Health is wealth: Your body is your temple. We all gained weight and became out of shape in COVID. This affected my productivity personally. I realized there is no replacement for my personal physical and mental well-being. Without a sound body and sound mind, I cannot be productive as an entrepreneur and have the kind of impact I want.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Gaurav Aggarwal.
Gaurav Aggarwal is a co-founder at Sleek, an AI-based virtual queuing platform solving the horror and ubiquity of waiting in lines. An engineer-turned-entrepreneur helping small businesses survive and thrive with AI; he co-founded Sleek after spending a summer at LightSpeed Venture Partners as a fellow. In his past life, Gaurav led highly technical teams on multi-billion dollar products at Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Google and stayed at the forefront of the latest technologies with a keen consumer focus. Gaurav was listed in Forbes 30 under 30 2021 list for Consumer Technology.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I am an engineer turned entrepreneur. Originally, I come from a humble family in Delhi, India where I spent 20 years of myself. In India, you first become an engineer and then decide what you want to do with your life. I followed a similar approach but by choice. Growing up in a developing country, I developed an appreciation for resources which many people in the western world take for granted. My experiences as a kid enabled me to develop unorthodox and innovative solutions to the problems I faced.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
We are currently operating in a hybrid model where our team in SF meets 3-days a week while our time outside SF is still in full remote mode. We were in full remote till late Jan 2021. In 2020, I left Google while I was working from home and started my own startup. I went through major workplace adjustments in 2020; I went from working in a 100K people company with office space spanning multiple cities with almost any facility you can imagine to working from my 10’x15’ home office where I manage everything. Along with the facility, I totally missed the social interaction with the colleagues. It made me realize that if a company is a machine then team bonding is like its oil, and we all know that a well-oiled machine lasts much longer.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
I missed in-person face-to-face interaction with other humans. Pre-COVID I thought of myself as an introvert, but COVID made me realize that I missed social interactions with colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and family members. The ability to meet people in-person was something that I had taken for granted and the absence of it made me realize the aspects of non-verbal communications.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
I often see people being physically present in one place and thinking about something completely different in their heads. I would like to see people appreciate others’ time by giving them their attention when meeting them. I would like to see people live in the present, cherish the things at the moment and practice active listening.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
I think the unexpected positives of the COVID response are the blazing-fast adoption of technologies, resulting in millions of people getting access to education and job opportunities. In Thomas Friedman’s words, The world became a bit more flatter than it was before COVID. The adoption of online school education will help kids living in remote areas and countries with a lack of teachers. Similarly, the acceptance of remote/hybrid work will dramatically expand the talent pool for the employers along with the savings on the office space costs.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
Luckily I was not alone like many of my single friends. My wife and I settled in an apartment just before the COVID pandemic hit. In early April, the pandemic and work from the home situation completely changed our work schedule. We started working till very late in the night and sleeping much past our regular working schedule. We course-corrected things by bringing in a discipline of treating the home office as an actual office. We loved to travel before pandemics, but we could not travel due to pandemics. Therefore, we blocked times for other fun activities that we can do together with our friends online, such as cooking exotic food items, playing online poker, etc.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
The most painful lesson I learned in a pandemic was that nothing lasts forever, and life has a temporary nature to it. My immediate family members’ fleeting health in India and my inability to visit and support them were the greatest pain and discomfort during the pandemic. I realized that my loved ones are getting older. Since then, I have spent more time with them virtually by regularly calling them and getting more face time.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Live in the present: I developed gratitude towards what I already have in my life. COVID gave me some time to reflect on my life journey until now, which made me feel how lucky I am. I realized the importance of appreciating what you have and the ambition of changing the world for good. Enjoy the present as you build a new future.
- Health is wealth: Your body is your temple. We all gained weight and became out of shape in COVID. This affected my productivity personally. I realized there is no replacement for my personal physical and mental well-being. Without a sound body and sound mind, I cannot be productive as an entrepreneur and have the kind of impact I want.
- Discipline matters: Working from home relaxes people, which removes work and life boundaries. As an entrepreneur, there are barely any boundaries between work and life. Still, with a lack of discipline, things go haywire if you are sheltered with limited mobility.
- Technology is the answer: The technology investments from the few centuries helped humanity survive COVID-19. Imagine what would have happened if the internet, vaccination, etc. were not a thing. The impact of COVID-19 would have been much worse. Many more people would have died. I learned that we need to double down on our investments in tech.
- Learn for life — Instead of binge-watching on Netflix, rather learn something new, read a book or talk to your loved ones. People who come out of this pandemic with new skills will have a huge advantage over folks who binge-watched Netflix.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“This too shall pass.” Nothing lasts forever. This quote gives me a sense of hope in the hard times. Good days didn’t last forever, and bad days will also not last forever. We should enjoy our time in the present and make the most out of it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk. I would love to have a chat with Elon. I would love to understand what was going in his head when the Model 3 ramp almost killed Tesla and when all SpaceX rockets failed back to back. What motivated him to give up the safety net he earned in his time at Paypal.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.