Reach out to someone if you feel stuck. From time to time, you will find yourself stuck or unable to complete some tasks or set of tasks. It is absolutely fine to be not fine! We are all human beings and we have our own limits. Sometimes we might not achieve our deadlines or tasks but that is not the end of the world.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewingSomdip Dey.
Somdip Dey is an embedded Artificial Intelligence scientist at the University of Essex & CEO of Nosh Technologies, an award-winning food tech company offering AI powered food management to reduce food waste in the household. Somdip is a serial entrepreneur and also a TEDx speaker and has 12+ years of experience in developing cutting-edge technologies, including contracts with Microsoft & Samsung Electronics. He also serves as a technical program committee member and reviewer of several top technical conferences such as AAAI, CVPR, ICCV, ECCV and ASAP.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Kolkata, India in 1990 in an orthodox family, where my mother, Soma Dey, was a painter and my father, Sudip Dey, was a commercial artist. Growing up in an orthodox Asian family means that I was literally taught a lot of extra-curricular things, which include karate, singing, playing the guitar, theatre, math’s Olympiad, chess, etc. and at the same time, I was also expected to be master of all of these. You know, the Indian parents, who want their children to be the next Indian Idol and the superstar that all other parents talk about. Out of all the skills, I was taught I only enjoyed a few things such as singing, theatre and science, very much.
Moreover, being the only child the pressure on me to perform well was tremendous throughout my childhood. So, it is safe to say that I was raised in an environment where high pressure was the norm. Although, like most other Asian parents who wanted their only child to be a medical doctor, I was very firm to (initially) disappoint my parents and chose a profession in science as a Computer Scientist. While pursuing my career as a scientist and inventing new technologies, I saw opportunities to solve existing problems and create more opportunities for others in the process, hence, paving my way into entrepreneurship.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
Though both of my parents were artists themselves, they were unique in what they did and started their own businesses to capitalize on their talent. So, from early childhood, I was very inspired by my parents, who taught me many valuable lessons in entrepreneurship from an early age. For example, my mother was a painter and instead of painting on a canvas to sell them, she painted on Indian ethnic-wear, sari, and sold those through her boutiques under her brand, “Soma Creatives”. Before my mother retired she gained a reputation for designing unique “saris” in India, which was very popular at that time. This taught me that even though a person learns traditional skills, doesn’t mean that the person has to utilize traditional approaches to capitalize on them. Finding your unique selling point and then utilizing that to earn a name and money is key. Additionally, growing up in a family where both parents were entrepreneurs made me see the world in a different light, a world where all humans regardless of gender are equal and capable to achieve great things.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
It’s not just one person. There’s a lot of people to whom I owe my current life and successes. Naming only one person would be an injustice. I travelled a lot over the last decades, which gave me the opportunity to live and work in three continents, Asia, America and Europe. This also means I have met a lot of amazing people, who have ended up in my life as trusted friends, partners and mentors. I have been truly opportune to meet and have such amazing people in my life and learned a lot of lessons over the years from them. But I was told about a principle in 2014, that has been the cornerstone principle of all my decisions, may that be in business or in life in general.
In 2014, after I graduated with my master’s degree from the University of Manchester, UK, a friend of mine, Philip, who was then a language teacher and my tutor at the University, asked me what I wanted to do now that I have graduated. My response was, “I want to help people and reduce their pain through my knowledge and by developing technologies.” At that moment, Philip gave me one advises, “Whatever you do, do not add to the existing pain in the world.” From that day onward in every decision I make, I always try to see the ethical point of that decision and whether it is going to adversely affect someone or something. Often times as entrepreneurs we miss the ethical point of view of the “big idea”, but, I guess, having this principle in mind makes you a more responsible entrepreneur and a human being.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Although the story that I am about to tell might not seem funny to me when it happened, however, whenever I mention this to anyone, their most common reaction is a burst of big laughter, mostly towards my stupidity. In 2016 I went into a living-relationship with my long-term partner. At that time, I was working at my own company, Codeepy, while working a software engineer at another company in Manchester, UK, on a work visa. During that time my then-partner was pursuing her PhD in Sociology at the University of Manchester. Fast forward to 2018 when my then-partner was about to graduate, she got a postdoc opportunity at the University of Essex, UK and I didn’t want to be in a long-distance relationship, so, to keep us, the family together, I left my job in Manchester, gave up my position in the company and started to look for job opportunities at Essex so that my then-partner and I can move together. At that time I had a long-awaited dream to pursue a PhD for many different reasons, and hence, I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to pursue my PhD at the University of Essex, giving me the option to move with my then-partner. After she moved to Essex, we realized that over the years we grew to be different people in the relationship and broke up. That took a very emotional toll on me and I was left with my PhD at Essex. Although I am really glad that I pursued my PhD here and didn’t really lose anything, except a part of my heart (cheesy, I know), at that time I felt a bit betrayed. Mostly because if we realized about our differences earlier then we might have broken up without me having to give up my job and position at my company to be able to move with her with the hope to keep us together.
