After The Corporate Years #2.

It’s now almost two years coming up in a few short weeks, and the journey has been great. Amazing in fact. The company grows from strength to strength…..we have overcome some hairy challenges and taken a few hard knocks, but always rallied and always overcome. The hours are long, the hands a few too less, but do I wake up raring to go? Absolutely!

Beyond the large corporates lie really fantastic opportunities, albeit in smaller firms and companies, such as startups.

Having been deeply immersed in the startup ecosystem for the past decade, and during the nascent years of my professional journey, this feeling is solidly confirmed having lived and breathed in it.

As I write about my life and about my professional journey, it dawns upon me that I’ve never actually gone out and looked for a job. Save one time, and that one time was the very first time that I went and worked for someone else as CFO. First job and that as CFO, not bad, eh? Take how I got into ICICI, HSBC, Agile and my current role, all known people, or a friend of a friend, or an ex-colleague and friend.

It also strikes me that there are no coincidences in life, none whatsoever. I think it has more to do with fate, destiny, being in the right place at the right time.

The way I look at almost everything, is slotting all that I end up doing or experiencing, into this rather interesting matrix (not inspired by the movie, by the way). It’s called the Matrix of Six. Yes, you might have guessed. That another piece I’m working on. Soon coming to a blog page near you.

Best I get on with the current role, after that rather long preamble, so this story picks up from the earlier startup experience.

As it happens, during my previous startup role as COO, a friend (ex friend now), called me out of the blue very early one morning and after a rather fake exchange of pleasantries, said he’s working for this guy, someone who he said I knew (I didn’t) from my time in Singapore – Circa 2002/2003. So despite the long silence between us, and a less than cordial relationship post the exing, I agreed to introduce him and his boss to the CEO of the company.

I turns out that Prateek, one of my colleagues (we become close friends) from the Dubai startup, ended up working for Ram before I did. So this Prateek character calls one day as asks to be introduced to decision makers at various banks in India, and I do so devoid of any hesitation, as I’ve always helped friends out no matter what.

Why is this relevant? Simply because that Ram, the one I’d never met, would a few years later come looking for me.

I did open a few doors for Prateek, and once fine day, soon after the door opening part, Ram calls me from Singapore, and says he’s sending me a visa and ticket. What don’t you come down to Singapore for a few days and lets talk about how we can collaborate. If my memory serves me that was in July or August 2017.

If you have read my previous anecdote, you will recall that I had quit this Dubai startup, and was in this “in-between” phase again, the one in which I was part of the startup ecosystem as a mentor. So I was kinda figuring out what to do next, and had a few exciting ideas in mind, including interesting job opportunities. One idea was more exciting than others, and remains something I’d like to do if I ever get an opportunity. That was to set up a platform or a service, to help Indian companies, or any company for that matter, to develop business in Africa, and guide them how to manage African initiatives.

I think, I’ve already mentioned before, that doing business in Africa as a whole, and some countries in APAC is nothing short of a fine art. There is no science in it, just art and finesse.

See? I drifted again, sorry. Anyway, I’m headed to Singapore and Ram has been the perfect host. We talk a lot, about life, personal and professional, we open up to each other. He talks about Bank-Genie, how it started. We drink a bit, we get to know one another, and at some point he kinda pops it on me. Why don’t you come work with us?

The company and its prospects seem quite interesting, well conceptualised, but the role is that of a person who can do some serious heavy lifting. Something I have always done and can do with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back, but I’m not really looking at a “heavy-lifting” role, so I’m a bit iffy. But all in all and interesting opportunity.

The thing I was quite upfront about is the compensation, and quite transparently I caution him that he should deliberate carefully as I don’t come cheap, and paying me or someone like me, would put a dent in the books.

I head back to India, we keep in touch, we talk numbers, and we go back and forth a lot, we both jockey for position, and finally after being at this for a month we arrive at a middle ground. I agree to a fixed compensation component less than what I want, deserve, am capable of earning, and he takes a couple of steps up, and finally we are agreed on the numbers, and all that remains is to ink the deal.

The other thing that I was a bit concerned about was the location. Mysore! Small town, deep south, nothing much going on, I’m a city boy and have lived and worked in four continents and lived in five major internationally acclaimed cities. How in the name of hell will I live in Mysore? But that’s a non-negotiable item, and so i finally relent. Taking a huge leap of faith, I head on over to Mysore, even before a contract has been signed, and technically I’m on board October 4th.

Four days later I’m headed to Singapore once again, this time to meet the investors who want to eyeball this so called “heavy-hitter”, with the concern that having come from a pedigree international bank, I may not be able to hack the transition to the startup realities. Ha, Ha!!!

I’m presenting a four day view of the company, and what my four day impressions are, what I make of the COO role, and what I think I have cut out for me. The presentation goes down well, and I still have a job (save a little job threatening episode in the first week itself) so I’m guessing I’ve done something right.

It’s now almost two years coming up in a few short weeks, and the journey has been great. Amazing in fact. The company grows from strength to strength…..we have overcome some hairy challenges and taken a few hard knocks, but always rallied and always overcome. The hours are long, the hands a few too less, but do I wake up raring to go? Absolutely! All this combined with visiting and experiencing new countries, is nothing short of a heady mix, a kind of a perpetual high, and no I having been smoking!

Working – The Road Warrior>

We are Now at an inflection point, with tremendous upside.

Along the way, what has built up is trust, a good working relationship, one where the CXO team relies and leverages off the strengths of the others, and compensates where required. The team is superlative in terms of their efforts, loyalty and feeling of belonging, and this is the ONLY place I’ve worked at thus far, where I’ve never had to crack the whip on a development team. The work just gets done, as if by magic, and that’s something that is really rare and something I cherish. I’ve never even had to even once request someone to stay late and finish work, or please come over the weekend. If there is work, nothing needs telling, it just gets done!

Whatever happened to the apprehensions about being based in Mysore? If I say I’m in heaven, that would obviously be a gross misstatement, but what’s not to like? Clean air, almost no traffic, cycling heaven (yes this is in heaven category), heart of Karnatic Music and Arts, peace and quiet to get work done, no long commute to and back from work, really inexpensive, delicious southern cuisine. In short no more apprehension, quite the opposite, I love it!

What next? For me? For Bank-Genie? I guess I’m at an inflection point as well, a fork in the road of sorts. On the one hand I completed fifty seven years this year, so I’d like to sit back, write, ride my bicycle, study, read, mentor, teach Students about the real world they are about to venture into (they are ill equipped to survive and succeed) and distribute the learning’s from a working life that started at the age of 18 years. Whereas on the other hand, I stay the course and bring this baby to term, watch it grow, and once it starts running at speed, recede into the shadows or the background, and be available as a counsel or sounding board as and when called.

All going as planned, I’m leaning more towards bringing the baby to term and beyond as there is real traction here, a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity for everybody at Bank-Genie to fulfil their potential, and an opportunity for Bank-Genie to be recognised as a formidable name as a FinTech that services the needs of banks both big and small, the microfinance eco system, and an opportunity for the CXO team to create a foundation for the nextgen to take to higher levels.

These are opportunities are seldom present themselves at large corporates and are available almost exclusively at the startups, smaller firms and companies, the ones fraught with challenges, yet most satisfying to ones soul. I’d pick a startup any day, and I’d urge students to take up roles at startups, for what you will learn at a startup is something no school will ever come close to teaching, and that is my next blog post. Look out for it. Cheers!


“The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on Kids”

“The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on Kids”

From Father to Son: An Open Letter.

So, the kid is at school, a new phase of his life, away from home, away from all things familiar, away from family, away from friends, new friends to be made, a life ahead of him. A life for him to shape the way he wants it.

I guess this is as much an open letter to my youngest son, as it is a case of me wanting to write.

There is a time for spoken word (there has been a bit of that), and then sometimes the written word is better (thus far that’s been restricted to WhatsApp). So this open letter or blog post comes at an opportune time.

My youngest is now a college student. His chosen academic, and in all probability career pursuit, Electronics and Telecommunications. But won’t that all depend on how the world around us morphs, transforms or as they are putting it these days, get disruptive, over the next five years?

That’s the duration of his MBATech program, involving three years of Technology and two years of Management, at the end of which he will receive a Bachelor of Technology Degree and a Masters in Business Administration. Something we hope will stand him in good stead to earn a reasonably good livelihood, and enable him to live a life he chooses to lead.

I on the other hand, despite the best counsel, didn’t pursue my Masters, something that didn’t set me back really, but created a handicap of sorts, such that I had to work my ass off to overcome. Therefore, I’ve always been at pains to draw the kids attention to this with a fervent hope that they don’t choose the harder path, the school of hard knocks. Kind, however, will be just that, kids. The oldest boy, a photo journalist, in the middle a daughter pursuing her Masters in Phycology, and then the youngest.

See, he’s a really intelligent kid, and has a high IQ and EQ, but as most kids today, has not leveraged these natural talents to his best advantage. He’s barely studied the way I expected, yet, with some hard work, with good advise and with a degree of luck, has managed to secure admission into a really prestigious school, and within that a good program. Now that he’s in, we trust that he will make the most of this fantastic opportunity.

As I write this, I can’t help recall the great experience of the interaction with the school, both for him and myself, and as is my nature, when I come away with lingering and sometimes even fleeting thoughts, I write.

So our experience with NMIMS, the educational institution, now a deemed University, and the Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management and Engineering at Sirpur is something that has thus far, amply demonstrated that with some dedication, some planning and attention to detail, coupled with a desire to excel, even Indian educational institutions can raise the bar and be counted amongst world leaders.

