The secret to staying calm under pressure: Learn from Mahesh Bhupathi and Urban Company’s Abhiraj Bahl

Torchbearers Inc., an initiative by AWS and NeoNiche, brings India’s torchbearers from the sports arena and the boardroom, onto one platform to unravel their incredible journeys of hustle to success. In the second episode, Mahesh Bhupathi and Abhiraj Bhal share their experiences.
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Stress can get the best of all of us. But how do champions and entrepreneurs stay calm and focussed with long working hours, deadlines, and stress? In the latest episode of Torchbearers Inc., an initiative by AWS and NeoNiche, former number one doubles tennis champion and 12-times Grand Slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi and Urban Company founder Abhiraj Bhal share their secret nuggets that are required for the mind to stay focussed during testing times.

When Mahesh suffered a massive back injury in 2007 and had to go under the knife, as a professional athlete, doubts were fast and furious about how he would make a comeback. To that extent, he made a non-negotiable commitment to himself that he wanted to return to play at the highest level. Post the surgery, he spent three months in rehab, working out diligently to get back into shape and the results shocked everyone in the tennis world! Within five months, Mahesh made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

Mahesh believes that the harder you train, the more confident you are - that when you're in the fourth set or fifth set, you know you are as fit if not fitter than the opposition. That gives you the mental edge that you can outlast your opponent. That apart, confidence plays a big part. So, mental grit and strength is critical to be able to deliver under pressure, he says.

Mental toughness is paramount to delivering under pressure

Abhiraj recalls how the pandemic-induced lockdown that brought his entire business model to a grinding halt. For 45 days, daily revenue numbers were near zero. Traditional wisdom was that it would take a really long time before the business to bounce back. While many in the industry and the startup ecosystem were laying people off and cutting costs, Abhiraj went completely contrarian. He went ahead to hire 10,000 workers and invested heavily in the brand and training, in PPE and in safety equipment.

Typically, when things are going in a normal way, consumer behaviour takes a very long time to shape and change. But when there is a fundamental displacement in the market structure, it opens up a door of opportunity. Usually in these moments of displacement, most people will play defensive. In Abhiraj’s view, if you play offensive and contrarian, you can actually sweep the market. And today, two years after the pandemic struck, Urban Company, having turned the terrible pandemic into a business opportunity, is about five times larger than it was pre-COVID. “We totally changed our game; a lot of consumers tried us for the first time and trusted us; our brand has gone to the next level. And it did come at a cost. For a while, things did not look pretty. But it was probably one of the risks that we took, that we were quite proud of,” he says.

What to expect?

Hosted by Shayamal Vallabhjee, a renowned leadership performance coach and India’s first sports scientist, the episode will see Mahesh and Abhiraj share anecdotes of their trying times, and teach us how to inspire through value-based leadership.

The show has been conceptualised and presented by NeoNiche, one of India’s leading integrated marketing solutions providers. AWS joins as its strategic partner to reinforce the idea behind the show - scaling, adapting and succeeding, just as AWS has been able to achieve as the world’s top cloud infrastructure solutions provider for businesses across 190 countries. TiE Mumbai and Startup Talky are ecosystem partners of Torchbearers Inc. YourStory is a media partner.

The ability to keep persevering in the face of adversity, to fight through obstacles, and to never give up are what define successful athletes and entrepreneurs. While in sports, you need to adapt to changing weather conditions, playing in different stadiums, dealing with injuries, etc, startup founders need to embrace uncertainty and tackle it head-on. But the recipe to stay on the top actually boils down to conviction, hard work, and belief in oneself.

Watch the second episode of Torchbearers Inc. featuring ace tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi and Urban Company’s Abhiraj Bhal on August 25, 2022 at 4pm.


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