Oct 7, 2023

Aditya Pai

Aditya Pai is a public servant and practicing attorney for entrepreneurs, workers, low-income tenants in need of pro bono help. He is also a 2024 Democratic candidate for United States Representative for CA-45 (Artesia, Cerritos, North Orange County). Aditya is an alum of Claremont McKenna, J.D. from Harvard, M.Phil. from Cambridge.

Episode Highlights

  • (0:00:02) – Nitin Bajaj welcomes Aditya Pai to the show
  • (0:02:40) – Kudos to you for starting service at such an early age
  • (0:10:58) – The goal of any campaign is to inspire public service
  • (0:16:53) – In 2022, $8.6 billion will be spent on federal campaigns
  • (0:23:57) – Michael Jordan shares two experiences that blew his expectations out of proportion
  • (0:30:15) – One line life lessons for any entrepreneur or candidate
  • (0:32:43) – Aditya, thank you so much for sharing your story

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:02)  Hey everyone, welcome to the industry show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj. And joining me today is Aditya Pai. Aditya, welcome on the show.

Aditya Pai: (0:00:10)  Thanks, Nitin. Honor to be here. You’ve had some fascinating guests and excited to chat with you.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:17)  Likewise. And you were missing on the list. Now here you.

Aditya Pai: (0:00:21)  It’s been great. It’s been great listening to some of the conversation and I’m sure we’ll get into this, but I’m the son of an entrepreneur and small business owner and entrepreneurship is very near and dear to my heart. So happy to be on here chatting.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:00:37)  About this and likewise looking forward to hearing your story. Let’s start with who is Aditya?

Aditya Pai: (0:00:47)  I’d answer that in a couple of ways, to be honest. I am the son of an architect mother and an engineer father. And I’m really a product of those two people before anybody else. My mom taught me, as any architect will tell you, the importance of having a blueprint but not being wedded to the blueprint, because life, and especially politics, never goes according to plan. Right? Chaos. Entrepreneurship is also chaos. And then my dad, who taught me to follow not my intellect necessarily, but curiosity wherever it leads. And so that’s sort of.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:01:36)  How I.

Aditya Pai: (0:01:36)  Would describe who I am, is I’m a philosopher, not an academic philosopher, but just in the sense of what that word means, which is loving wisdom. Right? I just love wisdom wherever I can find it. And nobody peaks in wisdom at 32. But it’s a lifelong journey that I’m passionate about and is basically what drives me.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:02:03)  And with curiosity, being your north star, I think you’ll be fine.

Aditya Pai: (0:02:09)  You’re never bored, right? So I get bored easily. And so I just try to do things that I find interesting. Hopefully other people find them interesting or inspiring. But really, I’m just following whatever I’m passionate about and curious about. And that’s made me happy whenever I’ve done that, and whenever I haven’t done that, I’ve been miserable. So it’s held me in good stead so far.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:02:39)  That’s awesome. Tell us, what do you do for a living?

Aditya Pai: (0:02:43)  I do, you know, I’m an attorney. As you know, law is a service profession. Orange county are major industries. They’re all service based. And I define service pretty broadly, which is just as connection. Right. If you connect with someone you care about, someone you will naturally want to contribute to their life in some way. And I kind of got involved at an early age with the Orange County Red Cross, which was very impactful. I did that for three years as a teenager and then just never stopped. Got involved in democratic politics, habitat for Humanity, did a couple of thousand hours of pro bono civil legal aid work. And so whether it’s been small business oriented, nonprofits, academia, or now politics service, and being a public servant is what I hope to be my North Star.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:03:49)  And you’ve been raised with the right values, and going back and giving back to the community is something we have talked about a lot, and that’s something that drives you, motivates you, and is more than a passion for you and really glad that you’re doing what you do, because it really takes a lot of effort, and a lot of this ends up being a thankless job. So kudos to you and for doing this at such an early age. So congratulations.

Aditya Pai: (0:04:24)  Yes, thank you. That means a lot. It’s a pleasure. And what I learned, or have learned time and time again, is you do service to make a difference for others and to transform communities. And I’ve been lucky at a couple of critical points in my life to be part of transforming communities. But if you’re not careful, you can miss the most important transformation, which is in yourself. So although it might appear like it’s something that’s altruistic, the reason that I identify as a philosopher is really, it’s a deeply personal motivation, which is that I just learn the most when I’m out in community, when I’m serving others. You just learn so much. And I did a fair amount of formal education, but there are things that you can learn from just listening to people. Wherever it is you live, you could never find in any book, because fundamentally, books are static mediums, right? You write something down. It’s inherently about the past. People are dynamic, right? People are constantly moving, constantly changing. And most of the wisest people you’ll ever meet will never write a book. They’ll never go on a podcast like this. So you just have to talk to people. And so I got into politics not because I’m naturally an extrovert.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:05:57)  I’m not, actually.

