Nikhil is the Founder of Get Real, a company making it easier to make friends via structured online-offline relationships. He also writes Out Of Pocket, a newsletter exploring the intersection of healthcare and comedy. In this interview, Nikhil shares insights on effective networking, relationship building, and much more! Find him on Twitter @nikillinit. Here’s his story!
Tell us who you are and what you’re working on right now.
My name is Nikhil Krishnan, and I’m working on two separate projects right now. One is called Get Real, and its mission is to help people make friends, online first and offline second, by using semi-structured events. I have a newsletter where I ask a question each week, I answer it, the readers send in their answers, I post my three favorite answers the following week, and then people start to interact with each other based on their responses. Simultaneously, I have been putting on a bunch of in-person events. The events include things like peer-to-peer TED Talks, scavenger hunts, a recreation of Hot Ones, the interview game show, and a lot of other online-offline stuff to help people meet.
The second project is an exploration into healthcare and comedy, that has initially manifested itself as a newsletter called Out Of Pocket. The bar is really low for making healthcare funny. I’ve also been filming a bunch of sketch comedy videos, poking fun at healthcare and some other things. They’re two pretty random things, but I’m excited about them.
How has COVID-19 affected your efforts to build something around healthcare right now?
It’s so funny because initially when I quit my job, I planned to focus all of my time on Get Real, because the path to monetization was so much clearer: charging for events. Then this whole thing happened (COVID-19) and now I can’t charge for in-person events. But there’s never been a better zeitgeist moment for good health care content, especially if you’re not familiar with how healthcare works. So now it makes a lot more sense to go all in on that!
How did you get from high school to where you are now?
At the end of high school I started my first business, painting customized shoes and selling them on sneakerhead forums. Through that experience, I realized the simple truth that it’s possible to build stuff that people will pay you for. So that was kind of the beginning.
I went to school at Columbia, and I generally wasn’t very good at school. I don’t learn especially well in lecture-style formats, and I wasn’t great at doing tests, etc. I spent a lot of time on a dance team when I was in college–we competed all across the country. I taught myself how to mix music, how to do choreography, and all that kind of stuff.
After college, I went to a company called CB Insights, and I was there for about four and a half years. I helped build out our research team, and then, more specifically, built out our healthcare research arm. This included everything from writing our weekly newsletter and putting out consulting reports for our clients to deep-dive strategy teardowns into different players in the space. After that, I was tired of “talking shit from the sidelines” and thought “I want to go build stuff again!”
I went to a company called Trial Spark, which is a startup changing how clinical trials are run, by turning private practices into clinical trial sites. About four to five weeks ago I left Trial Spark because I was really excited about building Get Real and Out Of Pocket. In hindsight, the timing is interesting, but I was excited to strike out on my own and build something myself again, from the ground up.
What are your goals for the next 5 to 10 years?
I don’t think that question has ever been answered by me, and actually been hit five years later. When I was leaving Trial Spark, I tried to think of problems that I would be comfortable with working on for five years, because I don’t think it’s worth it to start companies that you wouldn’t be excited about five years down the line–unless your plan is to flip it very quickly.
I’ve always thought healthcare was really inaccessible to people, even when I was starting to do research. One reason is there are a lot of vested interests that don’t want you to understand how it works. The second reason is that once people spend a lot of time in the healthcare industry, they can forget what it’s like to not be deeply familiar with healthcare. The third thing is that there aren’t that many good, objective analysts in the industry right now, especially for digital health. So in the next 5 to 10 years, I want to make healthcare a place that people are excited about fixing, and step one of that process is just explaining to people what those problems are. So if I can get people excited about and want to dive headfirst into the space, as opposed to thinking things like “healthcare is regulated” or “healthcare is too complicated,” then I think I’ll have accomplished my mission.
On the Get Real side of things, I think that right now making friends through the internet is a very stigmatized notion. It’s funny because I make friends through the internet all the time. I make friends through Twitter more often than I make friends in real life now, but if I tell someone who’s not an internet person that we met on the internet, they’ll give me very weird looks. It’s funny to me, because if you tell someone that you’ve met a date through Tinder, it’s totally normal. So for the next 5 to 10 years, I want to discover how to normalize meeting friends through the internet.
What does growth mean to you?
Growth involves purposefully putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. I’ve seen a lot of friends who have just picked a job and then end up staying in that career track, not because they really enjoy it, but because they’re just very complacent about where they are and have no desire to push themselves out of their existing comfort zone. So I think growth involves people putting themselves in uncomfortable situations, and then learning to adapt to that.
I also think growth is being able to change your opinions and worldviews over time. If you look back on yourself 5 or 10 years ago, you should have a lot of opinions that have changed over time, because you’ve experienced more things. So I think of growth as adaptability–that you can be put into more situations or more areas of thought, and learn to adapt and not stick in your comfort zone, either from an operating or intellectual standpoint.
What is one opinion of yours that’s changed over time?
My unpopular opinion is that governments should more heavily incentivize people to move to cities and actually help them transition to do that, because it’s a more efficient way to run a country. However, this pandemic has forced me to reevaluate a lot of that, because now you see what it’s like when your infrastructure buckles when everyone is using it at once. So I’m not totally sure what I believe the optimal country structure is. Even just in the last couple weeks I’ve had to rethink a lot of my thoughts around that.
How do you think about overcoming obstacles?
I think that if you would have asked me this question a few years ago, my answer would have been very different than my answer today. I would have asked, “How can I figure out how to personally navigate this situation by learning as much as I can about the obstacle?” Now my view is, “How can I find the right person to help me get through this obstacle?”
I really think that most obstacles that people face can actually be better solved when you work with other people who are adept at attacking that obstacle. I’ve tried to do a better job of bringing in more people to help me out with things, and then reciprocating with my own help when other people need it. In the past, I definitely would have spent more time trying to attack the problem, hands-on, by myself. It was almost a point of pride, a way for me to say, “Look at me. I did it myself.” I think this mindset shift has come from the amount of time that I’ve put into building relationships with people. I’m now in a place where I really feel comfortable leaning on others and asking for help. Now I think that going through obstacles is way more of a team sport.
What have you learned from building those reciprocal relationships?
You have to make it clear to people that you need help. One thing that’s benefited me a lot is that I’m very public about the problems that I’m facing. What’s been nice is that by putting these problems out into the public sphere, I always get a lot of people responding who have either encountered this problem themselves or have some area of expertise that allows them to be helpful. I think people really actually want to help, because it feels good to help other people, especially when you know, for a fact, that you can help with their particular problem.
The second part is being proactive about reaching out to people and figuring out how you can help them. It has to be a reciprocal relationship. Another benefit of me being a very public person is that people know what I’m good at and know that if they have a problem in that area, they can reach out to me. Also, whenever I go hang out with people, I try to ask them some questions that I think might shine a light on areas in their life where I can be helpful. And I have to be proactive about it, without thinking about what I’m going to get in return. It sounds cliche, but having a mindset of “how can I be helpful?” and actually helping people without the idea of reciprocity actually leads to more reciprocal help down the line.
What’s your take on networking within or above your level?
I feel like the worst advice I’ve ever received has been that you need to network your way into jobs by getting coffee with people or meeting people “at the right place, at the right time.” When I was in college, I’d go to career fairs and I’d get to the front of the line and have about 40 seconds to display if I was really good enough for a job. That’s just not the right way to think about networking.
I think the right advice is to look at people who are going to have really high slopes in their life, and whose potential is not yet realized. And I think just working with people at your level who you know are going to be rockstars in the future is the right way to do it. Especially because once people have already made a name for themselves, they’re probably meeting a million people a month, and it’s way harder to stand out as a person. You don’t get to see them grow as people. It’s a very imbalanced relationship where you’re just expecting them to sort of take pity on you. I think simply spending time with people at your own career level that you think are high potential people and just staying near them and working with them on as many things as possible is the way to go. This is one of the reasons I think startups are actually so great as a whole: they end up self-selecting for a certain type of person and you’re more likely to find highly ambitious people who make sort of irrational decisions. When you find those people, stay close to them, work with them, and help them out. I think that’s way more valuable down the line.
What are some dos and don’ts when building relationships online?
The main thing is be the same person you are online, as you are offline. I think a lot of people try to create a very manicured version of themself online, and then when you meet them offline, there’s this huge delta. Whatever very small amount of success I’ve ever had in my life has literally just been because I’ve been an authentic person online. If you meet me online and offline, there’s very little difference, and I think that the bar for authenticity, on the internet, is so low right now. Just being yourself and then attracting people that are like you is a way better proposition than trying to be someone that you think everyone can like, and creating a very polished version of yourself that has no rough edges. Just try to be yourself online, and you’d be surprised at how many people you’ll find who are like you.
Is there a book, podcast, movie, etc, that has been particularly impactful to you in your life?
This is probably a weird answer, but Matt Levine’s newsletter has really changed the way I think about a lot of things. Not only learning a lot about how finance works, but it also embodies a lot of the questions I think about, which are, “how do you use humor to make things more palatable? Can you have your words reach massive audiences, even if you’re in a niche industry? How can you be an authentic person online and offline?” It’s not a book or a podcast, but it is probably the most consistent writing that has made me reevaluate or change my life trajectory, and was one of the inspirations for me actually trying to start my own version of that in healthcare.
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