Friday, December 17, 2010

Letting go

A lot has been written about 'scaling up'. But there is hardly any literature, or guidance, on scaling down.

I might have to write a book about this - someday :)

Anyhow. As JAM leaves its office of 12 years, there is a lot of physical, emotional and statutory cleaning up to be done.

In simple words, we have a good amount of furniture, fixtures and computers which we can't take with us. Some of it in good condition, rest of it so-so but all working.

If you are a start-up you may actually be able to make good use of it. So do get in touch, come inspect it and make a fair offer.

The office is in Prabhadevi. Exact address is no 51, gr flr, Kaliandas udyog Bhavan, a 2 min walk down the lane next to Century Bazar. You can call Yatin on 98673 43443 and fix up a time to come over.

Or email me: rashmi_b at

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A new beginning

Change is life.
Change is growth.
Change is good.

Sometimes, it comes upon us gently, and sometimes with a giant boom-crash-and-bang.

Either way, after the initial chaos, I believe change always leads you to a better and happier place. And it's something to embrace and welcome, to smile and feel good about.

What change am I talking of?

JAM magazine is changing. We are suspending the print publication, to focus all energies on the online space. As well as events and youth research.

The print magazine will - hopefully - come back in a month or two, with a new, improved design, format, content. And most importantly, a better business model.

But, if the online magazine serves its purpose - we won't have to.

Ideally, we could have managed both simultaneously. But, the logistical and financial burden of printing a fortnightly magazine was always upon us.

What point is there when life becomes a compulsory treadmill? You have to get off and get a breath of fresh air, take a walk in the park.

So, walk we will. I don't know the exact place JAM is going or how we get there. But this is where it starts.

Change means shifting out of 51, Kaliandas Udyog Bhavan. It means letting go of people, of physical things and most importantly, 'the way things have always been done'.

There is a lot more I want to say, but I will share it in the days to come.

In the meanwhile, I need the help and support of readers past and present. JAM never made a lot of money (and at this point, there are some debts to fulfil).

What we have earned over 15 years is enormous goodwill.

I seek the services of a couple of crack programmers - students in engineering colleges or recent grads - who can help me implement the online vision. A clean and simple, reader-driven, user-friendly website.

A platform for young people to express their thoughts and showcase their talents.

The original mission of JAM, which we must rediscover.

To become a cult classic, for a new generation. And the next.

P.S. As always, you can email me at rashmi_b at

P.P.S. This blog appears as a matter of public record. We are in the process of personally communicating to subscribers, vendors, advertisers, suppliers, friends and well wishers.

Thank you all for your love and support.

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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thank you - Cover Design Contest now closed

Thank you all, for the amazing response to my Cover Design Contest.

I received 58 entries in a short two weeks. Well, it would be more accurate to say that I received 100 + entries as 58 individuals wrote in, many with multiple designs.

Results will be announced in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, I am off to Dubai on a work-cum-holiday trip. I will be moderating a session at the 2nd Pan IIM Alumni Gulf Summit on October 30, 2010 in Dubai at Park Hyatt Hotel.

And also giving a talk organised by TiE Dubai chapter on Nov 2 at Knowledge Village Auditorium, Block 1, Dubai Internet City between 6-8 pm. Non-members can attend but you need to register by emailing tiedubai at

Apart from that, suggestions on what to do in Dubai (which one cannot do in Mumbai :) would be most appreciated.

Lastly, I wanted to explore the possibility of Magrudys (well known book chain in Dubai) stocking my books. If anyone knows who is the right person to connect with there, please mujhe enlighten kar dijiye.

The email id, as always, is rashmi_b at

Wish you all a very Happy Diwali!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Design my next cover - update

Wow. In less than 72 hours, no less than 8 of you have sent in cover designs for my third book. I am amazed, and grateful for the response.

Since many of you have emailed, asking Qs and clarifications, let me answer in this public forum.

What is the size of the book?
Same as previous books - the standard book size. Don't worry about that, we'll take care of it later. The more important thing is the concept.

What am I looking for?
I have left it open, so as not to hamper creativity. But my preference is for a bold and bright design where title is clearly visible from a distance. As the subject matter of the book is inspirational and motivational the colours and graphics used should convey that mood as well.

Can I use photographs?
Yes, but only if you own the copyright for those photos. Otherwise we will have to go and acquire that as well. My first preference though is for a graphic element.

Does it have to look the same as previous books?
No, but some element of continuity with the look already created would be nice. How you create that is for you to decide!

Will you really close the contest early?
I know I said that but it's not fair - I take back those words! Because it seems like some of you have sent the work in a terrible rush. You can take your time, mull over it. The last date for submission is Oct 25th.

Are you stuck on white and red?
No. In fact white and red is not an option. At best you can use background colour as white if you wish.

Hope the above clarifications help. Look forward to more 'I Have a Dream' cover designs at

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Design my next cover!

My third book will be released on January 26, 2011. The title is 'I Have a Dream', inspired by the famous speech given by Martin Luther King (may Steve Jobs now rest in peace :)

I chose this title because it reflects the spirit of my book. 'I Have a Dream' features the stories of 20 social entrepreneurs, amazing men and women who have devoted their life to making life better for others.

But, using tools and techniques of business and entrepreneurship.

The book is 99% complete, but there's a small hitch. I need a cover!

I do have a few designs, but none of them has given that 'wow this is the one!' feeling. And so, with faith and hope in my talented young readers, I throw open the cover to you - to design.

What are the elements?

Title: "I Have a Dream"

Author: Rashmi Bansal

Strap line I From the author of the bestsellers 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' and 'Connect the Dots'

Strap line II The inspiring stories of 20 social entrepreneurs who found new ways to solve old problems.

Any other guidelines?
None. You can place the elements as you like. Use the background and colour scheme you like. Use a graphic element, or choose not to.

I am giving you a free canvas - to create something which is hat ke. I will know it is the right cover when I see it and fall in love at first sight.

How to submit
As a jpg, or pdf - mail the attachment along with your contact details (phone, email & 2 lines about you) to

If your cover is selected you will get credits in the book. And a cash prize of Rs 5000, as well.

Last date: Monday Oct 25th. But the sooner you send the better. If I like one of the early submissions I may just close the contest right then and there :)

Look forward to opening my mailbox and finding a beautiful surprise...

Friday, October 08, 2010

'Connect the Dots' event Vashi: Sun Oct 10

There is a small event for my book 'Connect the Dots' tomorrow evening at In Orbit Mall Vashi.

