Archive for November, 2009

Tie-ISB Connect 2009 – Part 3: Taking India Forward and The Next 800 Million

I apologize for delaying this part of the post. This will be my last post in this series and I shall cover two panel discussions. Taking India Forward and the Next 800 Million Opportunity. I chose to club the two for the simple reason that they are, in my mind, related. You cannot take India forward without moving the next 800Million through opportunities and choices.

The panel consisted of Jayaprakash Narayan (Thought Leader, Speaker Par Excellence and Politician), Reuben Abraham (Exec Director and Asst Prof, Centre for Emerging Markets, ISB), Madhukar CV (Director PRS Legislative Services) and Siddharth (Actor, Rang De Basanti-fame). It was moderated by Karuna Gopal (President Foundation of Futuristic Cities). All of them you can check up at their respective LinkedIn profiles that I’ve added to their names :). There was an interesting discussion around “urbanisation” and the sheer obliviousness to the fact that, at the current rate of urbanization, if we are not careful we will need 300-400 more cities in the next 10 years. Are we prepared?

Siddharth was the surprise package (and I’m adding a paragraph on his talk here by popular demand on my blog for his speech summary). He was not only a fluent speaker but also displayed great passion and lucid thinking along with a no nonsense approach to the subject. He vociferously vouched against three things in India – our “rodent-like” memory to quickly forget the atrocities met to us, the habit of our media to sensationalize and the inability of a small fry in the system to stand up and make a difference due to the system. He cited personal examples of his visit to a CM to offer help for relief work and how he was shown the door without being allowed to utter so much as a word. His stance of, “If I as a celebrity could not make things happen, what can a small fry do to help even if he wants to. Moreover, why would he want to?”, had quite a few feathers ruffled.

In the Next 800 Million opportunity, the discussion was mainly around the issues and challenges faced by the markets and marketeers alike. Panel consisted of Sarath Naru (Venture East), Dr. Ashwin Naik (Vaatsalya Healthcare), Sandeep Farias (Elevar Equity), Manish Khera (Fino), PN Vasudevan (Finance India Ltd), Harish Moily (MYA) and MR Rao (SKS Microfinance). The panel was co-chaired by Vishal Vasishth (SONG Advisors) and S Sivakumar (ITC Agro). The best part was when the discussion centred around the fact that the rural people paid much more for a poorer quality of service they received across board! And, I couldn’t help compare the “so-called” Indian upper middle-class or “wealthy” section and the service they received vs what is available outside India. I think there is a huge value and quality gap there and I can’t even begin to imagine the negative percolation that seeps across sectors in the different parts of India and what poor quality of service and product offerings are given for the same/higher value to the “have-nots”. Talk about the system being unfair and the playfield being levelled? I think we should stop reading books written (with sponsorships, of course!) by foriegners and start looking at our own backyard. We will be shocked at what we find or, rather, do not find!

As next steps, so that the discussion does not end here. I would like to help create channels online and offline so that these thoughts can be crystallized into tangible actions. Anyone game for it? Thoughts on what we can do? How we can take the ideas forward and make a concentrated effort to drive action? Pls reach out to me.

When Entrepreneurs Came A-Pitching

I recently sat through a couple of business plan pitches at PES School of Engineering, Bangalore, thanks to Nandini 🙂 (catch her here – forstartups). Some of the ideas I heard were very innovative and can compare against the best of breed any place in the world(execution still remains to be seen – but comparing idea to idea), while others, lacked the determination to convert a “very” feasible idea into a business. As the process unfolded, some aspects were extremely intriguing while others were very disturbing and I can’t help but write about them…so here goes.

1. Students when asked to look for ideas somehow refuse to look within themselves, their own experiences, their own pain points and even their own strengths in technology/marketing/writing skills. Instead, resorting to secondary sources to fetch ideas. When your baseline (the idea) lacks passion coming from somewhere deep within, it will be hard to sustain on an entrepreneur’s journey. We found that those few who either built on their strengths or perceived/real personal pain points were much stronger with their business pursuing plans

2. Students not looking beyond themselves sufficiently – now this may sound highly contradictory to what I just said above, but hear me out. When I said the above point I meant about the idea for which one needs exposure, which in turn can either happen due to chance or can be created. So, if only students realized that the real world is beyond the four walls of their home and institute and the “coffee” shop they hang out at, they would know where to go look for the experiences that in turn can help them create valuable businesses. Does this point make sense now vs the previous one?

