

Mike Casey: 
What’s the story with your background? How would you summarize your career from the one you started to the one you’re now? 

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
It started when I first went to Hopkins, I focused on biomedical engineering. And for those of you who aren't familiar with that field, it involves everything from data science and computational medicine with genomics to new devices, better pacemakers, or better implants or orthopedic devices, tissue engineering, it can involve things like even developing the mRNA vaccines during COVID. And so what I really enjoyed about that is that it kind of forced me to fluidly translate between electrical analogies and mechanical analogies and fluid dynamics, because the human body has all of these things, right?

And so that provided me with a really strong engineering background and an interest in connecting these seemingly disparate disciplines and systems, but it was in undergrad. At Hopkins, I realized that my interests were a little bit, maybe different than the traditional path. And what I mean by that is I saw colleagues who got very into looking at a problem and saying, Hey, I can build a device for that or I can design something that's going to attack that problem and essentially build a better mousetrap. Really smart people. And they truly did do that. But my approach was to actually start in the hospitals and work with doctors and patients and understand not just what clinical problem we're trying to solve, but what's the entire system today that leads to the remediation and what would it take for any sort of new invention to make its way all the way through that system. 

Now, I didn't know about the concept of going to market or anything like that at the time. I just felt like as an engineer, I wanted to work on things that would actually make their way into people's lives and have a real effect as opposed to making a nice senior thesis or something like that.

First Exposure to Entrepreneurship

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
And the reason and the device itself for me, as long as it wasn't breaking the laws of physics, that was almost more like a black box. As I've evolved in my career, the analogy there is almost like the LOI in the early days of a startup. If I had this solution, don't worry about how, what would that mean for your business, how would that translate, and all of that? And so that pattern, that was kind of my first exposure to entrepreneurship, I would say. And that pattern has repeated itself time and time again in my life. So, as I made my way into MIT, I had a grant from the Gates Foundation, and instead of just building prototypes of drones to deliver medical supplies, I actually went to the Gambia and Zambia with my colleague Andrew, and we met with the CEO of Zipline and we were pitching local governments together and really seeing we worked with riders for health, we were on the ground there.

When I was designing space suits, I actually went to Johnson Space Center, and spent a lot of time there, really understanding how these things manifest to actually make their way into space and as part of these missions and everything that has to happen. So I guess I would summarize my career as just really working backward from a problem and thinking about what are all of the different systems and things that you have to do to push something out to actually have a material impact in the real world and get it off the paper and into real life.

Growing as a Leader and Manager

Mike Casey:
If you and I sat down and we watched split-screen footage of you managing someone for the first time and how you lead and manage now, what are the differences that we would see?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Well, I think in the early days of a startup, it's all about product market fit and any good founder is going to be the one making cold calls, handling the logistics, delivering the initial product. Every aspect of the business, in the early days, when it's just the founders’ is being handled by the founders. I think that's so valuable. So, you can imagine that with our first hires, we were extremely hands-on because, we were literally handing them an exact process and saying, ‘Hey, I figured all this out a week ago, or maybe yesterday. Yes. Continue to iterate on it, but I have a very strong view on what you need to do just to free me up a little bit so I can kind of plug the next hole’. Fast forward to today and it's a common fallacy that in the early days, as soon as you see a glimmer of product market fit, you need to go bring on high-powered leaders and things like that. I think that's personally an abdication of the founder’s responsibility. But then as the company evolves and you start to grow, you start to have a larger vision and culture and you grow out of the initial product market fit and you need to execute. Then you start to bring on people. 

You're not telling them exactly what output you want to see from them. You're telling them what outcome we're all driving towards and you're working with them on how we measure our progress towards that. If people have a good understanding of that, then you can be much more focused on supporting them and supporting them as leaders and making the hires they need to hire, and supporting them even as managers. As opposed to directly telling them what to do every single day. So, I would say my leadership style has definitely changed from, Hey, I'm involved in every single thing you're doing every single day. Let's meet twice a day to communicate. Every single one of our employees is an entrepreneur. Like they're coming to us now, we’re really big on napkin math in our culture, all right, what do you want to do? Can you make the business case on the back of a napkin? If so, let's go, let's do it.

Mike Casey:
That's so interesting. One of the things we do here is we will design out what we call a success path for new clients. And the standard for our staff is, you can run this account if you can design the success path on the back of a napkin. And then take a picture and send it to me.

I love that Richard Branson’s saying,’ Any fool can complicate something. It takes a master to simplify it’. And I think the back of the napkin is arguably the most compressed way to express a complicated idea. So I love that guys do that. That's cool.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Yeah, one of my favorite stories is if you go into the headquarters for Southwest Airlines, they have the original triangle that, I think Herb Kelleher drew out on a napkin in a bar somewhere. And they had some rough numbers and that was enough for them to start an airline. So I think, no limits to what you can do on a napkin.

Mike Casey:
Nice. Who are your three most important mentors and what did you learn from each?

Three Most Important Mentors and What Did You Learn from Each

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
That's a great question. The first two that come to mind are.

Dalton Caldwell and Michael Seibel, Y Combinator, for very different reasons. Michael was the co-founder and CEO of Justin.tv, which became Twitch, Socialcam, which was sold to Autodesk. Dalton had founded this social media-based music company that was acquired by Myspace, and Myspace actually promptly turned around and shut it down. And then he was CEO of App.net which ended up shutting down. And I think that perspective was so interesting because everyone wants to index on people who just kind of tell success stories and how they get there. And I think Michael and Dalton are really open. We were joking before we started recording about all the neosporin you need right with the cuts and scrapes that it takes. And, even going beyond that, I think you can learn a lot from abject failures. 

I think these are two people who are very open about all of that but at the same time, really push the YC companies to hone and maintain that startup edge. So, a great example is one of our core principles is being ready to ride. In the early days of Raptor Maps, I went out and met someone in the field, flew out from Boston, rented a car in Minneapolis, drove Southwest of St. Cloud, Minnesota. I don't know if you've ever been out there. It's not just the kind of a place you would pass through just to spend a couple of days in the field on a solar farm with one very entrepreneurial solar farm operator and that heavily influenced Raptor Maps. And so the style of those two mentors is don't sit back and just read market reports and things like that. Get in the weeds, get your hands dirty, fail quickly, and that's how you're going to learn and move on. So I love it. So it's one thing to say move faster, die, or just make something people want. You can say things like this, but how you actually live it and hold yourself and your company to account every single day, that's where the real power is. And I think for myself and my co-founder, that is where that originated.

Mike Casey:
The full embrace of failures, that's what I hear you saying. Like really embracing it because it's so rich in lessons if you're willing to avail yourself.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Exactly. And on a really fast time scale, if you came back every next week and you didn't try a bunch of things and, presumably failed at most of them and say, like, what are you doing? Right. Time is the most important thing we have. So that pace to just make quick decisions and try things. I think that was really born from them. You asked for three mentors.

Another really important mentor that both my co-founder and I have had in our lives is Dr. Dava Newman. She actually runs the MIT Media Lab now. She was the Apollo professor in the aerospace department at MIT before that. And actually was the Deputy Administrator of NASA during the Obama White House. And she has such a passion for not just space and engineering and all that, but just a huge passion for people and following their dreams and exploring what they want to do creatively. And I think as engineers, that's someone that we really look up to and say, wow, you can be an engineer, but that doesn't mean you have to have this kind of locked-in linear path. Like she's found a way I would argue to be very entrepreneurial in her career and very supportive of us. And I think, it just provides a different kind of perspective. Cause we would say, well, our third mentor is some super successful business person. But I would argue. Dava has been extremely successful in her career in the way she's chosen to do it. And I think there are a lot of lessons to take away from that.

What Attracted You to Clean Economy?

