Archive for October, 2007

Do grades reward talent…?

October 28, 2007

Ben Casnocha asks

“So do college students get spoiled by the constant information delivery and assessments that’s part of structured education? Is there a risk that such an explicit reward system will retard a student’s ability to be intrinsically motivated? Will a student, upon graduation, be able to apply consistent effort without receiving a decisive “A” or “B” for each of his tasks?”

I react –

Looking at it from the side of College management, there’s a business angle to it. If students (or their parents that fund them) are not constantly reminded through their scores / grades that *you are improving*, many might as well drop out midway realizing that it’s been a big mistake. [My money is down the drain, It won’t get me there!]. The college stands to lose out on the tuition / other fee revenue for the rest of the session and it’s hard to get another sitting duck midway to recoup the lost fees. Indian students that can’t make it through stiff IIT entrance, but can afford the mind boggling fees of foreign universities, easily manage to secure admission to expensive colleges in US and Europe – all for emitting a signal at the end of the term by waving a degree that’s not much. At the workplace, their emptiness is exposed and the enormity of their foolishness allows them a silent grief, though a few have admitted it aloud later.

From the student perspective, most creative and entrepreneurial minds find structured curriculum dull and would like to fit into something on their own. They get into college with an expectation of refining their traits / skills with high quality external inputs to power their own heuristics. The periodic grades in most structured systems instill an illusory sense of accomplishment and the average student passes out, enters the real world to find that it’s not helping him much. That’s exactly why Harvard MBAs spend their first two years running errands to copiers at Goldman Sachs and pull more charts out than doing meaningful analysis that track down multibagger investment ideas. That’s their way of retraining with real life systems.

Till they learn how to take out a good copy, in the process unlearn all their Harvard illusions and distil down to brass tacks, the fund managers don’t let them get within a mile of a client account. If and when they are allowed a violation and let in as green horns without these filters, you get LTCM, Bear Stearns like meltdowns.

What do you think…? 



What drives me…

October 24, 2007

Every morning as you wake up, look up the Forbes List of top three richest people in the world.  If your name doesn’t figure in there,  go to work….

Dear friend Gordon Gekko told this to me once –

“Money itself isn’t lost or made.  It just gets transferred … from one perception to another, like magic. 

Grow so rich, rich enough to fly in your own Jet.  Rich enough not to waste time.”

Up until now, the best advice that I got 🙂


Missing out on so near, not-so-obvious

October 23, 2007

Monotony kills creativity and puts blinders on new opportunities, no matter how close and within reach they are.  We are too busy executing routine life commands that we fail to notice what lay near the edges. The few who do notice, capitalize on the opportunity and turn out to be successful. We readily dismiss their enterprise and alacrity by saying “they got lucky”. We hate to admit our preference for routine, love for all things predictable.  Yet we don’t recognize our resistance to go near the edge, to experience the random and see what lay beyond. The laziness element that cultivates and firmly entrenches the “why risk” attitude deeply inside us, denies us the opportunity to chip away and sculpt our warped destiny that comes “with-the-package”.  We take the same boring road to the end of our lives. This has been amply illustrated by Richard Wiseman in this Forbes article “Seeing the Gorilla”.  (Thanks, Ben !).  Excerpts –

“The human brain is amazingly good at detecting what it wants to find. When you are hungry, your brain focuses on finding food. When you are thirsty, it looks for liquid. The problem is, your brain can become so focused on seeing what it expects to see, it misses things that are obvious but unexpected. Lucky people tend to have a somewhat relaxed view of life. They are less concerned with mundane details and more prone to look at the bigger picture. Ironically, by trying less, they see more.

So there you have it. Opportunities do not haphazardly fall into the laps of lucky people. Instead, those people are unconsciously doing all sorts of things to increase their chances of attracting good fortune. They are looking at the big picture, opening their minds to the unexpected, breaking routines and connecting with others. It is hard work and the hours are long, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.”

I’ve gone down that road and can personally vouch for this.  Have you…?


Dumbasses clamor for online privacy

October 20, 2007

Emily Gertz has an intriguing post in her blog on the limits of online anonymity.  She questions the right of those in public office to claim anonymity over the internet and their right to put forth the violation-of-privacy argument if they are tracked down and outed.  In her own words “Just as the internet can help create more transparency in government, it provides officials opportunities to spout off as they wish while ducking responsibility.”

I go that the right to online privacy (not data security) is over hyped.  Those who clamor for it are the ones that can’t handle transparency.  They use fake user id or go under pseudonyms. It’s like asking for privacy while wanting to be in the cloud. Internet is a cloud. If you take flight, you would be in the radar screens. All that you can do to protect your privacy is to keep mum or stay locked in. Cyberspace is hardly the turf to tread on and then claim privacy. It’s free for all out there. You will be tracked down easily if you do something that’s hackworthy.  Hackers have your prick in their pocket and you are too blind to see it.

You invariably leave a trail and there’s nowhere to hide except by getting lost in that crowd. That multitude, in itself is your guard – you will not be noticed unless you stand out.  Spin that theory and you get – only the exceptional get noticed online.  I could use a familiar nude beach metaphor here. We don’t look at anything that moves in a nude beach, do we?  Our eyes feast on truly gorgeous, sculpted bods.  They die to get noticed there.  They punish themselves all year round to look great in that beachwear on the day.  If you don’t want to get noticed, you’ve no business to be there.

Learn to handle online publicity.  Tweak it to your advantage. Speak your mind and craft your unique online persona that you can never do offline because you get only a few fleeting moments of attention.  Offline distractions are far too many (you could get nervy) and you are not sure of leaving great impressions. Get a good online headstart and follow it up by offline touch and feel.  That’s how you get larger than life. The only risk here is, you are exposing to get kicked in the butt by some smartass.  Have enough humor to absorb it and gain wits enough to riposte.  That way you build a circle, if not relationships, with people you like.  Be smart and use them to your advantage.

Much as many hate it for its laissez-faire, I love the Net exactly for that. I figured it out early on and said to myself – if it leaves a trail for others to find me, why not use it ingeniously for saying “I am in this business. I’d love your custom” on the sly?  I think that’s cool.

My normal tactic is to break in with some riveting comments that make people that matter take notice. It makes a statement of what I am and what I do, for a living.  My aim – to get me some interesting enquiries that could later turn into deals. My greatest win has been Trevor, my brilliant channel partner from NYC, that no recruitment ad would’ve ever gotten me. He told me he never looked up job ads – he tracked all my four blogs, some comments in other blogs and sketched my persona.  Eventually he felt I’d just be the right one to work with. He says he isn’t worse off for that and my deal book has several credits to his name!

When you go asking for orders, you get squeezed. The clients that come calling after experiencing me online, pinch less on the price I quote. They either give me their business or they don’t.   Since my comments have always been sharp and direct (I don’t bother to euphemize for fear of diluting my intent that weakens the punch – and now it has become my signature and style!) it leaves them with little doubt what they are letting themselves in for.  It obviates a lot of pre-deal feel-ups. Who will give so much PR mileage across the world and FREE?

In summation, my business would’ve remained a non-starter but for the pubilicity I got over the Net.  The other alternative was to carry on in a 9-5 cube farm and slog for some dumbass. I did that for a couple decades and Enough ! 

Right to online privacy, still anyone? I say, “No, thanks.”


The India magic

October 16, 2007

At a time when the Indian market is agog to know what a ‘world-class’ Vodafone (previously Hutch India) will bring to the Indian mobile phone market, Vodafone is bringing back Hutch India’s world-class practices to Europe. “I’m putting plane loads of managers on flights to India, and I’m telling them ‘go get me the secret of their low-cost business model.’ When we did the deal, we only thought about what we would bring to the business; now we find there’s so much more we can learn from them,” says Mr Arun Sarin, CEO, Vodafone.

Read more on what Sarin thinks Europe can gain from India here 

No wonder top Indian talent refuses to latch on to overseas postings, leaving only the deadwood to settle down abroad, silently suffering all kinds of racial profiling at the airports and treated like pests and vermin at work.  End of the day, they earn in currencies that’s not even worth the paper they are printed on as are the health of those economies. After all, only the dumbest will leave this blessed land where Chanakya that wrote Arthasasthra was born… 

I’ve always imagined, for an Indian living abroad, it’s like doing time feeding off a breakfast menu that announces the arrival of horribly sick someone – milk and cereals / bread and eggs /croissants / strawberries and cream / fish and chips (all horrible combos) when you have here gastronomic delights like steaming Idlis, lip-smacking chutney(s) and delicious sambar followed by filter coffee for breakfast….!!!!  


Tartiflette lessons

October 11, 2007


My interests go a lot beyond my business. Good Food, for one.

THE first thing to do with a Tartiflette is to ease your fork through the crust of cheese. If the casserole is done right, that cut will release a whiff of milky steam infused with a suggestion of onion and garlic.

The best moment, though, comes with a perfectly proportioned forkful. A chunk of cream-soaked potato and a smoky bit of lardon will be married with a smooth coat of reblochon — cheese made from the milk of one of three breeds of French cows that march to Alps meadows in the spring and return to hay-filled barns in the winter.

Thank you Monsieur Leon for that piece of education !” I said while we trooped out of the snazzy restaurant. (But he likes me if I cal him simply, Bernard).  I’ve never enjoyed French cuisine as much before.

This was one meal over which we never discussed business.  Bon Appetit!


Priming some pump with Tom Peters

October 9, 2007

Here’s a Tom Peters touch down on my small business tarmac.  I expected a thud; in fact it was darn smooth! 

Several friends of mine asked this question “how will you do business in the same space as the Big Four and Small Hundreds (of Investment Banks) ?”.  I pretend not to hear.  As Tom says, “it was a lark”.  It indeed has been.  But what kept me going was that I never realized it.  Heck, I didn’t even think about it. Ignorance has been my bliss.  I kept saying to myself “If something is wrong, fix it if you can” and plodded on. 

So here I am.  Trying to balance my scorecard with Tom’s list of “must-do” for the small guy. 

Niche aimed – Of course. I focus on deals between $2 MM – $25MM.  That’s crumbs for Big Four.

Never attack the monsters head on – Where’s the question? Look at my deal size.  I slink under their radar.

Dramatically different – Indeed yes. Big Four can’t afford to invest so much time on a single client as I do.  They have big overheads to cross out.  I run lean.  They work with templates from earlier deal; I cast a new mold each time.  So it’s a refreshing experience client has with me. Much more intimate. (Clients say this quite often)

Compete on Value, Experience, Intimacy.  Not on Price – Ditto.  I quote depending on the extent of my involvement, stage of the deal and the level of client’s state of preparedness.  Clients that tried competition have come back and they vouch for it. I say thanks.

Emotional Bond with Clients, Vendors – How else do you think I survived?

Hands on, Emotional leadership – Hands on is my USP; Got to work more on the emotional front though.

A Community star – Most deals come thro local channel partners in my network, retaining the dash of local flavor.

Incredible experience – I got that for a comment early this saturday from a few of my clients as I was routinely following up on my last few deals with them.  Clients like to learn that they are the first thing on my mind as I wake up. 

DESIGN! – Had it not been for the absence of pattern, I would not have had a differentiator.  My clients see that everyday.

Employer of Choice – Today I hire talent whenever I need them. It worked fine.  If I get the kind of talent I am looking for (with a raging fire to grow the business, not just to earn a packet), I would swell them for sure.

Sophisticated use of information technology – Telling me?

Web-power – Duh! Nothing sells cheaper.

Innovative – My everyday diet. Other option is death of business.

Branding – I need to work on this.  Guess I can use some PR techniques. Will storm it out with Trevor and my PR guy.

Focus on women-as-clients – Great tip, Tom. I’ll take that and see where it gets.   

Excellence – Nothing else gives me the right to exist. 

How do I stack up…?  Not bad.  To that, I’d like to add proactive proprietary research that I voluntarily undertake on the back of my understanding of client’s business and the competition watch I keep for them all the time.  Customer delight, right?


Tom should be glad, I guess !


Wedded to the last minute

October 6, 2007

My channel partner in the US drives a lot of deals my way.  In return, I kick him back a neat slice out of my revenues and the experience has been fulfilling (Trevor, hope you feel that way too !). 

But of late, he wants me to hop on to a major “bRandwagon” to increase the visibility of our service offerings.  Not that I am against that idea, but then I fear losing my unique advantage of offering the full spectrum of Investment Banking services at a fourth of the cost charged by Deloitte or E&Y.  I now have the liberty of focusing on smaller niche clients in need of quality due diligence, valuation and M&A services within $5 MM -$25MM range, that the Big Four will not even care to look at.  Thank you, Big Four !  Your crumbs are my full meal… 

The worry I have with branding is I should not end up enlarging my profile and end up intimidating my potential clients that are usually expansion stage.  Trevor somehow feels that it won’t.  The going is good now and I don’t want a slower deal flow.  I operate from India and despite the Dollar turning a dog, my margins come through.  The advantage of doing business from India is exactly that, you can always find a cheaper vendor.  If you are good at oversight, you can get the world’s best quality too.  I prepare all templates and give them precise mandates for execution. It yields me fantastic results and my clients keep coming back. What more do I need?    

So why board the bRandwagon?  I employ my pet theory here. Procrastinate, of course.

I know a client of mine bought over $15,000 of software in the past two years to help him with his computer, 80% of it is still unopened and or unused when I last checked. It might help if he started by removing the software kit from its packaging.

The world, I guess is just teeming with procrastinators. Some delay important surgery. Some people hold off on taking courses or changing jobs. Others delay household chores or washing their cars. Some even hold off on getting born (That was me. Sorry Mom.). I am slightly better, I don’t put off my car wash. Lucky that way, it just costs me $ 4 a month (yes, the digit 4, not a typo) and my driver costs me under $ 160 a month, and only he can manage that insane traffic.  I love this India advantage. 

I am beginning to realize it’s helping me in getting rid off my worries. This art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of energy in our great men. So I keep harking on time zones and tell myself – don’t worry about the world coming to an end today, it’s already tomorrow in Australia.  

Anyway, master procrastinators are rarely appreciated. When you can’t handle events, just let them handle themselves.  Believe me, they do a damn good job.  My advise for people who are always anticipating trouble – don’t hurry to worry.  If you do, you manage to enjoy many sorrows that never really would happen to you.


Getting there

October 4, 2007

For quite several years, children have been told the story of the tortoise and the hare from Aesop’s fables.  For some reason, I reckon, it kept coming to my mind when I started my business. The way the hare gets a big lead on the tortoise, grows overconfident and takes a nap. The tortoise wins the race because it keeps trudging along.  The more I think about it, newer moral dimensions I get out of it.  It helped me a lot; I guess it helps you too.

In real life, hares survive only if they can outrun the animals that eat them, which are also very fast. Sprinting means survival. Naps are suicidal. Hares do not take naps in races.

Why do we tell that story to our children? To comfort slow learners, which most children are? I think the story misleads children. It assumes the race is between a hare and a tortoise. It isn’t. It is a three-way race: Hares that pay attention to the race, hares that don’t, and tortoises.

The winners in life are the hares that pay attention to the race. Tortoises lose. They rarely get eaten, but they get played with a lot. The story of the tortoise and the hare is misleading. It leaves out any consideration of steady hares. In a long race, the hare who can pace himself wins. Most hares do not pace themselves well. They get a fast start, but they become sidetracked.  Don’t let kids think it’s good to be a slow tortoise. It’s good to be a steady, eyes-on-the-goal, focused hare.

There is nothing wrong with being a tortoise. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.  This is an affirmation of the tortoise’s worldview. But it is adopted by the hares that plan to win the race, not just finish it.

If you are a tortoise, you rely on a thick shell. A thick shell slows you down. This is the price of safety. It is a very high price for not taking enough risks.  As young hares, tell your children to keep hammering away what interests them most.  That should keep them in good stead.

What seems to be random fates play an important factor in the lives of hares that get ahead in life … I believe we create our own luck, primarily by showing up for the race in life. By running the paces and putting in the bursts of energy, you’re there when amazing things happen.