3. No “real” world experience shows up in their operational plans – students need to go out and get as many internships as possible. It is not easy, I know, but just go and get the job or do some freelance work, create opportunities where you are creating something real and tangible and you will know the issues you face when creating/scaling operations. I’m not saying one should talk like a business tycoon, but no matter what you are not ready until you are and that “readiness” comes with field experience of some kind. The next best substitute would be to talk to a lot of working people in your interested domain/industry, but, secondary experience can only teach you so much

4. Students not leveraging technology enough – most ideas that we heard, the students had not thought through on how to leverage all the hi-tech around them to get a quick and dirty prototype up and running in minimal time, while at the same time giving them enough time to do a u-turn on the idea while the investments are still really low

5. They are still thinking about “doable”, “non-utlandish” ideas – all I have to say is guys – it is ok to do a doable, non-outlandish idea, but execution will be key. If you innovate, you have a chance to survive. Also, almost everyone can do a “doable” idea, the top 1% in this country should be creating disruptive innovations (market, business or technology) for the “real” needs that the country is facing

6. This brings me to the “last” and the “saddest” point – all the technology entrepreneurs – awesome ideas in the domain of Augumented Reality, e-waste management, electronic bike etc. – walked in alone, while all the “doable” idea guys walked in, in large groups. If we are to create a large entrepreneurial culture, we need to create innovation through products and services and we can’t afford our engineers and MBA grads to be shy of technology and true innovation related risks. Pull up your belts people, the wave will wash you over anyway, you can either surf it or chose to let it wash over you

I’d love to hear comments and thoughts around this and looking forward to more bplan pitches and lots of bubbling entrepreneurial energy creating interesting solutions and businesses from India.

India Telecom Wars Roundup

I have not been writing about the ongoing telecom wars because I was kind of waiting to see how actions-reactions play out and what track all the new and existing players take….

Today, this article is prompted by something that I saw while I was driving back home. Inoticed a large hoardng that announced “MTS launches 0.5p/sec for entire Karnataka on all networks” and I almost let out a whistle..wow, that is cheap and it takes the telecom wars to a new circle. Is this a desperate attempt of a new entrant with a large wherewithal in the global market, willing to rough it out for the sake of long term.

Tata Docomo focusses on “full value recharge” and Tata Indicom showcases its “digital clarity” in prime time advertisements, but both skirt the main issue in the air – lack of good network reach!

Airtel, in the meanwhile, launched its one second pulse and matched the competitors, after waiting for two months and losing its #1 status on per month new user additions. Vodafone, Idea and Reliance followed suit. I have to say this though, Reliance needs to stop blatant copying of ads and get creative. Their per second ads look exactly like Docomo’s minus the jazz. Tata Docomo as well as Tata Indicom, I must say, hats off to the creative team at Ulka and Lodestar Universal. But the networks need to execute on the hype – FAST. (Aside: Tata Docomo’s  friendship train ad by Ulka has no relevance. The tune is catchy and the picturization is good, but I fail to get the point…and I love the “digital clarity” ad campaign by Tata Indicom showcasing how the advanced network clarity conveys not only voice but the emotions behind it also…great work Lodestar)

BSNL was surprisingly proactive, launching the per second pulse offer just following the Tata Docomo splash! Not sure, how many takers it got. Somehow, their branding effort with insipid advertising and mishandling of the “first mover advantage of the 3G” has made them the laughing stock of the town, so not sure how many people jump at their offers anymore!

Well, to begin with, I need to admire the power of free markets. Without regulation the entire ecosystem has jumped on a bandwagon rolled by one player, that can be “visibly” beneficial to the customer. What’s next, then? Call for free and we will play ads every 30 secs while you speak? Any takers?

Frustrated with Windows Vista

Well, I got Windows Vista installed on my new laptop and I’m frustrated to say the least. No amount of trying is going to make Windows do a “Mac” and in the process they destroy what they do have – the fact that people are used to using them! Few things that are really troubling me…

1. The “Up” button in the directory structure has vanished – Now, this is really gone….!!! There is no way you can easily go back up the directory structure. If they have thought of some intuitive way to make it happen, it hasn’t occured to me yet and I’m not Impressed. Sheesh!

2. Can’t find Add/Remove programs in the control panel – Well, this time the function hasn’t vanished. It has just been renamed as “Programs and Functions”. Seriously, did they think renaming it might make it more efficient? Why make changes that don’t add any value?

3. Pin to Startup Menu has been “apparently” replaced by Add to Quick Launch Area – No matter how many times I added stuff to that area – nothing was visible! I’m still struggling with this one.

These seem simple and silly at some level. But, I don’t want to do more work to “learn” how to use a computer with every OS upgrade, do I? More as they come….

Learnings On The Job…Taking Home A Career

This is my 100th post, hurrah!!! Please feel free to rate the post and leave comments, if the posts interest you :).

Looking back at the 21/2 years that I spent in the strategic marketing role, I tried to think of what I took away from the experience and here are some thoughts…

1. Joining a “startup” group within a large company is not same as joining a “startup” – Remember, it is still a large company. (Note: Subsidiaries and some “startup” groups might be exceptions, but, hardly!). A startup within or outside a large organization is always hard work, there is always reputation to prove and establish with customers inside or outside. The thing to know is, in return for the security of the large group and the subsequent de-risking, the upside is never yours to share (which is fair, by the way). Having said that, the chaos, the adrenaline rush of making things work is definitely there for those who love that.

2. Always evaluate what you are learning vs where you want to go – Map your short and mid-term career path. These should be available in your organization and there should be a reasonable process in place to get there. If not, you are at the wrong place, to begin with. This was such a glaring fact in my case, with the market not being in India. For more details read my previous post here.

3. Look at the size and location of the market that the group will address as an opportunity – the favorable order should be starting with a local, large market going down to a remote, small market. Unless you want to eventually convert the remote location into your local residence. In which case, it might be ok to make that sacrifice of night-outs and family time.

4. Stay focussed, learn a “few” things well – Focussing and learning to do a “few” things very well can be much more fruitful than attempting to learn many things at the same time. You can experiment a bit and figure out a couple of things that interest you, but after a few of months it is always better to focus. More so in our group’s case, where the temptation to get into too many things was always there. Truth being told, it is always easier to sell depth vs diversity whether you are looking for a new job or talking to the VC about a startup. (Aside: If you have both to some extent, great! But, I’m referring to a choice, if you have to make one. Also, some will not know what they like most upfront, which is ok. Knowing that you are diversifying for the sake of finding what to focus is a “good” focus in itself. But, most importantly, be honest to yourself.)

These are just a few generic ones that I can think of, right now. I shall keep posting more thoughts as they come along. As they say, sometimes a contrast serves the purpose of a “light” better than the visibility the most powerful light can render.

Shifting Gears From Semiconductors to Education

I recently made a career shift from Semiconductors to Education and I’ve been asked why I made such a radical shift in Industry. For those who want a quick answer – I wanted to do something related to India and something that would be meaningful to me in some way. (Now, I’m not saying that semiconductors do not make an impact, they are at the heart of the digital revolution we are seeing today and will continue to remain so, for some time to come). For those with a patient ear, please read on, I promise not to dissapoint you.

I’ve been working in a strategic marketing role in the semiconductor Industry, located out of India. My short bio – I’ve a bachelors in Electronics Engineering and worked as a Systems Engineer for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA from ISB, Hyderabad. The strategic marketing role was my first job out of MBA school (You can read more about me here). Now, come to think of it, it is a weird place to locate a strategic marketing group for the semiconductor industry. For those who are new to this party – semiconductor market in India is very small in comparison to many other sunshine sectors like healthcare, media, education, financial services and so on…as well as, in comparison to other larger semiconductor markets worldwide – China, US, Europe, Taiwan, Japan and Korea (and the order has a reason to it…go figure!)