What I didn’t realize that I have built a life, which revolved more around my partner rather than having a more independent life of my mine. My lesson from this was: we should be building an independent life of our own, which itself is amazing and is more fruitful when shared with someone else but not dependent on the other person. If things do work out then you will stay together regardless. This always reminds me of the announcement in a flight where the flight attendant warns, “Help yourself before helping someone else!” and this can’t be more true in life in general.
Good thing is that this heartbreak and lesson came before I turned 30, and hence, I am lucky to go through this hardship early in my life.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Success is methodical. Whoever said that success is based on luck and is random, is definitely bull-shitting you (excuse my words) or doesn’t want you to know the truth! Although, the definition of success can vary from person to person, to create something successful you need to follow some steps. Now, what these steps are, would vary from industry to industry or depending on the person. No one strategy is the gold standard when it comes to achieving success. Through my life I have seen that the basic formula for success can be broken into three simple steps as follows:
What?: What do I want to achieve that will be considered as a success in my eyes? This is the milestone that you want to achieve that you personally feel is a “success” for you.
Why?: Why do I want to pursue this as a successful milestone or goal in my life or career? When you can answer this, you would also know the motivation behind it. At times you will feel demotivated in your journey to achieving this goal or milestone, however, if you know exactly what motivates you then you can keep reminding yourself of that to keep you on track.
How?: This is where things get tricky and no one size fits all. Depending on what you want to gain or fulfil the steps will vastly differ. So, you have to figure out what specific steps you need to take to make that happen. Follow industry leaders to see how they did it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you can stand on the shoulder of giants.
One example that I can give from my career as a tech entrepreneur, developing several award-winning products and services, is as follows. If you want to create an award-winning product (which you feel is your personal success) then first start with exploring market research on the product. Do you have a customer base? What do they want? What is available and what is lacking? Find your unique selling point and then develop the product. Once you have developed it, start approaching your customer base to get their feedback on further improvement. Get them to talk about your product. Ask for their review and short comments on the product. Then apply for different available awards for your product genre. Reach out to journalists and editors of media firms and publications offering free usage of your product/service in exchange of their opinion and review of the product/service. That will automatically generate PR for your product or services.
This is merely a snapshot of how to take specific actions towards achieving your goal and success. So, go out there and do what’s necessary.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read at least one book a month. Pardon me, by reading, I mean listening to audiobooks, given the fact that I am mildly dyslexic, and have a monthly subscription to Audible. The reason I am mentioning this is that personally, I feel like it’s one of the best services out there to gain knowledge. You can work on your daily chores or during your commute you can listen to what a book has to offer. That being said, one of my most favourite books that made an impact on me is “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss. Although if you have not read it then I won’t spoil it for you, however, it provides a new perspective on life and how to achieve independence professionally so that you can focus on what’s more important for you, life in general.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
This might seem a bit cliché and you must have heard this being said by millions of people already, however, my most favourite life lesson quote has to be the one given by Steve Jobs at his Stanford commencement address.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something. Your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
I, personally, have always followed my passion and what my heart always wanted to do. Often times I also worked odd jobs or took classes on non-contemporary skills, but later down the line, I have always found those experiences and skills useful and valuable towards building my company and to offer better products and services.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am currently finishing up my PhD and at the same time building my AI-powered food tech company, Nosh Technologies, which provides award-winning food management mobile app, nosh, powered by Artificial Intelligence and other cutting edge technology such as Blockchain and Edge Computing to help reduce food waste in the household. In less than 6 months we have already gained more than 5 thousand users in 151 countries around the world and have developed 3 intellectual properties to provide the best services within our food management app so that our customers can focus on their convenience instead and reduce food waste in the process.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Life is like a high-stakes poker game. Sometimes in order to win big, you have to go all-in and that means you will be under tremendous pressure at those times. I am not saying that my strategy is the best but it has helped me to remain focused and achieve my targeted goal regardless. My strategy consists of the following steps.
Create a weekly vision board. Every Monday before the week starts on Sunday evening I create a vision board for the coming week, which will include my tasks into three categories: “Have to do”, “Need to do” and “Extras”. I organize my weekly tasks based on these categories in the vision board where “Have to do” and “Need to do” tasks are self-explanatory; however, “Extras” could be thought as bonus tasks that could help you achieve something more than needed. For example, writing this interview is assigned as an “Extras” in my vision board for the week along with a few other interviews and PR related tasks. These tasks boost your profile and reach out to potential customers or investors or build a brand, but doesn’t contribute to developing my company nor help in my PhD thesis, which are the primary focus of the week.
