The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP): India’s Political Startup

Most technology startups that eventually turn out be highly successful often begin with an idea or two and less than a handful of deeply committed, highly capable, inspirational and often brilliant founders. Product ideas at the initial stage are routinely “pooh-pooh-ed” by so-called experts as too far-fetched, half-baked, not scalable, and hence not “fundable.” But these ideas and the eventual focus tend to evolve over time, sometimes quite dramatically.

When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook he was trying to provide a system for students at Harvard to stay connected. However, he later went on to connect more people on the planet than anyone else. When the Google founders started out, they wanted to make it easy to search and find “stuff” on the Internet. Then, they went on to organize the world’s content coupled with a clever way of making huge amounts of money through advertisements. When the company, Salesforce, was started, the idea of software as a service, where all software resides online, was not considered viable, scalable, secure, etc. But today, software as a service is widely accepted and believed to be the future. If the Internet and communication speeds had not dramatically increased, none of the companies mentioned here would have been raging successes.

The reality is that no one can predict the future. External forces like timing and circumstances play a significant role in fueling success. If there is one thing that is consistent across every major startup success, it is that there are people behind it who are deeply committed to relentlessly pursuing a dream that often appears ridiculous and foolhardy to most people.

In the political world, back in 2000, Barack Obama could not gain entry into the Democratic convention, because he was a virtual non-entity. But by 2004, he was a rising star. In 2008, he was able to forge a successful campaign comprised of highly committed, energetic, young people who had little interest in politics up until then. After 40 years in power, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was brought down in a matter of weeks by an army of peaceful protesters strung together by the power of social networks. The entire Arab Spring has happened over a period of a few months. History is replete with examples for and against the success of fledgling movements.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Time to break free from the “Malik-Naukar” mindset

Globalization has been the buzzword for the last several years. Over the last decade, India’s tech sector in particular has benefitted substantially from the massive outsourcing of jobs to India from the US, Europe and other parts of the world. As a result, jobs that were previously done in these countries have now been transferred en masse to India and other developing countries. This post is not about the merits or de-merits of globalization. Instead, it focuses on how cultural aspects come in the way of “true” benefits of globalization. We pick and chose aspects of globalization to suit our needs. The bad news is that in this process, those that are often considered “good” business practices followed in western countries are often ignored due to our cultural differences with the west.

Let us look at how much these migration of jobs have carried with it fundamental attitudes and behaviors that are the norm when it comes to doing business in the western countries. For instance, in the west, when you are in the midst of negotiations for a contract with the customer, all the issues are often sorted out during this stage. There is complete transparency regarding who the decision makers are, the decision making process, the timelines involved, etc. During this process, the customer would haggle on costs, terms, fixed vs. variable costs, estimate, over-budget projections, legal language, etc., and the vendor is encouraged to ask questions. But at the end of the day, when the contract is signed and the handshake occurs, it’s an agreement that both parties fundamentally promise to live by. This written agreement carries with it an underlying sense of commitment and decency that both parties automatically adhere to. Most importantly, it’s a relationship of equals. Beyond this point, operational activities like invoicing and getting paid are considered routine and happen like clockwork. In fact, the customer will call the vendor to make sure that they were paid in a timely fashion. The vendor and the customer both strive to live up to their end of the bargain.

In India, on the other hand, there is often very little transparency with regard to who the ultimate decision maker is for a project. You might miraculously get a contract signed off but rather than serving as a watershed moment in your sales effort, it could just be the beginning of a nightmare that remains throughout the lifetime of the project. This realization dawns on you when you send in your first invoice. Instead of getting paid for a service that you have already delivered, you are at the mercy of your customer. It’s like a “malik-naukar” relationship. Despite having delivered your part of the service, you have to chase every single individual in the flow to finally get paid. Unfortunately, this happens to be true across a large swathe of our businesses. As a result, sales personnel not only have the difficult task of closing business but also the added responsibility of ensuring timely payments from clients.

Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times

Yet another basket case

A boy is born and raised in a conservative muslim family in Hyderabad. He turns out to be a tremendously talented cricketer and eventually makes it to the coveted Indian cricket team. Thanks to his impressive performance beginning with his debut Test he slowly makes his way up to become the captain of the team. Meanwhile, he goes through a conventional muslim wedding and is soon the father of two boys. His cricketing career continues on a meteoric rise. During this rise, he is exposed to the glamour of Bollywood and its nexus with the underworld. Cricket in Sharjah gives him access to the bigwigs of Bollywood and the mafia. He is slowly but surely drawn into the glitzy world of fame and fortune.

The simple middle-class upbringing was now a thing of the past. Instead flashy cars, hot women, a persistently upturned shirt collar, expensive watches, fancy perfumes, and late night parties become the order of the day. He divorces his wife and marries a Bollywood star. He continues to perform well on the cricket field, so his tenure as captain continues. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly a sting operation exposes match-fixing in cricket and the young man finds himself in trouble. Meanwhile, the all powerful cricket board changes hands from one power block to another. This shift combined with his being from a minority community with little presence in the upper echelons of the board, leaves our hero with no backers.

With no one to pitch his case in a cricket board that is largely an exclusive rich man’s club, he finds himself at the receiving end of lifetime ban. Still supremely fit, yet unable to play the game that practically gave him everything, he finds himself with no where to turn. After trying everything he could to overturn his life ban, he takes to politics. Blessed by a high powered political dynasty he joins the rolls of the ruling party and contests elections from a constituency that he had barely visited but had a significant muslim population. The move paid off landed him in Parliament despite lack of any experience in public service whatsoever. There were occasional rumors surrounding his personal life. Then, there was the tragic death of his son in a road accident. Along the way, he challenges his life ban in court. Twelve years go by since the outbreak of the scandal and the courts finally overturn the ban citing lack of sufficient evidence. Now, he is too old to play cricket, and finds himself in a new avatar, that of politician.

 Click here to read the rest of the article in The Economic Times