The Determining Fire

Leave a comment

ITBP - Women contingent

Image: source

Late on 15th night, I read a news piece about 500 trained women personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) being the first women contingent to be deployed in high-altitude posts along the India-China border. I was thrilled.

However, I’m also sure many may have asked, ‘would they be able to handle it’? Or, ‘can they meet the grueling job expectations, in conditions where even their physically stronger male counterparts perhaps sometimes find it tough’?

Well, there are capable people, okay ones, and damn good ones, both men and women. On the corporate side, I’ve seen a fair share of men and women who’re below average at their jobs, and those who are really exceptional too.

What makes some truly exceptional, I have come to learn, has a lot to do with the distance they’ve covered, and the resistance they’ve overcome, to get to where they are. Often, it’s also what drives them to go even further.

Distance and resistance are overcome by sacrifices. Sacrifice being the screening fire. Those who have been through it, come through on the other side with something extra. All they then need to do, is fight complacency.

An incident comes to mind. My office building has good security. Friends, clients and acquaintances who have come to meet me there have always mentioned it. From visitors needing to register at the reception, a picture taken, a gate pass issued, security at the turnstiles, and acknowledgement on the gate pass from the office you’re visiting.

As I entered the building sometime last year, I realized I’d forgotten my access card. A male and female security personnel were at the turnstiles. Many of them are on rotational shifts, and I’m not a particularly regular face there, so they don’t always remember me.

Now anyone working in India knows how we deal with things like forgotten access cards. Many people even know how to deal with breaking laws and rules the same way. Saying it’s a one-time mistake, it happens, everyone else is doing it, and so on.

Anyway, I walked right to the turnstile, and told the chap to let me pass, telling him which floor I worked on, that he could call and check, etc. He agreed without any hesitation, and was just about to swipe his card to let me pass, when the lady security personnel who was quietly watching us, stopped him. She politely expressed her reluctance to allow it, requested me to go to the reception and get a guest pass.

I was impressed to the point of beaming. Because, funny as it is, in our country, it is rare that someone sticks to a rule, a law, a process; and not because they’re scared or feel pressured, but because they understand them and their responsibility towards enforcing them. And this lady wasn’t the least bit scared or confused. I know the difference.

In many situations, people bypass such rules or even the law with a little pat on the shoulder, a little bribe here, a nonchalant ‘chalta hai yaar’ there, and so on. But not this lady, who was polite, but was in no uncertain terms, following the procedure, and expecting me to do so too.

How often do we stop at a red signal light when the streets are empty? And if we do, how often do we still jump the light if someone behind us honks, or other cars drive past without waiting? How frequently does name-dropping happen, or do we feel entitled without having earned something? How often do we throw our weight on people who stand no chance of defending against it, waiters, security, small shop employees, peons?

This security lady was one of those concerningly rare individuals we have in our country today, who isn’t afraid, or doesn’t feel awkward about being fully responsible for what she’s been entrusted with. Now all we need are more such people. Many, many more.

The ITBP women, as indicated by the news itself, are the first women contingent ever. Which means there’s a mountain of ice and glass they’ve already overcome to be where they are today. It is also why would they be just as strong, if not far stronger, and more effective than their male counterparts who’ve been guarding that region till date.

Koi shuck?

Advertisements

A Rural Electric Ride

Leave a comment

Hemalatha-Annamalai- Ampere Vehicles

While a lot of us are busy in our world of self-indulgence, it’s reassuring to know there are Indians like Ratan Tata, who’d go the distance with regard to businesses that positively impact to one or more segments of the population.

I’m speaking about the Nano in particular here, the world’s cheapest car that was inspired by the concern Mr. Tata had for a number of Indian families that traveled with their spouse and children on two-wheelers, and the risk that posed to their safety.

Now I’ve written a few posts mentioning the Nano, though I don’t think I’ve written enough about that business and engineering marvel.

Anyway, here’s a relatively unheard of company in the field of ‘affordable’ AND ‘electric’ cycles, scooters & load carriers from India.

Hemalatha Annamalai of Coimbatore, the founder of Ampere Vehicles Pvt. Ltd., has been making affordable electric vehicles since 2008, and she even has a focus on rural transportation. She is backed by Kris Gopalakrishnan, one of the co-founders of Infosys, and the original king of low-cost vehicles in India, Mr. Ratan Tata himself.

May there be more entrepreneurs like her.

Read more about her and her vehicles here: link

Stay in touch with Shrutin:

Connect with me on Twitter: @ShrutinShetty LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shrutinshetty

Websites: www.ateamstrategy.in & www.thinkateam.in

If you liked this post, I’d appreciate it if you’d hit the “follow” button at the top of the page so I can, from time to time, write and/or share select news and articles on great people and their ventures.

Think A-Team: For the Design & Strategy needs of Young Businesses

Leave a comment

14731307586_d66c1569c3_b

Image: link

Hi, all you enterprising entrepreneurs,

I am pleased to give to you, ‘Think A-Team’, a growth partnering service for all your business strategy needs.

By way of it, I intend to help you make your business challenges a little less challenging, and work with you on growing your business faster & better.

The chosen services are a result of nearly a decade of close working with entrepreneurs and young businesses.

While the services portfolio will evolve with time, what will remain constant is reliability, effectiveness, accessibility and affordability to young businesses that have had few, if any options as far as growth partners go.

Think A-Team

Give it a try today! And I’ll look forward to working with some of you enterprising folks on building your businesses for you.
Have an awesome weekend!!

R,
Shrutin

Look forward to connecting with y’all on LinkedIn and/or on Twitter.

To Drive or not to Drive?

Leave a comment

50 Years of the Mini, Goodwood Revival 2009

Image: source

There was an extremely interesting article on Business Insider recently about the future of driving. From replacing the horse as a mode of transport barely a century ago, we are now at a point where the big question is about whether to replace the driver or not.

The article approaches the subject of drivers and cars themselves, from multiple points of view. One, being that of Morgan Stanley’s auto analyst who sees a future that works on an Uber kind of model, where you and me don’t own cars, but merely use them as a service when needed.

The next view comes from that of a Citi analyst, who feels that owning cars is almost an irreplaceable part of our lives, even if, for most part, they’re just sitting there doing nothing.

Into the mix, come companies of the future, like Tesla and Google. Google, with their Google Chauffeur (the software that runs their self-driving cars), seems future-safe, whichever direction the future approaches from.

Tesla, on the other hand, might prefer to sell cars to individuals, the total numbers being more than it being offered by companies as a service. And with their ginormous capacities to manufacture rechargeable batteries, it may not be too bad even if the future of car transport is reduced to that of a service.

While this shift will take some time to come, what, according to you, might be a better way to go forward? Would it be the Uber kind of model, where you can hire a car (self-driving or otherwise), or would you rather own the car, and the costs that come with it, and use it only for a fraction of the time?

You can read the whole Business Insider article here: Tesla is in the middle of a debate about the future of driving

Stay in touch with Shrutin:

Follow me on Twitter: @shrutinshetty

If you liked this post, I’d really appreciate it if you’d hit the “follow” button at the top of the page so that you can stay tuned for similar news and interactions on businesses and what their future holds for us.

Mercedes self drive

Image: A Mercedes-Benz self-driving prototype

A Love Song for India

Leave a comment

Full-HD-Indian-Flags-HD-Wallpapers-Hand

I tried thinking of a love song for India, and couldn’t find one more appropriate than this. ABBA‘s ‘Lay all your love on me’. These four lines seem to be a perfect message from our country, to us citizens.

“Don’t go wasting your emotion
Lay all your love on me
Don’t go sharing your devotion
Lay all your love on me”

India | Independence Day | 15th August.

 

indian-flag-photos-hd

Bubble Telescope

Leave a comment

 

 

Is there a bubble forming in the Indian startup scene?

hubble_in_orbit1

The Hubble Space Telescope

Is the Indian startup space fast becoming a bubble? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

At the Goldman Sachs technology conference earlier this year, leading venture capitalist of Benchmark, Bill Gurley expressed concerns to attendees, of a possible bubble, caused by some over-valued startups in the US. His concerns were directed at the young companies that had almost magically reached over a billion dollars in valuation, which according to him, was largely fueled by investor fear of missing out (or FOMO, as the VC community knows it). He said that investors were making investments of sizes previously reserved for listed companies. Aptly framed, he said “a founder pursuing a $40 million IPO offering takes the process more seriously today than a founder raising $400 million in private capital.”

Another reason for his concern, was the presence of public market investors like hedge funds, etc., investing in the space earlier catered to only by venture capitalists. Bill isn’t wrong in saying that hedge funds, mutual funds, etc., have traditionally had a different investment appetite and strategy. FOMO, clubbed with this new blend of different investor classes and styles of investing, is perhaps what is fueling his growing anxiety of a possible bubble. Benchmark has funded numerous industry-altering young companies since 1995, including Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Uber, and around 250 other startups.

The Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club saw at least 73 young private companies valued over USD $1 billion this year, compared to only 41 last year. Nearly half the investors in some of the most invested startups too, were institutional and strategic investors, with Tiger Global (TG is an international firm that manages hedge and private equity funds) leading the pack with 12 investments in private billion-dollar companies. TG also raised the most money last year, $4 billion to be more specific, amounting to nearly 12% of all venture capital raised in 2014. (source)

Coming back to India, should this over-investing and over-valuing in US startups be of any concern to our booming Indian startup scene that is currently fueled by online travel, e-commerce retail and logistics, classifieds, online food ordering, radio taxis, etc.? Let’s find out.

Firstly, one of those aggressive investors that Bill Gurley mentioned, Tiger Global to be specific, is also the most aggressive investor in Indian startups. In 2015 alone, TG disclosed investments in over 17 companies, investing in rounds totaling to about $1 billion. Some of its investments include a $150 million round (series H round!) with other investors in Quikr, India’s largest online and mobile classifieds portal. Then there was a series D round of $ 100 million in Shopclues, an e-commerce portal. We could argue that the exact investment exposure by Tiger Global is not known, and could be somewhat small. Or that perhaps these startups are actually worth the millions or billions they are said to be worth.

Tiger Global, among others, may have helped inflate a startup bubble in the US, but that is a significantly different market than India; with a far more mature and aggressive investor community. Therefore, a race to get a piece of what is hopefully the next Google or Uber in the US might have led investors to try and outbid each other with sweeter deals to promising startups. But is TG’s strategy or tendency to overvalue being carried to India too?

In February,  a reasonably well funded ‘mom and baby’ products portal, BabyOye, also a Tiger Global funded company, was acquired by Mahindra Retail for an undisclosed sum; in the hope of boosting their own brands Mom & Me, and Beanstalk, that have not been too strong online. BabyOye raised $12 million in 2013 from investors, partly used to acquire another company (Hoopos.com). After an earlier round of funding in 2011, BabyOye spent extravagantly on TV advertising using a former movie star in the ads.

Mahindra’s acquisition to gain online strength seemed concerning, given that such a large group felt the need to acquire a small company with only 1500 followers on Twitter (now up at 2003 followers), to bring in the capability of selling online, even if the acquisition didn’t cost them much. And at a time when a lot, if not most of those products were already available on Amazon and Flipkart. Did that make good business sense, or is e-commerce happening so fast that even the heavyweights of Indian industry are feeling the pressure to jump on this bullet train?

US’s popular classifieds service, Craigslist, only had one known investor ever; eBay. And that too not for too long. And was Craigslist popular enough? More than it perhaps ever expected. In comparison, a similar service in India, Quikr, has raised upwards of $350 million so far, and we can only wonder why. To buy and sell other companies, maybe?

And just then, in comes news of a possible acquisition of the nearing-a-billion-in-valuation Housing.com, by none other than Quikr. If the acquisition does happen, while it might be a progressive step for Quikr, it also leaves me wondering about the vision of these startup promoters, with growth strategies and business direction that seems to be going all over the place. In many ways, this startup mania is turning out to be more of an exit ground for investors, rather than an effort to give the world the next great company that’s made in India.

Looking at the magnitude of investments themselves, a layman could argue that ‘the more the funding, the better’; after all, is there anything like too much money? Or for that matter, even a sky- higher valuation. Imagine the pride and respect in your social circles when they read in bold, the value of your young company. But venture capital and investing isn’t as simple. If one funding round happens at a significantly high valuation, the next round becomes that much tougher to raise, as does getting a suitable exit for your existing investors. Of the $51 billion worth of private equity deals in India from 2000 to 2008, there have been only around 30% exits, according to a McKinsey and Co. report.

Over-investing in companies brings with it, the tendency to spend it, whether it makes perfect business sense or not. As the world, and more importantly India, is getting increasingly interconnected online and socially, it is worrying to see the amount of money young online businesses are investing into expensive traditional media, with the likes of Amazon’s catchy ad, or Flipkart’s loud and confusing one, everyone’s on TV and on billboards, trying to push their way into the heads of prospective customers.

About 5-8 years ago, it was comparatively tougher for companies to scale. Building capacities, adding servers, fleet, manufacturing capacity, manpower, etc., took a lot more time and more money.

While salaries are much higher today, a lot of services and business functions can now be outsourced efficiently and effectively, allowing businesses to scale faster by focusing on their core business only and outsourcing everything else. The evolution of analytics, contractual manpower and everything in-between has also made it possible to have small numbers of people pull off similar impossible tasks that previously necessitated a small army.

All this brings us back to “how do we make sense of the heavy investments into these, still nascent startups?”  And more importantly, will such heavy spends only on marketing guarantee a successful future for these young ventures? How much of the funding is being invested by these companies into better listening and understanding of customers? Or on empathizing with problems customers are currently facing?

The notorious, multi-billion dollar Uber for instance, has an extremely light operating model, asset-light, limited overheads, and is highly scalable. But has it done anything to address woman passenger safety in countries where it operates? Not so far. Even Indian taxi aggregator Meru (2 years older than Uber) had a panic button on the app long before Uber decided to put one there. Uber waited till after unfortunate incidents occurred, before putting a feature that was so logical and obvious. So, if all that funding was spent on technology and marketing, why do customers still shower so much love on services that don’t feel the same way about them?

Between aggressive promoters and aggressive investors, focus has gradually shifted from the customers’ best interest to the startup’s and investor’s best interest. Online food ordering businesses too, for example, have built strong websites and apps, and have been advertising like there’s no tomorrow. But their internal processes remain shockingly primitive. Back in 2008, I had toyed with the idea of starting an online food ordering service, and had listed some concern areas that needed figuring out, in an effort to shape the idea better. While I eventually didn’t pursue it, online food ordering startups today, surprisingly still live with those same problems, despite the advancements that have happened in the interim.

The possible risks of overvalued and over-invested startups range from VC firms going bust, to startups not being able to raise the next round of funding and/or being made redundant by other startups. And with every startup that shuts shop, it also affects a large number of other individuals and businesses (like logistics, etc.) that have come to serve these super-valued startups.

And finally, in an effort to boost entrepreneurship, India has considerably relaxed rules for listing startups in the recent past. But this bold step will take its time to see benefits, since there is poor liquidity in this space, and the experience in valuing these new age businesses isn’t anywhere near accurate.

All this only means that while sky-high valuations of startups would make for interesting conversations with friends and a few rounds of beer, lack of clarity in funding and growth strategy in these heavyweight startups could be a matter of concern for these young stars of a new and emerging India. And India’s big startup contributions to the world would hopefully be those that are highly profitable, even more scalable, and most importantly, solely focused on delighting its customers.

Originally posted here: http://yourstory.com/2015/07/startup-bubble/

 

Curiosity

2 Comments

Curious-story

Image: source

If only the curiosity of children was as contagious to adults, as their smiles and laughter.

Older Entries Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: