01 May, 2016

Just like that.....

Meine socha ki humein baandha hei ek gaada dor
Till, one day you lovingly showed me the door

Yakeen tha ki yeh rishta jeeyega saalon hazzar
Not once did I know that this feeling is a hazard

Jab bhi hum the saath bas rahe sukh aur chein
Our journey together was quickly pulled by a chain

Saath mein the tho lag raha naache saare mor
And just like that, it all disappeared wanting no more

Ek hi naam jisko sunte hi machi kushi ka shor
All dreams of being together was washed ashore

16 June, 2013

The curious case of Infosys and its Founder

I had the privilege of attending the 32nd Annual General Meeting of Infosys at Bangalore yesterday. As usual, the extremely well-orchestrated event was attended by the Board, the Executive Council and a spectrum of share-holders.

Now, back to the headline grabbing agenda item of the AGM- The reappointment of NRN as a Director thereby paving the way to formally become the Executive Chairman of Infosys. The voices that supported the move certainly outnumbered the ones that wanted to reject the appointment.

NRN has been stating that the move from the Board offering him a seat back at the helm was both unexpected and unusual. Would have loved to hear something more. That it was unacceptable as well.

There were rich references to the Indian ethos; it is the duty of the father to do a course correction when the kids need help. Yes, it is the duty of the father to advise the kids and be a MENTOR. When the son fears failure in exams, he can ask his father to spend some time with him to understand the subject better. You just can’t ask your father to appear in the Board Exams for you. I am afraid at this rate, NRN may be asked to code as well before his five year term ends.

As an accountant, I always believe that debits and credits always match. What is with the Airtel video equivalent annual remuneration? Is the work of turning around a $ 7 Bn enterprise trivial or is this charity at its peak. I am sure a lot of us know that there is no such thing as a A Free Lunch.

As far as my assessment goes, it could well be the cost of guilt of not creating a true leader before the first call of retirement beckoned. By not letting the next gen to take decision and make mistakes and so that they could learn faster, he has taken it on him to execute the course correction all by himself again.

I am afraid history will repeat itself in a few years. These five years should be spent on nurturing leaders and not create a coterie again. We know that he is the best man to do the job, but again it looks like Infosys and its shareholders would be happy with fish for dinner and not the fishing rod that will be able to feed them for a lifetime. I am afraid this knee jerk reaction will end up creating an eternal Re 1 pension for the founder.

And if there is an emotional connect that drives him back to Infy which he claims rightfully as his middle child, why would his son also have to tag along at Re 1 per annum. Or Is it a case where the third child bears the burden of the failure of an elder sibling? This is one Bollywood potboiler waiting to unfold in all its splendor over the next five years.

Disclosure: I just hold a single share of Infosys and that is for two reasons. One- it is like a memento of the institution where I spent well over five years of my professional life. The second is a little less sentimental; I get a lavish wedding reception-like snacks once a year for the rest of my life.

05 September, 2012

Malini Miss...

Rajam Miss expressed her sadness when she had to hand me over from 1E to 1B. Pramila Miss was the class teacher in Class 2B and the stand out incident as far as I was concerned in that class is thankfully not widely documented :)

3A – My favorite teacher till date took Maths classes for us. Malini Miss. The warm smile on her lips looked like a permanent fixture. Thinking back, it sure looked like an expression of someone who just loved her profession and was unconditionally happy to be amidst children and impart some Maths and a lot about enjoying school

4A- As the school opens after the annual leave each year with us wearing the new school uniforms to school, the biggest game was to guess who the Class Teacher would be. As far as my friends and I were concerned, it was more a prayer than a guessing game.

As Malini Miss entered the class wearing the predictable crisply starched saree, our prayer was answered. Not sure what it meant then, but I guess it was just a simple feeling of reassurance that we were going to be in safe and caring hands.

As Class 4 drew to a close, the fad for getting autographs of teachers and friends had just begun. So when me and my friend Prem went running to her to get her signature, she was amused and told us it made little sense, for that was not the end of schooling and we were all going to meet again in less than three months. Never the less, she did oblige.

