Dispatch #028

Subject: Startup Lockdown

May 11, 2020

To: US

Dear Everyone,

It’s been a long time since we have talked. I hope you and yours are well and good (I really mean that with all the love in my heart). Things for me are ‘good’. I can’t say great because sometimes they are extremely bad and sometimes they are extremely fantastic, so good lies somewhere in between. I don’t know if you feel the same. It is a bit of a see-saw–isn’t it for you?

I get this weird view of the US from India. I miss you, you know, but I am feeling safer these days here in India. It only takes a few stories having death counts, rotted bodies, and infested nursing homes before I have to step away from it, meaning news from the US.

I don’t watch much video news content and no TV at all (the TV is mostly in Marathi anyhow). I’ve been one of these obsessive news story readers, reflexively reloading my Google News feed.

And the much spurned Facebook is now how I keep track of you all. It’s has also become the see-saw of cheery memes, bad news, and now some people are dying. 😦 That’s what I mean. Now that lump is coming in my throat, but I’m learning to control that. Exercise is helping. Writing you after long time is also helping ❤

I feel safe and secure here. You know I’m living with my Indian business partner and his family now for more than ten years.

The ‘baby’ will be turning seven! She’s been indoors for seven weeks now.

Seems like she’s getting a bit stir crazy…LOL…but who am I to judge.

We certainly don’t worry about screentime anymore! This is the dry season and we had a freak rainstorm with proper wind and lightning (a rarity here). Once it died down a bit she asked if she could go out in the rain.

It was soooo cute. Her first time outdoors after weeks and she was spinning around, head thrown back catching raindrops on her face with her hands on her cheeks. So, I am happily locked in this safe little cocoon in India as unlikely as that may sound.

But when lockdown started I didn’t feel so safe.

You know that sweet little hotel near the lake that I had been spending the past few weekends before lockdown to ‘stay safe’? Well, there were cases nearby so that was converted into a quarantine center. And one of the only seven corona cases in the state was here in town, just a few blocks away, and lots of people were tested/quarantined, an entire apartment building shut! The young man, a local, had returned from the US.

That was extra sad (disappointing?) for me. I’m the only person from the US in town, and people are asking me why America has always been there in times of disaster and despair… and now this. I have to pause to let that one sink in. 😦 Some days I’m afraid the cops will grab me next, but that is dramatic thinking I say to myself (riding the see-saw). 

I feel safe because there are zero cases in the state now.

We went from freedom to quasi fascism on the first day of lockdown.

The cops started beating (mostly local boys and young men) who had dared the lockdown rules to go out (I’ve attached a few pics). They don’t have what we would think of as crowd control with pepper spray, tasers, etc. Instead, the cops here have these long bamboo rods and spank you!

Masks are required, six foot minimum distance, no public transport, bikes and cars cannot carry but one passenger, and only certain businesses are open and then only from 7am to 7pm.

What have I been doing since lockdown?

I was a lonely kid and had tons of hobbies and skills, so all that has been dusted up and updated. When I am not busy trying to ‘save the startup’ (more on that below), I am writing, reading, painting, sculpting, exercising, working on myself — mindfulness, I suppose.

So, I have bursts of creativity, and it has flowed over into my work on the startup. I will get some insight (while drawing usually) and go back to working on finding VC and brainstorming on things like a new product for ‘corona times’, and how to do our limited manufacturing with less labor and delayed components. Moreover, our QMS requires updates to recommended cleaning and sterilization procedures, so that will keep me busy as well (empties mind and turns back to sculpture of Easter Jesus, LOL, see pic).

More about my mental well-being: I’ve been prone to mostly internal bursts of emotion: sadness, joy, and anger (the see-saw is pretty complicated, maybe it should be the loop-o-plane?).

One day in February, when it was clear that we would all be dealing with an epidemic, I was sitting with my friends (who are all in their 20s), feeling a bit blue and wondering how things would change for them. I started to choke up–I think this was the first time, and I battered it back by becoming angry.

I had lived through the AIDS epidemic at the same age, and now something similar was going to come and take a piece of their youth as well.

It was a horrible heart wrenching epiphany.

It is even hard for me to describe it months later without being overcome with emotion. The anger quickly gave way to determination.

After all, I had come here nearly ten years ago to save lives and we have nearly 1000 remote ECGs deployed. Our stock is almost over, but there was still some in the warehouse area, and the complicating factor was my visa expiry in mid-Feb (I had to step out of the country).

So I got my friends to come with me to Nepal where we gave teleECG recorders to a local charitable heart foundation. It allowed them to travel outside of India for the first time, and they got to see some great Rock and Roll shows. I had no idea that rock and big hair was a thing in Kathmandu!!! Of course, we got to see the splendorous Himalayas and we spent time at a wildlife preserve. It was definitely the trip of a lifetime.

I’m straying, maybe subconsciously delaying, the subject of this missive: Startup Lockdown. So let me catch you up there.

My best friend (and intern) is a genius and a news junkie (like me) so he spotted the first corona story just after New Year’s. We tracked the story every day… several times a day.

A few days after the Chinese released the description of the virus’s genetic sequence, I sent it to our Angel, completely convinced he would have a test devised in a few weeks. He makes a PCR lab-in-a-box product and the viral tests kits to go with it. God bless him. His COVID-19 kits are now being heavily used. The last time I saw him (just before lockdown with my partner) I felt like I had been given some view of history in the making, but the meeting was short and did not end well. We had lost a major tender (government project), and had exhausted our runway. The phrase “small potatoes” seemed appropriate for our importance in a pandemic even though we make telemedicine ECG products and have remote doctor services. We all agreed we would keep the business running, but our last workers left as corona was closing in. Most employees traveled by bus or motorbike and that activity was forbidden. Now, only myself and my best friend go to the office and we got a notice of rent due two days back.

I’m convinced we will get through this. Dad taught me to be very self-sufficient. I even received outdoor survival training while earning my Eagle Scout.

On a more personal level, I survived the AIDS epidemic, so I have the ability to put things in perspective, and we are all healthy. But we are doing the ‘Saving the Startup’ thing. Can you picture a ‘nerds suit up’ montage? What would we do, crack our knuckles and drink coffee? 🙂 But seriously, I’ve been living lots inside a slack group (maybe one of the world’s largest?) trying to meet Angels and VCs, one of them related a story of how he was funded on the night he had decided to close the business which was very inspiring, and we have come a new product that we can get out the door to help with the pandemic.

Because we are isolated here in India there is no way to get a warm VC introduction, but maybe people will warm to us in slack and over video conferencing. I’m optimistic, so let’s see.

To close on a happy note. Yesterday my friends took me to a little field of palm trees in the countryside. Very idyllic. We chatted about lots of things–I even had two beers. My friends know I cannot go back to the US now.

The US air lift came and went and I missed it, but that was a decision I made. Maybe the hardest decision of my life.

But I was so happy to be outdoors, and it was such a lovely day. My friends don’t want me to leave, and they are protective of me. It’s very endearing. Before we left we envisioned building a home on the spot (one of my friends owns the field), a place where I would perhaps stay in some future timeline.

In sum, I’m safe, happy, and healthy. I really don’t know when or even if I will be back in the US, but I still love you and miss you dearly.


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