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8 Jun

There is no “How.”

Today, I saw a video clip of Rajan Anandan of Peak XV Partners ask this question to Sam Altman (CEO – OpenAI), the response to which has left us Indians in a tizzy. Here's how the conversation went:

Rajan: Sam, as you know, we've got a very vibrant startup ecosystem in India — specifically focused on AI. Are there spaces you see — let's say a startup from India — build on the models, ChatGPT, and many others?

If you wanna build foundational models, how should we think about that? Where is it that a team from India, you know, three supersmart engineers with not a 100 million but let's say 10 million, could actually build something truly substantial?

Sam Altman: Look, the way this works is we're gonna tell you it's totally hopeless to compete with us on training foundational models, you shouldn't try, and it's your job, to like, try anyway. And I believe both of those things.

Outrage! How dare he! How can he say this about us? He needs some humility! Doesn't he know about our achievements and capabilities at ISRO and in other domains? All tech company CEOs today are Indians! Can't he see that?!

(Narrator: He does. He does.)

Some mega accounts like @GabbbarSingh lauded Sam for keeping it real. Can't say I'm not fond of keeping things real myself.

But what I'm going to write about today is orthogonal to the point even Gabbar is making. I don't think speaking the truth or being brutally honest is the central point here; at least, it isn't one I would like to focus on.

Because we've already got some folks like Virat Kohli and Ashneer Grover ourselves, who like to keep it real and get perceived as wildly arrogant as a result. So, yeah, that isn't something I'd like to focus on. Because, to contrast these, we've got equally competent personalities like Rahul Dravid and the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who are known for their extreme humility.

So, as long as you're competent, I don't really care. To each their own. Humility, or a lack of it, to me, is a performative social aspect that just takes away from the meat and the essence.

What I'd like to focus on though, is the latter part of Sam's response:

“... you shouldn't try, and it's your job, to like, try anyway.”

The thing is: people who really want to do something are crazy enough to do it, despite what anyone says.

Building something like a GPT is a zero-to-one endeavour. It is akin to creating Linux, from scratch, like Linus Torvalds did, back in the 90s.

(Linus is another crazy son of a gun you should read about, if you ever get the time.)

But anyway, what I'm saying is for zero-to-one moonshot projects, there's nothing much to build on, there's no established business or playbook that you can adopt. In other words...

... It is a leap of faith.

But my point isn't even about how zero-to-one projects are leaps of faith.

My point is something much deeper; something that Sam encapsulates perfectly in his nonchalant response; something that we should all pay attention to if we really wish to look beyond our petty egos and tribal identities and do something marvelous in life. And it is a simple fact:

Someone who truly, genuinely, sincerely wishes to do something never asks “How?”

For such a person, there is no “How.”

A person who really wishes to write never asks, “How do I start writing?”

A person who really wishes to build something never waits for someone to fund them before they get to building it.

A group of scientists and engineers who really want to build a space rover with 1/10th of the budget of NASA, does it, finds a way.

There is no “How do we do something like this?”

There is no reading hundreds of self-help books and joining several paid courses and incubator programs and the lot to be bestowed with the prestige of being called a “founder.”

I know, this is going to sound offensive to many folks who think incubators and mentors are necessary for them to start up or just build something that would be useful to some people. But in the absence of intrinsic motivation to really build something useful, people latch on to social signals like “building for the next billion” or “disrupting the market.”

Just do it, man. Don't worry about these things.

Now, don't confuse it with asking “How” around technical implementation and execution details. For sure, anyone who built any piece of code since the arrival of Google Search ran a thousand “How to do X” queries. That isn't the “How” I'm referring to.

The “How” I'm referring to is the “How” that is nothing but a plain excuse to not do something, just because you never sincerely wished to do it in the first place.

And finally, I'm pretty sure there will be way more than those 3 smart engineers in India who will build bigger and better things than ChatGPT, simply because they were crazy enough to do it.

No shade on VCs, but it is natural for a VC to ask such silly questions. But those engineers wouldn't. They would get to doing it and worry about answering all the How's related to execution later. And they would find answers if they stuck to it for long enough.

Desire invokes curiosity invokes agency invokes resourcefulness. Ones who are sincere manage to find the time, energy, resources, and wherewithal to build whatever they wish to build.

If you ever ask me, “Aditya, should I build this?”, don't be surprised if you get a default “No” for an answer. People who genuinely wish to build something will do it despite a thousand rejections. The failure rate of a startup is 95%+ or some insane number like that. Do you think the successful entrepreneurs you talk about today and look up to, cared?


“... you shouldn't try, and it's your job, to like, try anyway.”

If you find yourself getting stuck in a silly excuse like,

“I have no time.”


“I don't know how to get started”

Tere se naa ho paayega bhai. Really. Call it arrogance, or just brutal honesty, or just project a desire to offend. I do not care. People do it all the time. They do it with Virat, they do it with Ashneer, they'll do it with Sam, and they'll probably do it with me.

But I think it's better to acknowledge your current insincerity and move on. Do something else. It is much better than wallowing in silly excuses and self-pity.

And I do hope you read this and share this on WhatsApp before WhatsApp University blows this up as a matter of national pride. It is not. It's just a question of

“How badly do you want it?”

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