There have been countless teachers whose classes that I have been fortunate to attend. Some were very good in the subject they taught and some adept at tackling the adolescent minds in High School. But I can boldly say, there is no other teacher who has left such an indelible mark in my mind. Though I don’t know where I kept that autograph book, what will stay as vivid in my memory as her saree prints, would be her smile and the sense of reassurance we derived in her sheer presence.

Miss, you still bring a little smile on my face whenever I think of you!

07 August, 2012

Education, the fishing rod to secure India's future

Welcome back to 'Just Like Us'. In this concluding part, I am happy to present to you, my conversation with Prasad Revuru - An affable software professional with the mind of a scientist, head firmly on his broad shoulders and a heart of gold. Prasad and I got to know each other thanks to an ERP rollout project we were part of, representing different entities.

Arun: Prasad, let us get straight to the achievement of yours that I admire most. The school. What is it called and why did you choose Nellore as the location for the school.

Prasad: As of now we are supporting govt schools and colleges in rural area villages in four mandal in Nellore Dist. We, Visista Grameena, are open to work anywhere in Andhra Pradesh. But due to lack of volunteers in other places we primarily focused in Nellore Dist only.
Now-a-days, even in mandal headquarters, many educational institutions are coming up with fancy names like concepts schools, IIT schools, techno schools, digi schools, international schools and list goes…  All these schools are specially designed for economically well placed people in the society. At the same time the rural area education system is being ignored by all of us. But the students who join in govt. schools are from either backward cast or financially challenged families. And those schools are being gradually ignored by the major communities in the society.
Visista Grameena takes up this point as serious problem and started working with the Schools and communities. We aim to take care of the rural education system through ‘Vishysta Grameena Vidya Samrakshana – VISHY eduCare‘. We are providing an environment that encourages overall growth and development of rural area schools

Arun: What are the various initiatives that your foundation undertake at this point?

Prasad: Active Programs:
Ø  Utukuru ZP High School Adoption
-          Provided additional teachers in the year 2009-10
-          Provided free books, cloths and other stationary
-          Schools outings
-          Awareness programs
-          Financial aid for merits for further studies
Ø  School competitions in four mandals in Nellore Dist
Ø  Important day celebrations like teachers day, Independence day, Mathematics day etc
Ø  Awareness programs like choose your career, ICET, MSc, IT awareness programs
Ø  Financial aid for merits who finished schooling in govt high schools – for intermediate education
Ø  Scholarships for poor and needy students.
Ø  Adopted an orphanage student in 2012  and planning his career

For more details, visit http://vishy.org.in/activities.html

Arun: What all the readers would like to know, how did a school feature in the agenda of a software professional?

Prasad: As I came from a small village, I studied in rural area govt schools and colleges.  I faced lot of problem like lack of awareness in job opportunities, higher educational opportunities, communication skills and so on. Even today students who study in rural area college are not aware of many things. For instance, many India based companies like TCS, CTS, HCL, Wipro, Infy etc… hiring BSc graduates as Software Professionals. How many colleges/students know about this?

Arun: How important do you think education is in a middle class scenario?

Prasad: In Rural Areas, education should be self-supporting, to know the better life, farming, better marketing. They don't know about the govt schemes and programs which are actually planned for them.
For students who want to go for higher education, they should know about the career opportunities and current job market trends. Present education system is not enough in this scenario.
We, Visista Grameena, come forward to show a difference in their lives with our programs and activities.

Prasad, thanks for sharing the activities of your foundation and your thoughts on education.

24 June, 2012

Conversation with a 'gifted' entrepreneur

As we go into part four of “Just Like us”, I hope that you guys have been enjoying the series so far. In this part, I have the pleasure of chatting with Ravi Kumar, Co-Founder and Director of DilSeBol. Com, a pioneer online customized merchandise portal.

Ravikumar and I got introduced through his wife and my school friend Jayasri. This was when I was thinking of getting started on my own venture heartisans, back in 2009. We have been business associates since, and not restricted interactions to mere buying and selling. An extremely affable person, I find him to be an ideal sounding board for some of my business propositions.
Over to the conversation.

Arun: Ravi, for starters, could you please let us know when were the first seeds on entrepreneurship sown in your mind? Is business a familiar career choice in your family?
Ravi: Truth be told, entrepreneurship through DilSeBol just happened. Like all of us, till I actually started DilSeBol, I had only sporadic thoughts of doing some business and making it big! Business is not really a family career choice – having said that, I am lucky to have great support and understanding from my family. Without that support, I can’t imagine trying to make a success of this business!

I seriously started considering starting up when I was here in Chennai on a project around 2006 (was working with Accenture then) – I have always been a keen follower of the retail business as an industry and was pretty excited about the online retailing space in general, right from my MBA days. I thought that space had / has a lot of potential. I had actually made a business plan for an online apparel retail company in my college days, around 2000-01 but didn’t really follow up on it. Come 2006, a chance meeting with a friend Kapil with whom I had discussed the online plan back in 2001 led to me meeting Suresh and this set things in motion. Within a couple of months after that, I had quit, Suresh and Kapil and I joined hands and with some of our own funds, we started www.DilSeBol.com.
Arun: You did your MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad. You also worked with extremely reputed brands like Coca Cola and Accenture in both on –the-field and management consulting profiles before you started DilSeBol. What are the conflicts that you face internally apart from just the typical money aspect when you decide to pursue entrepreneurship? And what tilted your ambition in favour of entrepreneurship?

Ravi:I am not sure there are that many conflicts to talk about – once the entrepreneurship bug bites, things just flow from there! Still, if I were to point out one thing, it is the fact that in the initial days, entrepreneurship is all about doing most things on your own, being self motivated as there is no organizational support structure such as that available in a big company like Coca-Cola or Accenture.
I like the idea of bringing a business to life (motivated by the hopes of achieving high returns on investment!) with my own efforts – I want to try new things and I am a big believer that whatever I do, I must learn at least one new thing everyday – I suppose such an outlook made me lean towards entrepreneurship.

Arun: I am sure once you decide to be an entrepreneur, lots of business ideas would have crossed your mind. How did you evaluate which one to pursue?

Ravi: Like I briefly mentioned, I had pretty much decided that my calling was online retail with an emphasis on apparel – DilSeBol is just a variant of this idea brought about by the fact that we felt there was a big gap in the market for on-demand customized merchandise in India.
Arun: Gifting is a universal concept, but gifting options are not. How does Dilsebol stand testimony to it?

Ravi:I have no clue how to answer this! Once we started DilSeBol with the basic customization theme, I think the evolution as a port of call for unique gifting options is just a natural process. As we look to expand and grow, we keep evaluating new concepts which fit our overall customization theme and that’s how we ‘ve ended up with such a lot of gifting options!

Arun: After venturing into retail customized apparels and gifts, you have diversified into providing mass gifting options for corporates. Is it a natural progression?

Ravi: Our initial plan was more an exclusive B to C online website – however, as time went by, we started getting a lot of corporate enquiries and orders due to word of mouth publicity and some favourable feedback about our quality and reliability in terms of delivery schedules. Corporate business soon become a big volume and revenue generator and now, it is something we have to concentrate on as that has become our main revenue contributor! However, our differentiation is still the fact that we will only do customized items – at the very least, we at least have to print a logo to make it a customized product for a company.
As we look to the future, we see the B to B space as growing even further – our challenge is make this part of the business work online as we still see it is driven a lot by face-to-face interaction, even for standard items like t-shirts.

Arun: You have displayed great persistence and stuck to your conviction for more than five years now. Sure, you would have seen lull periods as well, but you have not looked for alternative pastures. What is the mantra that keeps you charged? What motivates you each morning during those periods?

Ravi: I have a strong desire to make this a really successful business – that’s what keeps me going! The added incentives are the freedom that comes with running your own business and the fact that I am still learning at least one new thing a day, even after 5 years on this job!
Arun: You co-founded DilSeBol with Suresh Subbian, a serial entrepreneur. How do you think partners should complement each other in the journey of a venture as it rides through each phase of the maturity cycle?

Ravi: Ideally, it would be good to have partners who cover each of the main operational areas like Marketing, IT, Production / Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Accounts etc – this rarely happens. I feel that at least the essential areas to the success of a business (in our case, manufacturing and Sales & Marketing) must be areas where the partners have complementary skills. Other than that, trust, especially in matters concerning finance, is very important. Another thing that I feel has helped us in DilSeBol is that we don’t interfere in something the other person does – sometimes having space to operate is a very good thing!
Arun: Your team members always have a smile on their face. What are the soft skills that you adopt to keep them cheerful?

Ravi: Haha, again I have no clue! We try to be flexible in our handling of our staff – we try to be open and honest with them, regarding where the company is headed, about their work, pay etc, what they can expect going forward – we also have the occasional movie sessions and eat outs with the team. Whether this is what keeps them happy and smiling, I do not know but it has helped so far in building a close knit team.
Arun: When it comes to startups, With great funding comes great responsibilities. How hands on or off do you think Private Equity and Venture Capitalists players should be to nurture a business and raise it to its full potential?

Ravi: This is too generic a question – I would imagine that each company and each team that runs it is different and depending on these factors, the level of involvement must vary. However, it is a bit unfair to expect someone to put money in a business and then not worry about it – it goes with the territory that whoever invests will want to be involved to make sure that good returns are delivered and I quite understand this sentiment!

Arun: Entrepreneurs are viewed upon as people who are always looking for the next opportunity and do not get a typical off time. How do you de-stress yourselves from targets, proposals and the likes?
Ravi: True – I think when we are looking to grow aggressively, we can’t really be thinking about taking time off etc! In DilSeBol, since there are 2 of us, it helps. We do take off on a holiday once in a while to get away from it all and when one person requires a break, the other person covers!

Arun: Ravi, as usual, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Thanks for the wonderful insights!

17 June, 2012

Catching up with a Serial Civil Servant

The third part of ‘Just Like Us’ features Dr Bheemashankar Guled IPS. The combination of qualifications sure sound exotic, don’t they? That is precisely the reason this dear friend of mine features in this series.
Bheema was a batch-mate of my co-brother, Sandeep and we got introduced to each other about three years back. Humility, hard work and persistence are the aspects that I think make him what he is today. By the time you finish reading this, you will certainly agree with me!

Arun: Bheema, first things first, many congratulations on being selected for the Indian Police Service. I would like to warn you that this interview may have a fan tone to it, as I am in complete awe of your achievements!
Bheema: Thank you so much Arun .It feels wonderful talking to you after such a long time. This initiative of “Just like Us” is great. Let me say that we are part of a mutual admiration society J.

Arun: Who has been the inspiration for you to take up civil services?

Bheema: There is none specific but yes it’s Govt in general. Since my first standard I have studied only in govt school and institutions without which I would be nowhere. Hence I had this urge of serving back and there is no better service than civil services to give back to the society.

Arun: Were the seeds for the civil service career sown before you took up medicine or during the course of your MBBS?

Bheema: It was more in my medical school. All my friends always encouraged me steadfastly in me taking leadership positions and supported me in all my endeavors. All this finally lead to me choosing civil services. During my internship I decided to pursue civil services.

Arun: After you completed MBBS, you took a road less travelled and didn’t pursue practice or prepare for MD. How did your family react to this?

Bheema: It is my great fortune to have a family that supported me when I chose civil service as my destiny. There were times when I had doubts in myself but my parents gave unwavering support. Even though they were worried about my future career since all my batch mates in medical school were getting settled. But nevertheless they gave all the support that was required even though they didn’t know much about civil services.

I have to share a small anecdote here. During one of those fine evenings when I decided to pursue civil services and told my friends about the same one of my close friends in his bewildered first reaction asked me “Mr Bheema did you come to medical field just to make friends or what that you are leaving such a hard earned field?” but eventually same friends were rock solid behind me and they were the ones who kept on motivating me.

Arun:Did you get into the Indian Police Service ranks in the first attempt?
Bheema: No Arun. It was my 4th attempt.

Arun: How do you pick yourself up and stay motivated when an attempt doesn’t yield the expected results?

Bheema: Two things that made this possible were self belief and the determination. Since the passing percentage is around just 0.002 % a small mistake and you will have to wait an entire year to write the exam again and undergo the whole process of selection right from the scratch.

Arun: So, I remember when you were preparing for civil services, you based yourself in Bangalore, far away from your hometown a village between Bijapur-Gulbarga. What was the reason for this?

Bheema: Even though our villages have seen growth and development it still is a shameful fact that newspapers, magazines and other books that are necessary for such exams are hardly available not just in villages but even in district headquarters. Hence, I had to move to Bangalore.

Arun: You were studying with a group of friends in Bangalore. How did the group atmosphere influence you?

Bheema: Preparing for such exams requires a congenial atmosphere and it requires variety in problem solving and decision making. It’s the group of friends that makes this possible.

Arun: You made it to the Indian Postal Service (IPoS) last year. You still didn’t seem satisfied. This year, you have made it to the IPS. Will we see Dr Bheemashankar Guled IAS next year?

Bheema: Yes Arun. That remains my ultimate dream.

Arun: How do you unwind yourself in the limited free time you have as you juggle between high level responsibilities and preparation for exams?

Bheema: It’s the comfort of friends’ company and reliving those moments of time spent together that makes me unwind myself. I am a voracious reader {Strict no to Textbooks ;-)} and I watch a lot of TV too.

Arun: Thanks Bheema for sharing your experiences of your exciting journey and all the very best in your future endeavours. I am sure you will make a positive difference to the Police Force!

Bheema: Thank you, Arun. It has been great chatting with you. Good Day.

10 June, 2012

A toy story with a twist!

A lot of us keep toying with multiple business ideas from time to time. In the second part of our series “Just Like Us’, we chat with someone for whom the business idea itself was toys. Meet Santhosh Kumar Subramaniam, co-founder of Bambaram Toy Library and Founder of MooreMarket, a facebook based ‘flea market’.
Santhosh and I got introduced to each other at my wife’s cousin’s wedding. I already a little  knew about his Bambaram before we met, and you will know a lot more about it as you read trough this interview. Over to the Toy Story:

Arun:  Santhosh, could you please take us through your educational qualifications. Your graduation as well as your post graduation.

Santhosh: Have done my graduation in mechanical engineering from SASTRA and my post graduation in management from IIT Kharagpur .
Arun:  Have you been an entrepreneur only ever since your post graduation from IIT, Kharagpur? Did you work elsewhere before you started this venture?

Santhosh: After my post-graduation, I worked with one of the leading food specialty retail chain in Mumbai as marketing manager for around 2 years. Before my post graduation, I worked with an IT enabled services company as a developer. Most of my corporate work experience helped me in teaching what all fields one should not venture into. But I had my fair share of learning from the corporate world and it helped me when I decided to bootstrap.

Arun: You founded webvastra when you were doing your post graduation at IIT Kharagpur. That must have been taxing!!
Santhosh: Not really. When I joined my MBA, I was more or less decided not to repeat the same mistake I did in my UG – Just study the subjects and leave your institution. So I ended up getting involved with whatever I can. So when webvastra idea was proposed by my friends, I was more than happy to find time for it. It was taxing. But I really enjoyed those two years at Kharagpur.

Arun: An interesting aspect of your stubbornness to remain an entrepreneur is that you have still not collected your MBA certificate from IIT. Sounds extreme. Sure you would have ruffled a few feathers at home.
Santhosh: J Yes. Initially, the prime reason for not collecting the certificate was of course laziness. But when I decided to take a plunge, I decided to get the certificate whenever its absolutely necessary. The moment is yet to come and I hope it will never come! There was quite a bit of criticism from my parents. But what’s the fun if the whole world accepts whatever you do. Now they are more or less convinced that I am crazy beyond their expectations. In hindsight, that’s the acid test for every entrepreneur. If you can’t convince and sell your ‘vision’ to your own folks, why should the world listen to you?

