Book Reviews

A bunch of book reviews I had done for thetalespensieve are out.

 

Zen Garden by Subroto Bagchi – Collection of Bagchi’s interactions with some of the finest business and social leaders, entrepreneurs and pathmakers, invited to the Zen garden, where they share their life stories, inflexion and tipping points, principles, driving forces, passion, and success mantras.

“Comes in easy language and short chapters, well catalogued without being prescriptive, and is a great bed-time read.” (4/5)

Dream With Your Eyes Open by Ronnie Screwvala – Ronnie Screwvala traverses his entrepreneurial journey of over two decades in his debut book. More popularly known for having created UTV from scratch, many people may not know about his several other stints across toothbrushes, games, and many other categories (not all of them successful).

Great lessons, extremely conversational, slightly preachy, but a wide view of what entrepreneurship can be!

 

Letters From An Indian Summer by Siddharth Dasgupta – less a novel, more an elegy. It’s a celebration of Arjun Bedi and Genevieve Casta’s love story, through letters and meetings, destiny and serendipity spread over 5 years and many countries.

Reminded me of the first time I had sizzlers. Someone else had ordered in on some other table in the restaurant. It promised a lot of sizzle and excitement. And it delivered on that very well! But once the show was over, the taste was passable. (2 on 5)

The Death And Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi by Makarand Paranjape – ““He felt that non-violence during the struggle for independence was an expedient, i.e., resistance to the white man was undertaken in a non-violent manner simply because we had no military strength with which to offer battle.” – Kingslay Martin – Jan 27, 1948

Where the book succeeds in a big way is by asking us – Is Mahatma Gandhi relevant anymore? Or, was Gandhi ever relevant in a post-independence India? Paranajape believes, and so do I, that he was, is and will continue to be. (Rating: 3/5)

Seven Uncommoners by Ridhima Verma – collection of biographical sketches of seven entrepreneurs from across a variety of industries in India.The choice of entrepreneurs is interesting – across gaming and technology (Vishal Gondal of Indiagames and Goqii), hospitality (Patu Keswani of Lemon Tree Hotels), logistics and supply chain (Pawan Jain of Safexpress), construction & infrastructure development (Jagdish Gupta of J Kumar Infraprojects), financial advisory (Mahesh Singhi of Singhi Advisors), facilities management (Prasad Lad of Krystal Group) and legal services (Nishith Desai of NDA).

The feeling that there has to be more, and that something has been left out, is the pervasive sentiment at the end of the read. Nevertheless, the book is a good celebration of home grown successes in a world which is excessively enamored by the Steve Jobs brand of arrogant leadership and perfect solutions.(Rating: 3.25/5)

A Hundred Lives For You by Abhisar Sharma – takes montages from three decades of Abhimanyu’s life. A media man with a penchant for reporting, Abhisar seems to have gotten down to writing a deeply personal book, or so it seems

Simple story, great emotions, good use of the country’s timeline, weak first half, good narrative, few editorial misses, and a very strong father-daughter relationship in the second half of the book. (Rating: 3.5/5)

 

Ladies Please! by Jose Covaco – A no-holds barred take on dating in India from a man’s perspective. Jose, through his series of spectacularly failed (I am not sure if they are real or imaginary, but at the very least they are relatable and everyday sightings) and moderately failed and occasionally successful relationships (because in India, there is no dating; there is only a relationship), bares it all and leaves you with (especially women) tips and tricks for dealing with the other sex better.

I strongly urge all ladies to read the book. Especially, if you want to really train your man. And of course when we talk about training or changing the man, all you are trying to do really is make us better. Right? The book is hilarious in pint size measures, but slow otherwise.(Rating 3:25/5)

 

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Is it evil?

In the last few weeks, I have come across three somewhat disturbing stories. All relate to start-ups in Mumbai.

 

In the first one, someone told me that a co-founder X of a successful start-up A was involved in a car accident. He was driving. There were three other people (employees of the start-up, I think) in the car. One died on the spot. Another one died couple of days later. The driver (X) was booked by police for rash and negligent driving. He was later released on bail. The start-up otherwise receives a fair bit of media attention these days. Except that this one news item did not get as much coverage. Interestingly, the “add-on” I heard was that X was trying to flee the scene after the accident, after the car apparently hit the divider and went towards the other side of the road. It was only after some passer-by saw what had happened and reported it to the police that X was booked for rash driving. Apparently. Last heard, X was out on bail. While it is not exactly clear why the accident happened, but “fleeing the scene” bit makes you wonder.

An important thing here – Those who are in the front seat typically have their seat-belts on. That explains why 2 of 4 survived the accident. Those in the back seat were the ones who did not make it through the accident. Remember that when you’re in the back-seat the next time. Accidents don’t happen with a lot of warning.

 

In the second incident,  a young, struggling but passionate group of individuals running a start-up (Startup A) have found it difficult to hit the big league. They work in a niche space. And in that niche space, they recently came up with a great proof of concept. This idea, they knew could work well for another company, a successful and well-funded startup (Startup B). So, A went shopping for their first customer B. A knew that sooner rather than later, B would want to have such a solution in their portfolio. One of the guys at A knew a senior guy at B. After showcasing the solution, which the big boys at B liked, the big boys at B decided to ask their in-house team to make it on their own and (additionally) try to poach the team-members of this struggling start-up. Individually, all the co-founders of A were approached for a job, so that they could build this idea inside B as part of their job, and for a better “salary” than what their struggling startup was making.  And lest I forget, B had only recently gone through a phase of screaming rats on another start-up a few months back for apparently stealing their idea. A is working on the idea, but has been reasonably scarred by the experience.

 

In a third incident, the CEO of a successful and well-funded startup run by a very young team sent a rude and profane letter to a VC big-shot calling the VC unethical, inhuman, etc. The context, at least, as explained by the VC later, revealed a “perceived” poaching of an employee from the start-up by the VC. The letter/email was apparently leaked by an insider on the internet (one can keep wondering about the reasons why it was done). Several questions emerge – Irrespective of the truth behind poaching, was the CEO right in sending that email to the VC? If he indeed did send that mail to the VC, what made him copy some of the other folks in his organization? Or, was it the VC who got someone else to put that letter on the internet? The VC by the way is not invested in this particular start-up. The world at large had a field day reading the shikwaa and jawaab-e-shikwaa. But in the process, a large majority agreed on a few things – the brashness/foolishness/ arrogance of the CEO, and the potential impact this action may have on some of the outcomes around that startup being not so favourable for the CEO.

 

 

All these stories are about young guys who have hit the big time very early in their life. One of the things that I remember from a Harsha Bhogle speech at IIM-A (search for the youtube video – its a gem) is that one should never grudge anyone their success.

Are they  idiots? Are they evil?

One can not help but feel that they have not been able to handle this huge success, this fame and this over-exposure. Or, maybe, these are just growing pains/ stretch marks that come when you grow too fast. That adrenaline rush of Virat Kohli? Or, maybe, they live a life which is infinitely more stressed than mine.

However, it raises another question – do these young high performance individuals need mentoring? To be under the wings of seasoned CEOs who can tell them all about weathering the lows that eventually do happen, or about grace under fire, while enjoying the highs that life has to offer, and without losing their sanity in this joy ride. There is no doubt that these are very very high performance/ high talent individuals.

 

At a personal level, the second incident bugged me the most. Accidents do happen, even when people are careful. There are moments when you fly off your handle. You can patch up some times, and some times, you can not do much move on. But nothing justifies why you should try to steal someone else’s idea. Not when you were in a similar boat a little while back. Not when you know what it means to be young and struggling. Not when you know what it means to get a fighting chance for your idea. That, to me, is evil.

 

 

 

Brooding over this…

2 burdening thoughts around business on my mind right now –

A. Will a home delivery model work for a coffee-shop like Cafe Coffee Day/ Barista? Well, lets not forget that before coming to India, McD had never thought of home delivery. And lets not forget that there are companies that have figured out ways of sending ice-cream as home delivery! 🙂

B. Consulting as a profession takes you away from Entrepreneurship. Because you are always thinking about three scenarios – Conservative, Base and Optimistic. Now, show me one person who started a business to make the returns expected on a base scenario!! Unless you really are optimistic about the idea, you won’t get into it! A consultant on the other hand, will train you to cover for the conservative scenario and aim for the base! 

On a different note, Tamal and I were discussing the other day how the idea of a service apartment (an idea we had discussed in 2003, when Service Apartments were not that common) had become a rage (he is staying in a service apartment right now, on his recent assignment) in terms of ease of operations and assured returns! Damn it! We were discussing the worst case scenario even then! 🙂

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Brooding over coffee… a new idea

These days, it rains quite often. Both at Mumbai, and Delhi. When it rains, having a coffee at a Coffee Day or Barista seems far more interesting than having a coffee on a normal day. Especially, if your office happens to be 50 meters away from Bandstand, and the coffee comes with the picture perfect view of an ocean in turmoil, weather gods making everything a little more beautiful, and your spirits a delicate balance of serenity and thoughtfulness.

What do I think of while having a cuppa at the Barista, Bandstand one of these days – Was I like this when I was growing up? The answer is – NO! 

Back then, there were no Baristas. Back then, paying 45 bucks for a cup of coffee was not really possible for me. Back then, coffee was not the most important thing in my life. Back then, I did not need a break from the monotony of a daily life. And back then, having a conversation did not mean I had to take my mind off so many things. Back then, things were simpler! 

Question no.2 – What would be different if I were growing up today? Well, for starters, I grew up mostly in smaller towns – Raebareilly (UP), Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), Ranchi (Jharkhand, then Bihar). Most of these towns, today, do have something like a Barista where people can be seen hanging out. Where, spending 45 bucks once in a while is no big deal.

Next Question – Why am I saying all this? Because, my guess is that the phenomenon will spread out. And very soon, we will have the next generation of small towns and cities coming up with these coffee parlours.

And hence – Biz Idea – Small town coffeeshop – Coffee2 (Coffee for two! Coffee too!! We have a coffee place too!!!)

What’s my point? There used to be this sardarji’s outlet in Ranchi, called Frankies. That, as far as I can remember, was the only decent Burger place in Ranchi back in 1990s. And it used to do roaring business. Will that place become extinct if a McDs came into being. I don’t think so!  And hence, the case for making an early move into the smaller towns, building loyalty, and harvesting it. Start small, cater to the small and growing. Be the Air Deccan of coffee shops. AD was not meant to be for those who fly business class, or where the company foots the bill for travel. It was supposed to bring air-travel to the masses. And needless to say, they have been successful. They have ushered in the modern aviation era in India. And I see them comfortably placed for the next generation of evolution as well. Simply because they are present in most of the remote destinations.

That’s as much as I would write from my bizidea notebook, while I think of the numbers!  I am sure many would disagree!  But the disagreements are what would interest me more! For two reasons – 1. you can give me some food for thought! 2. As JRD said – Despite all the difficulties, all the frustrations, there is a joy in having done something as well as you could and better than others thought you could. Let me add an Einstein to it as well – If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it!

Ooh Aah India.. Aa Yaa India…

Was watching the pre-match coverage on Max.

There was this (second) good looking babe (Mandira Bedi is the first) Shonali trying to give some updates from the stadium – and here is the what I heard

“There is an old lady standing outside the stadium and she has a lot of tickets in her waistpack or something.. She is selling Rs.150 tickets for 300, 300 tickets for 650 and so on.. The lady took a loan to buy these tickets. Moreover, now, there are money lenders and blah coming into the equation.”

Talk about entrepreneurial spirit!

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