The entire process of enrolling for NPAT or the National Placement Admission Test, the administration of the test, the declaration of the results, the merit based admission process, the counselling provided to both parents and students, the payment of fees, the process of allocation of the campus, the student and parent orientation, are all something to boast about. Each step and the entire process were run like clockwork.

One of the trustees, whom we consulted before we decided upon taking up the merit based admission, passionately urged us to consider, taking up the placement at the Sirpur Campus, as the boy missed placement at the Bombay Campus by a few marks. Honestly, I didn’t really take the urging as seriously as I should have, and perhaps this was for the best! Why? Simply because, when we did show up at the Sirpur Campus for the enrolment this past weekend, I was simply delighted by what we saw!

Sirpur then is approximately 380 km from Bombay, and so my elder son, the younger boy and I set off by road on this six-hour journey (well Google said six+ hours) early Saturday morning. We made the trip in approximately five and a half hours, thanks to some skilful (fast but cautious), driving by the older boy, and timing it such that we missed traffic heading out of the City.

As I was telling friends, the University Campus is literally just down the road, in the sense that, once we hit the freeway (15 minutes from our home), we didn’t have to take a singly turn, save the exit ramp that leads into the Campus parking lot and into the driveway.

As is to be expected, the week was spent, by and anxious mother and grandmother, ensuring that he’s all packed, carrying stuff for every possibly eventuality, and almost preparing him for a sting overseas! Mothers! What would we do without them?

As my older son joked when we were unloading the luggage awaiting the student’s room allocation at the hostel, his little brother had the largest suitcase from amongst all the students. The rejoinder from the younger was the he may have had the biggest suitcase, but some boys had four suitcases as opposed to his one! Moot point that.

The final stretch before one hits the exit ramp, is on a bridge over the Tapi River, and lo and behold! The sprawling Campus situated on the banks of the river come into view, small at first, but growing in size as you come closer to the exit.

Not so much as an exit, as a dirt road, crossing some fields, before we enter the parking lot, stop at the barricaded gate, register and get onto the driveway. The sight of the spic and span elegant buildings, the perfectly manicured lawns, the beautiful flora and fauna greet the eyes, and we ask our way to the hostel to report the student’s arrival.

The demeanour of the security staff, the ushers along the way, the coordinators, and the staff doing the registration was exemplary, as was the well-managed process of issuing tokens on a first come first come basis to join the ranks of the other reporting students.

The wait wasn’t too long, and formalities such as room allocation, issue of the student ID, and explanation of the way things will work were so well-managed, that I came away so impressed. Registration with the on campus laundry service, familiarization with the facilities, and the meal tokens for the day (for the accompanying parents/guardians), was a pleasant surprise!


We make our way up to his room, and walk into a sprawling room with four beds (not cramped), huge floor to ceiling sliding windows, a study table for each boy, a wardrobe, and plenty of storage. You want to know more, they even have help to change their bed sheets and pillow covers each week. gimme a break, he’s there to fend for himself, or have we just sent him to some luxury resort? While I’m complaining about the lap of luxury he’s landed up in, may as well lay it all out…..they even have people to collect and deliver their laundry? Unbelievable!

We arrived at around 10.15 am and were all sorted by 12 noon, and being lunchtime made our way to the mess for a lovely meal. The mess itself, immaculately maintained, clean, and well laid out.

Post lunch we figured our way to the Gym and ventured into a sprawling facility with all the state of the art equipment once could imagine! Did I not mention the tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, football grounds, table tennis tables, and every possible sports facility one could dream of?

Here are the grandparents and the poor mother thinking that their poor little boy, first time living away from home, will have to fend for himself, and what do we find? Nothing short of facilities putting a luxury resort to shame! I hope they don’t read this, but for all you know the boy isn’t going to come home too often!

The rules of engagement then. Quite strict, compulsory attendance, allocated times for sports, gym, laundry service, regulated home visits, the works. Even uniform T Shirts, and blazers compulsory on certain days.

Let’s flip this over now. The young fells is living in the lap of luxury, and his brother and I are put up in this dive (if you can even call it that), dump of a place in the nearby town of Sirpur.


We depart in the afternoon, leaving him to explore and come back late evening, eat a meal together and then leave him to stay at the hostel that night. We did ask him if he’s staying with us, but he chose (wisely) to stay back and get into the groove of things.


Spend an uncomfortable night at the dump, called Hotel Sudarshan. Hotel? What frigging Hotel? It’s a dive for cryin’ out loud! Anyway, its been pre paid and not much we can do about that now, so we suck it up.

We go back the next morning, latish, and this fella is up all early, showered, eaten breakfast, and we hang with him for a bit, and seeking that he’s gearing up to play some basketball, we leave him to his own devices, and we decide to go drive to the nearby Wildlife Reserve at Yawal. We have left too late and it’s almost dark, so we turn back, mission not accomplished, save for the lovely drive deep into the countryside, stopping for some “chai” and freshly fried banana chips.

Head back to the “resort”, hook up with the kid, get dinner and head back to our own “resort” for the night. The next day, Monday, is the orientation, and this we are back, the plan being to attend the orientation and head back to Bombay immediately after.

In the main building we discover yet another dining facility where you can order up some cool stuff. The kids attended the orientation in the plush auditorium, and the parents/guardians watched a life feed in the main building lobby on a giant screen. Again, run like clockwork, short and sweet, and once that was done, got him his text books, took lunch and we had to leave.

I’m an emotional guy, but can pretty much keep it under control, but as I hugged him and kissed him, could not hold back the tears. As much as he aggravates my on occasion, I’m really going to miss the kid. My voice chokes as I tell him to do his best and make the most of this fantastic opportunity, and not wanting him to get emotional, turn away. I walk a few steps, and I and the older brother both turn around once more to wave goodbye, and he’s doing the same as well.

So, the kid is at school, a new phase of his life, away from home, away from all things familiar, away from family, away from friends, new friends to be made, a life ahead of him. A life for him to shape the way he wants it.

As parents we have done all that we can, it’s now up to him. As a friend, I’ve done all I can, and it’s now his time. All I can do is, hope, pray and advise him, via this open letter or blog.

I miss you son, you have all my blessings and all my support. The sky is your limit. Make me proud, make me hold my head up high. I am your father, yes, but above all else, I am your friend. Good luck kid, god bless! May The Sweet Lord Nrsimha guide you and protect you always.

Now for the upside. 380 km, carpet roads, amazing climbs, fantastic long downhill stretches for miles, I am going to be on my bicycle soon, headed your way one of these weekends. Cool dad or am I a cool dad!

Startups: #6 – Final, Anatomy of Failure.

Amol and I were with a leading captain of industry, and an authority on the Startup ecosystem, just this past Monday, and the discussion centred around the rather vexatious subject. We discussed Scale challenges, operational challenges, skill challenges. We also discussed specifics about how certain well-known Private Equity, Venture Capital firms were struggling, and were facing serious challenges in finding viable exits or the ability to cash out.

We pick this up where we left off in Part #5….why do startups fail? You will notice (I trust) that the very questions raised, propositions made, provide the answers as well. Perhaps I should have said some thing to this effect, “Startups: Part #6, Anatomy of Failure and Suggested Remedies”. I didn’t, deliberately. Anyway, semantics…so moving right along….

Amol and I were with a leading captain of industry, and an authority on the Startup ecosystem, just this past Monday, and the discussion centred around the rather vexatious subject. We discussed Scale challenges, operational challenges, skill challenges. We also discussed specifics about how certain well-known Private Equity, Venture Capital firms were struggling, and were facing serious challenges in finding viable exits or the ability to cash out. 

The stats (75%+ failure rate as alluded to in earlier articles) are so appalling, that it kinda forces one to wonder why the Startup ecosystem attracts the kind of money it does, locally, regionally and globally.

It also makes one wonder that with the kind of money thrown into Startups, there would be effective checks, balances, systems and processes in place to ensure judicious investments, effective monitoring and efficient exit strategies. Perhaps I’m wrong, however the failure rate certainly doesn’t lend any credence to the popular belief that checks and balances are in place. Perhaps check and balances are in place, but they aren’t followed stringently?

Chatter on the net paints a fairly sordid picture, and what we are hearing isn’t looking pretty.

Discussions and/or debates on this subject tend to be pretty long-winded, even heated and acrimonious. There are a million opinions and then some, so I will present the topic the only way I know how. Go to the brass tacks, and not dwell on the esoteric valuation methodologies, techniques and such. Heaven knows how the 10x, 20x and 30x valuations even come into the picture, and that too shortly after the first round of funding. Smell an exit rat? These are financial specialists we are taking about, and they known their numbers, nay… they live, breathe and sleep the numbers game.

So then why?

Power of Two

There are only two types of money… from my pocket and money from someone elses pocket.

There are two types of entrepreneurs, those that are looking at staying invested, growing the company organically, creating wealth and value, and eventually letting the successful business model, based on good ‘ole business principles, of unit costs and unit profits drive the valuations, and eventually the exit.

Then there are others who are looking to exit at a valuation that is x times y, and not really focus on organic principles. The ones looking to exit are the Promoters and the Investors alike, so on several accounts, they are collaborators, insofar as it comes to exists at unrealistic levels.

Both models do work, but the risk of failure is far higher in the case of those ventures that are merely looking to ride the valuation wave to make a killing.

Anatomy of Failure

What emerges then is that businesses fail because of several reasons, and as you read on, be warned, the list isn’t brief.

Startup Failure Bar Chart
Infographic Credit:

Failure to Scale

We hear that failure to scale seems to be a rampant and serious issue. More often than not, initial predictions of growth numbers in terms of value and scale, remain just that, predictions, and when the rubber hits the road, the actual doesn’t even come close to the projections. Possible reasons? 

  • Overly optimistic projections on the part of Promoters, when formulating their financial models, as they are far too subjective about their pet ideas. I mean, owning the space and passion are all good things, but not to the extent that you fall by the wayside on account of this obsessiveness.
  • Overly aggressive projections, as Promoters are almost compelled to conjure up big numbers to attract any serious interest from the Investing community.
  • Lack of adequately skilled resources.
  • Absence of appropriate processes.
  • These are but examples, more on this later.

Financial Indicipline

Behaviour – Cash Tends to Burn Faster Post Funding

Sure Startup funding is based on the fact that cash burn will take place, however, the velocity of the burn seems to accelerate once funding has come in.

Perhaps this happens due to the fact that in the early or pre-funding stage startups use bootstrapping as a fundamental basis of startup operations and practice acute cost containment. Post funding that mostly gives way to the loosening of purse strings. We aren’t playing with our own cash now, are we? I daresay this is not in the nature of blowing up cash, but rather is using Business Development as the basis of expenditure.

It’s easy to burn substantial amounts of cash, and quickly at that, on air travel, star hotels, entertainment, all falling nicely within the head of expense called Business Development Cost, which is something that is difficult to monitor closely, and indeed curtail, as this is how the numbers will come in.

The honeymoon period is probably when it begins to go awry, for this is when both the Investor and the promoter are inclined to consummate the relationship.

Investors assume, incorrectly at times, that promoters are specialists and know their markets and products, and as time passes, there is discovery that this may indeed not the case. I’ve seen so many businesses, products and services built up in silos, and not aligned to market need. In far too many instances, entrepreneurs have had a certain experience when they have had jobs, and tend to build their Startup business model based on just this one experience. Realisation comes a tad too late and quicker than you can say “Jack Rabbit”, money has been burned and not much to show in terms of reciprocation. By the time Investors realise that something is awry, it’s usually far too late. Cash has burned, results aren’t as predicted, there is a cash crunch, and the mad scramble to get cash at any means begins.

Cash needs or cash burn are so often underestimated, and in reality the level of funding initially taken up, falls far short of the actual genuine cash requirements. By the time Series A funding comes up, Promoters are so starved for cash, that they are almost prepared to agree any terms put forth by Investors.

Now I’ve put together realistic financial plans for a few startups, and in several cases the advisors look askance and almost demand that the numbers are inflated 2x or even 3x. The reasons are not far to seek. The effort and costs to assess, appraise, invest and monitor smaller ventures and bigger ventures is similar, therefore, the VC’s naturally tend to focus on those Ventures that talk big numbers. Effectively the larger and smaller Startups are fishing for cash in the same pond.

This drives a certain behaviour, both,  from Investors and Promoters. The Promoter wanting a toe in the VC door and the Investor passing over the smaller tickets. Therein lies the recipe for disaster?

The bigger the ticket the bigger the fee for the intermediaries, and for the Investors the lesser the number of Portfolio companies to monitor. Typically the thumb rule is that for VC/PE’s to look at a proposition, it should be in the region of USD 8-10 million, give or take. To make the cut, Startups requiring smaller financial backing, will inflate the numbers to be considered as viable propositions.

Governance, Governance, Governance.

To say that Governance is the primary key to success would be the understatement of the century.

Board of Directors & Board Meetings

Mere decoration or namesakes in terms of appointment of luminaries on the Board of Directors is usually what transpires. The BoD is where the cold hard questions are asked, or are they? In plenty of cases they aren’t! Why? Simply because what ends up happening is that the Board ends up being constituted by Promoters, their well wishers and Investors and/or their nominees. When push comes to shove, there is usually a polarization between the Promoters and well wishers on the one hand, and the Investors and their nominees on the other hand.

Recording of dissent is as important as recording of decisions taken in the Minutes of Board Meetings. I’ve seen meetings being completed in a record fifteen minutes! Agreement, debate and dissent are equally important, yet what happens oftentimes is that minds are not spoken, voices aren’t voiced, and a concerted effort is made to keep the proceedings “amenable”. This is probably the worst possible thing that can happen, and is at cross purposes to the very idea of constitution of a suitable Board.

Business & Operational Challenges

Sales Exert Undue Pressure – Compromises Galore

Startups are always under pressure to bring in sales, and more often than not, Product is rolled out with known gaps, and the cost of implementation as initially budgeted, blows into astronomical time and cost overruns.

Product & Service Compromises

Well laid Roadmaps fall by the wayside, and features are prioritized based on preferences of the potential new orders. Result? Compromised product design, temporary solutions, and the very Product that was to come out, does come out, but in a form that is often unrecognisable from the initial designs.

The level of design and build compromise is further compounded when combined with the compromises made during the sales cycles. Sales teams in any case promise the earth, moon and stars, even in mature organisations, so imagine the promises made when selling products and services on behalf of a startup that just has to bring in the numbers for their very survival?

People: Talent, Skills, Teamwork, Performance, Retention.

That Startups struggle with hiring top talent and end up with second and even third string players is known, so to expect peak performance is fallacy itself.

A glaring lack of skills within the Promoter organisations. Most Promoters tend to be technocrats, therefore certain skills tend to scarce within the organization. The gaps will almost certainly be within Business Development, Operations, Finance, Legal and People teams.

To my mind one of the biggest reasons why Startups fail is because they fail to build well oiled teams, and there are glaring imbalances. The top teams, mostly at a Promoter level tend to be focussed, driven and competent, but that doesn’t cascade down the ranks.

When managements throw money at key resources, far in excess of their worth, they end up creating disparities and discord amongst the team. Not only that, titles and designations are thrown around as part of retention strategy, and we end up calling less than capable resources by fancy titles.

Effectively, we are creating a double whammy. Not only are we setting up people to fail as leaders, we are also rendering them unemployable elsewhere, thus compelling them to remain in the system via any means possible. This only leads to inefficiencies.

The mad race to succeed creates a huge work-life imbalance and more often than not leads to burnout. For some reason or the other, what should have been fleet-footed and nimble becomes rigid and inflexible.

Conventional means of sourcing may not work. With heavy hitters reluctant to leave lucrative and secure jobs, managements tend to fall back on past relationships to resource and to sell. The actual depth of the issues faced tend to be withheld from potential hires, or a rosy picture is painted on spreadsheets, as inducement to come on board. The result then, when things go awry?  Ill will, diminishing morale, sullied relationships and finally resource and customer attrition.

Resource turnover is a drain even on the most efficient organisations, and for Startups this is disaster.

Weak Processes (Lack of Transparency): People, Operations, Sales, Finance

Lean and Mean, Do More with Less, Stretch Targets, Fly by the Seat of the Pants. These are great principles to abide by when running a company, but all too often, these very principles tend to do companies in. 

From an Indian standpoint, the very nature of tech resources being immature, and closed-minded, means that technical knowledge is concentrated in the hands of a few, and if handover are in question, then what you’re going to end up with is glaring gaps in technical knowledge amongst the incumbents.

Combined with the lack of processes, even simple and obvious processes as handing over when people leave, then this is almost a death knell.

Lack of investment in automation, is a big contributor, and when basic development and delivery processes, such as QC and Testing are compromised, what you’re going to end up with is shoddy quality.

When this happens, the product that hits the market, one that smelled of roses at the drawing board stage, starts emanating a stink during implementation and rollout. Cash flows are adversely impacted and everything is now urgent, and there is no longer a distinction between urgent and important, tactical and strategic.

Startups tend to live in a constant state of crisis, since they aren’t meticulously planned, inadequately funded, lack appropriate resources, and seldom heed to sound advise.


Promoter Behaviour & Competency

Entrepreneurs can be an arrogant bunch, brimming with overconfidence, and seem to carry this “I know best” attitude, and are not amenable to counsel, when counsel is the very thing needed during the early days. Promoters can be so rigid that this rigidity becomes the bane of the success of the venture. Lack of delegation or too much delegation. If the Promoters have done a startup after a long stint at a lucrative and steady job, they usually struggle in the transition to working in a Startup environment.

I’ve spoken to so many IB’s and what they tell me is that, Investors are effectively funding an individual or a small group thereof married to a business idea that seems viable. I’m not saying that all Promoters are like that, but I would propose that given the high failures, is it possible the Promoters are putting on a “game face”, which seems to kinda come off as the game progresses?

Much too much time is spent on creating a “story” that can be sold to the Investor, and far too little time in really fine honing the business model.

Investor Behaviour – Back to the Power of Two

There are two types of Investors.

One is just in it for the returns, and doesn’t really care about the execution. The other is truly a partner is every aspect, be it sales, mentoring, advise, networking and so on.

Investors can be really rigid on the subject of exit, and at the time of bringing in subsequent series of funding, and tend to make unrealistic demands in terms of exist valuations, dilution of Promoter stake, etc.

Perhaps Investors have far too much money at their disposal, perhaps they don’t take the time and trouble to do as in depth a due diligence as they should.

Conducting the technical and legal due diligence is something that is easier to validate than the estimation of revenue prospects, of the Sales pipeline. Perhaps this is where Investors need to focus the most.

Final Impact

The impact of failure is felt across the board. It hurts Investors, Promoters and most of all it adversely hurts people who go out on a limb and opt to work for Startups.

It has much wider ramifications on the economy, as it is nothing but the inefficient use of billions of Dollars of Risk Capital, and by extension, throwing away billions of Dollars that could have been put to better use, and backed ventures that would contribute to the global economy, rather than drain it.

There is a huge social impact as well, as people’s livelihoods are affected and plans thwarted.

I’ve said this before and I say it yet again, there an impact on Clients who buy products and services from companies doomed to fail, as the IRR on their investments just doesn’t compute when Startups they supported fall by the wayside. If it is a software investment, their purposes aren’t served, operationally they suffer on account of the automation strategy failing.

Call to Arms

Given that there is a serious problem within this huge eco system, is it a time for a call to arms? Is it time to come up with a support structure that will assist in reducing the rate of failure, of controlling waste, in stemming the rot within the system? Is there a need to come up with a service that assists in turning such companies around, to intervene and to resurrect?

These have been the foremost questions on my mind, based on my own experiences, my own mistakes, mistakes I have seen others make, and in some very real cases, seem people play the gaps in the system to their advantage, with little fear of recourse?

I have spoken to so may people who matter about this by now, and nobody I’ve spoken to is really surprised, everybody who is somebody already knows this. I’ve been advised to turn things around on their head, and come up with solutions, and that’s music to my ears. It’s also only fair…. it’s never a good idea to identify problems, and leave them hanging….it’s preferable to come up with solutions.

By no stretch of the imagination can I suggest that I have covered it all, but I daresay, I’ve seen and expereinced a lot. No doubt, this juurney is not anywhere near completion, and I can only look forward to learnings and come up with possible solutions.

Startups: Part 5 – Down & Dirty of the Money Game.

Startup success sin’t measured purely in terms of funds invested. The Punt or the exit isn’t the measure of success, Profits are.

From the attention the Startup series has been getting I’m a’thinkin’ that is topic is one of interest to say the least. Why would it not be the case? With successes that can be stacked in the “wildly successful”, “mind-boggling”, “beyond wildest dreams”, categories, everyone who is anyone is part of the Startup ecosystem. And the side we see, or rather what is talked about is the successes, not the glaring failures. These failures, one has stated before, affect the entire ecosystem, from promoter, to investor, to employee, to the client, to the regulator. Take heed then people, for when we say successes, we usually mean, how much money the Startup has attracted by way of funding.

Is it time then to talk about the down and dirty of Startups? Methinks it is, and therefore we shall. So should we be calling this Startup 101? That’s more appropriate, so the nomenclature sticks. Startup 101 it is.

I used to do this rather popular checklist (gleaned from various sources) for traders back in the day called “19 Rules for Traders”. Since this article, blog or “piece” as the cognoscenti are calling it these days, is not about my days as a prolific trader, you only get a glimpse of said rules, and that too with the intent of giving you an idea of how this “piece” is going to develop. You may choose, basis this glimpse, to check out any time you like.

So then the “rules”. Follow The Trend – The Trend is Your Friend, Let your Profits Run, Cut your Losses, Never Average a Losing Position, and so on. I’m sure some of the bright lot reading this “piece” will see the proverbial lights coming on and say, these rules for traders can be extended to apply to investments in Startups. True dat my friend, absolutely.

Startup 101

Rule # 1 – Startup success is not measured in the money attracted by way of funding.

I can see several in the audience going, really? Well I’ll be blowed, didn’t so and so startup get an obscene amount of money just recently? Didn’t so and so, well-known PE/VC/Investor pump in millions into so and so startup? Yes, money did move from one place to another. Somebody, usually the promoter/s got rich quick, because a certain other someone, took a “punt” on the future success of said business.

Rule # 2 – The “Punt” isn’t the Measure of Success – Profits Are.

Really? Success has two parts init? Success for the Promoter is getting in new cash, in exchange of a high valuation of the Promoters initial investment. Success for the Investor, that poor sod/s, who took the “punt”, depends on profitability.

Again, really? Well, this time I have to say I’m rather confused, therefore I am compelled to give a “well maybe” answer. The grounds for my defence on this, the measure of success, comes from my education, from my experience, and from prudent business practices. Prudent business practice says, Profitability is the only real measure of success of a business venture.

So then, should we boldly be examining the success of the investment in terms of the profits the business generates, or should we declare success of the investment based on the “exit” or “divestment” to some other investor, who is induced to come in at an even higher “premium” to the initial set of investors, despite the fact that the business is not yet making any real profits?

Logic dictates a resounding NO in response, but we have thrown all investment logic out the window by now have we not? Heck, we are Investment Gurus, we are acting in a fiduciary capacity insofar as we are taking substantial monies from a group of investors, and making all these substantial investments in ventures that have not turned a profit, and are not expected to turn a profit in the foreseeable future. This is the good old “Cash Burn” game where we are perfectly comfortable in “burning” investor cash (not mine, someone elses cash), all in the hope that something will change, and miraculously profits will flow, just like manna from the heavens.

Ah, not liking this are we? Profound arguments and justification will emerge at this stage, stating “Sumir, you’re so clueless”…. cash burn is essential for marketing expenses, for development expenses, and so on. Well yes, but what percentage of our money (oops I forgot, not ours) are we burning and when will this burn stop? Yet other arguments will emerge and they will say, this is not really about unit profitability, but look at the bigger picture, we are getting points of presence, we are getting substantial data, we are understanding customer behaviour.

My dear friend, yes, yes, yes, to all arguments, but lets not forget whose money are we playing with. Oops, we kinda forgot that tiny detail, didn’t we?

Let’s deal with data then, damming data. Just how many of big-ticket investments are in the money? Is Ola making money? Is Flipkart making money? Is Uber making money?

What do we do when we have a competitor? We buy them out, we merge, we increase market share, we buy out competition? What happened to Myntra? Didn’t they merge with Flipkart? Is the merged entity making any money? Why did they merge? To compete against Amazon. Is Amazon making money? Read this, Amazon India has doubled its India losses.  We are told that Amazon globally has increased its losses four fold. Now read this rather interesting fact. Losses of Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal would have allowed ISRO to go to Mars 24 times.

So who has been investing in these companies? In some way, shape or form its an investor. Arguably these are HNI investors and have invested in a fund of sorts. Is the fund making money on these investments? Not meaning to pick on a man I have tremendous respect for, let’s look at Ratan Tata’s investments as a VC/PE investor.

Loss-making Enterprises

RNT Losses

Valuation Game


Valuations are Rising Despite Accumulated Losses?

So if we are to believe what we read in the papers, we are told that each time RNT takes a “punt” valuations jump. Jolly good this, but what basis? Why this spike? Defies the principle of prudent business practice.

I’m of the opinion that, the virtual world, or virtual economics has left the good old brick and mortar economics way behind. It is no longer about unit based profitability, its purely notional. The trick then is to agree a valuation between the Promoter and Investor. I know my math, I’m actually pretty good at it, but I daresay valuation math escapes me completely.

Glaring Examples

Ola and Uber have made my commute that much easier, in so much as I don’t have to “request” a “Kali- Peeli” (Yellow and Black) to go from point A to point B. I just pull up the app, book, get a fare estimate, complete ride, pay. Now let’s take a look at the business model, if you’re not in violent opposition to it.

The model is rather simple: Rate/Km is established, Rate/Km is paid x times the Km covered. Fare is then shared between aggregator and driver/owner. Incentives are paid (I’m hearing incentives are going or gone). Drivers/Owners who were on to a good thing, are now thinking, hey it’s not as appealing as it was portrayed, or when this started off. Owners/Drivers have taken loans, have EMI’s + maintenance + fuel costs + driver wages to pay. The initial math isn’t quite adding up, so there is this growing discontent. The “Kali=Peelis” have lost out to the Ola and Uber wave, so they are reeling too. So money isn’t being made as envisaged, not by the Owners/Drivers, nor by Ola nor by Uber. Question then. Who exactly is making money at the present time? Seems to me, nobody, or not nearly as much as projected. Yet, Ola has received funding of around USD 1.5 Billion and the current valuation is running at USD 5 Billion give or take? Is there money to be made, on an investment of USD 5 Billion? I’ll be damned if I can predict, though I have really serious doubts, much like Macbeth when he fights his doubts about the witches words, as Great Birnam Wood seems to move to High Dunsinane Hill.

The whole point to my mind is simply this, who is going to be left with the baby? Isn’t that what happened and continues to happen when markets are overheated, and stock prices are sky-high? The Smart Money sells, and the ones holding the short straw are the lay investors. My feeble and rather unsharp mind seems to want to draw parallels here. Sky high valuations, huge monies invested at sky-high valuations, where is the exit, and if and when there is an exit, who will be left with a broken business model, who will be licking the wounds, what will happen to the thousands of stakeholders (investors and cab owners alike). Ever heard of “caveat emptor? Will this lead to some sort of bailout? Will the government have to step in at that point? If it is the government, who bears the brunt? Isn’t it the taxpayer?

Yes, I paint nothing short of a doomsday scenario, but simply because I can’t get my mind around to understanding how monies will be made, at least in the traditional sense of the money game.

Call me slow, call me dimwitted, call me anything but stop for a few moments, if not more and think rationally. It’s not looking good.

Don’t get me wrong, the Private Equity and Venture Capitalists are a great source of Risk Capital, and do work and make available funding for projects, in most cases, where the business model does not allow for funding through traditional models. At some point there needs to be a soul-searching, a pragmatic assessment of where all this money is going and what will become of these humongous sums, and perhaps some degree of regulation around the valuations, the eligibility and so on?

Where does VC cash flow to?

The maximum VC cash goes to technology, healthcare and media. This seems rather skewed does it not?

3 of 4 Startups Fail

By now it is well established fact that 3 out of 4 startups fail, the data coming out establishes this fact. If that is indeed the case, shouldn’t we then be questioning certain well established appraising techniques? How are startups appraised? Is it on the basis some hot technology? Is it on the basis of the degree of sincerity and capability of the Promoter? It is market potential? More often than not, the assessment swings basis the quality and pedigree of the Promoter. Yet startups are failing all around.

I can’t say I’m a Capitalist, I can’t say I’m a Socialist, I guess I’m somewhere in between, but I can say this, I am a firm believer is the older and perhaps dated models of doing business, from assessment and appraisals, to how we run businesses. I would only urge that, we are judicious in defining what success constitutes.

Next up: Why do Startups Fail?

If you’ve been reading the series, you will find that I’ve been associated with Startups in some way, shape or form like forever. Instead of merely using Google to pull out reasons why Startups fail, what I’m going to do instead is reflect on my own startups and those I’ve been closely associated with, and try to analyse the reasons for their failure, and perhaps suggest ways and means, such disasters can be averted. It’s a rather ambitious and maybe audacious attempt, so let’s see how this pans out.


Startups: Not for Everyone – Part 4, Last Straw?

That was not to be, and instead, despite my considerable stints with considerable and financially sound national and international corporations, in seniormost roles, both in India and four continents, I would still continue to deal with businesses, with roles and assignments, that all had in some way, shape or form, “startup” as the central pivots of the roles that I played

Up until this time I had always worked for myself, had always been my own boss, and the transition to going and working for someone wasn’t as difficult as it was a mindset thing. Also it was one thing to have worked all my life in financial services, and quite another thing to change my profession from financial wheeler-dealer, influencer, financial guru and what have you.

The necessity to go get a job came about with the startup phases of my life not being as wildly successful as I would have hoped or indeed imagined.

Be that as it may, my predicament was as follows: Straddled with rather large debt, no regular source of income, the financial markets having tanked, the fag-end of the initial tech boom, jobs quite scarce. To top that off, no formal higher qualification. The only saving grace was the fact that I had completed my college (or school as we call it in the US), I barely scraped through getting a B. Com or Bachelors Degree in Commerce, from India’s top commerce college, The Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics. I didn’t even know if that was going to help. Heck, I didn’t even have a CV at that point.

Now I’m certainly not one to cringe, nor get all depressed, and I’m quite the fighter and then some. But, how the heck do you go and actually get a job almost 8-10 years after you have passed out from college? Quite the deterrent in itself.

See here is the thing about Sydenham, it had as its students, kids who were all determined to make it to the top, had great family pedigree, either being the sons and daughters of some business tycoon, or then some corporate big boss. If I said they were born with silver, if not gold spoons in their mouth, I would get away with it. Those who weren’t so endowed, were made of serious stuff, and had the grey matter, not to say, of course, that the ones so anointed by lineage, didn’t have the grey stuff. Not to say either, that I’m not a go getter, just in a very different way.

These are the circs under which I fell back on a college buddy, who had risen to the top at the erstwhile Arthur Andersen, and rather embarrassed, I called on my college friend. He was all welcoming, and at his office, I spilled the beans about what had transpired in my life. So job is the need of the hour, or rather cash is the need of the hour, and the job is merely a means to and end. See, job getting means having a little document called a CV, and me? I had never written a CV in my life. God bless his soul, what Bobby did is just talk to me and literally “extract” from me in my own words, what I had set out to do since I left college, and what I have chalked up in terms of experience.

Bhavna, that great mother of my kids, would keep saying, what are you doing? Go get a job….I just didn’t know how. After remaining in a state, for a longish time, similar to that of a deer frozen in the headlights, I finally called Bobby. And so it came to pass that, encouraged by Bobby, I sat and penned my set of experiences, and if I’m not wrong, he even helped me to craft my narrative of experience, into what would pass off as a CV.

Armed with the said CV, I scoured the papers, responded to zillion job postings, got in touch with so many head hunters, recruiters, placement agencies, even went and met some who condescended to give me the time of the day. Hell, I may as well have started a recruitment service of my own!

One kindred soul was Dr R L Bhatia, who at the time ran something called, Center for Change Management. He’d posted and advert in a leading publication, from amongst the ones I scoured daily, and spotted said Center f\or Change Management, which sounded promising. The meeting at his office in Juhu was quite brief, and almost instantaneously, he said he may have something for me. His client, Vikram Doshi of Atco Weighing Scales (famous market leader at the time) was looking for a CFO, and despite the fact that I was not a Chartered Accountant, nor had a MBA degree, or a formal higher education, he agreed to put me in touch with the CEO of said weighing scale company.

Appointment fixed for the morrow, suited and booted, I show up at the office of the CEO, and we just chat very briefly, or perhaps it was an interview? Regardless of the nomenclature, it was brief, and in five minutes, give or take, I summed up what I had set out to do, and what I had under my belt, in terms of experience. In five minutes he told me he needed a market savvy finance guy, and that was pretty much it. No JD, more of the “we can figure it out together” sorta job. I don’t know what it is with me and jobs, they have all been of the “we will figure it out” variety.

There was this “I done good” feeling and in that “spirits lifted” frame of mind, I called Dr. Bhatia, who was meeting the CEO the next day. This being the position, I settled into that state called, “the waiting with bated breath”, and therefore it came as no small surprise, when the afternoon came a’knocking at the door, announcing the arrival of a courier in the person of the CEO’s chauffeur. I wasn’t home when the knocking happened, I came home to fund a sealed envelope. That sealed envelope, that twist in my fortunes, came in the form of an offer. Delight, wonder, amazement, what words must I muster up to describe that feeling, I don’t quite know.

The telling of this tale is many years post those historic events, but despite the years gone by, as I write this narrative, I relive that experience as if it is in the present, or in the recent past. I was delighted with the financial package, and that was simply accentuated by the fact that I had been cooling my heels for the longest time, and there was no cash flowing into the kitty at all. My wife Bhavna was supporting me. Not a good feeling, not good for one’s self esteem, not good emotionally, not good financially, not good spiritually. Plain not good. Well, I did call and try to negotiate a better deal, but the CEO was adamant. No negotiation on package, take it or leave it. I took it.

I needed to attend to some legal issues from my time in Goa, and so was able to negotiate a week to join. The great believer that I am, in fate, in destiny, in karma, in the general goodness in people, and that despite my reversals, I didn’t really probe too much into the company or for that matter about the promoter. I decided that I will put in a lot of hard work, and let my maker decide the rest. That is something I believe in to this day, albeit, I’m a bit more realistic and do factor in what can go wrong, so I can mitigate against the twists and turns in life. And so I show up at work, am given the room earmarked for the CFO, that I have joined as, meet the team, and go through the on boarding motions. The next few days are spent in understanding the business plan, the vision and closeted in so many meetings that one’s mind was reeling. The vision of the CEO, that I just alluded to, was driven by nothing short of a visionary in the person of Vikram Doshi, MD and CEO of atcom technologies limited. I may have mentioned elsewhere in one of my blogs, that the assignment was that of transitioning from a brick and mortar business to a click and mortar business, both B2B and B2C. Did I know enough about the B2B and B2C business models? Clearly I didn’t, but as I’ve said before, I’m a lightning fast learner, and have the uncanny ability to assimilate knowledge, and use this new-found learning, rather quickly to extrapolate into thoughts and thence to action. So this was what I went about doing. I daresay that we are forgetting that this was my first job in a corporate, my first experience of having a boss, my first experience in working with peers, and in general learning something that a fresher from B’School will learn at his/her first job. Therefore I am at pains to remind my readers.

We are talking about startups, are we not? So let’s come to that aspect of this series of articles. The venture or the business plan and indeed the business model, was everything what a startup was all about. New business model, untried and untested, a greenfield seeking funding, seeking first customers for the new business models, plenty of doubting Thomas all around including within the family of the promoters. The family that owned the brick and mortar business interests, were not exactly supportive nor convinced about the success of the new way of doing business, and therefore one key element of my role, was to oversee a demerger, ie: a divorce of atcom technologies limited from Atco Weighing Scales Limited. This demerger, meant that I had to rapidly come up to speed with the legal aspects of a demerger, including understanding the petition that would be filed before the High Court, the financial aspects, the operational aspects, and ensure that there was no disruption of the BAU state. A big ask. So in terms of experience, new, new, new.

Seeing that we didn’t really have an efficient army, despite the best efforts of the CEO hiring the best of the best, and throwing money at them, we were faced with the prospect of pulling the big ask off, with one hand and one leg tied behind our backs. Vikram, quickly saw that I had the wherewithal to step up, and quickly at that, therefore more and more got thrown at me. Finance, even business development. Heck, I was the one who brought the first realy business opportunity to the table, that too with an oil major, Castrol. I also handled Admin and Infra, the creation of a spanking new state of the art facility, including a data center, and all its trimmings of servers, layered switches and such. I just loved it, I was working long hours, plenty of them spent studying. 

So it’s now 8-9 months into the job, and we have just moved into our beautiful new office building, and the proverbial goop hits the fan. It had to didn’t it? My life has been such, and I’m told numerology has something to do with it. My number is 8 or when laid on its side, it signifies infinity. The infinite loop when attributed to a person as per numerology, denotes struggle in career and finance, but also signifies spiritual advancement. The company is straddled with bills to pay, business has not come in, the brick and mortar businesses are not going to carry the burden of this startup, and we, especially me, are faced with irate vendors, irate employees, the works. I’m sure you get my drift.

As much as I would have liked to continue, I was compelled to leave atcom, simply because one really irate vendor had approached a certain infamous member of the underworld (dreaded until this day) to recover their monies. Being very much the party man, and as all good party men are expected to do, I came to the aid of the party. I filed police complaints, and through my rather influential network, and through some friends who had access to people of notoriety, brought pressure to bear on said irate vendor to cease and desist. After quite a few petitions before the seniors in the police administration, and after several meetings with said underworld bosses, I was gently told by friends (in the establishment and some well wishers in the underworld), that they would hold off on any proceedings against the company, till such time that I was in the role. In the same breath I was gently urged to step down, as my life was at some considerable risk, and that I could not be protected 24*7, nor could anyone reasonably guaranty the safety of my family.

Therefore, with heavy heart I tendered my resignation, and was back in the ranks of the unemployed.

All said and done, dust settled and so on, I came away licking my wounds, and made a conscious decision to dwell instead, on the learning’s from this assignment, which lasted all of 11 months. 

At some point I asked Vikram on what basis he decided to give me the job, and his reply was, the five minute summation you gave me about yourself, was exactly what I was looking for. That said, Vikram was a man far ahead of his time, a visionary in all respects. Great pity then, that this grand vision didn’t see the light of day. 

That ends the narrative of this startup story and at the time I am thinking, I’m so done with startups. That was not to be, and instead, despite my considerable stints with considerable and financially sound national and international corporations, in senior roles, both in India and four continents, I would still continue to deal with businesses, with roles and assignments, that all had in some way, shape or form, “startup” as the central pivots of the roles that I played. At ICICI as Head of Product Strategy of Treasury and Risk Management Products, I did beta products…from conceptualization, to product, to beta sale, to deployment. At HSBC I took over dysfunctional teams, condemned teams, set up new transnational teams, new business practices and models across the globe. Post HSBC, I finally ended up with Agile Financial Technologies, a startup not just in concept, but in every sense of the term.

To know more, read more……The startup journey isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.

GriffinWorx – TIE – eBay Foundation: New Learning for Mentors.

This past weekend, I have been through an experience most fascinating, rewarding and humbling.

This past weekend, I have been through an experience most fascinating, rewarding and humbling.

I was asked by my cycling buddy Kumar, to come in and be one amongst several Mentors in a program called “Start Up Cup Challenge Extreme – Build – A – Business Weekend”.

This is a first in India, and is a partnership between TIE (, eBay Foundation  and GriffinWorx. This was such a privilege, especially because, for the last couple of years, I’ve grown a bit tired of the routine around the corporate world (bring me something challenging), and find myself inclined to teach, to coach, to mentor, and participate in causes that have social and environmental impact. My role as strategic advisor to the Smart Commute Foundation, does give me such a sense of fulfillment. Give me more.

The Startup Cup Challenge, was a two-day event, very intense and fast paced. This is how it panned out. TIE invited applications from startups from almost any field or domain, but its special emphasis was on the “underserved” startup community. This is a community of underprivileged, not affluent, but hardworking people and groups, who have novel ideas to do business, some commercially, some socially inclined. Therefore there was a very diverse mix of applicants, somewhere 200+ in number, of which 105 were selected to participate. Rather than steal their thunder, I had best reproduce verbatim, what the program is all about.

“The Program

The Challenge is open to anyone, with any type of business idea and from any background. This internationally recognized seven-month acceleration program is proven to grow businesses and accelerate the development of revenue. Through a highly experiential and mentor driven process.

Select business teams will be invited to an Extreme Build-A-Business Weekend, which will take place on 27-28 May, where the Top 25 business teams will be selected to advance into the competitive process.

    • Cash Prize for the First Three Teams* – First Place: USD 10,000, Second Place: USD 5,000, Third Place: USD 2,500
  • Learn Business Model Design Through Visual Thinking
  • Clarify How You Create Value and How to Reach Your Target Customer
  • Learn Go-to-Market Strategies That Will Produce Revenue and Avoid the Need for Traditional Fundraising
  • Learn How to Design a Circular Economy Based Business
  • Connect with Like-Minded Entrepreneurs from Your Community (There is no need to feel alone or isolated as an entrepreneur)”


The rather intense weekend started off on Saturday at 8. 30 am,  when we were given the lay of the land by Sean Griffin of GriffinWorx.

He’s a fantastic, charismatic fellow, and has oodles of experience at this, having run such programs in some 60 odd countries. Turns out we have both worked in several common locations globally, and had some amazing stories of our escapades to compare over dinner.

Now despite having been quite a successful mentor myself, I have never really used a standard methodology and Sean exposed us to and trained us on his patented methodology. Fascinating, to say the least. I really benefited from this approach, and all my skills, tools and techniques, saw themselves falling into various buckets within Sean’s methodology, and I even picked up some cool new tips and tricks along the way. Just when you think you know a lot, someone comes along and teaches you something new!

So this went on until 10 am on Day 1, and then we were let loose to play our mentor roles to about 105 startups. Some merely at an idea stage, some a little beyond, some with a little business already in flight, some more advanced. In the mix, were technology startups, most notable amongst them an enterprising young man, who is on the cusp of launching a ring, a wearable device that can do much more than just payments. Then there is this For Profit Social Enterprise founded by 3 charming and dedicated girls providing consultancy in the CSR space. There were housewives too with small businesses, all catering to the underserved market. Did I not mention the waste based manure business, others in analytics, and what have you. One even planned to hire eunuchs in their workforce, to serve those underprivileged human beings.



Mentoring such a diverse set up people (some unable to communicate in English), diverse business models, was quite a task, and a clear case of overload. But what was really exciting was the level of energy in the room and the sheer enthusiasm amongst the mentors, the mentee, Sean and Erin, and the TIE team who provided such superb facilitation. I came away with quite a few learnings, especially as this was the perfect opportunity to compare attitudes, behaviours, business, technical and marketing acumen at one go. I found some promoters simply full of themselves, some so glued to their ideas and ways of doing things, others who was a bit overwhelmed (and that’s an understatement), some simply unable to give responses to pretty basic questions. Yet I found others, willing to be mentored, to learn, to listen and move forward.

The challenge then, was to navigate all these attitudes, etc, cut to the chase, and compel self discovery based on the methodology, not with a view to run anybody down, or undermine them or their ideas, but to urge them to think things through based on a tested model.

What was really neat was that we put our votes basis several parameters into an application, and thank God for that! Imagine remembering the interaction with so many groups in such a short span of time! Actually, that may have been fun, come to think of it, come up with unique business models, by mixing up stuff amongst several businesses 🙂 I think I mentored about 40 participants, on day one itself, and added a few on day two.

Day 2 started off with some advanced techniques, basis the experiences from our Day 1 interactions, and we were let loose once again. A bit more relaxed, a bit more structured, both the Mentors and the Mentees, and at around 3 pm, we were ready to wind down.

Votes all case, now it was time to collate, score, debate and discuss on the final shortlist of 25 business builders who would go through the next steps.


That done, the next item on the agenda was to break the news to the participants, issue certificates to the participants, the shortlisted business builders, the Mentors and do the photo sessions. The outcome was joyful faces of the ones who made the cut, and disappointment from those who didn’t.


And with that the festivities came to an end, and we all parted ways….two intense days, well spent, several new connections, some new friends, and promise of more interactions in the days to come.


I came away particularly pleased when asked to play the role of Judge in future interactions, since the program will run till September. I hope to write about how things pan out as we go through the rounds of eliminations, and arrive at the three final winners, and log further experiences as we go along this journey.

I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors, some international luminaries…the then Deputy Managing Director of State Bank of India – P V Subba Rao (God Bless His Soul), Rumi – my Boss and CEO of HSBC’s Global Technology Centers and his successor and my next Boss – Ignacio Vera from Argentina. On the personal front, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be blessed by my Spiritual Master (now departed) His Holiness Sridhar Swami, and receive mentorship at the hands of my father, a most noble, kind and patient teacher.

This experience has only served to add to lifelong learning, and yet, my insatiable appetite, leaves me yearning for more…..

Technological Revolution: No Internet aka The Dark Ages

For the generation that has seen technology in the palm of your hand almost from birth, boys and girls I would like to say that, there was a time when there was no internet, and even worse, no cellular phones, only landlines to contend with, not to speak of the challenges of actually getting a landline (at least in India, way back). Yes people, those were the Dark Ages, very dark.

The topic for the day, well actually night, is life moving from the dark ages into the light.

My journey with technology really started when I was a kid, as is usually the case. My professional tryst with technology, is nothing but fate and circumstance. Nowhere on the distant landscape did technology seem to be on the horizon, yet here we are. Sumir Nagar – Chief Operating Officer & Global Delivery Head.

The childhood skirmishes with technology mainly consist of me taking things apart, and more often than not, failing to put them back together in working condition. Radios, cassette players, cars and bicycles (of course) included.

It even involves, yours truly, trying to peel off the coating of a speaker wire, which was nothing but a live wire. Stick wire in mouth, to strip coating, wet tongue contacting bare live wire, bzzzzzzz, Sumir falling off rather tall ladder, and bringing down the stereo speakers he’s trying to fix. Fortunately no broken bones, just a strange buzzing feeling throughout every fibre of my being.

If only that moment could have been caught on film, it would have got a lot of eyeballs on You Tube and then some. Minor detail, no You Tube, no Facebook, no social, and even more ghastly, no internet. Really no internet? Did such a time even exist? How quickly we forget, don’t we? Well for those of us “old” enough. Here comes Minton, saying “how old are you bro?”, and Lisa saying, “you posted it I didn’t”. So lets set that little item to rest… I am all of 54 years old. Happy people?

For the generation that has seen technology in the palm of your hand almost from birth, boys and girls I would like to say that, there was a time when there was no internet, and even worse, no cellular phones, only landlines to contend with, not to speak of the challenges of actually getting a landline (at least in India, way back).

Yes people, those were the Dark Ages, very dark.

Those were also simpler times, when family actually spent time doing fun stuff, actually spending quality time together, actually having meaningful conversations with each other, face to face. But this is not about lament, it’s about my experience of seeing technology actually take shape and come into an age of self driven cars and delivery by drone.

Technology has changed every single aspect of our existence, from the way we write and run computer programmes, to the kind of cars we drive, to the kind of bicycles we ride. How we have seen the music scene changing, from valve based radios, to circuit boards, from vinyl to spool decks, to eight track, to cassette tapes, to CD’s to Blue Ray, to internet based music.

Have you ever used a box camera, that too black and white, and graduated to polaroid, to SLR, to DSLR, to phone based cameras, and now comes the Moto Z Play with the Hazelblad camera Mod attachment! What a fantastic journey. Have you ever developed roll after roll (rather expensive) and then moved to viewing the photographs on screen, with the ability to edit?

We now exist in the world of the app, and increasingly find that there is an app for every little thing we can think about, even down to how we date. Swipe left for no, swipe right for yes?

This is the year of ’78 or maybe ’79, and I am first exposed to computer programming. There was this kindest, sweetest, most learned teacher in New Phila High called Mr. Winn, and he taught me the basic tenets of programing.

I often narrate this to the current gen of developers (we call then coders when we speak unkindly of them). I tell them to imagine shading punch cards, which are then punched and sorted, and are then fed into a punch card reader, from where we cut a ticker tape, from where we record a cassette tape, which is then put into this computer called a Wang, and we actually run the programme.

If the programme fails, and mine almost always did, you end up shading the cards all over again, and going through the abovementioned rigmarole again and again till we got it right. Mistakes were expensive and time-consuming, unlike now, when all you need to do is delete/comment, rewrite code, compile and run the programme again, all in a matter of seconds. Better yet, with the modern-day UI and drag and drop features available with the intelligent developer tools, you can actually see the impact of the code changes you make in real-time or near real time.

Now this is not an old vs younger generation thing, but it has been my observation and experience, that due to the fact that you could ill afford to get things wrong (the cost of rework being high and time-consuming), you did tend to be more particular and diligent, and more often that not, get things right the first time, whereas in the current scheme of things, you can rework things really easily, and therefore are more careless, less diligent, and tend not to do things right the first time out. Also we weren’t on FB, WhatsApp, Snapchat and what have you, so we were less distracted when we worked.

How many of us remember the old idiot boxes and have seen them move from black and white to color, and now to smart TV’s dishing out content on demand?

Call me daft, but I would easily regress into a world devoid of cellular phones, but I don’t think I would do away with computers. I use the cellular heavily and even carry two, but that’s just to separate work from personal. I think it’s a respect thing as well, if I message you before I call, it is to see if you’re busy or are able to speak with me. I get real irritated when people tell me things like, I saw that you read my message a long time back but you didn’t respond until much later. What frigging gives? My response at the extreme is simple, the damn device was paid for by me, the bills are paid by me, so I pretty much will damn decide when and IF I message you back! Such is my aversion to unwanted intrusion, that my WhatsApp is on my Dubai number, and that is one I really don’t give to everyone. I also have a secret number which I give ONLY to family and those who I care about, respect and trust implicitly. That that’s a really small number. Attitude you say? I say YES.

I must say that my generation has been most fortunate to have seen the old world or Dark Ages), devoid of all the needless distractions, and in later years see the technology transformation changing the way we work and indeed live. It’s like we were on the cusp of the old world transcending into something fascinating. Our cup of fortune runneth over as we now are seeing the advent of technological advancement into disciplines like Artificial Intelligence, space tourism, and seeing the efforts of Elon Musk and his like, force yet another transformation of how we live, think and indeed live.

Then is the generation preceding ours who got kinda left behind, but there are a few of them who had and have a keen desire to at least understand, if not catch up, to an era that’s changed around then so very rapidly that they are shell-shocked.

I allude to people like my father, all of 88 years, who printed out the entire user manual of the smart phone we presented him, just so he could operate the damn thing, and how he only recently purchased a laptop and sits day after day to study it and get it to do what he wants out of it. I must say I’ve been impatient with him at times, when he asks questions that to me are so very basic, that we don’t even think about it. There are two people who get a vote of thanks and gratitude for my foray into computer science, my father and my buddy Harish. Harish, because he literally begged, if not bullied me into buying a PC XT, dual floppy drive et all. My father because he somehow cajoled me to enroll for a Diploma Course from NCC when I was but a teenager, or maybe just after.

The XT gave way to the AT, which stood down for the 386 and then the 486. Storage and memory at a bare minimum, from floppy disk, to mini disk, to hard drives, to flash drives. Amazing changes, and the advancements continue.

It seems to me that I’ve been spared the same disapproving looks from my kids, who have been kind enough on occasion to label me, “the most tech savvy father” from amongst my peer group. I guess I thank my lucky stars that my life did take me on a technological journey, most meaningful, even though I didn’t see technology anywhere on the horizon during my early years. And that fortune is even more amplified (if that’s the word I’m seeking), when I can say I’ve worked in the business, operations and technology, have lived and worked on four continents, and have worked for the vendor community and the captives as well.

I’m at a crossroads of sorts now, and I sit scratching my head to figure out what I’m going to do next. I just hope that my journey is as exciting as its been, reversals and all, and I continue to learn new things, have new experiences and continue to come up trumps.

How I Ended up in HSBC

The only real question that matters is the one that the CEO asks. “You seem to have done a lot in your life, is there anything you can’t do?”. Instinctively I knew that the answer to this question would be the clincher, and my answer is, “Rumi, the only thing I can’t do is Kiss Ass!”. Little expecting such a response, (you had to be there) there is a look of surprise all around.

I joined ICICI Infotech in August 2001, and HSBC in December, 2004. I think that the ICICI years and all my previous experience, were stepping-stones to finally getting to work for what was arguably the world’s largest bank.

During the ICICI stint of about five years, I was sent off on a couple of overseas assignments, one to Singapore, and the next one to Abu Dhabi, UAE. The Abu Dhabi stint, was supposed to be a twenty day study, discussion, documentation and interaction thingy, but we know how these things turn out don’t we? This assignment lasted about a year.

This is How it Started

Somewhere towards the end of the assignment, somewhere in October 1198/99, it started with a call from Charleson Varghese, aka Charlie. We’ll get right back to this Charlie, but this is pretty much how the call goes.

Charlie paying me respects by calling me Bhai or elder Brother, asking after my health and whereabouts, and me providing him the asked information. He then asks if I’m open to looking at a role in HSBC, and if so can I send him an updated profile, which I do sans any hesitation. Pat came the response, by way of a mail from a HSBC HR recruiter, and the game is afoot. A call gets set up between one of the direct reports of the CEO, and he reveals that he’s looking to move on, and want someone to take his place. The call or rather interview goes well, and the next call within a matter of days, is with an Englishman named Paul Ward, who grills me over the phone, to ascertain my knowledge about how treasuries are run, how settlements take place, how the metals and commodity business are run. I guess that must have gone fairly well, and I’m asked to come to Pune in India for a face to face selection panel interaction.

Slight problem that. The project I’m working on and instrumental in moving along nicely, is for none other than the Abu Dhabi Investment Company, who is actually one of the Sheikh’s investment companies, dealing in everything from exchange traded instruments, to structured products, to brokerage, to investment management and lending. The system we are putting in is merely a replacement for several internationally acclaimed software product companies, including Reuters, nothing substantial. And due to my deep market knowledge and experience in all the above, I’m the chosen one (both by ICICI and by ADIC), in ensuring that it all goes well. No pressure. And it is all going very well, but even thinking about exiting for the briefest period is not something I was really inclined to do. Except, that this was a role with the world’s largest bank (arguably).

And so, I make an excuse that I have to go to India to attend my son’s birth day, and on that basis I travel. I land at some god-awful hour, go home shower and change into a monkey suit, and make the 180 km trek to Pune in my car. As I’m pulling into Pune I get a flat, and having no time to have the said tire fixed, I abandon the car, lest I’m late for the interview.

The Interview

Almost that I arrive at HSBC’s offshore development HQ, I’m ushered into the CEO’s den, and there awaits a formidable panel consisting of the CEO, the Paul Ward (the guy who interviewed me on the phone), the guy I’m supposed to replace, the head of HR, and his deputy I think.

I’m at my fired up best, and in the shortest span of time, I seize the moment and tell them my professional story, which actually commences really humbly, then comes to a crescendo, then follow the some minor reversals (one really big one). Questions are few, if there were any at all, if memory serves me correctly.

The only real question that matters is the one that the CEO asks. “You seem to have done a lot in your life, is there anything you can’t do?”. Instinctively I knew that the answer to this question would be the clincher, and my answer is, “Rumi, the only thing I can’t do is Kiss Ass!”. Little expecting such a response, (you had to be there) there is a look of surprise all around. Rumi, comes back nicely and quips, “Is that so, you’re gonna kiss my ass, and you’re gonna love doing it too!”.

Those Infernal Tests!

The interview is over, and I’m now led away to answer a few tests, language, numerical, and psychoanalytical. It is a whole bloody day of tests, and given I had not answered a test in years, it was not the most pleasant of experiences. I never was presented with the results, but I got the job, so I guess I must have done well, or at the very least made passing grade. I recall having asked the recruiter who first got in touch with me about this, and he says, I’m sure you did well, else there is no way you would have been given this job.

Finally, around 7 pm, Rumi comes by to the conference room where I was situated for the day, and asks why I’m around, like he’s amazed I’m undergoing these tests, and from his tone and body language I know that the job is mine.

Shortly later I find myself headed to the spot where I’ve left my car, hoping it’s still there, get the tire fixed, and am dashing back to Bombay, to attend my son’s birthday party. Later that very night, I’m on a plane back to Abu Dhabi, and back into the fray.

A couple of days later, I receive a mail containing my offer letter. The number isn’t as per my expectation, so I get the number increased just a bit. Not enough but just a bit, after all I was going to be working for the biggest bank in the world (arguably).

Exit from ICICI

Then comes the discussion about the notice I need to serve my current employer. Hell, I had not even thought about that yet, and so I say I will get back to them. I;ve not even broached this topic with my employer, with my dear boss, Ms. Atre, and I’m certain, exiting is not going to be easy. For three reasons, one being that I was doing a damn good job, two that my boss and I got on real well, and finally because the project was at such a critical juncture.

I sum up the courage, have the conversation and Shirish (Ms. Atre), gives in and says she will not stand in the way of my success, but I still need to serve the three months notice.

I go back to the HSBC folks, and have a conversation with them, afraid that they will not agree to the notice period before I come on board, but to my delight, they understand. Rumi, being Rumi, is already thinking ahead, and has my go through the induction at the hands of an experienced and longtime HSBC manager based in Bombay. We meet over a couple of coffees, lunch and he gives my the dynamic of the HSBC world, the role of HSBC technology in the HSBC world, and I’m daunted. Twenty five thousand people in IT, a USD 4 billion IT spend, 80+ countries, yikes!!!

That done, Rumi goes one better, and has me dial in each morning into his management team meeting, and starts copying me in on mails, just so I get to know whats going on, and hit the ground running when I finally come on board some months later.

And that is how I came to work for HSBC.

So Who Exactly is Charlie?

I did say earlier that I will come back to this Charlie character, didn’t I? So here is the story. It is one about respect, friendships, relationships and how doing one good deed, goes such a long way. It is Karma.

Charlie and I met when he and I were both working for System Access (now Sungard), in Singapore. I was under deputation from ICICI to System Access as a specialist on tresaury and financial markets, and during the year I spent in Singapore, Charlie and I became really good friends. There were four of us who shared the bay, Charlie, Mahesh Karle and Alvin Liu, and we called ourselves the Cosa Nostra, given that we became really great friends.

One day he comes to me and says, Bhai (elder brother), I have this opportunity to work for HSBC, and they want to interview me at 3 pm tomorrow, and I have no place where I can take this call. I immediately gave him my hotel room key, and he took the interview, got the job and went to work for HSBC. He never forgot this small good deed I had done and tried on a couple of occasions, to get me into HSBC. The first time around it didn’t work out, but he never stopped trying, and then this whole call in Abu Dhabi happened, and the rest as they say, is history. Eventually Charle came to work for me, as a direct report looking after some key initiatives.

Fond Memories – Great Experience

So this is the story of how I came to work for HSBC. I started off inheriting a team, fired some of the members, added new members, and created the Business Solutions and Consulting Group, then was given the added responsibilites of Corporate Communications, and was tasked with building the global Relationship Management Unit (RMU). Those are stories in themselves, and therefore I will deal with those experiences seperately.

I worked in HSBC exactly five years to the date, and exited due to some unfortunate developments. These five years gave me true international exposure, challenged me, educated me, showed me stratospheric success, made me travel to over thirty countries in every continent. Years that I will always cherish and remember fondly.




How I Got the ICICI Infotech Job

This true telling, begins with me having been out of work for several months now, and I am getting rather desperate. Family to support, mouthis to feed. It was the bottom of the spiral caused by tech bubble that had gone bust, and jobs were not easy to come by. I literally sat each and every day and scoured every advertisement in various publications, and finding anything remotely suitable, I applied, crossed my fingers, my toes and pretty much everything that could be crossed, so much so that reading, and working long hours at the computer, did leave me blurry and cross-eyed at times.

This part of my life picks up directly from a time when I was at that stage in life called, “in-between” jobs (read unemployed). I was looking for my second job. My very first job as Chief Financial Officer of atcom technologies limited  had lasted all of eleven months, and that is a tale in itself. So let’s save that for another time, not here.

This true telling, begins with me having been out of work for several months now, and I am getting rather desperate. Family to support, mouths to feed. It was the bottom of the spiral caused by tech bubble that had gone bust, and jobs were not easy to come by. I literally sat each and every day and scoured every advertisement in various publications, and finding anything remotely suitable, I applied, crossed my fingers, my toes and pretty much everything that could be crossed, so much so that reading, and working long hours at the computer, did leave me blurry and cross-eyed at times.

Enter Radha, as he is fondly called. Radhakrishna Pingali had been a very dear friend, going way back, when he was with a tech company that had been involved in the computerization of the Bombay Stock Exchange, and I was Managing Director of Integra Funds Management Limited.

I met a friend at Otters Club, who mentioned Radha, and that’s how I get his number and I reconnect with Radha, after a gap of too many years. Called him I did, and quicker than you can say “jumping jack flash”, he was en route to meet with me.

I gave him the lay of the land, and instantly he was thinking about how he could get me a job quickly, well almost instantly. For those who know Radha, that’s how he is.

You see, Radha had really made it, and was then the Joint President of ICICI Infotech, his startup having been acquired. His startup team became what was later known as the BPG, or Banking Products Group, and at some time was called the Intellectual Capital Group.

He organized a couple of interviews, with one of his direct reports and with the Head of HR (we didn’t hit it off at first, but became friends over the years), and I received an offer. The offer in terms of money, was far less than what I was making in my earlier role as the CFO, and the role and title did not cause excitement. The role was somewhat indeterminate to begin with, and the title was Senior Manager. From Managing Director to Senior Manager! Well such is life.

When Radha told me it was a “functional” role, these are the thoughts that ran through my head. I know little about technology, didn’t really know how to write a functional specification, and I barely know how a treasury product is designed or built. I know nothing about formal IT, but I did understand the basic tenets about design and development, albeit only from the myopic point of view of having completed a course at Aptech. I guess developing a  high level specifications for a bleeding edge, Decision Support System, conceptualized by me, solely for the purposes of running my own financial services business, was somewhat of a saving grace. In that respect, I was ahead of the curve, and was a thought leader.

I think this is how Radha and I became close.

Ever since I was introduced to Radha, we spent hour after hour talking financial markets, and at some point I guess, we started talking technology in financial markets. This is where the epic discussions and exchange of ideas took place, at my office, at the bar, at dinner, in the car commuting, and pretty much everywhere. I think I only learned and learned and learned about technology, and what it can be made to do, and this is the time Radha was exposed to my seemingly layman ideas of what I wanted to do in terms of business automation, and decision support and MIS. You see, back in the day I did manage money and advise some pretty senior executives and some leading businessmen. I needed information at my fingertips. I knew exactly what I wanted, I just needed a system to bring that information to me at my fingertips.

At some point he brought in vendors and spent hours explaining to them, making them understand what I wanted, and we spent quite a bit of time discussing functional specifications, technology, and finally we got to the point of getting in proposals that Radha helped me vet.

Oftentimes I do think about how we were THE first movers in conceptualizing and actually taking up development of such a system. Way before these were finally brought to India, way before they were finally adopted. Nostalgia.

Since the victim of this piece is not the “Mother of all Decision Support Systems” that we were contemplating, let’s carry on with how I came to work for Radha later in life. Well not directly for Radha, but a few levels below him. The tables had turned you see.

One of the other things that brought us close (I think), was our discussions about spirituality, my deep exposure and my very visible (back then, not now) spiritual practices. To the extent that when Radha lost his beloved wife to irreversible disease, I was asked to perform some part of the last rites, since Radha was deep in shock.

Finally life kicked in and I was out of a job, as I stated at the beginning of this blog, and I reconnected with Radha, who had grown to be a dear friend. Picking up that lost thread, was a matter of moments. There was no awkwardness about his great fortune, of my reversal, about the fact that I would be a minion as opposed to be a senior member of the team.

Radha did what he could, Radha was true to himself, he was true to a friend in need, he got me a job, and at that point in time, that was exactly what I needed.

Such is the humility of this great human being, that he said to me, I know that you have great intellect, I know that this is a bit demeaning, but just come work for me, I need you. Truth be told, he didn’t….he could have found someone like me, or even better than me to take his product forward, but he instead chose to place his trust in a friend in need, in an untried and untested resource.

In later meetings, he said he knew what he was doing in passing me the ball, but all I can see in that gesture of a friend, was that he came through. I was humbled and proud at the same time, when much later he introduced me to his now grown son, a professional in his own right, as one of the few people whom he respected as having unparalleled intellect. It isn’t not so much the compliment, it is where it was coming from. This was from Radha, a man far far ahead of his times, a man of great intellect himself. Wow, I was simply blown away, and in terms of compliments, this is the one I will always cherish.

This is how I happened to come into hard-core, main stream technology, which would serve me well in later years, and serves me well until this day. From not being able to write a functional specification that a technical resource could understand, I came to a point where I did become Head of Product Strategy for Treasury and Risk Management Products. I did end up designing from scratch an Investment Management System, and went on to design and build several such systems.

I have one man to thank for that opportunity, but I do have to thank many other people who were patient with me, who helped me learn (albeit quickly), who placed their friendships, trust and faith in my abilities to deliver, under the most daunting of circumstances. If I am every subservient to anyone, it is Radha, whome I consider my benefactor, and I can say, other than him I’m subservient to none, have not been, and don’t think I’m ever going to be.

I think Radha and his team, Babu, Bhanu and Ms. Atre (who was later my lady boss) carried me for at least two years, before I was able to carry my own weight, and deliver value to the organization that had seen it fit to employ me.

I’ve always been helpful by nature, and try to be a pillar of support to people at times when all seems bleak, but this experience really made a profound impact and the way I am with people today, comes largely out of this experience.

The ICICI journey spans five years, and the subsequent series of blogs will reveal more about that journey. This is where my professional international exposure commenced, this was the stepping stone.

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