Startups, Intuition and Sri Aurobindo

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This article is an attempt to look at my relationship and my journey with Sri Aurobindo, on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary. To be perfectly honest, I do not know for sure when this journey began and how far back in time, or lifetimes, it goes. So I share what I am presently conscious of.


First visit to Pondicherry – 2007

Around June 2007, the first startup I had cofounded with Nandini was acquired by a company in Bangalore. As part of the acquisition we moved to Bangalore. That year, Christmas was part of a long weekend. Everyone around was making travel plans. I also felt an inspiration to travel and looked online for suitable destinations. Quite serendipitously, I discovered the website of an Eco Resort located by the beach side close to Pondicherry. It was a large green property that seemed close to nature. They had some beautiful cottages spread across the property, each one designed with a unique theme. The food they served was grown and raised by them on the same property. We really liked the option and confirmed our bookings.

After we reached the resort, we spent our time relaxing and reading at the resort and exploring Pondicherry. Back in those days, I was a staunch atheist, possibly because I grew up with an atheist father and was fairly influenced by modern western ideas and culture. I was totally closed to religion and spirituality of all kind, with no interest whatsoever. I guess this was the reason that even after spending a few days in and around Pondicherry I never even came to know about Sri Aurobindo or his ashram. Someone did talk to me about Auroville and suggested a visit but I dismissed the idea almost immediately. 

Overall, the trip was very good. I still have a very vivid memory of the peace that I felt during the trip: the whole experience was, as if, made of peace and stillness. And this sense of peace became part of me and stayed with me, and it was this that brought me back to the same resort, and to Pondicherry, exactly a year later, on the Christmas weekend of 2008. 

Looking back now, I can say with certitude that, during my first trip, even though on the surface I did not learn about Sri Aurobindo or visited his ashram or Auroville, at a deeper level, without my knowledge, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had touched my soul and initiated me on to a path that would lead me towards them over the years. It was not yet time for me to step out of active worldly life, I still had to take up the work of setting up the “Morpheus Gang” — the first startup accelerator in India and a contributor to the startup revolution in India. And, hence, I am not at all surprised that within a week of returning to Bangalore from Pondicherry the idea of the Morpheus Gang began to manifest. 

The idea of intuition 

From 2008 January onwards, I got busy with the work of Morpheus Gang — which  was quickly growing into a community-driven startup accelerator, and a pioneer in the field. By 2011 our portfolio had grown to 36 startups. Sometime in the middle of 2011, while I was traveling by train from Delhi to Chandigarh, I began to wonder why certain startups in our portfolio would take off successfully and why some of them would fail to take off, even though all of them were backed up equally by intelligent hardworking founders. It became clear to me that startups were nothing but the extensions and reflections of the founders. Thus, I was moved to study the behaviours and working styles of the founders of the startups. As I had spent a lot of time working closely with almost all the founders, I began my research analyzing the data I already had with me. 

It was during this process that I noticed a phenomenon that was common amongst founders of all startups that took off — an intuitive style of problem solving. This meant that while they were working on difficult problems in their startups, they were receiving certain insights or inspirations seemingly out of nowhere which were leading them to the best solutions. And even though these solutions could not be confirmed as being valid via any rational framework, they had the confidence to go ahead with them, and in almost all cases, these intuitive solutions turned out to be the most effective. So, intuition, to my mind, was the key behind startups that took off. 

There were, of course, many questions — how does intuition work? Why does it work only in some founders and not in all? Why does it work at certain times but not always? Understanding the nature of intuition quickly became a passion in me. And much later I understood that this was a direct call by Sri Aurobindo, and it was the pursuit of intuition  that led me to him. 

The first contact

I was still an atheist who looked towards modern science as the source of knowledge. So, to understand the workings of intuition , I started reading the mind sciences like neurology and psychology. While these broadened my understanding of the workings of the brain, they categorically denied the existence of intuition.

But, in my own experience, the presence of intuition was ever clearer and increasingly important. As I broadened my research, I saw that not only startup founders but all human pioneers across diverse fields had received their key ideas and insights through intuition. Based on publicly available information I studied the lives of pioneering men and women across disciplines like business, sciences, art, music, and sports, and for each one of them I found that the mystical phenomenon of intuition played a key role.

So, if intuition as a phenomenon did exist and the sciences so far had not understood or acknowledged it, what could be done? I decided to take up the matter, create a scientific white paper based on my understanding on the workings of intuition and then collaborate with leading researchers and labs across the world to confirm my ideas. 

That was early 2012 and my daughter Sanaa was then 3 years of age, ready to start her education. We did not want her to go through mainstream schooling and hence were looking for other possibilities. That is when a friend informed us about a school in Chandigarh, where we lived at that time, that followed an open and holistic pedagogy. This school was inspired by the educational philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, Integral Education. We soon joined this school community. 

One particular day in the school library, I came across a book, Integral Education — Beyond Schooling, written by one of the founders of the same school. Out of curiosity I picked up the book and started flipping through it.  On page 5 there was a picture of the Mother dressed in a sari, and on the next page there was a picture of Sri Aurobindo, dressed in white dhoti. Both came across to me as some sort of spiritual gurus. The atheist in me did not feel good, so it wanted to close the book and put it back. But another part of me somehow convinced me to give the book a try. And so I continued reading. 

It was this book that gave me the first direct contact with Sri Aurobindo and his ideas and philosophy. The book explained how the capacities and powers of the limited intellectual mind could be surpassed by accessing the ranges of “the Intuitive Mind”. As I read through the pages on intuition, my mind went silent. It was all beginning to make sense. Right at the beginning of these pages was this line, “Except in instances of yogic development, there has been no sustained work done on intuition”. And this is the line which communicated to me that to go deeper into intuition, I would need to  read and learn more about ancient Indian yogic systems. Suddenly I remembered the picture of Sri Aurobindo, who was mentioned by the author as his own Guru and a great Yogi, whose system was called Integral Yoga. I went online and ordered five well known books written by Sri Aurobindo and began by reading The Life Divine.

From reading to practice

For the next six months or so I was mostly reading The Life Divine. It was a difficult read, the sentences were very long and there were many unknown words. Each paragraph needed to be read multiple times, the dictionary had to be referred to  frequently. But once I started gaining an intellectual grasp of the concepts of the Yogic worldview, its understanding of intuition and the processes to develop intuition, I decided to give myself a year to practice these concepts and verify them. The central practice in the early part of my journey was the practice of self observation through the witness consciousness. Within one to two months of the practice, I began to experience clear changes in myself, which led me deeper into the practice.

In December 2012, I visited Auroville and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry for the first time. This had a profound effect on me. I was in Auroville for eight days, and I visited Matrimandir on almost all the days, switched off my mobile phone and walked around alone in Auroville, reading The Life Divine and exploring many other things. Later on, during that stay in Auroville, I realized that I had come to surrender myself to the Mother, and many transformational experiences had come as a result. This was also the decisive period of my journey where my commitment to the path of Sri Aurobindo became absolute and irreversible. 

Stepping out of the world of Startups 

As my journey continued, my readings and practice, both, grew, leading to more awareness and sensitivity. In my work within the startup ecosystem, more and more I started to notice the lack of sensitivity that was now dominating the startup world. There was a growing and almost exclusive focus on fund raising and increasing the valuation of the startup, all other aspects were deemed unimportant. The health and wellbeing of the founders were neglected, stress levels were rising rapidly, teams were working inhuman hours and were burning out. Customer quality was low, as one only required a customer to stay on for six months so that one could raise money to show the numbers; beyond that, the customer did not matter. 

This reality of startup culture brought me to a point where I could no longer continue to participate actively in the startup ecosystem. As a result, around the middle of 2013, in a core team discussion, we decided to shut down our acceleration program and step out of the startup ecosystem. It took us about a year to properly wind down things and tie up the loose ends. By the middle of 2014 we were ready to start a new chapter of our lives.

This was a great opportunity for me to plunge full time into the ideas, teachings and philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and that is exactly what I did. For the next six years, I was exclusively dedicated to the study of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s teachings and practice. I was extremely lucky to have the ongoing guidance of my mentors and the company of many friends as companions on this wonderful journey. Together we formed a community called Oneness and had frequent retreats, satsangs, conversations, travels and more. 

This period also gave me a great opportunity to spend a good amount of time with my daughter as she was growing up. In fact it was by following her into the school in Chandigarh that I had the first contact with Sri Aurobindo. From 2013 to 2019, each year, during the winter vacations, we traveled as a family to spend at least one month in Auroville and with each year our connection with Auroville and Pondicherry deepened.

Moving to Pondicherry and into the world of Conscious Startups 

In November 2020, my daughter decided to quit the school in Chandigarh as she was no longer happy in it. Almost immediately we took a decision to explore options for her education in Auroville / Pondicherry. We stayed in Auroville during most of 2021, where she went to a school in Auroville. In December 2021, she joined the Ashram School and along with that we moved to Pondicherry. It was like coming home.

Between 2014 and 2020, while I stayed almost completely out of the startup ecosystem, some old friends from the startup world who were beginning to explore the spiritual dimension would reach out to me for discussions and support. I was always happy to have these conversations and invited them to be a part of our Oneness Community. Many startup folks became part of the Oneness Community and continued their spiritual explorations. By 2020, many of us with a startup background were beginning to explore ways in which the idea of startups and the idea of consciousness could be combined. It felt like the right time to try out an experiment to see what would work. 

We began in a small group consisting of entrepreneurs who wanted to create “conscious” startups — startups with a base in a higher or deeper consciousness. One of them was looking to raise some capital and I made a modest investment along with a few friends to see whether or not such a thing would work out. But things moved well, and the startup grew in numbers, revenues and size without compromising on values and consciousness. This experience gave us the confidence to make more investments while the group was gradually expanding to include more like-minded people. Our conscious startup movement grew slowly but steadily gaining momentum with every passing month. 

By August 2021, a mainstream community-based ecosystem for conscious startups — Supermorpheus — grew  and now has more than eight hundred curated members from the startup world. Each one of these joined the community following detailed conversations around the philosophy of conscious startups. Supermorpheus, for us, was like a laborartory through which we were trying to bring the vision and ideas of Sri Aurobindo into practice in the startup world, a most critical part of current and future human society. 

In Jan 2021, during a bike ride from the ashram in Pondicherry to Auroville, I got the inspiration to write the book about conscious startups. The inspiration came clearly from Sri Aurobindo and it continued as the writing happened. Over the next two months, while staying in Auroville, I completed the first draft, shared it for review with a good number of friends, and based on their feedback, completed the second draft by July 2021. It was during the process of writing this book that I clearly saw the possibility and process of combining startups and consciousness in a manner that would lead to a creation of next generation startups, startups which would achieve tremendous operational and financial success along with being successful in terms of growth of consciousness. 

And it is not a coincidence that the second draft of the book got done in July 2021 and the idea of Supermorpheus came up in August 2021. I am now back in the world of startups, and my role is to facilitate the creation of more and more conscious startups by being a worthy instrument of the grace, wisdom and love of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

I am eternally thankful to them for giving me this opportunity to come close to them and to work for them. I offer my heartfelt gratitude on occasion Sri Aurobindo’s 150th birth anniversary.

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