Venue: Atrium, ground floor, near Crossword kiosk
Date: Sunday, 10th October
Time: 6 pm

Mr Prem Ganapathy of Dosa Plaza will be present, along with me. All are welcome!

Monday, October 04, 2010

More lips on 'lipstick'

So you think the issue is better childcare. Or flexitime.

Think again.

This email in response to my women vs career post comes from an 18 year old. And it gives you a glimpse of the 'advice' women receive from a very young age. A better description would be Brainwashing.

This young girl, a Bachelor of Mass Media student from Mumbai writes:

Maybe at a little to early a stage to respond... but some of my experiences take me to relating to your Blog Post. I am 18, struggling far and wide to make my place. Having 'n' number of projects and no defined schedule is a part of my life. And I totally Love it!

But then I realize, not so soon honey. I get advises from all sorts of apparently 'Practical' Mentors and Guides, to slow down a little.

"After all, you are a girl. you need a Job where you can settle,something more 9-5."

"You should be lucky enough to find a good husband who supports you, or this all is going to go for a waste".

I mean, hello, give me a break. Why do my career aspirations have to be defined on the possibilities of finding a good husband?

But aisa hai, and most women succumb very early. They fashion their lives and career with these warnings and hidaayats at the back of their mind.

Even those who do professional degrees - be it engineering, medicine or management - can hear the CD playing in their heads...

"Family first, me second".

"Children first, career second".

"Husband's career first, mine second".

You get the drift.

It is this deep-rooted social conditioning - visible and invisible - that is the real Enemy women have to battle. Every single day. In different ways.

The 18 year old is prepared to fight it out.

But anyways, 'It ain't enough to get me down Sir, you hear that!' is all I say. I am still going to go my way!

The energy and optimism of youth, unfortunately doesn't always last. And at every stage 'the husband factor' continues to haunt.

Here is the career dilemma of a young woman of 26, a software engineer with bigger dreams for her future. But...

Hi Rashmi,

Read your post Lipstick Jungle - Survival Guide, and here's my career story.

Currently 26 years old. Working as a software engineer in one of the MNC's where I am the small fish in the big sea. I want to change my career and get into Brand management of Luxury good (very niche field). Although I know what I want to do, I have a problem.

I don't want to do a normal MBA from India, for two reasons, one, I have no patience to crack CAT and get into an IIM. Two, I don't want to invest two years in studies. By the time I get out of college, which will start next year 2011, I'll be 28 years old. And I'll just be a "management trainee".

I'll need to work extra hard during this time if I have to prove myself, also since it's a niche field and since I don't have any background in branding or luxury goods, it'll be tough for me.

Also I'll have to get married by 28, as I will have to have a kid by 32 max. So MBA from India doesn't seem all that great. If I have to do MBA from some foreign university, I'll need to apply to European schools that have 1 year MBA. But also, MBA from abroad means minimum 30-40 lakhs of investment, meaning I'll have to take loan.

Again, if things turn out well, I get a job which helps me repay the loan, but by the time I am out and working, I'll need to get married. I don't know where I'll get married or where I'll have to relocate for my husband. Which means jeopardising my job which would help me replay the huge loan I'll be taking. I am quite confused. Any inputs?


On the one hand, I think J is being very 'practical', and it is better to approach a problem in the context of one's constraints. But I can't help thinking, had she been a male software engineer, 26 years old, none of these constraints would exist!

Anyways, on to more constructive advice. I think J is on the right track. A one year MBA from Europe, preferably France would be her best option. This article in Businessweek magazine has a lot of useful pointers.

As regards loan - well that is a risk anyone going for a foreign MBA must take. Given the vast potential of luxury retail in India (a market barely tapped, at present), the long-term prospects of a career in this sector are great.

As regards your husband, well, that is an X factor. Whether you remain in software or in luxury marketing, you may have to relocate. And you will probably take a 'baby break'.

So why not go for a career in a field which excites you? I think one positive thing I might add is that IMHO women do have an edge in luxury marketing, and in time you could easily go the consultant route as well.

Have faith, it will all work out but maybe not as neatly and logically as you might wish!

(Readers may add their own advice to J, especially anyone who has done a European MBA/ worked in the luxury market).

And all you women out there, do keep the stories, the issues and concerns, coming in. The email id is rashmi_b at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To change a lightbulb

A couple of days ago I was the 'chief guest' at the annual debate competition @ NIT Calicut, called 'Spitfire'. As per tradition, I was invited to say a few words.

When asked to speak, I really have only one thing to say: 'Follow your Dreams'. I might modify this message, depending on the audience. Use different examples. But the essence of the message remains the same.

I don't for a moment believe that I can erase the years of conditioning from parents, teachers and society at large. Which is, follow the path of least resistance. Get a good education, get a good job, get a home loan, get married.

*Repeat cycle with own offspring*

But my guess is, a handful of young people in that audience actually want to break that mould. And people like me, with a slightly different outlook to life, give them the courage. The courage to say go-phoeey to the rest of the class which is pretty damn sure the regular way, is the only way.

Yesterday, the first question came from one such regular, who gave a 3 minute speech on why following your dream is not practical. Because we are middle class.

I said, "If you don't want to do something different, please don't do it!"

Sometime later another young man repeated the same argument.

I said,"If you are happy, if you are charged up, doing a regular job, please do just that!"

The question is, are you, really?

The 'most wanted' job on NIT C campus right now is with Amazon. Last year, the company picked up 12 students for a package of Rs 16 lakhs.

The next 'most wanted' jobs on campus are with PSUs. The perks are good, and so is the take-home.

"But students from NIT don't really stick with these jobs," says a student."These companies may stop coming to campus."

Instead, some PSUs are planning to shortlist BTechs from all over India, based on their GATE scores. The top 500 would be eligible for jobs, regardless of the college they are currently attending.

So, then what? The hordes of engineers who are 'happy' with the way the world is will then decide to 'be different' and try for an MBA.

A few kilometres from NIT is the breezy campus of IIM Kozhikode, situated on a hill. The architecture rocks, the view is better. And the lecture theatre in which I have an informal session organised by the E-Cell has a projecter & Powerpoint.

The dilemma remains the same, only the names of the companies and size of the package is different. Because very few students are actually *charged up* about marketing or finance or HR...

And so we remain like 30 watt bulbs, feeble and dim. Never knowing the radiance of our true potential. Yet somewhere yearning, to feel that glow from within.