Mike Casey:
Nice. This is your first company, but it's also your first clean economy company. You did not start out in academia focused on this. What drew you to clean economy and what keeps you in this sector?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Yeah, I think what drew us initially to the clean economy is that there's so much we're living in an incredible time where doing the right thing and doing the thing that's actually going to build a generational business is extremely aligned. No matter where you look, you're seeing that. I'll give you a great example in the early days of Raptor Maps, we were working on optimizing agricultural inputs, for example, because we looked at the amount of water and fertilizer that was going into the ground and we said, well, yeah, you could use the concept of digital twins and machine learning to not only get more yield out of the ground, but actually put less input into the ground. And that directly correlates to the cost of goods sold. So there's the environmental component.

But nobody is going to say, Hey, please don't reduce my cost of goods sold and increase my profitability. That is a no-brainer. And so what I love about the clean economy is that people have really woken up to that. And with solar, of course, we have incentives and things like that. But what I love about solar is pouring over the project finance models and saying, yeah, this is where the risks are, but this truly pencils out. This is why it's good on so many levels. 

These are the stakeholders that can make money and go reinvest that money in the solar industry and continue to grow it and basically create that flywheel effect. And I think the fact that you can create a flywheel effect in the clean economy that is fundamentally good for our future, just is very exciting to me. And I also for better or worse, I like that the clean economy doesn't get this pass. People think that if you're in the clean economy, you don't have to run a disciplined business or a tight ship or think about all the types of metrics that a business in a different industry would think about. And I think that's just fundamentally not true. So, I like the fact that if you think about your business, like every other business, but you happen to be in the clean economy, it's a really fun combination.

Mike Casey:
You show me the person who thinks you don't need to run a disciplined business in a clean economy and I'll show you somebody who's in an ayahuasca retreat. And that's the only place that happens. I don't know of a single business in a clean economy that's still around that doesn't have sound operating principles.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Exactly. Adam Neumann did an ayahuasca retreat and then got money from Andreessen.

What Makes a CEO Effective?

Mike Casey:
Fair enough. You quit your job tomorrow. You become a lecturer at Johns Hopkins Business School. Your first lecture is on the role of the effective CEO. How do you describe that to the students? What parts of an effective CEO's role would you lay out and perhaps even proportion them?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Yeah, I think my first question back to the students would be what type of CEO and at what stage. That's such a broad question, right? I love to joke that anyone can file some paperwork with Delaware and anyone can be a CEO by the end of this podcast, right? So, certainly, there's like the startup CEO, maybe a couple of people in a basement or a garage.

The role of an effective CEO in that scenario looks a little bit different from a role and maybe like an earlier late-stage growth startup, which can look a little bit different than what it looks like for a publicly traded company. But I think the two things that transcend all of that are hiring really good people and making sure the company is well-capitalized. I think those are kind of the two things. I think at any given time, the pendulum may swing back and forth depending on where you are in the company cycle. But if people would ask me, what is the role of an effective CEO, I would say you have to be able to roll up your sleeves and understand your own business so that you can continue to expand in the areas where you're finding product market fit.

Continue to always be looking at those new frontiers, those new addressable markets, looking over the horizon. And I think CEOs get scared because they don't wanna be wrong. If you say the future is gonna look a certain way and it doesn't, they think, I would have been better off just not saying anything. But I don't think that's true. I think the role of a CEO more broadly is to say, yeah, here's what I think is going to happen. And I'm going to test that hypothesis really quickly. And it goes back to what we were saying earlier in terms of fail early, fail often. You should be stress-testing what you think the future looks like. And if you do that and you continue to do that, no matter what the stage is in the company, you're going to continue to grow.

