Six Months of Blogging and Lockdown (Part 5)

Why I Write Daily

Before I end this series, I thought I should address a question I get asked often is – why do you write daily? There are two parts to the question – why do I write, and why I write daily.

I write because it helps me think better. I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I had a daily diary in my teens. At the end of each day, I would write about the highlights or lowlights of the day. I continued this habit in IIT. In the US, I wrote occasionally. When I was feeling happy or sad, writing was like sharing with a friend. Especially when I was feeling low. The writing would get it out from my system, free the lonely mind from negative thoughts and let me look ahead. I don’t have too many memories of writings during my early days of entrepreneurship after I returned to India. From around 1999, I started writing on my blog at emergic.org.

I had started then with what I called “Tech Talk” – I would take a topic and cover it in short posts over a week or two. I would also post links to what I had read. Many years later, it come down to just my own post daily. And then, I stopped writing on the blog in 2012. I had started work on the Modi campaign, and decided that I did not want to become a target for something I wrote which could distract from the objective at hand – of ensuring a Lok Sabha majority for the BJP in 2014. I still wrote privately.

As I look back, it was a mistake for me to stop writing publicly for as long as I did – until April 2020. I should have started writing again much earlier. But I did not. I was learning new things so perhaps felt that I did not have fully formed ideas and was wary of writing half-baked thoughts. And so a break of a few months became a hiatus of many years. I did do the series of political and economic writings and videos in 2018. But it wasn’t the discipline of daily writing on my blog.

It took the botched lockdown announced in late March 2020 to get me to re-start. I was angry, and I needed to tell someone! So, just like that, I started writing again. And that discipline of writing daily has continued.

Writing is a way for me to organise my thinking. I have never bothered about who is reading. I write for myself. But I write publicly – as a sort of record of what I am thinking. I have never deleted or retracted any post that I have written. I have changed my views over time on many topics, but I have let the writings stay. Each post has a context – it is at a date and time. I try and be as candid in my writings as is possible. Because if I cannot be honest, then there is no point in blogging.

I write daily because it inculcates a discipline. I like the idea of short posts daily rather a long essay periodically. There is something new to look forward from me each day! And just maybe, this blog can become a utility in the lives of others – a daily habit. That is what it had become for many in the first decade of my writing.

Writing daily is a process of self-discovery. It makes me think how I should express myself. It makes me clarify my own thought process. It makes me little better each day. And I hope that process continues!

Six Months of Blogging and Lockdown (Part 4)

What Next

As I look ahead, for me there are three primary motivations that are central to all that I do (and these have become clearer in the past months):

  • Grow Netcore into a global martech company. We have a very good foundation of products and profits. We have done well in India and many of the emerging markets (especially, South-East Asia.) We now need to expand into the developed markets of US and Europe. For this, we will need to build teams and look at acquisitions. We will also need to ensure our products are world-class to compete with the best. It will not be an easy path, but the mountain is there to be climbed.
  • Bring a Nayi Disha to India. For long, India’s rulers have tormented the people by denying them economic freedom. This is what I want to change. I failed in 2018 because I made many mistakes. Indians deserve better than the governments we have been voting for. For this, there is a need to change minds and channel votes to create a people’s movement – a revolution that can bring political change as a precursor to the economic transformation that can put Indians on an irreversible path to freedom and prosperity.
  • Build Institutions for Freedom and Prosperity. India needs many new institutions that can outlive individuals and change futures. From think tanks to public libraries, from Schools of AI to Economics, from funding moonshot prizes to cutting edge research, from new media platforms to new political platforms, from rethinking education to social infrastructure. The central objective uniting all these institutional ideas is that of changing minds, lives, votes and futures.

In my life so far, I have had 3 successes (IndiaWorld, Niti Digital and Netcore) with dozens of failures across my 28 years as an entrepreneur. The failures have never stopped me from trying new ideas. I am an optimist at heart. If there is one credo that I live by, it is this from Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood…Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” And my daily life has this feel, as said so beautifully by Dan Bricklin:

Being a successful entrepreneur is tricky. You have to live with having control and not having control at the same time. It’s like this: In big business, when you need to cross a river, you simply design a bridge, build it, and march right across.

But in a small venture, you must climb the rocks. You don’t know where each step will take you, but you do know the general direction you are moving in. If you make a mistake, you get wet. If your calculations are wrong, you have to inch your way back to safety and find a different route.

