Saturday, November 27, 2010

Wanted: Virtual Personal Assistant

I'm looking for a Man/ Woman Friday to help me organise my life. The role demands:

* Database management (basic stuff - in Excel)

* Creating the occassional Powerpoint presentation

* Management of fanmail (I will be replying personally to people, but you'll help me keep track & do it more efficiently)

* Do some internet-based research (google zindabad)

* Assist in updating the wordpress blogs of my books

And well, a few other things which come up from time to time but nothing strenuous.

You can be situated anywhere in India but must possess:

* Excellent English

* Cheerful disposition

* Be a net baby

* Have time and inclination to do this (I'm estimating an hour a day max, need not be everyday either but 7-8 hours a week).

Who it will work for:

* Someone who wants a little extra money, for working from home/ hostel room

* Someone who loves me and my books (you will get to know me better & often get to read what I write, before everyone else does :)

* Someone who can work independently and responsibly (I don't want to ever get on your case).

I see this as a 6-12 month engagement, a sort of internship, although remote. I will be happy to guide and mentor you to some extent, whatever the career or goal or dream you may be pursuing.

But of course we will need to develop a good rapport and a strong sense of trust.

If you're keen please send me 2 paras about yourself and one para about why you are the right person for this role (no CVs please). Email rashmi_b at

Offer open till degrees last reports: In raids that stretched for almost 48 hours, the Income Tax (IT) authorities over the November 20 weekend searched the residences and office of Dr Uday Salunkhe, Director of Welingkar Institute of Management, Matunga, Mumbai. While it is learnt not a lot of cash was found, documentary evidence has been seized to help with further investigation.

The raids that started on Saturday were apparently spurred by a lone complaint filed by a student last year, that of being charged illegal capitation fee for a seat in the institute’s MBA-equivalent program. However, this complaint was made a year ago during the 2009-10 admission season but for want of time and other pressing matters, no action was taken then. “This student was persistent over the months and so the decision to raid was finally taken,” said an IT official on the condition of anonymity.

There have been rumours, over the years, that Welingkar practices 'backdoor entry'. And that the 'rate' is anything between Rs 10-20 lakhs. We don't know yet if there is firm evidence but certainly there seems to be firm belief on this matter.

Ki haan, yeh Welingkar main to hai hi, aur colleges mein bhi ho raha hai.

And well, if 'management quota' is officially allowed, then what is the issue? Well, from what I understand the backdoor entry is over and above the seats allotted for the management quota. That is, they are from the general pool.

The second point is that these are institutes of some repute. The kind who want to be rated and ranked, 'throw a challenge to IIMs, ISB' etc.

Unfortunately for them, in India, we have a distinct line between 'institutes of merit' and 'institutes of money'. Harvard can take in the dud whose great-grandfather donated money for a frat house but India mein any institute who takes in too many students - through backdoor or front door - only on the basis of money, suffers.

The bright, meritorious, hard-working and hungry students stay away. Which means the institute wil never attract quality faculty or top recruiters. Which means the rating/ ranking of that institute will never rise (at least by legitimate means).

Yet, greed gets the better of many institutions. They operate as Dr Jekyll ("we accept donations") and yet appear to be Mr Hyde ("ranked blah blah blah").

Now many of you might be wondering, why would anyone pay Rs 10 or 20 lakhs for this MBA? Well, the answer is simple. These people are not motivated by the job at the end of the course, they simply need the degree as a status symbol.

Let's say you are a dufus with a lot of money. Yet, you need a calling card. "Where have you studied" is a basic question, an indication of who you are and what you are capable of.

You need this calling card to be able to hold your place in society.

To be taken seriously by business associates.

To get married. (Which family is going to give their (highly educated) daughter to a BCom or MCom?)

Of course, you have the option of studying abroad - there are enough colleges out there waiting for you with open arms. But if for some reason, some compulsion, you wish to study in India. Well, there are 'options'.

Mind you, such activity is always conducted in whispers, often through silken strings of influence. One well known institute insists on 'reference' letter. Preferably from top bureaucrats or even the CM.

