Inside the mind of a unicorn founder

This weekend I hosted 3 of my husband’s colleagues at our house. One of these guests was Dhiraj Rajaram, the Founder and former CEO of Mu Sigma – an analytics and decision sciences company that is considered by many to be a game changer. In Silicon Valley parlance, it’s a “unicorn”. My husband joined Mu Sigma eight years ago and over these years, we have spent a fair amount of time with Dhiraj. Whenever he is visiting Seattle, he stays with us and we have had many profound, deep and entertaining conversations. These are unique opportunities to get a glimpse into the mind of a brilliant Founder of a unicorn. I’ve learned a lot from my interaction with him over the years – I’ve realized these conversations are a privilege and an opportunity. My observations may be useful to others who want to know how successful entrepreneurs think and manage their lives. So, here are the unique traits and characteristics of one such person that I have had a chance to know.

He sees challenges, not fears – I don’t believe Dhiraj is afraid of anything. Maybe he has some deep personal fears that I don’t know about, but every obstacle, problem or mishap is truly a challenge to him. He does not avoid, he confronts, strategizes and manages. He truly believes that he can bend the world to his will, and so, he simply does.

Change your ideas, not yourself – Dhiraj is not refined or posh and has never spent time trying to be that guy. He can be, and often is, crude and raw and has low tolerance for artifice and pretense. Instead of trying to polish his rough edges, he brandishes it with pride as his personal brand and has propagated many of his personal traits it as a culture within the company. At the same time, he is willing to change his mind and is constantly seeking out new ways of thinking about the world and the things around him. More on this below, but he has always been true to himself while almost always stretching his mind in new directions.

Interdisciplinary thinking – It’s fashionable these days to talk about creativity, blending art and science and bringing in an interdisciplinary perspective. Dhiraj truly thinks across boundaries. He is a keen and shrewd observer of the world around him and is always threading themes from psychology, physics, movies and even international relations together to manage his business.

Be a contrarian, take tough decisions – Dhiraj cuts through the crap very quickly and gets to the heart of the issue in seconds. He sees what needs to be done and simply does it. He doesn’t avoid decisions because they are hard– he takes the decision and executes rapidly. He’s not intimidated by decisions that seem unconventional to most people – in fact, he takes immense pleasure in doing so. He embraces and cultivates the contrarian label with a passion. Its uncomfortable for people around him but of course, that does not bother him

Surround yourself with the right good people – He is tireless in seeking and going after the very best people – the people who are the best for him at that specific time. Since his own thinking is evolving so quickly, he also needs people around him to evolve and adapt quickly. When people do not move as quickly as him in abandoning current (or old) perspectives, he is ruthless about leaving them behind. He needs to keep growing and does not let anybody slow him down.

Focus on value – He is famously frugal, but over time, I’ve watched him spend on things that give him value. To determine value, he uses his own definitions and benchmarks. The fact that all people around him value a brand or object means nothing to him unless he is convinced of its value to him.

Thing long term – He thinks incredibly long term. For someone who acts so quickly, his thinking and planning stretches far into the future. This is important so he can then arrange the world as he wants to in order to get to that vision he has created.

Providing for your family – This means more than just being with them 24×7. His chosen life has necessitated many sacrifices that I personally, do not agree with and perhaps could not make, but in the end, he’s providing for his family and their dreams and opening up unlimited possibilities for them. From him, I learned to not put the burden of greatness on my children, but to be great myself. Children learn best from role models and being awesome is the best thing we can do for our children. Everything else is fluff, and, as we now know, Dhiraj does not do fluff.

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