And, as you jump from rock to slippery rock, you have to like the feeling.

The past six months have made me rediscover the joy of thinking big and entrepreneurship. And as I jump from rock to slippery rock, I do indeed like the feeling.

Tomorrow: Part 5

Six Months of Blogging and Lockdown (Part 3)

Activity List

It took me some time to get accustomed to working from home. In April, I got my office desktop home to replace my 4-year-old laptop. In May, I switched to a different room and a better WiFi setup. In June, I got myself a better table (delivered from Ikea). While this workspace was not as comfortable as my office, it came close. And step by step, productivity increased.

I have opened up many different tracks in my life – and I am busier than I have been for probably two decades. During the IndiaWorld days of 1995-2000, I was constantly doing new things. The lockdown and time at home has helped me get back into a zone of trying out many new ideas. Here is a list.

Netcore

  • Velvet Rope Marketing – presenting to marketers, and also thinking how to apply it
  • Customer Loyalty and Referral Marketing – exploring new adjacent areas for expansion
  • Netcore 2025 – thinking how we want to grow the company along many different directions
  • MyToday – reviving an old microcontent service from 2007

Entrepreneurship

  • Have been building on the Proficorn idea through a series of stories from my past and present which I have been writing about on the blog

Nayi Disha 2.0

  • Prashnam – a new startup, building an opinions engine
  • Digital tools – thinking about what kind of utilities would be needed for digital platform
  • Media platforms – thinking on how to create new media properties for mass reach
  • The Indian Revolution – thinking about how to make Indians free and prosperous

Moreover

  • hippoBrain and MartechBrain – 2 new conversations web series with new weekly episodes
  • Books – I have never written books, so I decided to take some active steps towards doing it! There are 3 books lurking within me – on entrepreneurship, the transformation that India needs and marketing.
  • Friends – have frequent conversations with two groups of friends
  • Reading – mix of some fiction thrillers and non-fiction
  • Cryptic Crosswords – decided to get my son interested in what I once loved, and so now we attempt one crossword daily

All in all, it is a full life. I miss travelling and meeting people in person. Hopefully, we can get back to that in 2021.

Tomorrow: Part 4

Six Months of Blogging and Lockdown (Part 2)

Three Themes

The past six months of lockdown have brought the best out of me on many different fronts. I started my blogging just when the lockdown began in April with short posts on my three interest areas of marketing, entrepreneurship and India.

Marketing: Customer retention and development needs a very different approach – while the temptation is to focus on all customers, brands must differentiate between them. The “best” customers provide disproportionate revenue and profits. Identifying who these best customers are must become a priority. This has become easier with the data trails that customers leave. Analysing transaction data to compute customer lifetime value (CLV) and thus identify the top 20% customers has to be the core of the martech strategy. The next question is: what to do with the best customers? This is where I brought in the idea of “Velvet Rope Marketing” (VRM). One could also term it as red carpet treatment or white glove handling. In all cases, the theme is the same: how to create a differentiated experience for the best customers? VRM combined with omni-channel personalisation is the future of marketing.

Entrepreneurship (Proficorn): There are two ways for companies to fund growth: they can raise external capital in the form of equity or debt, or they can generate cashflows and re-invest those in the business. I have focused on the second approach in both my ventures. One needs some initial capital – which comes from the founders (promoters). The aim is then to create a business model predicated on getting to profitability quickly and then continuously re-investing for growth. Without external investors, decision-making is faster and much more long-term. That’s where I coined the word – “Profi-corn”. It describes a company that is profitable, privately held, promoter-funded and also has a reasonable valuation (say, $100 million or more). Given that many founders have 10-20% left in billion dollar unicorns, the wealth creation can almost be equivalent for the founders. How does one go about ensuring profitability? Does being profitable mean sacrificing growth? What about gains for employees? What about the value addition that investors bring in along with the capital? What’s the right choice for founders?

India (Nayi Disha and Dhan Vapasi): While I failed [in 2018] to even make a dent, I think the ideas are even more important now. The temptation for India’s leaders will be to print a lot of money, give it to people and run huge deficits to try and save the economy. This will take us in the opposite direction to both freedom and prosperity. Instead, there is an alternate path – one which can truly transform our future. This involves combining public asset monetisation with returning the wealth generated to the people. This is perhaps the only approach that will create lasting prosperity in the shortest possible period for the maximum number of Indians.