This is the adarsh of institutes of management. And yet, I have seen no coverage in the mainstream print/ electronic media (the raid was conducted last weekend, and reported by PG two days ago!).

You have to wonder, is it scam fatigue? Or other, commercial motives.

The education sector is, today, the backbone of the print media. So expect no sharp reporting, no hard questions.

Aakhir bread and butter ka sawaal hai, and going by the old adage it's best not to talk, while eating...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Career Query of the Week


I'm working with an IT MNC for 2 years but always dreamt of becoming a copywriter. When I visited one of the top ten ad agencies in india, the creative director read my dummy ads.

He said that he sees a lot of passion for adverting in me but I know a very little about advertising. so, he has offered me an unpaid training of 3-4 months. He told me that after i finish the training, either he'll confirm me or i'll have to search the job again.

Till that point I'll have a good collection of ads which will help me find a job. He'll also refer me to somewhere. "This is how the industry works and even I did the same", he said in the end.

So, I just need an advice regarding the same.


My response: I think this is a golden opportunity for you - grab it with both hands.

Getting a foot in the door is the most difficult part of making a career switch and you have just succeeded in doing it!

I think an unpaid internship with a good organisation is priceless. However, today most people feel bad about taking it up. At the same time they will happily spend a couple of lakhs on a 6 month course which will supposedly equip them with 'all they need to know'.


Three months unpaid training means you meet only your living expenses. And even in a city like Mumbai, you can choose to slum it out and get by on 10-12 k a month (think relatives, friends, PGs, hostel).

And yes, this is how creative industries work. Not just advertising but filmmaking, photography, art. Even when you get converted to a 'paid' worker, you need to constantly learn and grow on the job and you learn more and grow more working with the best people in the business.

These people test your commitment by making you slog. By making you struggle and not giving you a free lunch. This trial of fire is what makes coal into diamond.

Enjoy the ride, go with the flow, create, experience and live each day fully.

Write back to me the day they publish/ air your first ad :)

P.S. Here's an old column I wrote for - Kya aap copywriter banna chahte hain - still relevant.

Monday, November 22, 2010

See the people

Conversations between PR lady & lobbyist Nira Radia and assorted journalists are currently talk of the town. Well, at least the part of town that is on the internet.

I have not had the time and energy to listen to the 'tapes' and get outraged/ upset/ confused about ho kya raha hai.

But here's what a friend from the industry observed, after wading through some of it.

"More than anything, it's the tone Vir Sanghvi uses which is shocking... "

A tone of please, 'tell me what I need to get the interview'.

Since this interview never happened, we cannot actually accuse Vir Sanghvi of being influenced - in this instance. But the point is a larger one, why should journalists - even names as big as Vir Sanghvi - grovel for interviews.

Because, the demand-supply situation is absolutely skewed.

We have four business news channels, six pink papers, a dozen business magazines - and that's just in English.

The media is therefore reduced to fighting for the time and attention of businessmen, instead of the other way round.

Yes, I am assuming every journalist is not for sale. And that today, the very act of 'doing your job' brings with it all these sideshows and headaches.

Journalists routinely make promises which go against the very grain of journalism. Like agreeing to go soft on the issues that really matter. Coz a wishy-washy interview is better than no interview.

But does it really have to be so?

Has anyone stopped to think, how many viewers actually care to see Anil Ambani or Mukesh Ambani in their drawing room on a regular basis? Do such interviews or soundbytes increase ratings - or is it just the imagination of high-strung editors?

At the height of the Anil-Mukesh gas row, the man on the street was clueless what the battle was actually about. And how would an outcome, either way, affect his life.

And I bet if the top 30 CEOs we see on business television every day were to go on a long vacation, no one would miss them. Younger, happier faces would take their place.

The fact is that media is run more on whim and fancy, when what it needs is a leap of faith. Faith in the audience.

That if you stand for something, and deliver it consistently, people will follow.

That one interview or scoop does not make or break you, it is what you do and how you do it over a period of time.

That what people want is something new, different and interesting. So if you entered the arena late it's actually an opportunity. Do something that's never been done before - stand out.

The funny thing is, until you are a success, people will make fun of you for even trying. But the moment you grab an audience, they will try their hardest to copy you, down to the last detail.