Micro-treat yourself when you complete a task from the vision board. Studies have shown that when we take actions towards a task and achieve it, our brain releases dopamine due to the sense of accomplishment. The same thing also happens when you treat yourself something after accomplishing micro-milestones. The dopamine in your brain makes you feel the joys or pleasure of achieving that goal and I often refer to it as the “Happy juice of our brain!” This keeps us motivated to continue achieving our goals. So, next time when you complete a task from the vision board treat yourself to something small. For example, for me, if I achieve so and so tasks by tonight then I am going to treat myself to pasta with a glass of fancy red. But if I don’t complete those tasks then I will negatively treat myself to a bowl of dull salad. Micro-managing yourself like this could be a great motivator in the long run.
Reach out to someone if you feel stuck. From time to time, you will find yourself stuck or unable to complete some tasks or set of tasks. It is absolutely fine to be not fine! We are all human beings and we have our own limits. Sometimes we might not achieve our deadlines or tasks but that is not the end of the world. The issue happens when such an event demotivates you to progress further. While under pressure, it means you have a lot on your plate and sometimes you might not be able to get everything done the way you want. At these times, you need to take a step backwards and reach out to someone, who can help you, especially emotionally. Sometimes all we need is the emotional support to come out of a tough situation and don’t be afraid to seek such help from someone whom you can trust or know.
Take care of your physical self. I can not emphasize this enough, but you have to take care of your physical body and health in general. If you are not healthy enough then emotional pressure from the stress can further affect your body and overall wellbeing. Every day I at least try to take a long walk or hit the gym every couple of days in a week. This just doesn’t give me the opportunity to take a break, but at the same time keeps me fit and healthy. Although I can understand that physical activity might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can do other activates such as meditation that generally promotes overall health. This itself is also a form of treating yourself in the long run since you are keeping yourself fit and healthy.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
The aforementioned strategy that I have just mentioned reduces both the burden of stress and also optimize my peak performance before high pressure, high stress situation.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
This might seem a bit too common but I personally use my Apple Watch to meet my daily fitness goal, which includes exercises and breathing routines to relieve stress. If you don’t own an Apple Watch its fine as well. You can download several different apps on both iOS and Android to achieve the same. Just pick one from the app store and stick to it.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Before going into high pressure meetings, I tend to listen to TED Talk’s podcast on my phone. Somehow these talks keep me motivated and also keeps my mind off any negative thoughts that might be arising due to the high pressure. Generally, when we are under pressure we tend to track because of our negative thoughts such as What if I don’t get it right? Or What if the traction or the pitch is not good enough? These type of negative thoughts are the real enemy. So, when I listen to TED Talks, first, I am getting some valuable insights from industry leaders on a topic and second, these talks distract me from getting the negative thoughts.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Habit is the form of regularly doing something repetitively and the more you do something, you get better at it. I personally believe in doing things right and then doing it again and again to master it. My aforementioned strategy to stay focused in high pressure environment needs practice and it took me years to start doing it right.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Baby steps. That’s the trick which works for me. Often times in order to stop a bad habit or start adopting a new habit, all we have to do is to take the first baby step to be able to start. Rest, everything else just follows eventually. Additionally, if you have a vision board and you already took your first baby step, don’t forget to micro-treat yourself for your micro-achievement. This will motivate you to continue and move on to the next steps.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
Creating the weekly vision board along with micro-treating yourself for your goals. That automatically creates the state of flow that keeps you going.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
This might not be a movement but often times we forget the simplest things in life, so, I would try to remind you of that. Remember two things for the rest of your lives. One, it’s OK to be not OK. We are only humans and we make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up when you do a mistake or fail to achieve something. If that happens learn from the experience and move on.
Second, everything is going to be fine in your life. Even if you don’t make that deal happen or fail in achieving the big task or break up with your long-term partner, don’t feel like that is the end of the world. It’s not. Till you are breathing, you have another day to fight and conquer the world! So, stay healthy and fit to take on another day in your life.
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, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to share a meal with Mark Cuban and discuss about my ideas to tackle food waste problems around the world using technology. Mark is a terrific entrepreneur and investor, and having him as my mentor would be one of the best things to happen for me and for the planet, since, my end goal is to reduce food waste as much as possible.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
As Nosh Technologies we keep our website update to date with news related to nosh and our vision in reducing food waste. So, don’t forget to visit our website at https://nosh.tech
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.