Abhishek is a CEO & Potter
Abhishek Nayak, CEO & Co-Founder of Appsmith, talks about his passion for pottery, how it has helped him improve his skills as a manager, creating an open work culture in a remote environment, and much more!
• Getting into pottery
• Improving focus
• Skills from pottery that translate to being a CEO
• Patience as a manager
• Working with others who also have hobbies
• How Appsmith encourages an open work environment
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Welcome to Episode 571 of What’s Your “And?” This is John Garrett. And each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby, or a passion, or an interest outside of work. And to put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work. It’s the answer to the question of who else are you besides the job title.
And if you like what the show’s about, be sure to check out the award-winning book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. The book goes more in-depth with the research behind why these outside of work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. And I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and writing such nice reviews on Amazon and, more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
And if you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audiobooks. And please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every weekend. And this week is no different with my guest, Abhishek Nayak. He’s the CEO and cofounder of Appsmith based out of Bangalore, India. And now, he’s with me here today. Abhishek, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Abhishek: Oh, hi, John. Lovely to be with you. And you know, I’m excited to talk about everything that’s non-work.
John: Right? Just the human side to you, man. It’s so much fun.
John: I’m just gonna blow the door open here right away with some 17 rapid fire questions. Get to know Abhishek on a new level here. So, let’s start with maybe an easy one. Favorite color?
Abhishek: Thanks pink.
John: Pink! Really? Okay. Nice. Very good. I love it. That’s awesome. How about a least favorite color?
Abhishek: Least favorite is I would say like white.
John: White? Okay. Yeah, it’s a little too bright. How about a favorite season? Summer, winter, spring, or fall?
Abhishek: I’m gonna give you an Indian season. Monsoon. Lots of rain. Lots of greenery.
John: Okay. I love it.
John: That’s great. That’s so perfect. Yeah. ‘Cause I was curious just how that would play out, but monsoon season, okay, ’cause it’s more green and lush. And yeah, that’s fantastic.
Abhishek: Yeah. Yeah.
John: Very cool. How about when it comes to puzzles? Sudoku, crossword, a jigsaw puzzle, maybe Wordle. That’s a big one.
Abhishek: Jigsaw puzzle.
John: Oh, okay. The pictures.
John: Okay. How about a favorite sports team?
Abhishek: So I don’t actually watch too many sports or any sports to be honest. That’s a fact. But if it’s a sport I do watch sometimes, that would be cricket in India.
John: Oh, okay. Do they have professional teams there?
Abhishek: Yeah, it’s one of the richest cricket leagues in the world or the richest cricket league in the world. I’m a fan of the local team, the Bangalore team.
John: Very cool. That’s awesome. Love it. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Abhishek: Star Wars very firmly.
John: Yeah, me too. Same. Same. Your computer, are you more of a PC or a Mac?
Abhishek: Mostly a Mac.
John: Oh, okay. All right. Fancy.
John: I’m not that fancy. I’m PC. Just very straightforward. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Abhishek: That for me would be Tokyo, Japan.
John: Ah, yeah. Very cool. That’s awesome. That’s very, very fun. How about ice cream? I love ice cream. Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
Abhishek: That would be salted caramel, you know, classic.
John: So good. It’s that little twist. I mean, the salt for some reason in your brain, it thinks this isn’t gonna be good. And then you try it, you’re like, oh my goodness. That’s amazing.
John: Yeah. It makes it so much better. Makes it pop. How about a favorite animal? Any animal at all?
Abhishek: A favorite animal for me, I would say it would be like the walrus, the big giant walruses.
Abhishek: I find them just exceptionally cute and just very resilient and family oriented creatures. So, quite interesting and cool.
John: Yeah. And they got the whiskers and they’re all ready to go.
Abhishek: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
John: That’s fun. Okay. Yeah, I love it. Okay. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
Abhishek: More hot. I’ve grown up in India, so I can take those sweat.
John: That’s what I figured.
Abhishek: But I can’t deal with the cold.
John: Right. I wasn’t sure if you just had enough and you’re like, you know what, let me eat cold, but nope. It’s like that’s what I’m used to. there you go. How about a favorite number?
Abhishek: Favorite number? Interesting. I have to make up something on the spot. So, maybe like 73.
John: Oh, okay. All right. Is there a reason?
Abhishek: No, not really. <laugh>.
John: Yeah. Well, I mean, they’re both great. 7 and 3 individually are great numbers. They add to 10. That’s awesome. So, why not? I love it. How about when it comes to books? Audio version, e-Book, or a real book?