To feel activated, to feel alive, and truly human.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Need a PR Agency (pro bono)

The Vice-Chancellor of Mumbai University will declare 'Joy of Giving' Week on campuses, on Sep 15. I am sure many more college managements join the movement and encourage students to do something for the underpriviliged, for society - with this push!

We're looking for a PR agency who can help get the press to cover the event. In the spirit of Joy of Giving it needs to be a pro-bono effort (mailer + some follow up, if possible).

If you can help, do get in touch! Email rashmi_b at

Friday, September 03, 2010

Lipstick Jungle - Survival Guide

A couple of days ago I caught a show on Zee Studio called '15 Hottest Hollywood Moms'.

The list includes the likes of Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna. All of these women earn between $10 and $20 million a year and manage their mommy lives with a retinue of nannies, cooks, drivers and maids - the best money can buy.

But equally interesting is how they earned their money. By acting in just one or two major films, and commiting to a couple of big brand endorsements. The really smart ones continue to earn royalties for work done years ago (like Julia - for Pretty Woman). Or they produce films which earn them a share in the profits.

The common thread running through their lives is this: control over what they do, and when they do it. Their schedule works for them, not against them.

If an actress with young children has to shoot for a film, she takes her kids and nanny along. It's perfectly acceptable; it's the way the industry works. And nobody bats an eyelid.

Let's, for a moment imagine the same scenario in another industry. You can't, can you? Two reasons.

A woman in her 20s or early 30s, with young children, cannot afford the same kind of support staff as a movie star. (Although in the Indian context, that's not strictly true). The second and more important reason, however, is this: "It's just not done".

A star can have it her way, because she is a star. Whereas a junior or mid level executive is... just an employee. Important, but not irreplacable. The system will not bend to her needs, she must bend to the System.

When she bends upto breaking point, the employee makes the only choice she can: which is to drop out of the System.

These thoughts come to mind as I read that IIM Kozhikode has achieved a new record by taking in 30% female candidates into its flagship PGP program. That's all very good but ten years from now, when these women are facing the questions of job vs motherhood, career vs family, will the answers be any different?

I really don't think so.

The class of 1993 at IIM Ahmedabad had a record 30 girls (in a batch of 180). Double the number of girls from the year before. At the time, we graduated with stars in our eyes and the conviction that we could conquer the world. But, most of us were conquered by the challenges of motherhood.

A good number of us are working, but few, if any, upto full potential. Or with complete focus. We follow our husbands when they are transferred. Look for part-time jobs even after the baby starts school. Say no to jobs which require too much travel.

Because. It keeps life more simple and manageable.

Oh, so you women have no *ambition*? Well, it's not quite like that. Women do have ambition, they dream of a life where they can have it all.

A stimulating job, which makes the best use of their education and talents.

A wonderful home and a warm, loving family.

Time for exercise, reading, friends and foot massages.

However, Murphy's laws for Mothers decrees that a woman can have any two of the above. At best. So, make a choice - and hurry it up! There's a kid with homework waiting....

If you're a young woman in her 20s or early 30s reading this, I bet you are depressed by now. Well, don't be. My objective is not to just state the obvious, to lament the status quo. There are solutions.

The first thing to accept, very early, is that you will not have the same career path as a man, the linear A to B, B to C, management trainee to CEO.

Let's say you start working at 24, and plan to have your first child by age 32. That gives you 8 years in which to build your *star* value. To become more than just another employee to your company or organisation.

Enter baby.

Now, if you have successfully built up your brand value, one of two things can happen:

* You and your boss sit down together and create an arrangement that works for both of you.

It's possible, though rare, so you need a Plan B to fall back upon. Which is...

* You take your knowledge, expertise and network and use it to become self employed.

Meaning, from an employee you become an independent consultant. Or a 'freelancer'. Or 'a service provider'. Which is as difficult as it sounds. What you're selling is your skill, and that does not require investment.

All you need is *one* person who believes in you. For whom you do the job so well, that they recommend you to another person. And thus the cycle continues.

As you get better - and better known - for the work you do, you will be able to charge more for it. Earn as much or more than in a regular job. And, do it all, on your terms.

If it means taking along your children and their nanny - while you speak at a conference - so be it. That's what Julia Roberts would do, without any hesitation.

Be the star of your own life. Bask in the glow of the spotlight instead of lurking in the shadows of narrowly defined success.

Because you're worth it, and that's not just an advertising slogan.

You truly deserve to have it *all* and the sooner you get on the zig-zag path, the faster you'll get there!

P.S. If you're a woman, at any stage in her career, and would care to tell me your story, please drop me a line at rashmi_b at The more we share, the farther we can go together, and grow together. Knowing that you are not alone!

Experience the Joy of Giving - again

Last year more than 100 colleges across the country came together to hold a Joyfest on campus. A nationwide student initiative, which is part of the Joy of Giving Week from Sep 26-Oct 2.

Once again we invite colleges across India to give of themselves. Donate blood, or clothes & stationery. Organise a lunch for street children. Sing and dance with people who are just like you, only less fortunate.

To know more about holding Joyfest on your campus logon to or email info at

This initiative is supported by JAM magazine.. But, it does not 'belong' to anyone. It is yours, it is mine, it is everybody's!

Joy of Giving Week is meant to sensitise us all to the need to give. In giving, we get infinitely more than we imagine. The hope is that this one week will make us want to give more - of our time, our money and our attention - all through the year.

And in doing so, bring joy to ourselves and others around us. The time to start, is today!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Up in the air

It's raining. And it's been raining just about every day, several times a day since the monsoon started in Mumbai. I've lived here practically my whole life and honestly, I do not recall *so* much leakage from the celestial waterworks!

Today's TOI confirms that feeling with a statistic: the total rainfall till date (and we have a month to go!) is 27% over expectation.

Not complaining - especially since I do not commute anymore. The weather is definitely pleasant. But I think I am not alone in feeling 'mausam badal raha hai'. We don't have to take R K Pachauri's word for it, it's what ordinary people are saying, especially in the Himalayas.

In June this year I had a chance to visit Sangla valley, a 12 hour drive from Shimla and a place of amazing natural and riverine beauty. But the drive to Sangla is not exactly pleasant. After Rampur Bushahr, every few kms there is blasting, digging and tunneling going on.

A slew of hydro electric power projects are under construction. The Sutlej river is an anaemic, sludgey grey; the air is thick with fine dust. 'Jaypee' townships have sprung up at each location - and there are so many that locals joke "HP is now 'JP'".

Perhaps this is all good for us. Hydroprojects bring electricity, which India badly needs. Rivers are a natural, non-polluting resource - unlike fossil fuels and coal. Or the dangers of nuclear energy.

But the heart says, it can't be. When you get a first view of the Sangla valley, where the Baspa river flows in its full natural glory, it seems so so wrong. Pure and green, gurgling and sparkling, the waters of the Baspa flow upto Karcham, where they join the Sutlej.

Where man captures beauty and the majesty of Nature, and cages it for commercial exploitation.

Locals are convinced that all this is changing the climate - in ways that cannot be imagined. Our taxi driver sighed,"Pehle yahan sirf barf padti thi, ab baarish bhi hoti hai. Yeh sab dams ki wajah se hai".

Unseasonal rain is no good for Kinnaur's main economic export: world class apples.

But what can the simple people of these misty mountains do, except protest?

"Hamari sunta kaun hai," they sigh.

Well, one warning bell has been sounded by the recent flash floods in Ladkah. Was it merely a cloudburst, an act of Fate? Or something more ominous?

An insightful article in the Economic Times noted that the average temperature in Ladakh has gone up by almost 3 degrees in the last two decades. At the same time Ladakh transformed itself from a nomadic society to an agrarian one, creating conditions for torrential
downpour in a highland desert, where 'rain' was unknown.

"Ladakh used to receive below 20 cm of precipitation annually which made this highland desert fall in the category of Gobi, Atakama and Tibet plateau, with snow-fed rivers sneaking through rugged mountains and deep gorges; exposing very little to sun resulting in negligible evaporation and almost no rainfall.

Thousands of hectares of new irrigated green fields and acres of new tree plantations, spread the water from narrow rivers over a large surface exposed to evaporation, ultimately resulting in unprecedented torrential rains. Rapid growth of human population and green fields for food tempered the eco-system of a high-land arid region, leading to the catastrophe of August 6.

Increasing rainfall first raised eyebrows of some local environmental groups in 1992-93 and they warned about the consequences of changing a high-land desert into a green belt. But nobody paid heed to this."

The same story is playing out in Lahaul Spiti, which received record rain over the last 3 months. Again, this is an area known as a 'cold desert' which earlier recieved no rain, only snow.

Speaking to the Indian Express State director of the World Wildlife Fund Vandana Thaplayal, who is researching climate change in high-altitude areas, said:

“The change in land use pattern, which has shifted from shrubs to growing apples and other tree plantations, requires a detailed research to know whether the unusual rain and such changes have a relation.”

And by the time we do know, might it be too late?

Meanwhile more chapters in this story are being written in the beautiful state of Uttarakhand. Where hydropower projects are coming up on all the major rivers - and meeting with protest. One such project on the Bhagirathi river - a tributary of the Ganga - was recently scrapped.

But more on religious grounds, than environmental impact. In fact, public pressure built up mainly because of a fast unto death in Haridwar by former IIT professor G D Agrawal. The project envisaged a 16 km diversion of the river into an underground tunnel - changing the landscape between Gangotri and Uttarkashi.

Dr Agrawal's plea for 'aviral dhara' is on emotional and cultural grounds. What about science? Well, unfortunately 'environmentalists' enjoy little credibility today, because they seem to oppose everything that the aam aadmi see as 'progress'.

The trouble is, environmental science cannot be exact, and hence tends to be alarmist. The worst that could happen is really very bad, but we cannot say for sure when or where it will actually happen.

But at some level we do know, Nature is an extension of our soul. If we torture it, we will feel the pain. But perhaps that is the price we are willing to pay for progress?

Unless there is one more 'soldier in Delhi', to take up this cause...!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The ROI of an MBA

In the last couple of weeks I've met with students at ISB, Great Lakes, ICFAI Business School Hyderabad and IIM Indore. And the one concern which unites students across one year and two year programs is the burden of the EMI.

The average ISB student will be paying an EMI of 25k over 7 years, an IIM student 25k over 5 years (going for the exchange program could jack that up by another 4-5k per month). So the concern students have is: "What will be my ROI?"

The way in which a bschooler calculates ROI is very direct: compare what I spent on the course, with the placement salary at the time of exit. In case you have significant work experience, also factor in one year of 'lost income'.

OK. By this method of calculation, the ROI - for a majority of students - will be negative.

The published figure for average domestic salary at ISB last year is Rs 16.47 lakhs p.a. (CTC).

The fees for this batch were approximately Rs 19 lakhs, while the average incoming salary was Rs 8 lakhs p.a.

Do the math and you can see that there is much heartburn. Especially for the 50% of the batch which must - necessarily - bag a job lower than the 'average'.

The same holds true for an ICFAI Business School graduates, where fees + living expenses for the course would works out to Rs 9-10 lakhs.

The average placement salary would be in the range of Rs 5-6 lakhs. A large % of candidates are freshers or with 1-2 years of work ex so we can discount the income loss component.

Now let us examine the case at IIM Indore. The average salary for the class of 2010 was Rs 10.29 lakhs.

The cost of the 2 year course for this batch was approximately Rs 8 lakhs.

Of course, 50% of the batch would have bagged jobs in the Rs 6-10 lakhs range but prima facie IIM seems to provide maximum chances of a high ROI.

However. As they say with mutual fund investments, past performance may not be indicative of future returns. So students who are considering the MBA today - be warned.

The class of 2010 at IIM Indore consisted of 175 students. That number went up to 235for the batch of 2011. The class of 2012 is a record 450 students.

No doubt this will affect the average salary figure. (In fact the larger the batch, the more focus the institute puts on 'quantity' over quality).

Moreover from this year, the cost of attending IIM Indore has also gone up to Rs 10 lakhs. Making the 'equation' far less favourable.

I can bore you with several more examples but you get the drift.

The origin of this entire mess go back to 2008, when the market was booming. It appeared that the MBA was a Golden Degree which, like the yellow metal, could only go up, up and up.

Record placement salaries, record number of jobs - and a relatively low fee structure - made the MBA a most exciting qualification. The better the bschool brand, the more excitement, of course.

At this stage two things happened:

1) In April 2008, IIM Ahmedabad more than doubled its fees (from Rs 4.3 lakhs to Rs 11.5 lakhs). Other IIMs followed.

2) At the same time, year on year, IIMs began admitting more students (seats increased btw 40-100%)

Let me be honest, when IIMA first hiked its fee, I thought it was a good thing. The course was highly subsidised, there seemed to be no reason for taxpayers to underwrite the careers of bright students bagging excellent jobs.

What's more, IIMs promised that no one would be denied a seat due to lack of funds. Education loans were made available to all and also merit scholarships, based on family income.

But. The consequences of these actions were not limited to IIM students.

In the world of finance the Reserve Bank of India signals changes in rates. Similarly, IIMs hiking their fees sent a clear signal to the entire bschool industry. Practically every bschool in India increased its fees by 50-100%.

In a strange and convoluted way, the low fees charged by IIMs kept fees of all bschools low. Because no one - apart from ISB, with its own unique brand - dared to charge more than the market leader.

To compound the problem, the market crashed. Jobs disappeared. The class of 2009 saw the worst of it - higher fees and lower placement salaries. The number of students appearing for CAT in 2009 also declined - for the first time in years.

So, what does this all boil down to? MBA karna chahiye - ya nahin??

Well, I think the 'Gold Rush' era is over. If you are looking for quick and safe returns, you will be disappointed.

I do think an MBA will add a lot of value to your career over the long term. By long term I mean a 10-15 year horizon. But you will begin to see the difference in as little as 3-5 years.

Certain avenues in the corporate world do open up for you, if you have the right 'branding'.

And if you are not from the best known schools you still have the chance to work your way up the ladder through performance and personality.

40 years of working life lie ahead of most of us, a one or two year program is an investment whose returns cannot and should not be calculated merely at the end of the course.

And yes, demand and supply is the inexorable law of Nature. Bschools may well have to go back to smaller batches and lower fees - to make themselves more attractive.

The other - and tougher way - is to provide such value addition that recruiters are happy to shell out more to snap up students. A scenario so implausible... the more practical method would be to hire Leonardo di Caprio.

And let the 'Inception' team loose at one of those CXO Summits where delegates struggle to stay awake :)

The New World Order

Once upon a time I tried to make sense of my virtual life. I thought 'Linkedin' would take care of my professional networking. And 'Facebook' would be for family and friends.

And yeah, 'Orkut' was for fans and readers of my blog/ books/ JAM etc. Coz orkut was THE youth site.

But times change, and with that, so must I. Orkut is dying, LinkedIn has added Facebook features. The fact is, today, FB is king.

One of the reasons I wanted to keep Facebook 'personal' was that, well, I wanted to have some privacy. But the fact is, FB isn't private. So many of the 'friends' I have added are vague and distant acquaintances, people with whom I shared oxygen with in a 7th standard classroom. No shared memories, closeness or experiences as such.

Kai to pehchaan mein bhi nahin aatey (minus braces, spectacles and chotis - all for the better :)

If these distant acquaintances can be my friends, so can the folks who come up to me at a bookstore and say they loved reading 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish'.

Of course, I can start a separate 'fanpage'. But managing multiple websites, blogs, accounts, identities - is all very taxing. I know some people employ 'managers' for all this but the reason people want to be your 'friend' is to have a sense of personal contact.

So even if I log in only from time to time, whenever I do reply or respond or update my status... You know it's 'me' speaking.

I welcome my '781' new friends, in a new world order where we can have a social group of more than 150. Yes, we may not have a deep relationship but the possibility of us getting to know each other better now exists.

And I look forward to it.

Last but not the least, I must mention the character who introduced himself 'Great Indian Gigolo' and explained in his message that he 'cannot CUM online very often'.

No, I am not adding him but hey, it's a free world. Everyone is discovering the power of 'social media marketing'. Bet we'll see him quoted by some journalist out there... very soon!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More 'Connect the Dots' events

UPDATED - Venue in Hyd & Chennai + Panelists in Chennai

Listing all events scheduled around the book in next 2 weeks.

All are welcome :)

Friday July 16, 2010
Venue: Oxford Bookstore, Churchgate
Time: 630 pm

Panel: Ranjiv Ramchandani (Tantra tshirts) and Sunita Ramnathkar (Fem) - both featured in Connect the Dots will be there to interact with the audience.

Date: Friday July 23, 2010
Venue: Landmark bookstore, Banjara Hills road # 12
Time: 630 pm

Panel discussion on entrepreneurship with:
Deepesh Agarwal, founder, GoCars (An ISB graduate who is currently operating his mobile technology start up from the Incubation Lab on the ISB campus).

Mansur Ahamed, founder, Tigertail Gaming Studios (An IIM Ahmedabad graduate who turned down offers from investment banks to start up his own venture).

Sundar Subramanian, co-founder Dimdim Technologies (An MS in Computer Science from Drexel University, passionate about working on cutting edge technology).

Date: Saturday July 24, 2010
Venue: Landmark bookstore, Citi Centre, Mylapore
Time: 630 pm

Mr M Mahadevan of Oriental Cuisine, from Connect the Dots

Mr K Raghavendra Rao of Orchid Pharma, from Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

Sudarshan Anandkumar, co-founder of TING, a recent start-up.

Apart from the above I would be visiting a couple of colleges in each city. And if any of you would like to do a meetup over dinner after these events let me know!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Connecting the Dots in Pune

An event around 'Connect the Dots' in Pune - many of you have asked when? Well. here it is at last and here are the details

Date: Friday 9th of July
Time: 630 pm
Venue: Landmark bookstore, SGS mall

You are all cordially invited!

Hanmant Gaikwad (Jugaad section of CTD, founder of Bhatrat Vikas Group) will be present. I have also invited two local entrepreneurs – Saurabh Garg (co-founder, Four Fountains spa chain) and Ajay Aggarwal (IT entrepreneur and mentor to start-ups).

So we’ll have a small panel discussion & audience interaction – so do come, join in if you can!

The Naked Truth

So, there is currently a controversy around whether a well-loved professor of NID asked students to undress, as part of an experiment. The chap stoutly denies the allegation and students have come out in his support.

Course participant Pratik Shah told DNA: "The concept of his course is that we all are bound by many things like the norms of society, fear of different things and so on. If we want to be creative in the work that we do, we need to free ourselves from this binding which will enable us to think out of the box."

So, there was a session where each student was asked to walk alone in the night in 'pitch dark' of a jungle without a torch. And yes, there were 'talks' of nudity to take students beyond their comfort zone.

"There was also a session on 'who would strip' just to challenge the need for conformance to societal norms, but when somebody dared to do so, the professor stopped them."

I personally believe this version of events. I also believe we in India are especially touchy when it comes to nudity. Which is funny, considering our national dress (the sari) reveals more than the standard attire of most other cultures.