These are the themes I have built upon in my writings over the past six months. Each of the ideas has become richer and deeper with the cycle of reading, thinking, discussing, learning and writing.

Tomorrow: Part 3

Six Months of Blogging and Lockdown (Part 1)

Writing Daily

The lockdown in India began on March 23. I started blogging here on April 1 – after a long break. Here is what I wrote then:

I am re-starting blogging. For 12 years between 1999 and 2012, I had blogged daily at emergic.org. And then I stopped. It’s time to go back to blogging.

I have never been comfortable with Twitter or the other social media platforms. I was one of the early bloggers. I liked the free-format style of just writing one’s thoughts without the constraints of letters or worries about followers. I wrote for myself. The empty text box of Movable Type first and then WordPress opened me up. And during these trying times of Covid-19 sitting at home in Mumbai, I decided that I needed an outlet once again.

I hope to write daily. Something new everyday. I want to make the blog a mirror for my thoughts – as it once was.

And so far, six months later, I have kept up the promise.

It is amazing how well the discipline of a new daily post works. I don’t wait for ideas to be perfected – because that day may never come. I write as I think – let the thoughts flow. I may have better ones a few weeks or months later. In that case, there will be another series. This commitment to a daily update has ensured that I always have a bank of ideas to write on – I am in constant thinking mode which makes me read more and which drives my writing.

Like I said on April 1, I write for myself. In the past six months, I have realised how much I like writing. I have covered many different themes – primarily in the three categories of marketing, entrepreneurship and India. This gives me a lot of latitude.

And occasionally for inspiration, I go back to my past writings on emergic.org, and discover parts of me I have long forgotten!

Tomorrow: Part 2

New on hippoBrain and MartechBrain

hippoBrain

  • E13: Navroz Udwadia (Falcon Edge)
  • E14: Ashwini Asokan (Mad Street Den)
  • E15: Akhilesh Tilotia (Author, The Making of India)
  • E16: Ramesh Mangaleswaran (McKinsey)

MartechBrain

  • E6: Mudit Seth on Scaling Business with Content
  • E7: Sanjay Suri on Building Tech Platforms as Moats
  • E8: Ajay Kashyap on Personalisation
  • E9: Nduneche Ezurike (Endy) on Employee Marketing and Analytics

 

The Revolution India Needs (Part 17)

Who and When

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” – ChangeForChange

I will end this series with what I wrote in January 2018 – words that still ring true.

The past few years, I have been spending a lot of time thinking why aren’t we Indians 10 times richer?

Once upon a time not long ago, Singapore, South Korea and China were all at the same income level as India. Today, we are at the bottom of the heap by a huge margin – with the average Singaporean 35 times richer than the average Indian. Why?

Why has our education system failed us? If you are young and not in the top 10,000 (of 2.5 crore others of your age), you will not get a good quality education in India. And if your parents haven’t saved up Rs 1 crore to send you to a college abroad, what is your future? And if you were born in rural India, your future could look even more bleak.

And let’s say you do get educated in India. What are the prospects of finding a good job? Where are the jobs? The private sector isn’t investing a whole lot. And if they are, they would rather invest in machine learning, artificial intelligence and robots. We are no less smarter than our American, German or Chinese counterparts. Why then is our future so much less bright?

We have two choices.

We can continue to discuss all the trivial issues of the world. We can discuss whether India needs a Ram Mandir or not. We can discuss whether we need more quotas in a terrible education system or in jobs as peons and sweepers. We can discuss who needs farm loans waivers.

Or we can discuss prosperity. When will we discuss how we can be rich? When will we get past the belief that poverty is not, and should never have been, our destiny?

Enough is enough. Incremental change isn’t going to cut it anymore. What India needs is a revolution. A political and economic revolution which destroys the world’s largest anti-prosperity machine that goes by the name of ‘Indian government’.

Only a new way of doing things and starting in a new direction can make every Indian ten times richer in the next ten years. And in the journey that we need to undertake, you are the only person who matters.

Will our generation lead the revolution for our nation’s transformation? If not us, then who? If not now, when?