Abhishek: e-Book for me. e-Book, and then an audiobook, and then a physical book.
John: Oh, okay. Last. Wow. All right.
John: All right. I like it. We got three more. Three more. How about a favorite Disney character or any animated character ’cause it seems like they’re all Disney these days?
Abhishek: Yeah. I think my favorite recent Disney character is the Mandalorian, if that counts as Disney.
Abhishek: You know, Star Wars.
John: Yes, that counts. Totally. I’m positive.
Abhishek: I think.
John: Yeah. Very cool. How about a favorite day of the week?
Abhishek: Favorite day of the week, for me, that’s the Thursday.
John: Okay. Thursday. Interesting.
Abhishek: So, Thursdays are my low meeting days, and that’s my day to get a lot of focus going, prep for Friday which generally tends to be busy because it’s like the last day of the week, you know? And I know that the weekend is not far. So, Thursday is my favorite. Yeah.
John: Very good. Very good. And the last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Abhishek: I would say the favorite thing that I own, it’s a statue by this artist. His name was Archimboldo. Archimboldo is this artist from the Renaissance. Italian artist. And he has this painting called The Librarian. And somebody made a statue of the librarian, converted that painting into like a real 3D object.
John: That is cool. So he took the painting and then turned it into a 3D object.
Abhishek: Yeah. And it’s called The Librarian. It’s basically a man who’s completely made out of books, which I really like because that’s sort of how I feel about myself. ’cause I’ve learned the most from books. I read a lot, and I connect with that character.
John: Yeah. The version of you would be made out of all Kindles instead of paper books.
Abhishek: Yeah. Exactly.
John: All eBooks.
John: That’s awesome, man. No, but that is a cool thing, man. I love it. That’s awesome. So let’s talk that pottery and I guess just creating with things with your hands in general. How did you get started with that? Is that something you did as a kid and then kept doing or got into later?
Abhishek: Not really. As a kid, I was into art, like a lot of painting, stitching, then music and dance. So I definitely used to be into arts because my mom is very much into arts, and she believed that every single person has to learn multiple arts. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a guy. You have to just learn a bunch of different things. So, that’s how I got into it. But I lost touch with art when I went to college, when I went to university because everything just felt like fun and parties. So I wasn’t creating much art, but I did get back into it after I met my now wife. So she studied art. She studied commercial arts. So she’s very artistic. Almost everything that we have in our house is painted by her.
John: Oh, nice. Very cool. That’s fantastic. And because you knew some of that and you could relate, then it’s like “Hey, I’m not just a bookworm or a whatever.”
Abhishek: Yeah. Exactly.
Abhishek: It’s like “No, no, I get that stuff too.”
Abhishek: Yeah. ‘Cause there is a stereotypical Indian engineer, right, who’s just so focused on getting things done, and not taking holidays, and just being generally boring. So I’m definitely not even close to that. So, yeah. So the way I got into pottery was my wife got into pottery during the pandemic, and she really enjoyed just doing all of that. And I wasn’t so sure if pottery would be for me because I always thought pottery required a lot more finesse and a lot of skill to actually even start with it, but my wife convinced me that I should give it a shot. And the thing that really convinced me to give it a shot was a trip that I’d taken to SF, to San Francisco. This was about 2-1/2 years ago. And I was staying in an Airbnb, which was right next to a pottery studio.
So every day when I used to go out to get breakfast or lunch, I was always crossing that pottery studio. And one day, I just decided to go in and ask them, “Hey, can I do a class? How much is it gonna cost?” And when I heard the price, I realized like the price of a single class in SF is equivalent to like 15 classes in India. And that’s when it just hit me, hit me that I’m such a fool for not trying this out in Bangalore and considering it in SF. So, that really convinced me that I have to give it a shot because the price difference was just crazy. Yeah. So I got into pottery. That’s how I got started into it. And the first few classes were terrible ’cause I was not good at it. But you know, I started having fun and I really enjoyed the environment, just the general environment in the studio. And that’s how I got hooked.
John: Yeah. And you’re not supposed to be good at it, you know? I mean, first of all, it’s not your job, so who cares? But you know, it’s your first time or first three, four, five times. I mean, you know, like these are the first things that you’re creating, but you see progress, and it sounds like your wife’s encouraging and all that, and it’s fun. I mean, at the end of the day, you’re doing it for you.
You are not selling these things or putting them on display in a museum. It’s literally just “Hey, I’m exercising the creative side of my brain.”
John: And that’s fantastic.