Advice to Future CEOs

Mike Casey:
I love that answer. It's really good. Okay, at the end of that first lecture, some of your students come up and say, hey, I want to do in a few years what you're doing. Give me some advice. What would you say to them?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
So the first thing that comes to mind, I was about maybe three or four months into dating my now wife. And so this was a long time ago at Hopkins and I signed up with one of my friends for this Hopkins business plan competition and we ended up, I created this prototype actually where we took maps from a popular video game, like virtual maps and actually showed how you could overlay sponsorships on them and made this interactive demo and all of that. But the funny thing is during that pitch competition, I basically took a can of energy drink and I crushed it and threw it on the ground. And that was how the pitch started. And it was this very high-energy manic type thing. And we actually ended up winning, but they're the real lesson there, what advice would you give is if you think you want to do this, don't worry about what is the perfect idea. Although I will say that ended up being pretty ahead of its time. Right now it's called esports and sponsored esports. But give yourself reps in doing it. I used to love things like pitch competitions and actually, people say, well, that's not really the real world. That's just kind of the beginning. Yes, that is true.

It's an exercise in putting yourself out there. And one of the things you have to do to do it successfully, we actually won the MIT was 100K at the time for kind of their preeminent pitch competition for which kicked off Raptor Maps. What people didn't see was a hundred cold calls that went to potential customers to go prepare for that. So I think it's that level if you want to do something like this, you just got to put in the grit, put yourself out there, cold call people, create some initial seed of something you think is gonna be successful, and then iterate on it. And if it's not that idea, it's gonna be the next one, and practice getting other people excited about your vision. And if they're not, figure out why. So I think it's a little less of a, here are the steps you need to take to have this type of career, as opposed to - here's the mentality and philosophy, here are the things you need to take advantage of. I will say though, practically it has been awesome. I have to give a massive shout-out to my co-founder Eddie, insane technical horsepower, having someone like that in your corner, if you want to go start a startup is very necessary, unless you are that person.

Lessons Learned About Making New Hires

Mike Casey:
Got you. Okay. Broadly speaking, hiring is almost always cited by our guests as one of the most challenging parts of leading companies. You have some time under your belt. What have you learned about making new hires?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
The most important advice I can give is, that I don't care what level it is, always have a technical or a hands-on component of the interview process. It may feel patronizing, maybe if you're trying to have a senior leader join, they might say, hey, I have a 20-year career, why am I going through this exercise? It might seem maybe not like a great fit, obviously software. You've got coding challenges and things like that. Maybe there are other parts of the company where you don't have as obvious of a technical challenge, but we have found it's a twofold kind of thing. One, is there just a good fit, right? You're not necessarily looking for, are they going to, plus I've got this rubric, but how is this candidate reacting to it? 

How's the conversation when we talk about this work product or challenge or whatever, it just makes for a much richer conversation. And it's been a great way where candidates that we might've leaned out on have been able to absolutely put their best foot forward. And conversely, for candidates that might've looked great on paper, we learned that fit wasn't quite there. So, I think I have a lot of thoughts around hiring, but if I were to give up just a really practical piece of advice, it would be that just have a technical or hands-on component.

Defining Hands-On Components

Mike Casey:
And when you mean technical or hands-on component, do you mean the equivalent of a writing test?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
I mean, any sort of exercise, and I think thinking of what that is, is a critical part of the interview process because it holds up a mirror to who you're trying to hire. So a great example would be if you want to hire someone on your sales team. Do you care more about their ability to kind of pitch someone at the moment? Do you care about their ability to research a company really well and put together a story that's going to resonate at the enterprise level? Do you care about their ability to take a very complex piece of software and kind of distill down the messaging? They're different, even within something as seemingly simple, right? As a sales hire, what you actually have them do says a lot about who you're going for. And if you can't answer that question, you may really need to take a look at your hiring process because I would argue you don't really know what you want yet.

Be Upfront About the Hiring Process

Mike Casey:
Do you tell candidates when they're coming into the process there will be 
a real-world simulation part of this interview process?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
We do, we're very upfront during the phone screen. We leverage that phone screen to set expectations and to get an understanding of what the candidate is about. And one of the things you have to be careful of is you don't want to drop out. So having this type of exercise doesn't mean you're running a long process. And it doesn't mean you're disrespecting the candidates’ time or making them do hours and hours of work.

But what it does mean is you're running a tight process. You're setting clear expectations for the candidate. And it's up to them if they want to continue or not, but yeah, to answer your question, they know what they're getting into.

Mike Casey:
I love that. That's good because we've wrestled with that here at our firm, particularly with senior-level hires. Do we have you do a writing test? Do we have you explain how you would approach a client problem, simulated or real? And you're really giving me confidence that that's something we just can always do. And if someone has an issue with that, then perhaps that says more about the potential fit than we appreciate it. That's really a great idea. Do you have a go-to interview question?

What is Your Go-To Interview Question?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Yeah, my go-to is to ask people to tell me about their journey. And I think it's so interesting because they know we have their resume in front of them, right? So we don't need to step through the chronology or the bullet points of the resume. But it's a really open-ended question, like what brought you to this point today that you and I are speaking? And I think that really gets at how they reflect. It gets at their motivation. It gets at what they want out of the role. And then from there, we can dive into different parts of their story and use that as a jumping-off point. 

In this experience, what did you learn from that? What did you take forward? So I think you've got your very easy interview questions that everyone knows to expect and companies ask like what are strengths and weaknesses and things like that. But I find it's much richer if you can actually use someone's own story to click into parts of that story and have a conversation about that than it is to just ask those questions bluntly. The other thing it does though, is it really helps us combat imposter syndrome.

What I mean by that is you'll get people that'll tell you their story and they'll say, well, maybe I'm not right for this customer-facing role or something like that, but it actually enables you to draw out pieces of their background and even potentially advocate for them and say, when you were in one of our senior leaders on the operations team, she was actually in sales previously, she was a top 10% performer.

For her to come into what is a fairly technical role now where customers are looking to her and her team to be like the experts when it comes to solar, I think that we're able to say, Hey, based on your previous background, and this was many years ago. So obviously, we had to just make sure everyone took a gamble on her potential here, including her and it worked out great, but there was enough there in her background to say, we think you're going to do great at this role, don't worry about not having the perfect resume. We'll take you any day over another candidate.

Guidance on Letting Employees Go

Mike Casey:
What’s the guidance you'd offer on firing people?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
I think before you get to that point, or maybe when you're at that point, you have to look backward or look in the mirror and say, what brought you to that point? Because it's never just about that person in isolation. And so I think that's a really important moment for the company to reflect and say, what brought us here? And is this the path forward that makes sense for the entire team and for that person? 

And my guidance here is, it's the first thing that came to mind as a quote from Mark Cuban. And it says, it's how you do anything is how you do everything. He says that a lot. And I think, in the context of this question, when the times are good, you're hiring like crazy, startups are booming. It's easier to have that organizational facade, right? It's awesome, it's great. The culture is good and all that. But when the chips are down, when things get hard, when you have to make a decision based on the good of the team, how you go about things at that moment, that says a lot about you and the integrity of your organization, because it is probably someone's worst days of their life, right? And so you have to be empathetic, but you also have to be very clear-eyed about your company and where it's going and the other members on the team and all of that. So, I think, be reflective, and act with integrity.

How Long Have You Been with Raptor Maps?

Mike Casey:
How many years are you into Raptor Maps now?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
So we went through Y Combinator in 2016. So my co-founder and I were looking at this the other day and just kind of even how our own lives have evolved, right? Dogs, the kid now for me, all that kind of stuff. But it doesn't feel like it's been that long. It's been fast-paced and what Raptor Maps looked like back then versus now is completely night and day. I think some elements of that have absolutely endured. We talked about kind of that, moving fast and being ready to ride, and a lot of our core values. And that part of Raptor Maps has not changed. 

We actually have one of our robotics engineers. She was in the field digging trenches. She's a software engineer, but she was in the field digging trenches with a customer a couple of days ago to install a robotics dog on that field, because that is what the job entailed. That's what she needed to do. I’d say she went to the middle of nowhere, but pretty far from the closest airport, and just got it done. 

That has endured for Raptor Maps, and other things in terms of the scale we operate at. And I would say the level of professionalism in our software and things like that certainly evolved.

Is Business Success Based More on What You Did or on What You Didn’t Do?

Mike Casey: 
All right, so seven years in, looking back, would you say, is success in a business more reliant on what you choose not to do or what you choose to do?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Not to do, a hundred percent. This is one of those questions I actually feel very strongly about. So, we're building the system of record for solar. You had a great introduction, right? So you've got a very structured data model. You've got data coming in from sensors, data coming from robots, structured data coming from humans, and data flowing back out the other way, basically sending instructions out to people. So you've got all of these different things that are kind of moving back and forth through that system of record. But that is still very big. You could say, that narrowing the system of record for the fastest-growing source of new energy is not a small thing by any means. But I think it's a very focused thing.

But even within that, we have to be wary of saying, okay, we're going to do everything for everybody. We have to focus on what are the highest-value workflows that are going to solve pain points today that are going to get us to the next level. We can't just keep building and building and building and just kind of open up and say, yeah, here's this, wonderful software platform, it does everything for everyone, mostly. As opposed to here, a few use cases, it absolutely knocks it out of the park. 

We've created hooks for the software engineers with our customers to actually integrate this into the systems and keep building and iterating with them. And that's a really important part of our strategy. 

I think it's tempting for startups and I see why, right? When you go, and pitch to venture capitalists or other investors, they are very focused. They want to do the math and tell the absolute biggest story that you can, right? You want to take a huge, addressable market and go put that in front of the committee and that makes a lot of sense. So it's tempting to tell that everything story, but I think the execution, I love the companies that start. They have a very big, bold vision of where they're going, but I just love the companies that own the thing they're doing today and earn the right to expand and expand and expand into that as opposed to saying, yeah, we're going to do everything right out of the gate. We're going to get over our skis. And, I think that many times that ends up not working out for the company, the founders, the employees, and the investors. 

Mike Casey:
So, discipline, and focus earn you the right to broaden a little bit down the line.

Tangible Example of the Importance of Disciplined Focus

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
100%. And I'll give you a tangible example there. We noticed we built our mobile application, it's used by a lot of people out in the field. And that's how they communicate back to, in some cases, the equipment manufacturers to say, hey, this is what might be broken or not broken. But as the solar industry has scaled, literally, the size of these solar farms has scaled. And so where they are, you've got hotter and less and less hospital environments. 

So imagine you've got someone, they're in a sea of solar panels, as far as I can see, it’s really hot, their phone battery is drained, they're drained, the connectivity is spotty. And they got a job to do, that level of software, what they need at that moment, it's gotta work. And so you can't say, well, I want to defocus. I moved on to the next capability. You have to say, yeah, this thing that you now rely on, I have to make sure it scales, with the entire industry. I think that can also be a competitive advantage, that's what keeps a lot of our customers coming back. 

But the alternative is you could rack up a ton of tech debt and say, I'm moving on to the next shiny thing because I want to unlock this next market right away and that can create a little bit of a house of cards.

Tasks You Do at Work and Home to Maintain Your Performance as CEO

Mike Casey:
Got you. Two last questions. What do you do? What have you found you need to do both at work or at home that goes toward maintaining your day in day out performance as a CEO? I have had such interesting answers to this question. Everything from working on antique cars, getting up at 5.30 in the morning, going to the opera, taking walks, like you name it. It is an absolutely interesting set of answers we get on this question.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
I have a few answers. I think about this in terms of a few dimensions. So I'll start with the narrowest one. Kind of maintaining your daily performance, especially in the era of remote work is having your finger on the pulse and practically how do you do that? I know for me, I'm a huge fan of phone calls and the Slack huddle feature or things like that, right? Where instead of setting meeting times, if I'm working on something, even if it's someone who might be reporting directly to someone on our leadership team, who reports to me, or maybe if it's a couple of degrees removed, I'll just call them for a five-minute catch-up, both on the exact thing I'm working on, but also just to kind of get a vibe check from them. 