I think it starts early, this idea that nudity is somehow dirty and/or undesirable. Toddlers are taught that to be nanga is 'shame shame'. I mean sure, we have to teach them to keep their pants on but why choose an adjective like that?

Then there was the issue of privacy; the concept hardly existed in our society. Both for cultural and logistical reasons.

Mujhe yaad aata hai wo scene. In the aangan of our old house in Ratlam my uncles bathing in their blue and green striped kacchhas. My aunts - when we sometimes bathed together for logistical reasons (a large family with single gusalkhana) - always kept their underclothes on.

I think it was quite common to do so, even when bathing alone.

My first shock as far as nudity goes is when I was at high school in the US. In the locker rooms after PE class, girls did not squeeze their wet bodies into clothes inside the bathrooms. Afraid that someone might see them exposed - the way we would be.

They had body confidence which desis of my generation simply never had.

My next adventure with nudity occurred - ironically - during a course we took at IIMA called ERI (Exploring Roles and Identity). But there was no instructor involved.

In the dead of the night, on the beach of Teethal (near Valsad) where we spent four days, a friend suggested we go skinnydipping.

And that's what we did. Removing clothes was the easy part; walking into the darkness towards the water was what scared me. Even though it's a flat beach - in low tide the sea recedes a km away. The waves are small and gentle. So you know you can't get swept away...

It felt good.

Five years later I was in Kyoto, staying at an international youth hostel. The place was great, but there was one problem. They had Japanese style bathrooms, meaning no private bathing area.

You enter a large room with showers on the side. In the centre of the room is a largish tub. After showering you can go soak in the tub - with other people.

So there are separate baths for men and women but still, the first day I decided I couldn't. I simply did not have a bath. But on day two I said - what the hell. This too is an experience. I showered and then sat in the hot tub - nude - with two Korean girls (also nude).

We briefly glanced at each other and noted the difference in body structure (they were very slim and small built). And that was it - no awkwardness at all. They didn't speak English and I didn't speak Korean, so we all enjoyed the warmth of the water (It was December and bloody cold!).

I slept really well that night :)

I think I crossed the final frontier when I gave birth to Nivedita. A different doctor came in every 15 minutes to check how many cms I was dilated under a flimsy sheet. And my mother, mother-in-law and husband hung around watching like it was no big deal.

Later I realised, it was a liberating moment.

Or maybe I was just in too much pain to feel shy or violated!

That day I fell in love with this amazing piece of biological machinery that is my body. And in the years since, I have made a conscious effort to love myself.

All of myself, including my physical being.

Well no more 'adventures' since then. But if I happen to be on the French Riviera and find a nudist colony on the beach, I won't hesitate to take my clothes off.

I don't have a perfect body. Maybe I will, someday. But it's really not about that.

If someone asks you to strip in a classroom - sure, that's unacceptable. But try it in the privacy of your own home, with curtains drawn. I bet most of us will quickly cover ourselves up because... it just feels 'unnatural'.

Which is ironic, isn't it?

And in a metaphorical sense, can you see all the layers of beliefs, of rules and judgements with which you cover up your True Self? Imagine looseing your tie, opening the buttons... shedding even a belief or two.

You will feel light and easy and all-new.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life and death

48 hours after she was found hanging from her ceiling, newschannels are still speculating,"Who killed Viveka Babajee???!!!"

Methinks the frisson of excitement is for two reasons:

* The victim was a model, in fact she was the KS model. So, enough pretty pictures and rampwalking sequences to make bad news look kind of good. Which matters a great deal on television.

Plus, her friends are models, so a chance to beam more pretty faces - all of whom declare she was wonderful and strong and they are shocked. But not shocked enough to appear on TV teary-eyed, or without make-up.

* Dozens of people kill themselves everyday - who cares. But if someone who is beautiful, successful, rich and famous kills themselves... ouch! That means the majority of human beings - average-looking, unknown, living in Vasai (E), with nagging mother-in-laws and leakage in the bathroom - what hope do they have?

So - accept your Fate. Nobody is happy, samjhe?

The other aspect of this story I find sad is the glee with which anchors and columnists are placing the blame on a 'string of unhappy relationships'. That the break-up with the latest guy in her life was the straw that broke her back.

Okay. This line of thought assumes that people who get married to their boyfriends will definitely be happy and never think about killing themselves.

Let me give you a (completely imaginary but plausible) scenario B.

Ex-model marries stockbroker boyfriend.
They quickly discover, we are not 'made for each other'.

Husband sleeps around (openly).
Wife sleeps around (discreetly).

The two rage and sulk, fight and argue.
Every day, every night...

Two things can happen:
* The couple separates
* The couple sticks on

The second scenario is more likely if a child has been born. You see, the child needs a 'family' (at least in the photo album).

The woman adjusts to the 'benefits' that come with the tag of being Mrs XYZ. Bangla, gaadi, spending money she doesn't have to earn.

The man also enjoys his perks. After all, someone has to manage dhobi, cook, 'bring up' the children and keep elders happy (chalo, finally dikra settle toh ho gaya).

And so Boy and Girl stay together - for reasons of lifestyle, for convenience and for social status. There is no 'love', no real sharing or companionship. But why kill yourself over it?

You are already a part of the 'Living Dead'.

Also see: Blog I wrote back in 2006 - Depression: It could happen to you

Sunday, June 20, 2010

'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' - review

Like millions of others, I recently discovered Stieg Larsson's 'Girl with the Dragon tattoo' and said, "Wow, what a book!"

At one level it's a pretty good murder mystery but what I really loved was the backdrop. I've read one too many book set in London, Paris, Los Angeles & New York. Sweden is a whole new and fascinating world and came with many surprises.

I've always thought of Sweden as some kind of socialist paradise where people are smiling, peaceful and blonde. Well, this book brutally explodes that postcard picture. The Sweden where girls sport dragon tattoos has a dark underbelly - just like any other part of the world.

The principal character in the book is Michael Blomkvist, a journalist who brings out a small magazine called 'Millenium'. At the very beginning, Michael is sentenced to 3 months in prison for defaming a business magnate by the name Hans-Erik Wennerstorm.

Not that Wennerstorm ain't a slimeball, but sometimes, it's complicated.

To save his magazine and his sanity, Blomkvist takes up an unusual assignment from another tycoon called Henrik Vanger. Vanger is obsessed with a 37 year old mystery in his family - the disappearance of his 16 year old niece Harriet. Foul play was suspected, but neither her body nor her murderer were ever found.

Henrik wants Blomkvist to examine the mystery with 'fresh eyes' and is willing to pay a humongous sum of money if Blomkvist agrees to spend a year in the rural outpost of Hedestad. Pretending to write a book on the Vanger family and empire.

So far so good, but the really interesting character in the tale is runnning a parallel track. Lisbeth Salander is a quaint, misunderstood, genius-level hacker and freelance private detective. In fact, officially, she is considered 'unfit' as an adult and therefore must have a legal guardian provided by the State.

And here's where the author really departs from the world of Agatha Christie where evil lurks in man even in the idyllic countryside. But there is never any cruelty, exploitation or indeed systemic failure.

You are forced to wonder, who, really can decide on another man or woman's sanity? People who would never sport a dragon tattoo and appear to be model citizens can actually, be monsters underneath.

In fact the original Swedish title of the book 'Men who hate women' is quite appropriate! I won't say anymore because it will take away from your reading pleasure. Salander and Blomkvist eventually team up and discover deep dark secrets (yeh part thoda filmi laga mujhe) but hell, I'm sure Hollywood will soon make one :)

Apart from the 'story', I enjoyed a couple of other aspects about the book. Blomkvist has sex with three different women - but it's not in the James Bond mode. There's just a different sense of morality, less boxed-in relationships.

For example, Erika - Blomkvists's long time friend and business partner - is married to Greger. But she spends many evenings and weekends with him, with the knowledge - and tacit consent - of her husband. And this arrangement works fine for all three parties.

Lastly, Blomkvist is passionate about the role and responsibility of journalists. In fact, he has written a book titled 'The Knights Templar: A Cautionary Tale for Financial Reporters' in which he minces no words to describe the depths to which this reportage has fallen.

"In the last 20 years, Swedish financial journalists had developed into a group of incompetent lackeys who were puffed up with their own self-importance and who had no record of thinking critically... (they) seemed content to regurgitate the statements issued by CEOs and stock market speculators - even when this information was plainly misleading or wrong."

Sounds familiar doesn't it? Human nature, and the nature of power and politics is pretty much the same. Wherever you go. That's why this series from Sweden has sold 35 million copies...

Sadly, all after the author's own sudden and untimely death, before any of it was published. Life - and the way it works - is the biggest mystery of all.

Well, I have parts 2 and 3 to look forward to. Uske baad, back to looking for something new and different to read...!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Share your bschool experience

If you're a current student or recent graduate of an Indian or international bshool - boy, I am I glad you're reading this.

Please contribute to Businessworld's bschool guide 2010-11, help aspirants understand what your school is all about. Your feedback will be published, along with your photograph.

If interested, drop me a line at rashmi_b at and I'll send across the questionnaire :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Career query of the week

The amount of thought, logic and reason some of you put into your career-related decisions never ceases to amaze me. Here is one such 'thoughful' young man.

I am currently in a junction point of my career. I got selected for the MS(by Research) program in Finance(Finance+OR+Maths) at IIT Madras. I am currently working as Software Engineer with XXX (leading MNC IT co). I will quickly mention my credentials and then go to my question.

I have 92% marks in 10th standard, 93% marks in 12th standard (both from West bengal State Board) and 9.14 CGPA in Computer Engineering (3rd Rank in class) from NIT XX. I have been working for 3 years after my B.Tech.

This MS program will give me either an analytics job (current recruiters are Irevna, HCL, ICICI etc) with a package of 7.5-8.0 Lpa or I can get admission to a good Finance PhD from one of the top 10 US Universities (with IIT tag and good reco hopefully!).

My question is whether it will be a right move for me to join this course given some other possible career moves:

1. I can take GRE this year and apply directly for PhD in Finance from tier 2 US business schools.

Pros: I can finish PhD by at least 1 year early and enter Job. My 2 years in MS will be saved.

Cons: Acceptance rate for Fin PhD is very low: around 2-5% as many Maths/Physics PhD, fresh MBA from top B-Schools opt for the same. I may not even get into a reasonably good school (Like UT Austin, USC, Maryland etc) (are my assumpsions correct?)

2. I can take CAT this year and get into IIMs

Pros: I can enter Finance job market early and probably decide over PhD after doing job for a couple of years.

Cons: Getting into IIM A/B/C/L is highly uncertain. This year I got only 84 percentile(without any preparation, my father had collected the form). With good preparation for next 5 months I may get good score, but, even then I am not sure how much worthy it will be to join IIM I/K or MDI/SpJain/NITIE after 4 years work ex in a top company.

3. I can continue with my job for another two years and write GMAT and get into 1 year Exec MBA from ISB/IIM A/ IIM B/IIM C.

Pros: The opportunity cost will be less as I will be working more and can save some money to fund my MBA partially.

Cons: I will probably not get a Finance job at all/ get entry level job after 5 years of work ex in software field.

My premises are:
1. I love Mathematics, Statistics, Theoritical Computer Science, Algorithms. If money was not a factor I would love to do advanced studies and research in these fields. PhD in Finance or Financial Engineering would be a good fit based on my area of interest. But also I don't want to reduce my earning potential by 50% for the rest of my life if it (Phd) means so.

2. I dont like classes that teach leadership kind of stuff (attended some corporate trainings) and I am not a typical sales guy. I hate HR also. Historically I did not participated much in the kind of tasks which required managing or influencing people a lot (eg. organizing college fest, raising funds for the same, contacting companies and alumni etc)

3. I am not very passionate about technology and so to continue in product company may not prove very fruitful for me.

4. Business PhD and specially Finance is always more rewarding than Engineering PhD. With PhD I will have both options of Industry(I-Bank Quant jobs,Consultancy) and Academia open. I also love teaching. I teach underpriviledged kids at a local school in Hyderabad on weekends.

5. I can't afford the financial risk of Foreign MBA/ Foreign MFE (Master in Financial Engineering) given my background and the house loan I have taken already.

6. The opportunity cost of a PhD is very high as compared to MBA since I will enter the Job market at least after 3 years.

7. I am 25 years old and unmarried.

If I join the MS-Fin course at IIT, my motivation will be to join top 10 US PhD-Fin programs and not job after MS. Do you think it is a right career move on my part given my premises/credentials/possible options? Please put your thoughts across.

My response: Dear Young Man, clearly,
a) You are not passionate abt technology.

b) You want to make a lot of money, quickly, in the field of finance.