Abhishek: Yeah. And it’s a great way to make friends. I also get to hang out with my wife a lot more because we are doing it together and just having more common friends. So, that’s really, really good.
John: That’s fantastic. And do you have a favorite thing or things that you’ve created?
Abhishek: So I’ve mostly been creating cylinders, which are tumblers, cups, and bowls. Bowls and plates. So those are the four things that I make. I really love making bowls. That’s my favorite thing. It’s also a lot more challenging than at least what I found cylinders or plates to be. And the thing that I really like about pottery— Have you ever tried pottery?
John: I have, but it has been a long time. That’s for sure. What was amazing to me is how just one little subtle movement creates a groove or a thing and it’s like “Whoa!” Just the smallest movement as it’s spinning around, it’s fun to do and it just forms right there in front of you. It’s neat. But yeah, but it’s been a long time, that’s for sure. I prefer the Bangalore rates, I think, for pottery classes. So, maybe I’ll come over there. It probably evens out.
Abhishek: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You absolutely should. So, one of the things that I love about pottery is it forces you to focus because clay remembers every single moment of distraction while you are making it. You know, you can’t remove it. You thought about something else for a second and boom. Like there’s a scratch or there’s a mark that you didn’t want or the wall is slightly thinner, but it wasn’t supposed to be.
John: And then we gotta start all over. We’re going to fix it or whatever. Yeah.
Abhishek: Yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah. That’s a great point.
Abhishek: So like 3, 4 hours, you don’t have your phone with you and you’re only focused on what’s right in front of you. I’ve heard people say it’s meditative. I definitely found pottery in the early days to be stressful. So I wouldn’t call it meditative or calming, but it did help me focus and it did help me stay completely focused on what I’m doing right now instead of thinking about what’s gonna come later or what did I just experience before.
John: No, that’s so true. I’m sure it’s calming if you remove yourself from the outcome if you’re like “Eh, I don’t even care what it looks like or if it’s even a bowl” like by the end, then it’s probably calming ’cause then it doesn’t matter. It’s not outcome based. But I could see how it would be stressful. I would be stressed ’cause it’s like “Well, I want it to be this thing.” And I would imagine it’s hard to know when it’s done ’cause it’s like “Oh, I wanna do this, I wanna do this, I wanna add…” And at some point, you gotta be like “Hey, we gotta put it in the kiln and fire it up. Like we gotta stop.”
Abhishek: Yeah. Exactly. I gotta stop—
John: That’s gotta be hard.
Abhishek: …messing with it now.
John: Right. Yeah. Exactly. That’s awesome. It sounds like there’s a lot of this, but any of these skills that translate to work as a CEO?
Abhishek: Yeah, absolutely. I think the main thing as a CEO is that I’m a manager of people and manager of other managers. So on a day-to-day basis, I create emails. That sort of is my job. I create emails and I create sound. So it can feel a little bit hollow because I work with a lot of engineers and designers, and I look at their work, and I love the fact that they can put in 6 hours or 7 hours into one particular thing and create something amazing versus, in my case, I’m so totally reliant on other people to do all of that. It sort of like made me feel like my job wasn’t as important as other people think it is. And that’s when I realized “Hey, I think I need to get some hard skills, and I need to do something where I’m not competing and where I am doing everything on my own and I’m not telling anybody else to do something.”
Abhishek: So I play a lot of board games, and I do pottery, and I do carpentry. Woodworking. So these are sort of the three things that I do on weekends.
John: That’s fantastic, man. Well, I mean, I think it’s great too that you recognized like, you know, hey, I feel a lack in this area. Like I feel, you know, like you said, hollow in a certain area and I need to fill that in. And it doesn’t have to be filled in with a work-related thing. There’s so many sides to you that the work side of you is a really small part. There’s all these other dimensions to you, and you have to fill those in too and nourish those. And good for you for seeing that. That’s great.
Abhishek: Yeah. That’s so critical. And I think that’s what I love about your show, which is so focused on exploring that ’cause there are so many podcasts just focused on the hostile culture like constantly succeeding and the focus on succeeding. You’re stressed out on competing. And that’s one of the things I loved about pottery. So I used to be stressed when I started. But over time, I realized I’m not competing with anybody.
Nobody expects anything out of this. I don’t have to earn a living making pottery. And that really changed my attitude to how I looked at it. That’s something I bring back to work as well because when I deal with somebody who’s going through a frustrating time, unable to succeed at something, I sort of have to just remind them that, you know, in the real world, stuff takes time. You do need to have real skills and not everything is just gonna come naturally to you. So it’s certainly made me a lot more patient as a manager and as a CEO. It also helps me understand how much focused time somebody needs because as a manager, it’s very easy for you to interrupt somebody, just go ask for their time and attention. And it’s very easy for you to do that. But in pottery, I know for a fact that somebody distracts me even for like 5 seconds, just calls my name out, that’s gone. That bowl is gone.