The Revolution India Needs (Part 16)

New Direction

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminister Fuller

The different path is the one where some people decide that enough is enough, India needs a new direction, and they have to do something about it. It is a group of people who feel they are alone – not knowing where they can find others like them. It is the path few are willing to take because they are not sure of the direction and the pitfalls that lie along the journey. For me, these are the truly patriotic Indians – who are willing to put India first, above any individual. They are Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar.

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” A determined group of political entrepreneurs can ignite their passion for change, channelise their anger against politicians and their parties,  leverage the power of digital technology, and create a movement that can form a government which, for the first time, will put Indians on an irreversible path to freedom and prosperity. This is the revolution India needs.

This revolution needs to have two elements – one which leads to political change, followed by a government that initiates economic change. Political change will not come from replacing one political party with another. We have done that for the past 73 years and failed. What is needed is to elect a Lok Sabha of Independents – people selected through local primaries by unaffiliated Indian voters (who constitute two-thirds of the voters). These non-aligned and non-voters (NANV) have to create a coalition, connect digitally, communicate the ideas to each other and craft the political change. They number 60 crore out of India’s 90 crore voters. Staying undecided till the end or abstaining from voting can no longer be the options. It is in the hands of this ‘silent majority’ that India’s future lies.

Only when the Lok Sabha is freed from the clutches of the political parties can the foundation be laid for economic transformation. The powers of government need to be shrunk and the freedom for individuals and entrepreneurs needs to be enlarged. The anti-prosperity machine must be dismantled. Setting Indians free must be the single point agenda of this new government. I have written about various ideas in the past – the Nayi Disha Manifesto (with Dhan Vapasi at its core) and Mission 10-20-30 are two such essays. A government comprising people focused on change and not continuity in power can complete the revolution.

Tomorrow: Part 17

The Revolution India Needs (Part 15)

The Choices

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” ― Frantz Fanon

As Indians, we have two clear choices. The first is to accept the reality and get on with our lives. “I cannot change anything. I have my own problems to solve. And let’s face it – life is much better for me than it was for my parents, and I am sure it will be better for my kids than it is for me.” Or give a strong counter punch: “There isn’t anything wrong with India. Who says we are poor? We have a great leader with a 78% approval rating (according to the India Today Mood of the Nation survey) who is solving every problem – Covid, China and the economy. We have full faith in him. Don’t be an anti-national by calling India weak.”  The politics of vishwas, as Neelanjan Sircar wrote in a paper referenced by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in an Indian Express op-ed:

Voters prefer to centralise power in a charismatic strong leader and they have faith that whatever the leader does is good. This model is in contrast to the usual models of politics, where leaders are held accountable on performance or because they serve a coalition of interests.

Sircar offers two broad explanations underlying this phenomenon. The faith in the leader is not merely a materially instrumental faith; it represents an underlying shift in the ideological preference for a Hindu nation, an entity that is untied and rises above the messy negotiations with difference. Faith in a leader is deeply facilitated by nationalism: The leader as the simplified embodiment of unity, will and purpose. Behind this phenomenon of producing vishwas is an extraordinary machinery of communication, which literally deploys as many elements in a communicative tool kit as there are feathers in a dancing peacock: From the semiotic command of images to a saturation with messages; from good-old-fashioned hard-working party outreach to literal control of the media.

Three predictions follow from this shift in the underlying model of politics. The first is an immunity to any accountability: You can preside over poor economic performance, suffer a military setback, inflict suffering through failed schemes like demonetisation, and yet the trust does not decline. In fact, it thrives on a certain nonchalance about actual performance. In the face of vishwas, it is impossible to point out that India is in the midst of what historians used to describe as a military-fiscal crisis — both in a fiscal and a military corner. The point about vishwas is that fact, performance and interests are all petty. The second prediction is that this politics requires the continual feeding of ethno-nationalism, moving from one issue or one enemy to the other. And three, it points to the fact that vishwas is not just a political artefact — it has to be continually sustained by a saturation of the mindspace and control of media.

For those in this group, all I can say is, “So be it. I respect your opinion. But I will tell you one thing. The hunger and greed of a politician’s power knows no caste, creed or community. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have seen that before in the mid-1970s. Silence and acquiescence are both wrong. I hope one day you will wake up and do the right thing.”

There is a different path.

Tomorrow: Part 16