There are some parts of the semiconductor ecosystem that are very robust in India, thanks to the outsourcing wave. Those include design (both captive units and services organizations), applications and even R&D (to some extent) but there are large chunks missing – which include the customers, manufacturers and in turn, strong distribution networks and sales and marketing organizations. Those working in the design, R&D and applications in the semiconductor industry aspiring to move on to marketing roles in the same industry post an MBA in India, I have dissapointing news for you. Those roles are very few and lack the growth opportunities that you would dream of, when you go to an MBA school. I get quite a few calls every month from people working in this industry wanting to make the vertical shift and I never cease to get amazed by the sheer kind of talent that this industry attracts in India. So, if you are in one of these categories or an aspirant, consider yourself warned and feel free to reach out to me for more industry dope & specific options…

So, is there a chance we might be catching a market at its nascent stage of development? After all, you can look at the glass as half-empty or half-full, right? This is a question one of the aspirants asked me, while I was explaining my above analysis to him. Here’s my answer. Well, semiconductors is a mature B2B market. For it to grow in India, the customers – the electronic design and manufacturers – should be a large industry, which has not happened so far. And, with the overcapacity in electronics and semiconductor manufacturing in other APAC regions, the likelihood of a large electronics design & manufacturing base out of India seems bleak. (This is not to say that Indians are not innovative or brilliant at electronics design. In my own previous job as well as in the startup circule, I’ve seen quite a few brilliant designers and I also come across brilliant product ideas on a regular basis from students and professionals alike). But, there is a vicious cycle in action here, unless someone manufactures their creativity and makes a big success of it, the ecosystem will not kick in and unless the ecosystem kicks in, the “big success” will always be yet to come (and I’m not even talking about Govt. sops here). Of course, there are always cheap manufacturing houses available in China, but how many people have access to it at their tinkering and bootstrap stages? That brings me back to my point about the need for “tinkering shops” and more so, in electronics business for innovation and ecosystem growth in India.

Over the past few months, I had to make up my mind to continue in my cushy job (knowing that it had nothing to do with India and was not meaningful enough for me)  or take some risk and do something directly relevant to the Indian market. I’ve been interested in the education sector for sometime and finally, I’ve decided to take the plunge . I’m joining a startup, Ariem Technologies, based in Bangalore as their Director for Marketing and Business Development. It is a new journey for me and I’m really excited about this role. You can expect to hear more about my interest in the education sector (some of it you can read here), my learnings on my previous job (thanks KK for asking this question) the company, role and their solution in the next few weeks…

Why Indian VCs should blog actively?

As I was planning to attend the Tie-ISB Connect this year, I decided to look up the various panelists online to understand who I would be meeting. I found most of them on LinkedIn, great! But, I found that most of them did not blog. I think it is a loss to the Indian startup community and probably, to the VC community too! Here’s why I think so…

1. VC-thinking process – way before an entrepreneur starts to create pitch-decks, they are looking at who to pitch, how to pitch, what is the right etiquette and more often than not, who is interested in the same domain as where they are starting up. Basically, they are looking for the “inside scoop” on what VCs think is a good pitch and what kind of team composition is apporpriate and so on…The VC websites only show up the “finished goods” – someone here got $$$ and someone there got more $$$ as funding. How, what, where and more importantly, why not – are good insights can more easily be shared on personal blogs (to whatever extent possible!)

2. Know-thy-VC – This is an oft-repeated theme at most startup meets and what better medium than the blog to get to know someone before you commit to take the funding? I’m assuming not everyone has a direct face to face access to the VCs while mulling their startup venture. (Also, reading a blog is not a substitute to reaching out, networking and knowing someone in person, it is just a first step) Over time, you can get to know what they are thinking, why and how they make their decisions. This will be a wealth of information for the startups at one end, and on the other might act as a self-filtration mechanism based on who has or not done their homework during the process of reaching up to the VC!

3. Moving beyond the one-session intervention – A blog will extend the touch points of the VC for the wannabe entrepreneur community from the  “one-session” panel discussion or the hosted networking event to a stream of thoughts, active conversations via comments and rating systems. This will encourage more people to startup as it will begin a process of demystifying startup and investment process.

So, this post is a special shout out to the Indian VCs who already blog – Thank You, and to those who don’t, to start a “blog habit” and enrich us with their thoughts and insights.


Blog Stats

  • 27,257 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,280 other followers


%d bloggers like this: