Published October 7-11, 2020
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!
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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!