And I think that's just been so important for me. And hopefully, that's leading by example, because I want our team to feel that connectedness. So, I do that all the time. Also, this is a little bit meta because of kind of what we're doing here, but my co-founder bought me a subscription to the founders' podcast, which I'm sure you're familiar with. And I love these types of stories.

But I also really try to pick them apart for survivorship bias because obviously, the people that are being interviewed are typically the ones that have done something. And, so I'm like, okay, where in this story, did they maybe get lucky or did they make a key decision, or if they had a real or an imaginary colleague or peer who is appearing on this spot? Why? What made them successful? And I really like thinking about that. And then obviously bringing in some of the history.

And then I think the third one and this one's very personal to me. We adopted this very old dog, this beautiful Great Pyrenees in Korea. And we purposely wanted to get a dog that nobody else wanted. She was living in a shelter for a long time, didn't have a lot of time left and we wanted to do something good for her and ourselves. 

One of the things we found is that patience is an absolute virtue. So when you do that, most people say, walking the dog, sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's exercise. Sometimes it can be a chore, but with her, you can't pull her cause she's really old. She walks excruciatingly slowly. So it's almost like everything else in your life you can optimize on and be more efficient and this is kind of the one thing we're going outside with her there's a level of almost forced mindfulness that you have to have, you can't rush it, you can't go fast. You don't even really know how she's going to feel that day or what direction she's going to go or anything like that. 

And I think it almost just really pulls you out and makes you just think for someone like me. There are some people who are alluded to get up at 5.30 and meditate and things like that. I think my co-founder and I get up and are like, go, go. We're pretty fast-paced. It kind of forces that level of mindfulness.

Has Your Work Made You a Climate Optimist or a Climate Pessimist and Why?

Mike Casey:
I love that. Last question. Has your work left you a climate optimist or a climate pessimist and why?

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
This is a great question. I think it's a superposition of both. So my wife and I were very avid hikers. We actually got engaged on top of Mount Kilimanjaro some years back. And for those of you who have been or have read about it, there's this glacier at the top. And since 1912, 85% of that glacier has disappeared. And it was beautiful. And, it's very melancholy because you're at the top thinking, man, what would this have looked like? Even 20 years ago, and the guides will tell stories and you can just imagine it or even maybe look at, if you're thinking of you 40 years ago, look at black and white photos and things like that.

I'm a new dad, and, anytime you have these experiences, you start to think when my kid is old enough, I want to go take them and have new adventures. And when you look at the way that glacier is trending, by 2040 there will hardly be anything left. And so, I think from that perspective, it's kind of a gut punch, right? You, you just see what's happening as someone who loves being outdoors. You just kind of see that.

But I think where I'm really a climate optimist is that our society as a whole, and, I'd say especially our employees are becoming extremely attuned to this. And we're getting a lot more talent and passion for the space than we've ever had. I know you've had Paige on a previous episode speaking to this, but, you don't have to try to make climate compelling for people. The work is interesting. It's important. It's a tough nut to crack. This isn't just some rotework that we have. The market is growing. The people who want to be here or are here are extremely talented, and that creates a flywheel effect in and of itself. Where I'm really a climate optimist is, I don't think it used to be, maybe there's some sort of sacrifice to be in this industry. I think that is actually becoming less and less where it's not a sacrifice to be in climate anymore. It's a privilege.

Wrapping Up

Mike Casey:
I love that. Nikhil, thank you. This has been an absolutely lovely conversation. I haven't had a bad one yet in this series, but there's some that really stand out as just people who are life-wise and you're definitely one of them. So thanks for the work you're doing and thanks for coming on the show. And I just really appreciate the thoughtfulness behind these answers. I think a lot of our listeners are going to benefit from the wisdom you're conveying here. So hats off to you and best of luck to you.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
Well, thank you. I think what you're doing is so important and you know, I can't wait. We were talking about what happens after you publish the next 25 or the next 50 and, yeah, some big plans there. So I'm very excited for the future.

Mike Casey:
We're on it, boss. All right. Good talking to you. Take care.

Nikhil Vadhavkar:
You too. Bye, Mike.

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