What I am not clear is, why PhD? Because you won't be burdened with a loan is your logic.
But my dear time is money - a PhD will take 3 years (at the very least) while an MBA can be completed in a year or two.

If you get into IIMA, B or C (you have not even tried for it seriously) - you have high probability (given yr profile & inclination) of getting into a 'high paying job' with an i bank or similar.

Paying off the loan would not be an issue.

Now you are a mathematical chap who is always weighing the possibility 'what if' I do not get in. Life mein itna belief rakhna padta hai.. u have to take a leap of faith and give it your best.

After your best shot, if you don't reach your goal then yes, you look at options like MBA abroad from a top school.

Just remember, hurry creates worry. So be ambitious but also patient. All the best.

Young Man replies: The logic behind PhD is:

1. It gives a sense of achievement of a topmost degree. Taking IIM A/B/C and ISB together annually ~1500 high quality MBAs are produced in India alone. By simple demand supply equation PhD in business has a clear edge.

2. I will still have the option of I-Banks/Consultancy, besides the doors of Academia opens. (with the foreign university bill, specially business academia is going to be next happening thing)

3. As you wrote in one of your articles: 'As you rise up higher in the ladder, success is increasingly defined not by what you know or do, but how you manage and motivate your people'.

I think leadership and administration is not by strength area. True that I can do a descent job there with some training and grroming, but by natural instincts are towards Individual contributor (IC) path, where to build a good model and advising people the benefits of it can give me more pleasure. And in IC path PhDs will always be one step ahead of MBAs (hope this holds true in Financial job markets also).

4. I liked your advice "Hurry creates worry". But considering my dad retires after 5 years, I dont want to shift the burden of house loan and my family on my retired father in case I am going to do PhD after MBA followed by 2-3 years of work. So, agar PhD karna hai toh isi saal join karna hai. So it has now become a choice between MBA or PhD in Business.

5. And one bewkoof logic: many of my classmates from school are currently doctoral students at Stanford, MIT, Cornell etc and they are having no worse lifestyle than me doing a not-so-satisfying job I have right now. So sometimes I get the kick that I should have been doing some thing better, something more fundamental.

My response: When you have so much conviction re: PhD you should then certainly go and do it. However I would be happier to hear more of 'This excites me' rather than 'I don't like this, this and this therefore..."

An active choice based on interest and passion always works better than a logical one based on eliminating options.

Second point is, 'leadership' is always required, whatever you do. No man is an island, PhD or not. My father is a PhD in Space Physics and leading the team which is building India's first astronomy satellite Astrosat. Even though he may be a 'pure' scientist ultimately he is also a manager and administrator.

Lastly, EMI should not worry you to death. If it becomes a burden, dispose of the house and buy again after completing studies - when you have the money and secure job once again.

By the way, the EMI advice applies to anyone and everyone who wants to do something different in life. Live on rent, live without fear. You will own a house one day. You don't have to, at 25!

Do add yr comments/ advice for Young Man. Esp if you are on the PhD path yourself.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Exempt exempt exempt

News channels spent most of their time yesterday talking about the new Direct Tax Code. It's wonderful how often and how quickly the government tweaks and sharpens its financial instruments.

Meanwhile the country's judicial system remains a rusting and blunt knife, as is
clear from the Bhopal Gas Verdict.

Last night CNN IBN was the one channel which continued to keep Bhopal and its victims as the top story. Editor in chief Rajdeep Sardesai aired clips of his visit to the affected area, where he spoke to survivors.

Visuals of the children born handicapped, deformed, unable to speak - a generation later - are absolutely heart rending.

And they are suffering, not just because of Union Carbide.

For the last 26 years residents of the area have been drinking contaminated water. So in effect they have been poisoning themselves - every single day!

And victims or activists who have raised their voices against this and other injustices have been harassed. 60 and 70 year old women who marched in protest are now visiting court every month, as cases of 'rioting' have been upon them.

But guess what - you wouldn't know all this if you hadn't watched CNN IBN last night. And how much impact can a single channel make?

The gas tragedy and the tragic state of its victims is a national shame, which all media should be covering relentlessly. If all major print & TV networks deputed a good reporter to camp in Bhopal, all kinds of horrific stories would be uncovered.

There would be pressure on the government and civil society to 'do something'.

But in this hyper-competitive world, every newshound is busy sniffing out his or her own 'exclusive story'.

Hindi channels are following their own scheme of priorities.

The newspapers have moved Bhopal off the front page, pretty much.

No media house has given a clarion call for 'candlelight vigil'.

Warren Anderson will die with a guilty conscience but what about the rest of us?

If the government and the offending company cannot cough up money and medicine to improve victims' quality of life (or rather punishment period on this earth) - can an alternative be found by citizens?

Is there some NGO which lets people 'adopt an affected child' - pay for his or her treatment and upbringing?

It's not fair of course, but it's something.
Something positive.

Maybe the new direct tax code can add a special EEE and make it more 'attractive'.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

'The Truth about IIPM's Tall Claims': Update

It was exactly 5 years ago that JAM magazine first published the story 'The Truth about IIPM'S Tall Claims' in its issue dated Jun 15-29 2005.

This was the first time that any media in India had examined the claims made by IIPM in its ubiquitous full page advertisements where it dared students to 'dream beyond IIMs'.

As readers of this blog would be aware, IIPM carried out a malicious personal attack on me, for publishing this article. Legal action was threatened but never initiated.

We had full documentary evidence for every claim we had questioned, and wherever we had found the institute lacking.

Last week, there was a new development.

We recieved a notice from Silchar in Assam, where the Hon Civil Judge no 1 at Cachat had passed an injunction restraining us from displaying the above article. As per the court's instruction, we have temporarily removed the link to the article.

Let me assure you JAM will seek legal recourse against this injunction. As the matter is sub-judice I would not like to get into the details.

However, the following questions are pertinent:
1) If IIPM had a strong case why did it not file one in 2005. when the article was originally published?

2) The head office of JAM is in Mumbai, while that of IIPM is in New Delhi. So why has a case been filed in Silchar?

Apart from this, why does IIPM continue to fight a proxy internet campaign to malign me by spidering a blog created by 'IIPM Student-9' where I am referred to as a trickster publishing a yellow journal.

(No I am not providing a link here, the offending page appears when you type my name in google on the first page of 'search results'.)

I have faith in the country's judicial system as regards the protection of free speech. And I believe journalists must continue to write free and fair reports in the public interest, regardless of the pressures and pulls involved.

Thank you all for your love and support.

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth