We are the Champions: Lessons for a Startup

Champions

Congratulations on the World Cup Victory! A nation’s hopes have been pinned on this victory and this is what our boys have achieved in Mumbai. A billion (and a quarter) hearts pounding together can product a massive impact, and it’s in that din and glory that we will always remember forever our lives.

The Cup of Victory

A victory, however, doesn’t come easy. It takes years of hard work, it takes months of preparation, a lifetime of determination and all that culminates in that one day when all your hard work can either puff up in smoke or create a bang that lifts a nation’s spirits. Champions are forged in this journey – people the nation looks up to, ordinary folks like you and I – who came into this journey as boys but leave as men who leave a mark. However, individual brilliance cannot win alone – the Indian victory was a true team effort – where each man worked harder, complemented each other, backed up his neighbour, and produced a result that far grander than an individual performance – they all gave it their 200% to achieve what not many of us have seen in our own lifetime – a World Cup victory. It’s the story of believing in yourself, it’s the story of the silence that you feel when the whole stadium is erupting but all you see is the next ball. It is the story of chasing a dream – a shooting star, a wish, an idea, a passion – whose true denouement is the victory lap.

In a startup, we chase a similar dream. It’s born of an idea – an idea that we can build something that is larger than ourselves, an idea that one has the ability to build a winning company that the hearts and minds of its employees, customers, stakeholders all around. An idea that innovation can produce a killer product and when you back it up with awe inspiring service – it produces a cracker and the world sits up and takes notice.

Most importantly, it needs the team, its employees to have played like champions. Each an every person – from the smallest right upto the top, has to play his or her part in this larger story, essay a brilliant individual performance in this difficult stage, and at the same time, play the ultimate team sport, come together as a collective, back each other up, and come up with a whole which is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The most exciting part of a startup is not what you build, or what you earn, its about chasing that dream, living that vision, winning in each step, the small battles and the big war, the ability to do something for which one is known always. It’s a long and arduous journey – its never gonna be easy, but its your co-passengers who make sure it never gets too hard. It’s a journey of following an idea till you get to an appropriate climax – and even if the climax is not to your expectations, in most cases you would enjoy the journey. Because at the end of this journey, we would have been there and done that. It’s never about where you end up – it *IS* about chasing a dream.

Congratulations once again on the World Cup win, but remember, the time is NOW.

The Maruti Story

by R.C. Bhargava

Maruti is one of the few (perhaps only) shining example of a public sector companies in India to have achieved global competitiveness and made it big, giving the leading private companies a run for their money, and its story has to make for very interesting reading. What was the vision behind starting a car company in India? Why did they chose Suzuki as a partner? How did they navigate the red tape that ails most of Indian industry? How did they build a leader in quality, changed the rules of the game to make auto manufacturing customer centric?

Who better to tell this story than R.C. Bhargava, the man who built Maruti during its formative years and is still associated with it as its Chairman. In a very intruiguing account spread over two-and-a-half decades, Bhargava describes how Maruti was conceived, nursed, nurtured, grown and built into a giant of our industry.

What makes the story very interesting is the light it sheds on the changing face of Indian industry, since Maruti as a company owed its origin to the Emergency, nationalization, the license raj and saw through the changing economic climate of the country. The anecdotes of the author show how the company and the economy as a whole transformed, and gives us a view into times completely alien to our young existence.

I have read a number of books by the giants of the Auto industry – My Years with General Motors by Alfred Sloan, Lee Iacocca’s auto-biography, and I can actually identify with many of the things Bhargava describes as a result – the focus on quality, worker relations, dealer relations, focus on marketing and model development, emphasis on servicing – all of which were unknown to Indian industry at the time, and the way Bhargava describes how each of them were envisioned, and implemented, shows their foresight, strength of will and commitment.

Apart from that, Bhargava also describes some unique problems of being an Indian company – that too a PSU – where accountability and responsibility is a big issue. While we blame PSUs and the Government of demonstrating red tape and acting slow, the book also gives the lay reader an idea of why its so – most managers and civil servants will rather follow protocol and ensure that their decisions are always above board and measure up to the right standards of probity since the downside of being caught in a political storm is very high. Bhargava himself describes a number of CBI enquiries and charges of corruption being levied by him by political opponents who wanted to settle an old score. It’s only justified that in all of these cases, the individual manager would want decisions to be taken in such a manner that responsibility is shared and nobody can be “blamed” for any particular decision later. The fact that the Maruti management was able to cut through this red tape and still build a company of its stature is remarkable (of coursing, having Suzuki as a JV partner and blaming tough decisions on them is an important aspect of it).

Some key take aways for me were:

  1. Having a lofty vision and very high ideals to begin with are very important to build a sense of purpose amongst the team
  2. Having a shoulder from which to shoot from – and people who are above the circle of responsibility which enables justification of key decisions and pushing them through
  3. Communicating the right ideals of all stakeholders, and leading by example (uniforms in Maruti are still followed; I had even heard one of my classmates from IIT complain about it!)
  4. Managing bureaucracy, relationships, governments, partners can be extremely tricky and once again one has to be strong up front
  5. No compromises on quality

One grudge I have against the authors is that there are so many anecdotes that some of them are not as well covered – perhaps the editor could have given some direction on pacing the book well. Similarly, the book seems to sag in places and its easy to lose interest.

For anybody who really wants to understand the evolution of Indian industry, this is a great resource.

Clay Shirky’s predictions about the future of Mass Media

Just found this article on The Guardian site. Clay Shirky’s a professor at NYU and a scholar of Mass Media and the effect internet trends would have on them. Worth a read — I agree with some of his predictions (and presumptuously adding some of my own):

  1. Newspaper’s will diverge into 2 classes – magazines such as Economist which will exist for the people willing to pay for high quality coverage, and mass coverage of all possible news on the internet that will be available free and paid for by advertising dollars. Communities such as Twitter might help surfacing the right news.
  2. Niche newspapers and magazines will only exist online — the distribution costs for anything that doesn’t have economies of scale are not justified.
  3. TV will also change dramatically – The current state of the industry is that content is tightly controlled by the Channels, and hence to maintain quality, studios invest a lot of money (at least in India). We will see a lot of rise of amateur content, but only so much, since professionals will soon (and have, if I am not wrong) start publishing on YouTube and the like. However, the sudden loosening of the grip on distribution (since there are no longer any channels), will mean the quality of the content will change. Video distribution will be controlled far more by social networking sites (a la Facebook) than are blog posts.
  4. Books will be relatively less affected, at least until we hit a e-book reader that really rocks! My guess, though is devices like Kindle will improve a lot in the next decade or so, and might affect book sales greatly. Print-on-Demand will grow, but I am still not aware of how much it costs to print just one copy, so I am not in a position to comment. A large part of the cost if the cost of distribution, PoD will really succeed if the following equation is satisfied (since you will still pick up books at a store):

cost_of_traditional_book + cost_of_distribution_to_store > cost_of_printing_just_one_copy

The full article can be found here.

“IITians Impact” Survey Results

I just read the results of the survey on the impact IITians have had, and it’s fascinating how much education can change. The survey was sponsored by PAN IIT. I am traveling to PAN IIT this month, and the program seems very impressive. They have not one or two star speakers, but a full galaxy. In fact, my company Capillary is doing all the application development for their SMS based services. Some highlights:


1. Every IITian has contributed Rs. 50 against every rupee spent on him
2. IITians have a budgetary responsibility of $885b
3. 54% of the top 500 companies in India have at least one IITian on their board
4. 25% of IITians in R&D
5. 10% of IITians doing social work
6. One in 10 IITian is an entrepreneur


So much for Nehru’s vision!!!!

[See the full results of the survey here]

Our first media coverage!

Well begun is half done

Somebody had once told me — and nothing could make us feel happier than getting our media coverage during our first event itself! Check out the coverage on our team blog!

The sub-prime crisis from K@W

Just discovered a great resource on YouTube — Knowledge@Wharton has a channel there. See this video on the sub-prime crisis:

To add to the video, I have also heard that once the sub-prime crisis started making its presence felt, the prices of the homes the sub-prime borrowers had bought fell and they realized that the amount they would pay was lower than what they would get by selling the houses. That only precipitated the crisis.

There are more interesting videos on the channel, including this one — an interview with Sunil Mittal where he talks about entrepreneurship and his beginnings in the bicycle industry.

One Journey ends. Another Begins.

As I just finish one journey, a wonderful journey, at a wonderful place which has been a home more than home for the last two years — colleagues who have been more than friends, and seniors who have been such wonderful people, I can’t but feel a tinge of nostalgia, a small feeling of void that can not be put into words. As I started writing my goodbye mail, I found myself deleting sentences again and again, because I realized that whatever I might say could not do justice to the experience I have had. Finally I settled for the words of Rabindranath Tagore:

I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.

Here I give back the keys of my door
—and I give up all claims to my house.
I only ask for last kind words from you.

We were neighbors for long,
but I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned
and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.

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