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.

An Evening with Latif

Seeking The Beloved

I attended an evening of Sufi Sindhi music organized by The Kabir Project – the evening was a wonderful experience to say the least.

My interest in Latif had been piqued due to the detailed mention he got in The Empires of the Indus, with his risalos being quite popular and a big celebration in Bhitai on the day of his urs. He is quite obviously one of the most famous icons of Sindhi culture. More about the Shah:

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689-1752) is one of the greatest Sufi poets along with Rumi (1207-1273) and Mir Dard (1721-1785), but relatively speaking lesser known. His poetry draws on the power and beauty of Vedanta and Islam melding the two philosophies into one poetic and spiritual vision. His major work is the “Shah Jo Risalo” and his poems thrive today as a vibrant oral tradition being widely sung, quoted and loved by both Hindu and Muslim communities in the Sindh region on both sides of the Indo-Pak border. He takes the popular love legends of the region and speaks through the voices of different woman protagonists. Sometimes he is Sasui, sometimes Moomal, sometimes Sohini and sometimes Marui… and through their journeys of seeking the Truth he expresses his own. His poetry creates a tantalizing dance of expressions between the sensual yearnings for the earthly Beloved and the deeply meditative yearnings for the transcendent Beloved.

What made the event outstanding was the organization – the music was completed by a sampling of Sindhi cuisine, including their samosas, tosha, daal and halwa. There had souvenirs available in the form of t-shirts and books. The artwork and the presentation playing in the background was absolutely fascinating. Shabnam Virmani, as the emcee weaved a number of stories and kep the audience enthralled. even the sign boards to the venue said, “Seeking the Beloved? … This way”.

Just putting down a few couplets that I really liked

all bear
some burden of sorrow
I carry a full load

I seek
sellers of sorrow
most have left
the marketplace

and

seeker
ordinary ears
do not decipher whispers

throw away
sell these
donkey ears

tune into the inner ear

The only comment would be that the second part (Waee music) was probably not very mellifluous and for popular consumption. While the authenticity of the experience is very important, the organizers should have kept public taste in mind.

Empires of the Indus

by Alice Albinia

image

The book is an absolutely mesmerising journey of the author along the Indus, in geography and in time. It’s an enthralling read – both in substance and in style, and if you are a travel, history of even politics buff, you should not miss this book.

Albinia was a journalist in Delhi when she got the idea of the book – she went back to pursue an M.A. in South Asian studies to get the book in place, and what an effort it has been. Alice starts at the mouth of the Indus, where the river empties itself in the sea, and moves up – over its now dry delta, over the stories of the migrants from Africa, over the temples and masjids of Sufi Saints and Zindapir, over Guru Nanak’s legacy, surviving the Khyber Pass, recounting the spread of Buddhism, experiencing Alexander’s war path, juxtaposing the richness of the Harappan civilization with the poverty of today, the solitude and StriRajya of Laddakh on the Indian side, right into the source of the river – Senge Khabab (the Lion’s Mouth) in Tibet.

All through Albinia comments not only in the rich history of the river, the giver of lives, the source of power, the epicentre of business, and the thoroughfare through which innumerable invaders entered India – however, the way she juxtaposes the richness of the past with the destitution of the present, both monetary and cultural is what makes the book unique and brilliant.  The source of the mighty Indus is tamed by numerous dams, its humongous delta now finds itself constricted, parched and impoverished, its verdant cultural and religious heritage is now restricted by the penury of current civilization. She laments the loss of culture, the wondering history of over 50,000 years that is being used as bricks in construction sites, the multi-religious tolerance of thousands of years which suddenly in the span of half a century is now under threat.

The book is a travellers treasure – all through Albinia has stayed with the locals, conversed with them, eaten with them, sat in their hujras (male guesthouse outside the house), worshipped in their dargahs, drank their majoon (herbal intoxicating confection), celebrated their festivals, lived their life. Her understanding and appreciation of the local culture and language is surprisingly accurate, her enthusiasm for going beyond the boundaries of safety in order to explore the river’s heritage, the hidden stories and poetry is laudatory – I salute her courage and her erudition.

Let me end this with a quote from Guru Nanak given in the book:

‘Lord, Thou art the mighty river,
Thou knowest and seest all things.
How can I, a poor fish, know
Thy depth and thy expanse?’

Check out the website at: empiresoftheindus.co.uk

PS: For those who might wonder, this review and blog post comes after a really long time – life’s been crazy lately, but a good kind of crazy.

Digital Media Outlook Report 2009

Found this report by Siddharth Rao of Webchutney on TalkingTails. Very interesting to note that the largest advertisers in the offline world are only testing waters online right now – and the real online spend hasn’t really started. Most people are (still!) confused about what advertising online means and how it impacts their business – perhaps because the trickle effects of a banner AD are very small – when you conduct a TV/Print campaign people come into the stores and talk about it,, and the sales show a substantial positive impact of the campaign and the information about this goes up the organization hierarchy.

The same doesn’t happen in case of banner ads, and impact on revenues of a single ad/campaign is quite small and most marketing managers are unable to estimate how its affecting footfalls into its brick and mortar stores.

I believe a more effective means of tracking customers trickling into stores after an online campaign would definitely make a positive difference. Hopefully, with the advent and ubiquitous spreading of mobile phones, we’ll start seeing a difference in the Outlook Reports of 2011 and 2012!

[Suggest you click on the Menu (bottom-left) and read in full screen]

Unconquerable

Read this brilliant poem “Invictus” by William Henley. Henley, suffered tuberculosis as a child, had his legs amputated, and wrote this poem from a hospital bed. It’s a brilliant piece of writing – full of glory. No wonder it’s been adopted by the U.S. Naval Academy as its class motto. [link]

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Hasya Kavi Sammelan

Hasya Kavi Sammelan

Was looking for some interesting videos to watch on Youtube today, and landed up on a Hasya Kavi Sammelan video conducted in IIT KGP. That got me started into a journey into the past. My father has always been a great fan of Kavi Sammelan’s (literally, a congregation of poets), and as a kid we used to go for many performances during the festival seasons of Holi and Diwali.

Great thing about these are – unlike the idiot boxes of today – the poets would mix humour with social messages, the humour would be very clean and simple, weaved together using perfect verse and recited eloquently. Those days are now over – what we enjoy today is Big Boss, and stand up comedy where in most cases men dress up as women and act stupid (don’t get me wrong — that’s also fun and enjoyable, but these lack the depth).

So, here’s a peep into the past and a few verses I discovered today. I’ll start with Ashok Chakradhar in his brilliant Buddhe Bacche aka Galiyaan:

Moving next, the brilliant poet who creates humour with a straight face, Surendra Sharma:

Continuing the Haryanvi Streak of Humour, Arun Jemini:

No kavi sammelan is complete without a poem of the veer ras (war poetry), and presenting Hari Om Panwar:

Next up, is the grand old man, Shail Chaturvedi:

And thus, we come to the end of the ceremony with Shailesh Lodha, a young poet but worth a watch:

Thank you guys! And hope you enjoyed the show :)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,844 other followers

%d bloggers like this: