Hindu Business Line on Netcore

Kurmanath interviewed me about Netcore’s future plans. Here’s his story. An excerpt below:

“We are planning to acquire a company that can give us a good customer footprint (in the US) or a company that can complement our products,” Rajesh Jain, Founder and Managing Director of Netcore Cloud, told BusinessLine.

Describing his company as a ‘proficorn’, a company that never raised funds yet profitable, he said the company would use accumulated profits to acquire a company with a ticket size of $50-100 million to give it an edge in the US market.

…Unlike most of the cloud firms that target the Western markets, Netcore Cloud has a strong base in India. About 85-90 per cent of its revenues come from India, with the Emerging markets of West Asia and Africa chipping in 12 per cent and 3 per cent from the US.

“We are going to change this (revenue break-up) in the next two-three years. We would like to see the Emerging markets and the US contributing 20 per cent each to our revenues, with India contributing 60 per cent,” he said.

Looking Back, Looking Forward (Part 3)

Memories and Writings

As the year ends and a new one is ready to begin, a mix of blurred memories flash by. My first flight in almost 19 months was in late August when I went to Delhi. Being featured in The Economist (in successive issues) for the Prashnam survey on Covid deaths. The many hippoBrain and MartechBrain conversations – until the first half of the year. The talk on Nayi Disha at Manthan. The joy of meeting friends in person. Reconnecting with a classmate from my MS program at Columbia University after 32 years and seeing how smoothly we picked up the threads. Completing the writing for my Proficorn book. Reading many good thrillers throughout the year. An Asimov immersion: reading the Foundation series, and watching the Apple TV series.

My blogging has continued. I started a “Thinks” series with 3 links daily. 365 posts through the year. Most of my writing this year was focused on marketing, especially after April. At times, when I re-read what I have written, I am surprised (in a positive way) and wonder: “Did I really write that?!” Most of the writing is done early in the morning – it is the time when the day has not yet brought forth its distractions, when everything is still quiet, when my mind is fresh and uncluttered. This is for the “flow” zone when the ideas and words just pour forth. Here are all my essays organised chronologically by section.

Marketing

Entrepreneurship

India

General

At about 500 words a day, this comes to 180,000 words of writing in a year.

I also did many interviews and talks through the year. Here is a list:

And finally, here are the top viewed pages in 2021:

Looking Back, Looking Forward (Part 2)

Martech and Netcore

In the past few months, I have been able to put a very good story around our vision and solutions. The “coming martech era” and the shift from adtech to martech 1.0 to martech 2.0 has been the focus of much of my recent writing on the blog. With each essay, I have developed greater clarity on how Netcore can help enterprises enrich the lives of their customers.

I have started speaking publicly a lot more on the transformations in martech. I have always sought out ideas for the future, and over the past few months these have come together very well. It is this virtuous cycle of thinking-writing-speaking-reading that I like very much. Every talk I give brings new questions which push me to make the story sharper. The writing also drives more reading. I am also excited about bringing the microns idea to life in a bigger way in the coming year.

Netcore is in the thick of the action. We have had a good year of growth. I marvel every time I see demos of our products and what’s coming. For Netcore, growth going forward will need to combine BAU (business as usual), buys (acquisitions) and breakthroughs. I hope we can script our own version of “exponential forever profitable growth”. We have the scale to look at an IPO in the near future, and lay the foundation to becoming an “enduring great company.” It has been a 25-year journey for us. For the first 10 years, we did not grow much; that changed once I replaced myself at the top. With each passing year, we are pushing for greater growth while maintaining the profitability that has made us a “proficorn”.

Looking ahead, I want us to learn from titans like Danaher and build a “Netcore Business System” that helps drive continuous improvements and an acquisitions factory that helps us accelerate growth and provide the full stack solutions that marketers need. Competition is increasing and I constantly think about how we can create a moat in our business to ensure the NRR (Net Revenue Retention) keeps rising. I have always believed that business is the equivalent of modern day warfare, albeit without the violence. Strategy is critical for success, and it needs to be matched with flawless execution. Getting the big decisions right is what will determine whether we can maintain and increase our 25% CAGR on price per share for another decade.

Looking Back, Looking Forward (Part 1)

Around Us

Happy New Year!

As 2022 begins, it is time to look back at the year that was and look ahead to the year that is coming. There is always something about the turning of the year and late December holidays that makes us a bit more reflective than usual. I had done a similar series last year and had written: “Life has always been about unknowns. Whether in business or in life, the future is yet to happen and therefore unknowable. We can speak of broad trends but we cannot say for certain what will happen. The best we can do is to make the most of the time that we are alive and in good health.”

2021 began with optimism on the Covid front in India; the first few months of the year brought the mirage of normalcy and optimism on the vaccine front. I had even gone sailing with a few friends. Lunches and dinners in restaurants were being looked forward to. And then came the second wave with the delta variant which hit all of us hard in April and May. The horror stories of oxygen shortages and deaths came much closer. In Netcore, we lost one of our senior executives. It was time to hunker down at home once again even as I got the vaccine doses in April and May. The virus first, and then the vaccines, provided immunity to most Indians as time passed. As the year ends, things are almost back to the pre-Covid normal. In December, I did two business trips to Pune and Goa. Masks are coming off, handshakes are back, in-person meetings are welcomed. Almost two years after it all began, the end of the pandemic seems to be near.

On the personal front, I am going to the office 3-4 times a week. Meeting people face to face rather than on Zoom is so much better. We have learnt to make the best of both worlds – in-person and virtual. I have watched four movies in theatres (No Time to Die, Dune, Spiderman and 83). Abhishek and I have resumed our fortnightly visits to Kitab Khana, followed by long walks around the bylanes of Mumbai. Life seems to be normal again, even as the spectre of Omicron rises.

And yet, the India of 2021-22 is very different from that of 2019-20. Even though the economic output has reached what it was, the income skew towards the top 10% has increased. For many of us, the bottom 90% and their pain is invisible. The digital lives of the top 10% have led to an Internet boom with an average of $100 million coming into India as VC/PE investment daily. Entrepreneurship is flourishing and so are solutions that are now working to address many of the challenges that were long unsolved. Globally too, industry by industry, risk capital is birthing innovations. From consumer tech to B2B SaaS, from Web3 (blockchain and the promise of decentralisation) to clean and green energy, from robotics to the metaverse, from deep tech to space, we are now living through exponential change across many aspects of our lives.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 9)

Books

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” – Seneca

For those interested to explore further, here is a summary of books on Stoicism, starting with the original writings:

Discourses and Selected Writings, by Epictetus: “Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicopolis in the early second century AD. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of Stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love.”

Letters from a Stoic, by Seneca: “For several years of his turbulent life, in which he was dogged by ill health, exile and danger, Seneca was the guiding hand of the Roman Empire. This selection of Seneca’s letters shows him upholding the ideals of Stoicism – the wisdom of the self-possessed person immune to life’s setbacks – while valuing friendship and courage, and criticizing the harsh treatment of slaves and the cruelties in the gladiatorial arena. The humanity and wit revealed in Seneca’s interpretation of Stoicism is a moving and inspiring declaration of the dignity of the individual mind.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius: “Written in Greek by the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offer a remarkable series of challenging spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. While the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation and encouragement, Marcus Aurelius also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a timeless collection that has been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and readers throughout the centuries.”

There have been many modern writings about Stoicism. A selection:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William Irvine: “Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. [He] offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life.”

How To Be A Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living, by Massimo Pigliucci: “Stoicism teaches us to acknowledge our emotions, reflect on what causes them and redirect them for our own good. Whenever we worry about how to be happy, we are worrying about how to lead a good life. No goal seems more elusive. Massimo Pigliucci explores this remarkable philosophy and how its wisdom can be applied to our everyday lives in the quest for meaning. He shows how stoicism teaches us the importance of a person’s character, integrity and compassion. Whoever we are, we can take something away from stoicism and, in How to be a Stoic, with its practical tips and exercises, meditations and mindfulness, he also explains how relevant it is to every part of our modern lives.”

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, by Ryan Holiday: “[It] is a wise, calming, page-a-day guide to living a good life, offering inspirational daily doses of classic wisdom. Each page features a powerful quotation from the likes of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the playwright Seneca, or philosopher Epictetus, as well as historical anecdotes and thought-provoking commentary to help you tackle any problem, approach any goal and find the serenity, self-knowledge and resilience you need to live well.”

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, by Donald Robertson. “Cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience. [The book] takes readers on a transformative journey along with Marcus, following his progress from a young noble at the court of Hadrian—taken under the wing of some of the finest philosophers of his day—through to his reign as emperor of Rome at the height of its power. Robertson shows how Marcus used philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices to build emotional resilience and endure tremendous adversity, and guides readers through applying the same methods to their own lives.”

Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In, by Kai Whiting and Leonidas Konstantakos: “Twenty-three centuries ago, in a marketplace in Athens, Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, built his philosophy on powerful ideas that still resonate today: all human beings can become citizens of the world, regardless of their nationality, gender, or social class; happiness comes from living in harmony with nature; and, most important, humans always have the freedom to choose their attitude, even when they cannot control external circumstances. In our age of political polarization and environmental destruction, Stoicism’s empowering message has taken on new relevance. [The authors] apply Stoic principles to contemporary issues such as social justice, climate breakdown, and the excesses of global capitalism. They show that Stoicism is not an ivory-tower philosophy or a collection of Silicon Valley life hacks but a vital way of life that helps us live simply, improve our communities, and find peace in a turbulent world.”

May Stoicism guide you in your personal quest for a better life!

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 8)

Advice

“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” ― Seneca

I know it is easier to give advice than to take it. But since I write the blog primarily for myself, I think of this as advice I am giving myself. And if others can benefit from it, that’s an added bonus!

Daily Me-time is a must: One needs to reflect at the end of a day. What did you do right, what went wrong, what are mistakes to learn from, what did not happen, where did you lose your temper, what could you have done better. It is about making oneself better each day – more progress than perfection. Getting those 15-20 minutes at the end of a day to think back can be very helpful. A diary habit can get all the thoughts out of the system so one gets a peaceful sleep. Sometimes early mornings can also be very helpful to plan out the day.

Imagine worst-case scenarios: When starting something new, it is important to think through the worst eventuality so one is mentally prepared for it. Most of us are optimistic by nature and that is good. But when starting on a new venture, one needs to face up to the outcomes that can cause pain and frustration. This way, one is ready for those situations in case they happen. It is still going to be hard navigating through them, but at least the surprise and shock is limited.

Saying Sorry: Apologising is not an easy thing to do. Yet the five-letter “sorry” has much more power in it that we can imagine. It is never an easy word to speak. It means accepting a mistake, which we are generally reluctant to do – it is always someone else’s fault. Sorry is about setting one’s ego aside. It is accepting our own fallibility. It is even harder when it has to be said in person making eye contact with the person we have wronged. And yet, when done, it can be a great liberator. It lets us leave the past behind and look ahead to the future.

Controlling the mind: In today’s world of myriad distractions, it is easy for the mind to wander. In Zoom meetings, the inbox is just a click away. In a presentation, many mental hyperlinks beckon. In between tasks that need focus, WhatsApp notifications lure us away and diminish our productivity. Attention recession is pervasive. This is where we need to be even more aware of what we are doing, and ensure we stay in the moment. Being “indistractable” requires inner power and there are great rewards for those who can master their mind.

Entrepreneurs need stoicism: The life of an entrepreneur has more downs than ups. The daily battles with a never-ending stream of issues can be gut-wrenching. Anyone who begrudges the handsome paydays that entrepreneurs get (sometimes) have to see their lives. Entrepreneurs (or founders) are the final port of call in a growing company and have to be able to handle all issues: from the trivial to the most critical. To keep one’s calm in an endless stream of meetings, to hide one’s emotions when an order is lost, to show people the bright future and upside, to deal with angry customers, to pull through when employees leave – it’s all in a day’s life.

Nothing I have said above is anything new; it is all obvious if one thinks about it. And that’s what I like about Stoic ideas: they are logical, simple and straightforward. Living life as a Stoic is not easy; it requires great discipline, self-reflection and awareness. It needs a mindset which is capable of constantly learning. We all are works in progress, and that is what Stoicism recognises. With some effort, we can become better and create a happier life for ourselves and those around us.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 7)

Experiential Learning

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” — Seneca

As a 10-year-old, I was diagnosed as having glaucoma by an ophthalmologist. While there was no Internet for me to help me understand what it was, I understood from conversations with the doctor that there was a serious possibility that my eyesight could weaken as I grew older. My thick specs reminded me daily of a future which I hoped would not happen. Luckily, the diagnosis was wrong – an error of judgement made by a well-known doctor. It was during these troubled weeks that I had developed a new hobby – listening to radio, since I was barred from reading after sunset. The radio opened up a new world for me, and even now, I wake up to BBC World Service News.

In my 9th standard, I contested for the post of school captain. I was the teacher’s favourite, the stellar “always coming first” kid. And yet, I lost narrowly primarily because I forgot my speech in front of all the “voters” – I flunked my most important test. That failure made me enrol in a public speaking class and learn how to overcome my flaws.

In my first semester in IIT, I studied hard and did not end up in first position. I was upset – I was a topper, and now suddenly, I was not. I had not known a life beyond academics. What would I do if I wasn’t a topper? And then came a new path – extra-curricular activities, and I found my calling in organising student events.

As I was graduating from Columbia in the summer of 1989, I started looking for a job. It wasn’t the best of times. A couple months went by and I had done just a couple interviews and had no offer. I absolutely wanted to work in the US, but with each passing day, my hopes diminished. I would sit in my dorm apartment and watch TV to while away my time. And then one day, as I was visiting a friend in Berkeley, I got the call from NYNEX. I said Yes without even waiting for the compensation package! Those two months of waiting had finally paid dividends.

In many ways, it was events like these in my formative years that helped make me resilient and if I can use the word, Stoic. I learnt to control my emotions, did not go into a funk after failure, channelised my inner feelings into journaling so I could open up to myself, instilled a desire to constantly become better by learning from others, and made honesty, humility and punctuality key tenets of life. I try and analyse mistakes and work hard to ensure I don’t repeat them. But I am not perfect.

A year ago, I let my anger get the better of me and shouted at Abhishek (my son) over a very trivial matter. Something else was bothering me, and I took it out on him. I am normally good at anger management, but for some reason, I lost my cool then. He was the most vulnerable, and I unleashed my fury on him. He saw shocked and started crying. I stayed unmoved. It was only later when Bhavana came and made me see my folly that I realised what I had done – let ego get the better of me. I went to him and apologised. I sat that night, analysed my behaviour, and promised myself that I will not repeat such anger, especially against a person who cannot fight back. It is ego which is, as Ryan Holiday puts it, our enemy.

Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 6)

Hard Times

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ― Marcus Aurelius

From 2001 to 2004, my wife Bhavana and I underwent multiple IVF cycles so we could have a baby. Each cycle raised our hopes only to be dashed later. It was a time of emotional ups and downs, as I have written here. While the story had a happy ending with the birth of Abhishek in April 2005, the few years that we went through the IVF treatment was one of the most challenging I have lived through, and it was even more so for Bhavana. But we saw that period through. For Bhavana, it was her faith in God. For me, it was my belief that the outcome was not entirely in my control, and I had to stay strong through the saddest moments.

Perhaps, it was my early failures as an entrepreneur that had steeled me. IndiaWorld’s success came after many failed ventures and flopped fund-raising efforts. Even till the end, it was not clear that I would have a happy outcome. In 1999 (as is happening now), everyone with a .com was raising capital – except me! But I had something which others did not – profits. For a brief period of time, profits had no value; all that everyone wanted was eyeballs. In the end, my faith in doing business the right way got me an exit I had not even dreamt off – a sale for $115 million.

In the “growth-at-all-costs” mindset that prevails today, I am once again being told that no one cares about profitability and I have made a big mistake through the past few years sacrificing growth for profits. I have thought about this often – because I also have the responsibility for Netcore’s staff, many of whom have stock options. The only way I know to run a business is to fund growth through profits, and not just through investor money. I grant that SaaS (software-as-a-service) businesses have different dynamics and land grab matters, but at the same time, I also know that once we get in the habit of spending more than we are generating, it is not easy to turn the tap off. Seeing competitors raise and spend capital, seeing some star employees leave because we declined to double their salary in the face of competition which doesn’t worry about profits, seeing my own colleagues question my growth-and-profits approach – it hasn’t been easy. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know what my core beliefs are and I stand by those. Like during IndiaWorld, I have this faith that everything happens for good, and there is a good reason for even some not-so-good events.

In some ways, this attitude has been formed by many of the early failures I experienced as an entrepreneur. They brought me down to earth and taught me that just as bad times don’t last, neither do the good times. A venture can fail, but that does not make me a failure. While I didn’t know it then, many of the Stoic principles have seen me through some of my toughest times.