Coming back to the tapes - I still don't have a concrete opinion. But broadly speaking, I think journalists should always fight the good fight.

Keep their wits about them.

And never get drunk on proximity to glamour and power.

Although, frankly, that is exactly the reason so many young people are attracted to the profession today.

And why proprietors are willing to pump in money into media vehicles which consistently lose money. Pots of it.

With these kind of foundations, what mighty edifice can you expect? Taj Mahal ya Hawa Mahal?

Enjoy the hot air.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Emotional Atyachar - moving beyond it

A friend who heads a large company sounded rather listless the other day.

"Is your back acting up again?" I asked.

"Nope, just had my annual physical check-up and the doc says I'm in surprisingly good shape - for my age!"

Heh, test results may look good but when you don't feel good, what's the point?

"Too much stress?" I ventured.

Well, that is part of the problem. Pressures on the bottomline. Budget cuts, affecting quality of the product. Deadlines and more deadlines.

"But you what really gets my goat," he says."People constantly wanting me to listen to them, solve their problems."

And no, these are not 'work' issues. As if there weren't enough inter-personal conflicts in the office which the boss has to 'settle' at some point, now there is one more plate on the grievance table.

The plate of personal pareshaanis.

Someone going through a messy divorce? Don't be surprised if he comes into your cabin one morning, and sobs his heart out.

"Not that I don't feel sympathy but it's so draining, emotionally," says my friend. "On top of all my other responsibilities, now I also have to be a counsellor?"

I guess my friend is not a kadak, systems-driver, Hitler-minus-the-moustache kind of boss. Poor guy's affable and approachable nature makes him a sitting duck for woebegone walk-ins.

"What can I do - turn the chap away? The office is his only support system!"

Which is really speaking, hitting the nail on the head.

Once upon a time, men came to office, did the work they had to, and went home at 6 o clock in the evening. There, a hot meal and unconditional acceptance (if not necessarily 'love') could always be counted on.

You worked for money and got emotional support at home. But hey, that was then.

Today, there is no guarantee of that hot meal or unconditional anything, coz women are working, or following the daily soaps.

Besides, you don't work just for money. You work for your life to be thrilling, meaningful, and full of tangible achievements. You must be recognised, praised, rewarded, respected, even loved for this act of showing up and doing your work.

When life at home is shitty, you take refuge in your office. Sometimes, that works. You live in a fantasy world where this is your family, and so you cross that lakshmanrekha - and share your secret world.

But let's say life at office is equally shitty. And you don't have a boss or colleagues for emotional support. You escape from home to be trapped in office. You escape from office, only to enter the torture chamber you call 'home'.

There are millions of people out there in this horrible situation. And they simply don't know how to get off this Misery Merry Go Round.

If you're lucky, you have a bipolar mind where no matter what pins and needles are stuck in your heart, your mind continues to function and you are able to 'deliver' at work.

If you can't, well then, at some point your job will be in danger. And then, things will only get worse.

Yes, it's all very depressing but the worst of it is, it's like second hand smoke. An 'innocent bystander' can also get depressed, when he or she becomes exposed to your toxic emotions, constantly.

Your problem thus becomes everyone's problem. The world itself becomes sooty, coughy and grey.

I don't have the 'solution'. But I think a little more emphasis on self management and self-healing programs is the need of the hour.

We attend tons of programs to learn new skills, to network with the industry, to be better professionals. But if we can't manage our own mind and emotions, all this comes to nought.

It's time HR department opened its mind to programs which acknowledge the 'human' aspect of people. It will involve some existential mumbo-jumbo, and a lot of ha ha hee hee. But ultimately, you realise life is meant to be as easy and effortless as breathing.

And that everything boils down to what you think.
And that what you think, comes from how you feel.
Feel good, and everything around you starts shifting.

But how. How do you make this happen?

We need emotional gymnasiums. I'm serious and this isn't a concept I've invented but something I read in a book.

"Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them?" is a very interesting - although not easy to read - four hundred pages. It's the outcome of a 'scientific dialogue' between the Dalai Lama and a group of Western psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists.

