Published January 1-3, 2022
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.
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.
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.
- Best Customers and Velvet Rope Marketing
- Microns: Making B2C Emails Better [Ems]
- Microns: Theory and Economics [Ems]
- Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other [Ems]
- Micron-verse: The New World of Brand-Customer Communications
- Microns: Solving the Customer Reactivation Problem
- Microns and AMP: A Powerful Combo
- Microns and Loyalty: Gamifying and Rewarding Attention
- Micronbox: A New Inbox
- Imagining Mus: An Attention-Action Currency
- Micron-verse: Making It Happen
- Marketing: Disrupted and Simplified
- Attention Messaging: Bridging Adtech, CPaaS and Martech
- Stop Loss: The Power of Attention Messaging
- Imagining µniverse: The B2C Metaverse
- Atomic Rewards: The Solution to Attention Recession
- The Coming Martech Era: Driving Exponential Forever Profitable Growth
- Martech’s Magicians: Microns, Micronbox and µniverse
- The Subscriptions Future: Customer Retention Forever
- Progency for Martech: The Missing Link
- Email2: Energising Engagement
- United Voters of India: The Logic of Collective Action
- India Awaits its Washington
- Nayi Disha: We are the Alternative
- Nayi Disha: Ram to Lakshmi
- United Voters of India: Constructing the Collective
- The Alternative India Needs
- Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning
- Changing Minds for Nayi Disha: Attention to Action
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:
- Interview with Money FM (Singapore) (Dec 2021)
- Interview with Martech Series (Dec 2021)
- Interview with Martech Asia (Dec 2021)
- Pathbreakers Podcast with Upendra Namburi on Attention (Dec 2021)
- E27: Why failures are intrinsic to my success story (Dec 2021)
- Atomic Rewards in Email (Nov 2021)
- Winning in the Coming Martech Era (Nov 2021)
- Economic Times on Netcore (Sep 2021)
- Interview with EnterpriseZone (Sep 2021)
- Business Standard on Netcore (Jul 2021)
- Manthan Talk — Nayi Disha: The Road to Prosperity: Text PDF Video (Jul 2021)
And finally, here are the top viewed pages in 2021:
- India Awaits its Washington
- Building an Enduring Great Company
- Startup to Proficorn
- Velvet Rope Marketing