John: Right. Yeah. That’s such a great point, man. You know, it’s almost like all managers should have to take pottery because then it’s like, “What are you doing? Like you’re ruining everything.”
Abhishek: Yeah. Exactly.
John: It’s so easy to just not be in their shoes or not empathize with those people that are doing the work. Yeah, that’s fantastic. What a great parallel, man. I love it. That’s awesome. Is this something that you talk about at work whether it’s the pottery, or the carpentry, or even the board games? Do coworkers and colleagues know about this?
Abhishek: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. So a bunch of my coworkers, they got into pottery. You know, my coworkers who live in Bangalore. So, that was really good. They really got into it. And I’m so happy that they appreciate it as much as I do. And I definitely don’t talk about lessons from pottery for sure. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever—
John: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Yeah.
Abhishek: …explained it.
John: Yeah. They don’t need to know that.
Abhishek: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: Yeah, it’s a thing. Yeah. But that’s even better. Not only is it a thing, but they came and they got into it too.
Abhishek: Yeah. Yeah.
John: And so, now I would imagine that— I mean, going back several years before that, are things different? Are the conversations different? Are the depths of relationship different now that you have that common?
Abhishek: Very much so. Because one of the things is like friendships are built on shared experiences. And that’s why I think at work you can’t have friends, but you just have a different experience when you’re learning something together at the same level. Right? Because at pottery, I’m not their CEO. I’m at the pottery studio. I’m just yet another student who’s sitting beside them and struggling just like they are all having fun, you know. So, that did create a different experience for me because as a CEO, you tend to be a little bit lonely because you can’t always hang out with your coworkers, and they don’t wanna hang out with you after work.
John: They totally do not.
Abhishek: So I use pottery and board games as a way of luring people into my house or hanging out somewhere.
John: Right. Yeah. But I love it ’cause it’s the human side to you. It’s hard to remember when we were 22 and coming out of college or university. And the CEO, or the partner, or the whatever like was super intimidating. Whether you are as a person or not, the title alone is something that people then equate to you. And it’s great that you’re coming down from that and being like “No, no, I’m just a guy. Look, I’m just a guy that likes to do other things too. And my job at the company is this, but I also do these other things.” And that’s really cool that you open yourself up to that. And I find sometimes too it’s the vulnerability. It’s your ability to say, “Hey, I’m not good at this. Come watch me be not good at this.”
John: Like that’s hard for—
Abhishek: Let’s suck together.
John: …a leader to say. Yeah, right? Yeah, let’s suck together. I love it. That’s so great. Yeah. ‘Cause why not? But at work, we’re not sucking at anything. But like at pottery, we’re all learning. I love it, man. And how much is it on an organization or leadership do you feel to create that space for people to share their “and” or how much is it on the individual to just maybe in their little small circle of peers just start talking about it?
Abhishek: So we are a fully remote team. Yeah. Everybody works from home.
John: Oh, wow.
Abhishek: Yeah. So we are a fully remote team. So this sort of sharing about your hobbies, your life, it has to be intentional. So we have like dedicated Slack channels where people share some of the work that they’re doing. Some people are musicians, some people are gamers, others like to do photography. Just lots of varied people. One of the things that I have noticed though because I have hobbies— So I do like to work with people who also have hobbies. And I like to be friends with people who also have hobbies. That’s just something that I’ve seen that I just get along well with people who don’t take one aspect of their life too seriously.
Look at it as a whole and love to play and not just be serious about it. So I think like, yeah, at Appsmith, I believe like most people have hobbies. They do something or the other. Something that’s interesting. And that as a culture we do encourage because I as a CEO, I’m telling people that “Hey, on Saturdays and Sundays, I go do pottery, or I do woodworking, or I’m playing games. I’m not replying to emails.” So I’m definitely leading that by example that be productive through the day, through the week, be focused, get the work done. And that’s enough for you to go and do really well.
John: Yeah. I love that so much, man. And it’s such a great example so then people don’t feel scared or it’s a trap. “He said go do things, but no, no, he’s doing them too.” And you’re sharing it. And I love it so much, man. That’s so great. I wish more leaders would just do that by default. Such a great example for everybody listening. And this has been so much fun, Abhishek. And I feel like since I so rudely asked you so many questions at the beginning, that we should turn the tables and we make this the Abhishek Nayak podcast. And I’m now the guest. You are the host. Whatever questions you wanna ask me, I’m all yours.