Aditya Pai: (0:05:58)  I’m an only child. I’m an immigrant. When I moved here, I had an accent. People made fun of me. I looked funny, I dressed funny, I sounded funny. But I was an only child. So the only way that I was going to have friends was I had to get out there. And service gave me a vehicle, an excuse, really, for a shy person to meet strangers, to make friends, to integrate into this country. I moved to this country when I was almost nine years old. So half my childhood I spent in India. And so for me, that’s always been the motivation. It’s connection. And then through that, I learned, wow, I actually learned so much that the curiosity keeps me going, but it’s really the combination of curiosity and contribution that motivates me to keep doing this.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:06:44)  Basically, you said that in such beautiful words, and you spoke your heart because I know this is how you live. And that message is so important, even for immigrants that have been here for so long or children that were born here to immigrant parents, because a lot of them feel that same challenge, those same issues. And to be able to hear what you just said, I think that’s a powerful message. So again, kudos to you for being able to do that. Coming here at such an early young age and facing all of those problems as I would state that. Right, a lot of name calling, a lot of bullying that happens when you look funny, you sound funny. And we’ve all faced that in many different ways, some more than others. But to overcome all of that and continue to provide service to any and everyone around you, especially the ones who deserve it the most, I can’t thank you enough.

Aditya Pai: (0:07:52)  It’s a pleasure. And you don’t have to thank me. And what you just said is actually the reason that I am running for know, I’m running for Congress in particular because I’m deeply patriotic. I’m a hardcore Democrat, as you know. But first and foremost, before any of that, I’m a hardcore American because Orange county did a lot for my family. It gave my family a shot at the american dream in a way that we wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. And entrepreneurship was a part of that. As you know, up until the time that I was born in 1991 in Bombay, India was a socialist country. And it began to liberalize just around the time that we left. And part of the reason we left is because my parents struggled to build a small business in India with all the red tape and all the barriers. And part of the reason I’m running now is I just want to give back to this country that’s given me so much. And then I’m running here locally because I want to give back to this place that’s given me so much. And a big part of that inspire public service is my message and tagline everywhere is to inspire the next generation. Because as you hinted, I was bullied. It wasn’t all easy. It wasn’t all roses being an immigrant here to this country. But I know that when kids of any background and young people of any background see another young person see another immigrant running for Congress and especially doing well at it. That inspires other people to do whatever it is that they’re passionate about. And it may not have anything to do with politics, but like I said, service is really the North Star and service over politics, right? Service over politics, service over politics, service over politics. I just repeat know like a mantra for myself and all the voters because people are tired of politics right now. And so my motivation is not really to get into politics, it’s to get politics out of government. So that government is more about service and is more about helping people and solving problems and not casting blame. Because that bullying culture and that name calling culture, as you’ve seen, that’s Washington, DC. And we don’t need more of that.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:10:20)  More power to you. And I hope this message spreads and spreads like wildfire because it’s not just here in Orange county that we need it. We need it across the country, we need it across the world. So looking forward to having more such minds, more such hearts coming and playing this role in our communities. So we really perform as humans where we are out there to help each other, not to take away from each other. There is enough for all of us. That’s what I see and hear from you.

Aditya Pai: (0:10:56)  Absolutely.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:10:58)  So give us a sense of the size and scale. You’ve been in service, you have helped a lot of people. You’ve changed a lot of lives for good. Give us a sense of the impact. Right. Typically we talk about size and scale of operations, revenues and so on. But what appeals to me in this case is I want to hear more about the impact.

Aditya Pai: (0:11:23)  The impact is really one person at a time. So when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night, I just ask myself, did I inspire one person today? That’s it. If I inspired one person, it’s a successful day. And so like any enterprise, and a campaign is just a startup nonprofit, that’s all a campaign is, right. But unlike most campaigns, the goal of our campaign is not to win an election. It’s to inspire public service. And I believe that by inspiring public service, we will win the election. Right. That’s going to be the byproduct, not the goal. It’s not the mission. And win, lose or draw, the goal is to inspire public service. So inspiration, I think, is key, because in politics right now, corruption is rampant, apathy is rampant, cynicism is rampant, and partisanship is rampant. And that’s not just the fault of voters who are not voting. We need political leaders and new leaders to step up and inspire people to vote. Whereas if someone doesn’t vote, usually people put the blame on them. You’re not doing your civic duty. But what about the other side of that equation? It’s a relationship, right? And so it’s the job of candidates to inspire people to vote, to give them a reason to vote, and to invest in the public sector, which is why I use that word public very deliberately, as rigorously and intentionally and with as much care for the value of every dollar as we do in the private sector. So the same way that you would diligence a early stage tech company or private equity intervention, why don’t we diligence taxpayer dollars? I mean, we’re spending historic amounts, right, at the federal level. We don’t know if Medicare is going to be there for people my age. We don’t know if Social Security is going to be there for people my age. And we get very few outcomes or results for all the money that we spend. And I’m a democrat, so I actually believe in the power of government to uplift people’s lives. But I care about efficiency and I care about results. And so that public, that word, we really have to invest in that sector and hold it to the same standard that we would hold any publicly listed company, which is what the federal government is in some ways. And then service, I think, is really the core, which is connection and caring about people over party, people over money, people over status, people over power. And there’s nothing with party, money, power, status. These are neutral vehicles to advance values. Right. But what are your values? What do you care about? So I think that’s really the question. And my core value is service. It’s anti corruption, it’s pro choice, and it’s affordability in Orange county, those three things. That’s it. And so that’s all I’m going to be talking about for the next year and a half, because the money and the status and the power and the things that you associate with Congress, those things are meaningless unless you have a set of values that animates. Why do you want that office? Right? And so that’s what I hope to do, is tell people why I want this and to earn their trust and respect, trust and respect of the voters. And so it’s not about being liked. It’s not about necessarily agreeing with me all the time. People may not agree with everything that I say, but I hope to earn their trust with the quality of my intentions and with the intensity of my work ethic. If I do that, I will be really happy at the end of this, regardless of the electoral outcome.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:15:46)  And I love this because you’re not even campaigning and you’re flawless. And I don’t know anything about politics, but I’m afraid for your competition, whoever that is, because you’re not even campaigning right now. So it’s crazy. I would love for you to be heard more and be out.

Aditya Pai: (0:16:10)  Yeah, we’re working on that. I mean, I don’t want to telegraph the strategy on a public forum. Just say that it will reach people. And we are working on channels, distribution channels for the product. And the product is not me. The product is the platform and the set of values and my ability to recruit and inspire a team to execute on those values, period. Right. I’m the CEO of this nonprofit startup, and I want the voters in this district to hire me to be their CEO visa vis the federal government. Right. And be accountable to them. They’re my shareholders. They’re my voters. Right. They’re my investors. And so to speaking about scale, just to give you a sense, in 2022, $8.6 billion were spent on federal campaigns. $8.6 billion. So that’s Senate races, House races, president. Right. And most of those campaigns fail. So just think about the dead weight loss, which is a euphemism for waste, all that money that could be spent improving the community. So the first innovation of our campaign is I want to put a meaningful percentage of our campaign budget towards service events in the district. Because even if we win, lose, or draw, I want to be able to say that the community is better off. Because I ran for Congress.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:17:39)  Yes.

Aditya Pai: (0:17:40)  Whether I won or not, that’s number one. And that goes to the trust piece, because why should voters believe that I’m about service? Every politician says that.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:17:50)  Right?

Aditya Pai: (0:17:51)  So actions speak louder and so executing on those actions. So we’ve done a couple of pilot programs where I just have done legal literacy workshops around homeownership and renters rights. Partnering with local nonprofits, which is my passionate area of expertise, is housing law. So that’s kind of where we start. But I want to do free therapy sessions, especially particularly in immigrant communities. The district is a third asian, 20% majority minority, a third immigrant. This is just registered voters.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:18:21)  Okay.

Aditya Pai: (0:18:22)  As you know, there’s a stigma in our community and most immigrant communities around seeking help on mental health. I want to do free college admissions workshops because I was able to go to some of the best universities in the world because I had mentors and public school teachers. Right. We didn’t have a lot of money to buy coaches and sat tutors and all that. I just had people who invested in me, and so I want to invest in the next generation who want to go to college or community college or trade school or whatever to get an education. So that’s really the heart of the campaign. And so I believe that it will really reach people because it’s funny you say like, you’re not really campaigning. That’s the greatest compliment you could give me. Because my goal is not to be a politician. I don’t want to be a politician. I want to be a public servant. And there’s a difference between a politician and a public servant. A politician wins elections. A public servant solves problems and helps people. Right. And a public servant can also win elections.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:19:29)  Sure.

