Aditya Kothadiya doesn’t worry.
“There is always something that’s not going well literally every day,” he writes on his blog, which has the tagline: Musings about Startups, SaaS, Sales, Product Management, Philosophy, Productivity, and more. “Imagine if I keep worrying about such things every day. Life will be miserable and I will always be worried. That’s why I focus more on what’s going well and enjoy these achievements.”
Since 2010, Aditya has published nuggets of wisdom and reflection like these on a regular basis. Other insights? Think of your actions as ‘experimentations’ that you’ll learn from instead of ‘decisions’ that are good or bad. Measure against your former self (retrospect) instead against others (comparison). And he has thoughts about everything from breaking your phone addiction to how to win competitive deals.
Aditya is applying his thoughtfulness and wisdom to Avoma, an AI meeting assistant startup that he founded in 2017 and now leads as CEO. We caught up with him to hear more about how his life philosophies—grounded in his spirituality—have guided him to where he is today.
We could all be better following the advice you talk about on your blog—worrying less, being more positive. How do you keep such a good attitude even if, as is often the case in the startup world, things get a little rocky?
I’ve always been very positive-minded since I was a kid. I think it comes back to the self confidence that whatever happens, I can rise back up. It's never too late.
Was there a particular experience you had as a kid that instilled that self-confidence in you? How did you develop that philosophy so young?
I did not have a very great upbringing. Financially, my mom and dad struggled. There was no focus in my entire family about education. My mom and dad did not study, they had maybe a 10th grade education. But, there was one story I had heard growing up about two kids. They had alcoholic parents. One kid observed how his dad was an alcoholic and abusive and he said you know, that's how I'm going to live my life too. The other kid thought: I don't want to be like my dad, and I'm going to take a different path. This story stuck in my mind so clearly: you have to decide what your path is going to be. Your parents are not going to make the decision for you. Since that day onward, it was always a very crystal clear reminder: if I want to achieve something it’s completely on my own abilities. I'm not gonna say, “Oh, I was born in this little town with no resources.” If I put in my mind, energy and discipline, I can achieve it.
Was religion part of your upbringing as well? Did it play a role in how you think about the world?
I'm not a religious person, but I'm an extremely spiritual person. I think that's definitely the right way to put it: I do not believe in one particular religion. I believe in humanity, being positive, and assuming everyone is always trying to do good. Sure, there are bad actors. But still giving everyone the benefit of the doubt has always helped me.
Tell us more about your childhood. What was your family life like? How did you chart a path for yourself out of the small town in India?
We were a joint family in India. A joint family means that in one family, people don’t leave their parents—everyone just lives together and grows up together. Financially we were not a very well-to-do family. The key income source was agriculture, which used to result in challenging times, due unpredictable weather. There wasn't much importance given to education to find out other income sources. This constant financial struggle made me realize the importance of studies. So I would sneak out of the house to stay away from the negative thoughts and would rather spend my time reading books. Reading definitely helped me tremendously to keep learning the perspective that was beyond my little town, helped me start hearing perspectives of other people.
When did you start exploring entrepreneurship? Why do you think that was the right path for you?
I'm extremely bold. I don't worry about failure as much because as I've said, I know that even if I fail, I can come back. So just after 12th grade, it was a long summer vacation and nobody had any clue what we were going to do. The pool table was becoming a really popular phenomenon and we didn't have access to that in a smaller town. You had to travel to a bigger town or city to play those things and it was very expensive. So the idea at the time I had was: Why don't we buy the table and then charge people? It seemed crazy, but we bought the pool table, and got some money from each of our moms. We bought a shop. We had almost a club experience for people. Our friends started coming in and they used to pay us on an hourly basis, we used to run competitions to generate the buzz in the town. It was a very fun experience. We learned to manage money. We learned to pay people. My friends kept running it for many years after I went to a different city for engineering school.
What was the pool business called?
We named it "Yaraj Pool Club.” It was an acronym of my friends' initials – Yusuf, Ashish, Rohit, Aditya, and Jitin. "Yaar" means "friend" in the Hindi language. I guess I'm a fan of creating these acronym-based names—Avoma stands for "A Very Organized Meeting Assistant.”
What was it about the pool club experience that shaped your approach to being a founder today?
I think it was observing a problem, and jumping and trying to solve that problem and not holding back because no one had done it. Not thinking age is the barrier, not thinking experience is the barrier. At that time we didn't have something like that in the town, and we were doing something unique. We took inspiration from what was happening elsewhere in the world and we brought it to our people. And that applies to everywhere: if you observe a problem, do not hold it back. Have a point of view, have a creative mindset and try to solve those problems.
You mentioned the pool table business was one of your first bold decisions—what’s another example of a bold decision and where did it lead you?
I came to the U.S. as an immigrant on an H1B visa and I was employed at a large public company. I wanted to start my startup, but without a green card you can’t, and the green card was taking a long time. I was getting frustrated. I told my manager, “I want to take a break. You don't have to pay me any salary. Just keep my visa legal here.” So I didn't have any health benefits or salary for 6 months and worked on my first startup.
Out of nowhere, right around the time when my 6 months was ending, I got my green card. I told my manager I need to leave the company, officially, because I can start what I've been working on. He told me at the time: stay employed here. Come to the office two days and work on your startup the other 3 days. You're just answering to me, but you will get full salary, full benefits. It was an extremely lucrative option and my first kid was about to be born.
Everyone thought I would be crazy not to take it. But I realized at that time that it would be a mistake. I thought if I'm going to fail, I would rather fail by giving 100 percent, and I don't want this distraction at all whatsoever. So I declined that offer.
That’s a lot of pressure with a newborn on the way! How did you manage it?
No pressure, no diamond. That's one of the things I always live by. I know that if I'm being pushed, if I’m being tested, if I feel like so many things are going against me. That means the pressure is being applied and it's going to happen. It's going to work out, and it's just a matter of faith and having perspective that always helps me address any kind of adversity, any kind of negative thing that happens.
But then what do you do with the pressure? How do you turn the pressure into something good?
One of the things that helps me to manage stress in general is to not feel like the Atlas Shrugged, where I carry everything on my shoulders. I think the best way is to break it down. Take the small first step. Even that little first step gives a little bit of momentum. That you feel that there is not a block anymore, that takes you to the next little step, and that's how eventually you don't feel the stress as much, and then you're able to still enter the progress.