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Life Lessons from Benjamin Franklin, and my first boss



Benjamin Franklin, if you don't know, is the guy who's credited with (at least in the books that I read in school) discovering electricity. By performing the famous experiment where he flew a kite in a storm and when lightning struck, it traveled down the string of the kite and onto a key, which when he touched, gave him a jolt of electricity that didn't kill him. And he made the connection that lightning behaved like electricity.

I say credited with because many historians contest that it was actually Benjamin Franklin who first did this experiment and claimed the discovery. The Bordeaux Academy and The French Academy credit Jacques de Romas for having successfully conducting the kite experiment before Benjamin Franklin. Another French guy, Thomas Francois Dalibard is also claimed to have conducted a similar experiment, only with a lightning rod instead of a kite and a key, and to have drawn similar conclusions. Earlier than Benjamin Franklin.

But Benjamin Franklin was someone who realised that doing good work isn't the end of it. In fact, it isn't the beginning of it either. It is just a key ingredient in the middle. He was a frequent writer (and owner) of the Pensyllvania Gazette, the publication that was read most widely at the time among the colonies. He had been writing for a long time before the kite experiment and afterwards, he wrote about the kite experiment that he performed. Naturally, everyone believed that he was the one who first did the experiment.

And today, more than ever, this story holds relevance. This is the day when every John Doe has a personal blog or website (or at least a Facebook account) where their personal brand is built. Whether that person has actually done something or is good at something or not comes at a later juncture. An audience gets built before that. And that audience builds an impression of the person they follow. And when that person has something to share, she already has an audience that will prove to be early adopters.

And if you're building a business, early adopters is what you struggle for the most. And only if you overcome that problem will you even get to face the next set of problems. And early adopters don't come for the product. Rarely does that happen. They come for you. They come for who built it. They come because they have consumed something from you before and they liked it and trust you to bring in a similar level of quality to whatever else it is that you do. This is why companies prefer to hire people who went to good colleges or who have good references. This is why VCs invest in founders and not in the idea. This is why someone who has already been successful once has a much greater probability of being invested in the next time.

Building that audience is important. Building that brand for yourself is important. And it happens much before building a great product. And is probably as essential as building a great product.

My first boss, when I worked with Reliance Jio, seemed to work on this principle. One of the most important lessons that I've taken away from working with him is to not worry about what you are currently building, and whether you even have the capability to build something. Only focus on understanding the pain that a user, a potential customer, is facing and what her alternatives are for relieving that pain. Then, figure out a better alternative than what's available. Better can be functionally better or financially better. It doesn't matter if you make the exact replica of a competitor and make it cheaper. As long as you bring in value, you have a place at the table.

Like Benjamin Franklin said, 'Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about.' Or you can be like him, and do both. 

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