Aditya Pai: (0:19:30)  Right. But the point is not to get elected. Right. The campaign in the office, a congressional office, is just a vehicle to serve people at scale. So when you’re talking about scale, it’s 716,000 people who live in this district, California’s 45th congressional district, one of five or six that touch Orange county. Of those, 420,000 are registered voters. So the rest are either not voting age or not registered or not yet citizens. About half of those people vote. So you’re talking about 200,000 people who actually vote. About half of those actually vote in a primary. So my primary is March 5. That’s like 110,000 people. And I probably need less than half of those to actually become the democratic nominee. And then you have pretty much a 50 50 shot, depending on how the election goes next year, of actually making it to Congress. So we’re talking about, I need to earn the support of 3% of the district to serve 100% of the district. And so that’s why I focus on the 100%, not 3%. Right. I need the 3% because I’m not going to get a shot to go into government without them. But my focus and my heart is for everybody who lives here. Right. Because they don’t have any other advocate in the federal government besides our congressperson. And our current incumbent actually doesn’t even live in the district, which I feel is distrustful, breathes distrust. And more than that, it’s disrespectful, fundamentally, to the people who actually live here and call this place home, including me. I vote here.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:21:30)  I agree with you, but I disagree with you on one point that you said at the beginning of this conversation, that is a lot of wisdom at age 32. So you saying that maturity comes much later for you? It’s here and now, yeah, I have.

Aditya Pai: (0:21:50)  A great team around me. And that’s why I was so excited to talk to you, is because I really consider myself, or aspire to be a political entrepreneur. Most politicians are corporate employees. What do I mean by that? Is they get a set of instructions and say, this is what you have to do. This is the amount of time you need to spend doing call time, which is dialing for dollars locked in a room. This is how many public events you have to do. This is how many trips to DC to have a candidate who’s saying, no, actually, I’m the founder and CEO and doesn’t mean I don’t need input. I need a lot of input. I need a lot of help. But at the end of the day, democracy only works if you have accountability. Right? And that’s what leadership is, too, is leadership is giving credit and taking the blame. If things go well, you give credit, and if things go badly, you take the blame. Right? So that’s what I’m offering to voters, is that you may not like everything I say, you might not like everything I do, but I want to earn your trust, I want to earn your respect. And you’ll at least know that whatever I’m saying and doing, it’s what I actually want to do. And that there’s nothing behind the scenes pulling the strings, right. And so you can vote for it or you can vote against it, but at least you know that it’s real and you have something to vote for or against. And I don’t mind people voting against what we stand for. But what would break my heart is if we fail to stand for anything. That to me, is truly failure. And unfortunately, too many congressional campaigns don’t stand for anything other than the d versus the r. And our campaign isn’t about d versus r, it’s about politician versus public servant. And I believe that’s a winning message. But more importantly, it’s what I actually believe.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:23:56)  I love that. And as we look into the future, I want to take a moment and reflect and look in the rear view mirror and invite you to share two experiences. One in which things worked out much better than you had expected and it blew your own expectations, and another one that did not work out as you had planned was a failure and became a lesson.

Aditya Pai: (0:24:25)  It’s so funny. I actually have the same answer to both questions. About a month ago, there was an email that was sent out falsely saying that I was suspending the campaign and ending the campaign. And I wrote that letter, but it was never supposed to see the light of day. And as I said, that’s 100% on me because I’m the founder and CEO of this campaign. And so really, there are no staff errors. When you’re a candidate, every error is 100% an error of the candidates, my name on the ballot. So that was a silly mistake, but it was also a huge success because it kind of unleashed me because even though it was sent by accident, people saw what I really was thinking and feeling and going through, and they said, hey, we want to see more of that. We don’t want to see the cookie cutter politician in a suit. And there are some credentials or some experiences that are good to have. If you’re going to be a legislator, it’s helpful to be a lawyer, actually, because you know a little bit about what law is, so you can work on what law should be and change it. But you also need people who think outside the box and who are authentic and who are real. And so it led to a total reset of the campaign, and it garnered a lot of earned media attention. So to your point about hoping the message reaches people, the message reached a lot of people in ways that I could have never planned or executed on purpose, to be honest. And this is where any athlete will tell you, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And so it was like the best mistake that I’ve ever made because it was so lucky. Our message reached people not just here locally, but we got voicemails on the campaign of encouragement, of support. And so it made me kind of rethink this whole thing of, like, campaigns are usually about money and endorsements, but at the end of the day, what wins elections is votes. And so is it helpful to have money and endorsements to get votes? Yeah, absolutely. On the other hand, one of the things that I believe is that I’m not running for Congress. I’m running for CA 45 community. I’m running against Congress. I’m running to reform a broken institution that is full of good people. And so I’ve talked to several members of Congress, and I hope to keep leaning on their expertise. But there are good people burdened by bad incentives, which economists and entrepreneurs understand better than anyone, is that we’re all human, we all respond to incentives, and there’s no amount of good character that can withstand bad incentives. So the main thing I’m running on now, choice and affordability, two and three. Number one is anticorruption, because I believe that there are a set of incentives that pose the biggest challenge I face here as a young candidate, which is the corruption and the toxicity and the pollution in our system that discourages so many people from even running in the first place. But I also think that’s the reason I’m running. So in that challenge of the corruption lies the real opportunity here, which is for cleansing and catharsis.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:28:11)  Love it. Thanks for sharing that and sharing that with the honesty and transparency that you did. I know wasn’t an easy period of time, but here you are. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Aditya Pai: (0:28:24)  Yeah. I don’t know if you ever played sports, Nitin, but I played sports all my life. The only sport I was ever good at was cricket. And I was so upset at my parents for moving here when I was nine because I really planned to become a professional cricket player. Sachin Tendulkar was, like, my hero and he grew up a couple blocks from where I was born, Bombay and Marathi as well. So same ethnic community. And then when I came here, I was like, well, I can’t do that anymore. So I played basketball, organized basketball for eight years and I didn’t make my high school basketball team. And then I was like, well, neither did Michael Jordan. So I tried out again. I didn’t make it again. And then, so I joined the football team thinking I’ll get in shape for basketball. And I wasn’t that interested in football and I failed to get on the basketball team. But football taught me more about politics than just about anything else of any sport. And politics is very much a sport and a tainted sport. It’s really the most like football. And the thing you learn in football is you learn how to take a hit, you develop high pain tolerance. And so I never was interested in football for its own sake, but it kind of, by mistake, taught me a lot of the lessons that I draw on now. And so when that email snafu happened, I was like, well, you got sacked, right? You got your ass kicked. Okay, well, you got to get back up and you have to make it be stronger because that’s what good football players do. They kind of take the hit and they keep on chugging. Yeah. I appreciate the empathy, but it’s probably one of, looking back, one of the better things that has happened.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:30:15)  Now, I want to move us into my favorite part of the show, which we call the one line life lessons. I’d love for you to share a few of yours with us.

Aditya Pai: (0:30:27)  So, one I actually got from my therapist, who, for any entrepreneur or candidate, if you don’t have a therapist or you think you can’t afford one. My recommendation would be, you can’t afford not to have one. And he has this great line. His name is James. So, James, shout out to James. What other people think of me is none of my business. And I love that because it doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Obviously, as I said, I care deeply about whether voters trust me and respect me as their representative. But it’s not my job. Right? For example, for you deciding who to bring on the show, it’s like, well, does Nitin like me? What does he want to talk about? Why is he asking me on? Well, that’s not my business. That’s your business. You decide how you want to engage and who you want to engage with. My job is to be the best version of me and the best candidate that I can be. And that’s it. So that’s one thing. And then another one I came back with, and this one is a quote from a rap song, which kind of relates to this, which is, if you ain’t got no haters, you ain’t popping. Which means if you aren’t attracting criticism, probably not doing something significant. Because the nature of standing for something is that people will stand against you. Right? So people aren’t standing against you. Well, you should really ask yourself. I really ask myself, like, what do I stand for? And do I really stand for something meaningful? And then another one, final one I’ll share with you also a quote. Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. And that’s Winston Churchill.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:32:42)  Love it. Aditya, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, your journey, some of which has been awesome, some has been difficult, but it has made you who you are and you’re amazing. And kudos and congratulations for the journey so far. I know you have a lot more success coming your way. Keep doing what you do. Keep serving, keep leading. And you have all of our best wishes and looking forward to bringing you back on here in some time to share more of these success stories.

Aditya Pai: (0:33:19)  Thank. Thanks, Nitin, means a lot to have your engagement and thank you for the kind words and feel the same way about what you’re doing. So excited to collaborate as things move forward.

Nitin Bajaj: (0:33:31)  Looking forward to it. Thanks a lot.

Aditya Pai: (0:33:34)  Thank you.


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