Arun: A Toy library sounds like a novel concept, since kids don’t attach themselves to a top for more than a specific period of time. How did you hit upon this idea? Did you launch Bambaram alone, or is it a partnership
Santhosh: I borrowed this idea from Children’s Toy Foundation and Vidyarambam who runs a toy vans which goes around in government schools. The initial idea we had in mind was to provide quality structured arts & crafts education in schools. But when I travelled along with Vidyarambam vans, we shifted gears to toy library to start with.

It is indeed a novel idea for India. The concept exists in western world and there are quite a number of toy libraries which are run by government where parents can just walk-in and take the products. I am sure that will happen here too once we start realizing how important ‘play’ is in the overall development of a child.
Arun: Do you connect with parents at an individual level, or do you get the subscriptions by tying up with corporate or playschools?

Santhosh: Now it’s a mix of both! Initially considering the zilch marketing budget we had, we went and tied up with corporates and served the employees working with the organizations alone. Later we tied up with schools to include the various educational kits to be part of their curriculum. Now we serve individual parents too.
Arun:  How do you wish to differentiate Bambaram from any other venture of a similar nature that may spring up in future?

Santhosh: Right from the start, our focus reminds on learning aspect of the toy. That’s why we adopted theory of multiple intelligences to classify the products and whichever products were not fitting the learning goals were not included in the library. Yes we did lose few members because of that. But in the long run, parents started appreciating it.
Arun: This concept may have been viewed with some skepticism by parents as they would have felt this to have been a downgrade, or may have feared that the hygiene could be compromised. How did you tackle the initial mental inertia in the minds of parents?

Santhosh: It was an uphill task. That is the reason we tied up with corporate because this concept is quite known in western world. Considering the western exposure the parents in IT had, it was relatively easier to convince them. Still the conversion rates were not great initially. So we took products to corporate themselves to show what we can offer to the parents and invited parents to our warehouse for a demonstration. Then the word spread!
Arun: What has been the most cherished moment in your journey as an entrepreneur so far?

Santhosh: Letters from parents! Especially when the parent starts using the library with a specific objective in mind. Most of the parents were hesitant to share that objective too. The best moment was when a parent approached us saying her pediatrician referred us! That was the eureka moment for us J
Arun: How do you plan to take this venture forward? Are you looking at a franchisee model to expand your footprint, both in and outside Chennai?

Santhosh: The market is huge and is still afresh. We are working with schools to make play as part of their curriculum having successfully completed our pilot project with an international school. With regard to franchise, right from the first few months we started, we are being flooded with franchise requests. But we were waiting to get it right in Chennai. Now we have fine tuned our model. So we are considering few places for expansion through franchise route.
Arun: You are constantly connected with entrepreneurial groups in Chennai. How do those sessions help you?

Santhosh: The startup environment really helps. Most of us as entrepreneurs repeat the same mistakes. Staying in connected with similar startup ventures helps you avoid these mistakes (and of course you can contribute to the pool of ‘new’ mistakes J) and reach out to right people for your needs. I have personally seen lots of ventures coming out of these startup clubs themselves when like-minded people meet!
Arun: Before we wind up this conversation, could you please let us know how ‘mooremarket‘, your facebook based old stuff trading portal is doing?

Mooremarket is just an experiment I am trying with social media and its really catching up well. I had few stuff to sell/get rid off. So started this to see if it can sold through Facebook among friends. Now some 2300+ people are members in 8 days time with few successful transactions. Only, when the number of transactions pick up, can we say if it is successful or not.
Santhosh, thanks a ton for time taken to share your thoughts and experiences. We Wish you all the best in your journey.

To know more about bambaram, please visit www.bambaram.in . Your experience will be ‘TOP’ notch J.