Abhishek: Great. So I haven’t read your book. I was wondering, why did you write a book? It’s hard, right, writing a book, like—
John: It’s so hard. It’s funny ’cause I speak at a lot of conferences. And so, I was speaking about this message that there’s a human there with other dimensions to who they are. And to help organizations, you should shine a light on these other sides of the people ’cause that’s what really lights up their soul. There’s more to a person than your job. And people would come up and say, “Hey, my manager really needs to hear this. Do you have a book? ‘Cause I can’t tell them properly, do you have a book for me to give them to read?” And I was like “Who writes books? Like old people. I’m not like a professor or like whatever.”
So after enough people asked, I was like “Well, this book needs to get written.” And it’s not a book that’s already out there. I think there’s a lot of books, and I don’t wanna write another book that’s the same as already ones that are out there. It’s too hard to do when it already exists. So, that’s really why, was to be able to then have people share the message with others that weren’t able to see me speak at a conference or whatever, to have people be able to get the message in a little bit of a different way. And so, that’s really why I wrote the book.
And it’s been cool to see how this plays out ’cause it’s different for each company. What works at Appsmith isn’t gonna work at a company down the street or a company in another country or Appsmith in the US versus Appsmith in India. You know, like it’s just gonna be a different office, different vibe. And so, it’s cool to see how it plays out in the world without me having to direct exactly what to do. But writing a book is very hard. It’s super hard.
Abhishek: Yeah. Well, congratulations.
John: No, thank you man. Thank you.
Abhishek: I have a second question. What was your first ever job?
John: My first ever job, so when I was in elementary school, I delivered newspapers. I would ride my bike with a bag. Like the local newspaper outside of Dayton, Ohio, in Bellbrook, Ohio. And I would deliver newspapers. And then I had to go around each month with a little punch card on a ring for each person to collect their payment for the newspaper. And then I would punch the card for how much they had paid in advance. And that was my first ever job. Yeah. We would get the newspapers like early in the morning. And I would have to wake up, and go, and count ’em out, and roll ’em, and get ’em all sorted and put in my bag, and then go ride my bike around and deliver the papers. And it was a once a week newspaper.
Abhishek: Elementary school. Does that mean you were like 6, 7 years old?
John: No, no, no. I was older. So, that was probably like fifth grade, maybe sixth grade. So maybe like what is that? Probably like 12 maybe. 11 or 12 years old. That was the first like getting paid outside of like doing chores at your house and your parents give you like a dollar, you know. Yeah, getting paid from someone else to do work.
Abhishek: Yeah. And that sort of is the age when you begin to think about money. Right? How do I get more money for myself?
John: Exactly. I wanna buy this stuff and my parents won’t buy it for me.
John: And so, I’ll go outside the family to get my money and buy my Star Wars character or whatever I wanted at the time.
Abhishek: What was the first thing that you bought? Do you remember?
John: I don’t recall, but I feel like it was a Bruce Springsteen cassette. Born in the USA had just come out. I know that that was the first music thing that I purchased, was a Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA cassette tape. That’s how old I am. Cassette tapes.
Abhishek: And they used to be expensive, right? Music used to be expensive.
John: Right? Yeah. Before the internet.
Abhishek: Yeah. And you had to listen to the whole album. You couldn’t just get—
John: Right? And especially with cassettes, yeah.
When CDs came out, it was like “Oh, I can just go right to the song I want.” Cassettes, it’s like “Nope, you gotta listen to the whole thing.” And albums came out as 12 songs and they were all pretty good. And now, it’s one at a time and the music’s free. But if you wanna go to the concert, woo! That’s where they’re making their money. Yeah. And it’s expensive.
John: So, that took me back. That was good. You’re a good podcast host. I like this. This is fun.
Abhishek: You have a replacement if you ever want a break.
John: Right? There we go. You’re my backup. There we go. I love it. That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, Abhishek, for being a part of What’s Your “And?” This was really, really fun.
Abhishek: Thank you for having me, John, and asking all those questions. I’m really hoping that more CEOs and founders get into hobbies. It helps with mental health, and it does help you run a company better.
John: And everybody listening, if you wanna see some pictures of Abhishek’s work, or maybe connect with him on social media, or follow Appsmith, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. And while you’re on the page, please click the big button. Do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. And don’t forget to check out the book. So, thanks again for subscribing on Apple Podcasts or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.