Can we move from being tossed around by on a sea emotions, to become captains of our own mental ships? Can we ever gain mastery over our thoughts?

The Buddhists believe it is possible and they train themselves in a gymnasium - popularly known as the monastery. But you don't have to become a monk, to start walking down this path.

"When we speak of meditation, the word used in Tibetan really means familiarisation. We need to familiarise ourselves with a new way of dealing with the arising of thoughts. At the beginning when a thought of anger, desire of jealousy arises, we are not prepared for it. So within seconds that thought has given rise to a second thought and a third thought..."

Until one spark has set the whole forest on fire.

"The basic way to intervene has been called 'staring back' at a thought. When a thought arises, we need to watch it and look back at its source... The point is not to try to block the thought - that is not possible anyway but to not let them invade your mind."

Of course it's not at all easy. Because our minds are like a sheet of paper that has been rolled up for years. You try to flatten it, but the moment you release your attention, it curls back up.

But it can be done. It must be done. We may be PhDs but a majority of us are in kindergarten as far as emotional skills are concerned.

With a lot of awareness and effort over the last few years I think that I have graduated to class one. I can only imagine how amazing life will be when finally - hopefully, in this lifetime - I reach a far higher level.

To be able to say, "Shoo, angry thought - go away!" Without effort, without judgement.

That is freedom in its ultimate sense.
To live your life in a featherweight state.
With love, compassion and joy in your heart.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not made in heaven

So Kate and William are engaged to be married. What really amused me was the statement by their alma mater - the St Andrew's University in Aberdeen, Scotland - where they first met.

Welcoming the news a university spokesperson made a proud reference to being Britain's 'top match-making university'. Apparently, one in ten of students meet their future partner at St Andrew's and yes, they actually keep track of such statistics.

I wonder which Indian college would qualify as the country's 'top matchmaker'.

IITs? The ratio of boys: girls is so very low that I seriously doubt it.

IIMs fare better, though even there girls barely constitute 10% of a batch. But a couple of positive factors - by the time students come to IIM they are older, and perhaps looking to get married. Koi mil gaya to chalo why not.

Baaki toh every college has its fair share of couples who get together. Not many stay together, of course, but I won't get into the reasons in this post.

The general vibe in Indian colleges, however, is like the 'keep away from grass' sign you see on lawns.

"Admire from a distance, do not get too close".

This is especially true of colleges in south India, and more so professional colleges. Girls have curfew timings as early as 6 pm. And their hostels are usually situated right next to professors bungalows, with a view to 'keeping an eye' on who goes in and out.

It's both a question of what college admin believes is part of its duty, and what parents want.

Of late, the free and easy IIMs too have seen changes. At IIMA, we now have guards posted outside girls hostel - shocking for those of us who studied there in more laissez faire times. And there is a new rule that boys cannot enter girls hostels after midnight - sacrilege! How does one celebrate birthdays at the stroke of 12?

Ah, but at IIMK this curfew is actually as early as 10 pm.

I'm sure highly intelligent guys and girls on campus have found their own ways to circumvent the 'rules'. Whatever the curfew time, there are proxies which can be given, windows to jump out of. And if nothing else, romance over Facebook and 'free night time calls'.

So you may try - and even succeed - in locking Rapunzel in her tower. But you cannot fight the power of hormones. Or the grand and crazy adventure called love.

I don't however see any Indian university staking claim to 'top matchmaker' title - anytime soon. Perhaps one more reason to study abroad :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Passion, People, Products

I am not very fond of conferences and conclaves. They are generally populated by balding, middle-aged men in identical grey suits. Spouting cliches and company achievements in the name of gyaan.

Nasscom Product Conclave 2010 was different. Held over 2 days in Bangalore, this was an event which showcased the less celebrated side of IT. Both the speakers and the audience were primarily young, work-in-progress founders of startups. With a few experts, angels and VCs thrown in for good measure.

The organisers roamed around in tshirts which declared 'I helped put this together' on the back. And slippers, not formal shoes.

Name badges of all participants featured just first names.

Audience asked questions via sms to panelists and were asked to rate each speaker. For a change, the focus was on keeping people engaged and interested!

Although I must confess I only attended bits of two sessions (apart from my own as a speaker), I did learn about some very interesting startups. The three who stand out:

1) Hashcube: I first heard of this Bangalore based startup a year ago when it was selected for the iAccelerator program at CIIE, IIM Ahmedabad. Hashcube creates social games - some of which have achieved a respectable amount of popularity.

Their most popular game is based on Sudoku - the Hashcube app is apparently the most popular sudoku game on Myspace. They've now adapted it for the iPhone and are course developing apps for Facebook as well.

When I asked founder Deepan Chakrabarty how the company was doing in terms of revenues he said, "We're making enough to get by."

The trick to being really successful in the app ecosystem is to get millions of users. (Zynga - creators of Farmville - have attracted 100 mllion). That's because - so far - the primary source of revenues appears to be advertising.

I like Hashcube because it is a pure invention model. Once you know how to write an app - and I'm guessing any reasonably technically minded person can do that - it's really about coming up with a great idea which catches the fancy of people.

Where is that killer idea? Who knows... But Hashcube has as good a chance as anyone -anywhere else in the world - of creating it.

2) Fusioncharts: Of the 5 startups which made a 5 minute pitch during the networking dinner on day 1, I really liked the presentation by Fusioncharts.

The company specialises in helping people who want to sex up their charts and graphs. 17,000 customers in 110 countries actually pay for its web and enterprise applications. Most of these customers are programmers and designers, but now they have a new app targetted at ordinary folks as well.

Visit and you can download a small app to create and import stylish charts into MS Word and Powerpoint presentations. What's more, the app is free to use at the moment.

What I like is the idea that someone can create an entire business on so small and simple an idea. Built in applications in most software programs generate ugly charts and graphs. But we simply lived with it. Until someone came along and said - this won't do.

You can select a niche as thin as this and become the go-to person in that space. Well, even what appears to be a thin niche is actually a very large market if you look at the universe of people who use charts and graphs in their day to day lives. But it may be thin enough for other companies to ignore, or at least, not feel passionate about.

Have downloaded - but not used it yet. If any of you do try it, let me know!

3) Morpheus Ventures: I am not a big fan of Venture Capital. I am sure they do some good work but a majority of startups are simply wasting their time by pinning their hopes in that direction.

VCs look for highly scalable ventures with (potential for) very high returns. Your idea may not fit that description. Yet, it can be a viable business, one which needs a small amount of funding to grow. Not millions.

But while we have microfinance, we don't have freely available micro venture capital. You have angel investors, of course, but not much else.

That's why I really like Morpheus Ventures - modelled on YCombinator in the US - for its support model to startups. Morpheus invites applications from startups to join its Business Acceleration program. Every company which becomes part of the Morpheus portfolio receives funding of Rs 5 lakhs and mentoring support of 10-15 hours per week in the first 4 months. And subsequently, on need basis.

Morpheus Ventures takes an equity stake of 7-12% in each company which may seem like a lot to the founders. But if it's the difference between life and death, may be well worth it.

I like that Morpheus clearly specifies that 'we are happy to wait for the long haul, 5-7 years and see you through'. That is, we won't hassle you for returns before that. It helps that the contributors to the fund are essentially startup founders and serial entrepreneurs themselves.

I haven't done deeper research on Morpheus - spoken to their portfolio companies etc. But I have a good feeling about this initiative. Indus Khaitan, who is a partner with Morpeus Ventures, mentioned that every week he spends time holding a startup 'clinic'. Which means startup founders can walk in to the Leela, pour out their woes and go back a little lighter.

Which I think is a really amazing service.

Because what most of us need more than money is a patient listening. And moral support.

(Psst: To book some time at the 'clinic' go to the calendar at

There were many more amazing people at the Product Conclave - some of whom you can read about in Prof Vivek Wadhwa's column here and particpant's feedback here.

All I can say is it's good to see India moving beyond the era of faceless backoffice support and services. We too are dreaming of creating products, of finding a place in the sun. It is hot, it is crowded, it is dizzy and dangerous at times.

But that is all part of the fun...and the struggle!

May the Force be with you all.

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