My question now is thus: Is there any real, confirmed, expert, and authentic calculation/account of what the quantum of this might be and where it might be squirrelled away?
12 March, 2018
24 February, 2018
Being in constant startup mode for almost 3 decades now, I think I can safely say that while it is anyone's guess how much I have learnt of other (far more important) areas, I think I can claim to have heard almost all jargon, associated with this space, that has been in vogue at various times since 1990.
Recently, in a new startup, Tasha & Girl, which makes and sells fresh-fruit, spiced, low-sugar, zero-additives preserves, while speaking to various potential investors for funding possibilities, I have heard the word "moat" very often (mainly from potential investors who ask whether we have one), and I thought I'd write something that reflects my learnings over the last 28 years.
Wikipedia defines it as, "...a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that is dug and surrounds a castle, fortification, building, or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of defence."
By definition, it is defensive in nature. That means it presupposes invaders trying to get at what you have built and/or possess.
This approach makes imminent sense to established businesses with entrenched business models in stabilised markets and expensively (whether by money or sweat) acquired customer base over an extended period of time, especially if they are in an environment where their edge is largely high-value, high-cost Intellectual Property that can easily be replicated by a couple of kids working out of a garage.
But most businesses aren't like that. This world may have tech-driven companies as crowding the top 10 or 20 in market capitalisation, but if you were to see the top 1,000, you will see that there is a sizeable presence of people who make physical goods and provide non-tech-centred services (and I don't mean they don't use tech. Just that it isn't their core product. It isn't where they are innovating). For startups in such spaces, it isn't easy to build an alternative without having access to huge initial capital and resources. A couple of young students working at nights from their hostel rooms aren't going to create a disruption in the real sense to unseat leaders in industries such as steel or automobiles or infrastructure or agriculture or real estate or health or energy or logistics. Smart people working in small groups may spark a revolution in a particular space (and for sure, technology will create huge opportunities and challenges too), but this is unlikely to change the order at the top, or to use our analogy, topple any castles in the short-to-medium term.
What I mean is that while a Facebook needs to build moats against the next WhatsApp and Instagram (Facebook tried, and we know how that worked out for them!), a Tata Steel has no cause to worry about a garage startup with 2 students as co-founders taking away its business within 5 years of launch, as much as it must worry about an ArcelorMittal. Also, from the point of view of the potential investors who keep asking for "moats" from startups, such an unlikely garage startup finding ways to make better and cheaper steel than Tata Steel too should not need to worry about moats. That isn't where their greatest challenges are going to come from. Moats aren't all they are made out to be.
A battering ram, on the other hand, makes far more sense to startups trying to break into the markets with entrenched older players (who are most likely to have elaborate castles with thick walls and sturdy gates, standing armies, and moats), and while this certainly does not apply only to the tech-light, low-IP businesses, it is there that a ram makes most sense.
My contention, therefore, is that new businesses should (and can) worry less about the moat and focus on the battering ram while building their products, services, and models. Moats are impressive but are expensive to build, maintain, and expand. They are inflexible pieces of your defence network. They are passive, rigid, and most importantly, limiting in the options they provide the force inside the castle, except buying time. In short, they are a horrible bang-per-buck investment.
Rams are, on the contrary, easy and cheap to make, flexible in usage, quickly discarded and redesigned if necessary, and provide very effective aggressive force-multipliers at a fraction of the cost. Being mobile, they can also be used as decoys and feints to tie down the enemy and suppress an attack from another angle, from under the ground (through a tunnel) or from a side gate left open by mistake.
Of course, this is not a universal rule, and one must remember that one of the greatest advantages a ram can offer is flexibility. So, staying rigidly focussed on rams while being blind to everything else would actually be like having a moat in the shape of a ram!
Georges Danton famously implored the citizen's forces in the battle of Valmy (?) against the Duke of Brunswick, "Il nous faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!" to great effect. Of course, at times, it didn't work out well, but in most cases, audacity has historically had disproportionately large rewards, especially when faced with overwhelming odds, as most startups are in the initial years as compared to the larger businesses that they go up against.
It was in this spirit that, during the First Battle of Marne in 1914, the great French soldier, Marshal Foch declared, "My centre is yielding. My right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking."
(On a side note: He is also known to have said, "Aeroplanes are interesting scientific toys, but they are of no military value," proving thereby that no one is infallible and being old and established means one focuses on moats and ignores the battering rams, at one's own peril.)
Even in WWII, with the advent of the armoured vehicle which served as an excellent mobile gun platform while providing unbelievable speeds of advance against an entrenched foe, the battering ram took centre-stage, with Heinz Guderian's Panzers proving once again that a moat is no match for a well-tuned battering ram. Ditto in the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh where the Indian forces were at Dhaka in less than a fortnight of the declaration of war. In effect: A moat can only delay defeat, and that too by smaller and smaller times as society and technology advances.
A moat is useless if one wants to win, whether in war, sports, politics, or business. It is playing for a draw. If you are building a moat, you are halfway to losing already.
Let me now return to the brand I spoke of earlier: Tasha & Girl.
We make preserves from 100-year-old recipes. We use pure fruit. We use no additives or preservatives, stabilisers or pectin powders, or even artificial colours or flavours. We make them with a lot of love, but equally importantly, we do not worry disproportionately about our actual recipes or of someone stealing them.
We focus on finding the best sources for our product. We brainstorm day and night on our communication with our customers and users. We spend hours speaking to people who have eaten our product. We meet dozens of people in a week to forge alliances and build relationships. We study our competition in great depth to find ways we can beat them by changing the rules of the game. We create eye-wateringly detailed simulations and play around to find the most optimum processes and costs, prices and sales strategies, and vendors and distribution channels. Then, we try them out. We construct future scenarios to play-act how we would respond, and then find ways to stay one step ahead and make the competition react rather than catch us off-guard.
And we eat our product...all the time. We experiment. We make mistakes. We learn. We change.
The secret, I must confess, is not in the recipes. It is in our innovative thinking. If you steal our recipes, we'll just create more exciting new ones. If you copy our brand, we'll just find better ways to communicate. If you sell cheaper than us, we'll find more economical vendors or invent processes to make it even cheaper. If you throttle our supplies, we'll find new ways to get there. If you pinch our distribution networks, we'll work around them.
The thing is, we have no moat. As big, established players, our competitors have built one, and have had it for so long that they are confident of it just working by itself to keep upstarts like us out. But a moat is the embodiment of hubris. As a young, agile, flexible, and innovative business, we have nothing to lose. In fact, we don't even have a castle!
I am sure that your startup too thinks like this. I am sure you are building the mother of all battering rams instead of wasting your time digging moats. I am sure you are as inspired (and straining at your leash) as I am, looking at the competition's flags flying on their castle, to storm the gates and bring them down. Write to me. Tell me your story. Let's have a beer sometime if we are in each others' towns. It's always exciting to meet people with a vision...and a plan. Maybe we'll make it, maybe we won't. But it won't be for the lack of trying.
And, to all you established giants sitting pretty, feeling confident that you have a huge, expensive, deep moat to protect your huge, expensive, pretty castle, be prepared: The barbarians are at the gate. And they have a battering ram!
24 September, 2017
I keep hearing people accusing other people of playing "identity politics."
Let's get one thing straight: All politics is about identity.
If you go far enough ahead, each individual is a political unit of one.
If you go far enough back, we are all one-celled organisms.
Where you stand in terms of your identity, and hence your politics, is just a matter of where you stop in the future or past. All else is "mithya" and hypocrisy, especially when you accuse the other party of playing "identity politics" because this phrase is truly tautological.
There is no politics without identity. In fact, there is no civilisation without identity for consciousness is intractably intertwined with the idea of self and that inevitably leads to a sense of identity which, the moment more than one conscious being is in the room, manifests itself into politics.
Be careful what you accuse "the other" of, for it exposes your own identity and the underlying politics as much as of the person you are accusing.
15 August, 2017
You would notice that your birthday falls within a fortnight of the Indian Independence Day, 15 August. I am sure you'd have read some of my other blog posts about what it means to be free, how the idea of India is far more powerful than the physical existence of India, and how the idea of India is actually far more defensible and worth dying for than for the physical (and imaginary) boundaries by which we are constrained to think of as this country. So, I shall not dwell much on that topic here.
Recently, there has been much talk of our national song, "Vande Mataram." (Hopefully, this won't be an issue by the time you can read this...or perhaps I am hoping for too much. Time will tell). As you grow, you would also hear and learn to sing our National Anthem, "Jana Gana Mana" and coming from a family that has served the nation in uniform (your Ajoba and Abhi-chacha), you would become familiar with another patriotic song, "Sare Jahaan Se Achha," played by the various military bands on parades that you would attend with your grandparents.
I would not want to go into the detail and depth of each of these songs, since these would be available to you online anyway, and most of them are simple enough to understand just by reading or singing them (perhaps you would need to look up a few words, or extrapolate meaning from the original Sanskrit or Urdu or Bengali, because quite a few words are similar) and putting reference to context.
However, there IS a fundamental common thread running through these songs, which you will also find in the various stotrams & aarties in Hinduism, the salaat in Islam, hymns in Christianity, and so on.
That is: All of them are praising a power higher than the singer/reciter. All of them talk of the singer/reciter's insignificance and impotence and how the object of their prayer is larger-than-life, has control over their destinies, and/or is their Master/Mistress/Guru/Parent. All of them seem to be about faith, about unquestioned belief, about somehow something being the best, the most benevolent, most beautiful, most bounteous, and so on. All of them, at some level to me as a rational person (and hopefully, as you grow, to you too) have a slight cringe-worthiness to them. None of them calls for any action, enthuses any passion (other than empty pride), or gives any hope for the future to a collection of people we call a nation. Like religious prayers, all of them only invoke the name of a higher power (Destiny, Mother, etc.) and praise it...with no other, more profound, more meaningful significance to the entire exercise.
(As a side note, when you hear these religious chants and stotrams & aarties and salaats, you will realise that besides telling "God" how great He is, there is no meaningful content in them at all. And you'll think all those around you who sing these to be quite silly, and maybe a bit stupid too. If you are smart, you'll learn to suppress your laughter, and your incredulity, at least for some time, so as not to offend people you otherwise like and love. By the way, the whole concept of nationalism is pretty similar to religion, as I have explained in this post of mine. But that is not the subject of this post.)
That I stand and lustily sing them (the anthems and songs and military marches) with pride(?) and have goosebumps when I do has more to do with my social conditioning, my childhood upbringing, and the circumstances in which I grew up than the actual content of their poetry, melody, or rhythm. That is because I have been taught consciously and sub-consciously (and in today's world, have even been mandated by law) to respect them, take pride in them, and to take their meaning, whatever that is, as a given, without asking any questions.
But you don't have to be. I was born in 1972. You were born in 2014: a fresh, young, clean, unconditioned, curious, and open mind. You have the power in you to question, and then accept or reject anything your intellect desires. You may sing these songs in your school because it is compulsory. You may even stand up, give proper "respect" and so on as is required by law (and by your school's, and later, your society's regulations). But inside your mind, in your heart and head, you need to know that these songs have nothing in them intrinsically to be something you want to live, die, or even kill for.
Talking of living, dying, and killing for ideals, we discussed the "Idea of India" some time ago. What I want you to understand is that this is not an ancient or a very old phenomenon. The concept itself may be about a few hundred years old (if even that), but the codification (in the Indian context) is not more than 70-odd years old as of today. What the preamble to our Constitution says was written in 1948-49, and even given that it was thought up, say a few years (or even a few decades) before that, it does not qualify for antiquity. In fact, the idea that all people be equal, that they all must have justice, and peace, and freedom to think and to do as they choose, was not really a popular concept before the French Revolution in the late 18th century, and even then, it wasn't really the kind of equality or freedom or justice that you imagine in the 21st. This concept has evolved slowly, and the point I am making is that the Idea of India, like your own life, is young and (in many ways) fragile, and deserves to be nurtured, protected, and given time & space to grow if we are to have any India left at all very soon.
However, what I want to speak to you about today is another idea of India that came into being much before the preamble to our Constitution was written by the wise men who did (that, by the way, is a mystery as to who actually penned that masterpiece). This (earlier) idea of India was put forth in 1910 by a sensitive, wise, and (in hindsight) an amazingly far-sighted poet: Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore (or "Thakur" as it is originally pronounced), who, we Indians are lucky, lived in times when this nation and this society needed someone just like him to guide it towards a more civilised, more aware, more conscious, and a more evolved path. In fact, as you would have read earlier in my other blog posts, our society has been inordinately (look this word up: inordinate) lucky to have had such amazingly wise and foresighted people being born and connected with it just when it was needed. Indeed, serendipity has been kind and benevolent to India.
Enough digression though. Let us look at what he hoped for his nation, for his society, and for his people. Here is what he wrote (I offer an English translation by the poet himself, who read this at the Indian National Congress' Calcutta session in 1917):
(Small side note, once again: I only wish he had not used "My Father" in the last line, but I am told that in the original Bengali, "Pitah" could mean "Spirit." So, I shall let it pass!)
It is THIS that I would like you to understand, and to memorise, and to recite if the time ever comes for you to talk about India, the country of your birth and of your parents and forefathers (and mothers).
It is THIS that I want you to consider (if it appeals to your intellect) to deliver if you are ever asked to say a prayer for your country or nation or community or society.
Think about it. You don't even have to be an Indian to recite it, believe in it from your heart, and work towards it. THAT, my little one, is the mark of a truly great (and more importantly, effective) prayer, if such a thing ever existed.
Happy Independence Day, my beautiful child.
Yours most lovingly,
P.S: Interestingly, despite its message of hope, the power of the ideals it holds up, and the popularity of the poet, very very few have managed to set this to music, or even recite it in a beautiful enough way for me to find some video online to share with you. I hope some musician (or even a celebrity) can find it in themselves to do this soon.
P.P.S: By the way, the word for "Mind" that Gurudev used in the original Bengali, "Chitto" is so much more meaningful. I do hope you learn that language from your mother, who speaks it so beautifully.
13 August, 2017
I was challenged, some months ago, to create a pop philosophy with a random collection of words, to prove my point. I chose the leaflet lying closest to me, a menu card, since we were sitting at a restaurant.
This is how people like Deepak Chopra, Sadguru, and Sri Sri create crap philosophies and sound mystical, knowledgeable, and wise. My intent was to show how simple it is, given the intent and intelligence, to create vapourware that impresses lesser minds. The tools are present all around us. So are fools. It only requires a willingness to employ those tools to extract first attention, then respect, then reverence, then money, and eventually power & control, from these fools. In effect, it is only our morals that prevent us from exploiting this weakness...which says something about those who actually do exploit it.
On with the exercise then:
A Philosophy of The Menu
|A random menu card|
The Mystical Name
The Metaphysical MetaphorIt also seemingly speaks of food, an essential ingredient in our survival. It is apparent that without food, there is no life. Food is essentially the fuel our body requires to sustain and survive. But the "food" is allegorical. In this is a hidden dimension we miss. The menu is in two pages. "Food" for the body isn't sufficient, for man doesn't live on bread alone. Food is required for the mind too. And, the two-page format shows that the "food" it talks of is for both: One that holds together the body, and other that nourishes the soul.
The Colours Speaketh The Language of LifeLook carefully again. It has 4 colours: Orange, White, Black, and Green. 4 Colours, 4 Parts, 48 items. In the "W Philosophy" (Author's Note: This menu is from the Wadeshwar restaurant in Pune, hence the "W"), 4 is a magic number. Humans pass through 4 "dashas", with each characterised by the heading of The Menu items.
The "Wada-Idli"When the human is born, s/he is fresh and virgin like a fluffy idli, untouched by the sambhar or chutney of life. This is the stage where the human is the most malleable, soft, and pure white. If you look carefully, this stage has two sub-stages, with the "Wada" stage coming before the "Idli" metamorphosis. This shows us in our mother's womb, which is like a cauldron of hot oil, creating us, toughening us from the outside, while protecting our softest parts. Once we are out in the real world, we arrive pristine pure.
The "Snacks"When the human comes of "Ardh" ("Half" or "Unfinished" in Sanskrit) age (which is between full adulthood and infancy), s/he is a mix of various elements. S/he has no character of their own, like a snack has no fixed time of consumption, and is made of bits and pieces of other food items. In this stage, humans must strive to build an identity, while remaining open to being slotted in every pigeonhole. Like the tomato omelette that has very few tomatoes and isn't even an omelette, the human finds him/herself in a position of ridicule. This, s/he must endure, for the next stage, and an escape from this "dasha" is around the corner.
The "Dosa"At this stage, the human begins to become formed into an adult. A flat, regular-shaped, crispy at the edges, soft in the centre, sometimes with a stuffed middle, sometimes not, having made peace with the sambhar and chutney, the human now has personality, though many-a-times, like a badly made dosa lacks shape, taste, or crispiness, a badly formed human may be short on character, opportunity, or be oddly and unevenly burnt by life's experiences.
The "Uttappa"Experts vary on whether this stage comes before, after, or concurrently to the "Dosa" stage, but this writer firmly believes that it comes in the last part of our lives. Just like the batter and the toppings used in an uttappa are left over from the idli, wada, snacks, and dosa, and the human reaches this only after having passed through all the previous ones. To the lay observer, the uttappa is a confusing dish, part pizza, part dosa, part meal, part snack, and a bit of everything. But here's how it resembles a human in the last stage of his/her life: The uttappa doesn't care, and continues to be. In short, it has arrived! Humans reach this stage with much behind them, and though to the outside viewer, they may seem a mish-mash of everything and anything, the bottomline is that they are comfortable in their skin to just be.
The Menu characterises our life, and teaches us lessons beyond the reach of most other religious holy books. But it goes further. It also teaches us other profound truths, which some "W Philosophy" (which is less a philosophy and more a "way of life") scholars codify as commandments:
1. Know your options and study them carefully.
2. Know what you can and cannot have and be at peace with this.
3. Order only when you are sure, for once placed, it cannot be cancelled.
4. Thou shalt only receive what thou hast ordered:
4.1 You cannot order an idli and receive a dosa. Such is the rule of nature.
4.2. Thou shalt not receive what your neighbours have ordered. If thou doest, that is a mistake and must be corrected.
5. Certain items are only available on certain times and days. Thou must be careful what thou desires. Remember that everything has its own time and place.
6. Extras cost.
7. Thou must pay for what thou consumest.
8. The actual payment differs from what you may be led to believe. You can call it the "Taxes" of life.
9. Thou needeth others. This life isn't possible without the help of those like the chef, waiter, cashier, and above all, The Owner.
10. Thou need not share what thou receiveth with any of the above, for their payment is in a different coin.
At this point, I was tired. As you can see, it is easy to go on. There’s a lot to be done with the colours, the various numbers and costs, the font used, the rectangle shape, and so on. But honestly, i think the above should suffice to prove a point: Given enough time and enough words, one can have a philosophy with anything and make it mean anything.
The menu card also provides very little text. Given a larger body (say, an Arthur C Clark’s book) it would be too easy. The more the text, the older the text, the more profound and meaningless the philosophy. Why meaningless? Because by cherry-picking, one can prove almost anything in a long enough text.
02 October, 2016
interested, i looked it up, and here's how it went:
The wrongful appropriation or embezzlement of shared or public property, usually by a person entrusted with the guardianship of that property.
Etymology: From Latin peculatus (“embezzlement”), from past participle stem of peculor (“to defraud the public”), related to peculium (“property in cattle", "private property”), from pecu (“cattle", "money”).
One's own; belonging solely or especially to an individual; not shared or possessed by others.
Etymology: From Latin peculiaris (“one's own”), from Latin peculium (“private property”), from Latin pecus (“cattle”).
The act or practice of buying land, goods, shares, etc., in expectation of selling at a higher price, or of selling with the expectation of repurchasing at a lower price; a trading on anticipated fluctuations in price, as distinguished from trading in which the profit expected is the difference between the retail and wholesale prices, or the difference of price in different markets.
Etymology: From Old French speculation (French: spéculation), from Late Latin speculātiōnem, from Latin speculātiō.
1. The savings of a son or a slave, with the father's or master's consent; a little property or stock of one's own.
2. A special fund for private and personal uses.
Etymology: From a Proto-Indo-European root peḱu- (“livestock, domestic animals”), whence also pecus (“sheep, cattle”).
Etymology: Derived from pecū, from Proto-Indo-European peḱu- (“livestock, domestic animals”). Cognates include Sanskrit पशु (páśu, “cattle”), Old Armenian ասր (asr, “fleece”), Old Saxon fehu, Old English feoh, Gothic 𐍆𐌰𐌹𐌷𐌿 (faihu), Old Norse fé, Swedish fä and Lithuanian pēkus (“cattle”).
Embezzlement of public money or property.
so, this seems to have happened:
peḱu (पशु) >> savings/wealth >> property >> gambling >> embezzlement >> theft
"property is theft" seems to have roots older than karl marx, it would turn out...and public servants have been at it since time immemorial!
ah, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose :-)
28 August, 2016
that was a month ago
the funny part is, most successful people (and i am talking about really successful ones, not just the more popular financially or professionally successful bunch) never really grow out of this: they rebel, make mistakes, trust the wrong people, take (what seem like) unnecessary risks, antagonise and frustrate people who love them, and more or less look as if they have a death-wish. and as may be expected, many do not make it and fail to leave a mark. but the ones who do, change the world, and it is their lives that we must hold up as worthy of emulation
|if this is the terrible 2s, i never want you to grow up|
when i was born, in 1972, diseases like polio (eradicated in 2011), and smallpox (eradicated in 1980) were still a reality, vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella were just being tried out, cancer was thought to be a death sentence, HIV AIDS was virtually unknown, and hepatitis vaccines were at least decade away.
|an englishman, he wasn't given to hyperbole normally|
a longer life can have several advantages. it would allow you to make even more mistakes and recover from them, learn, and try even riskier endeavours that make you even happier and the world even better, in one long virtuous cycle of life
to do so, though, you need to remember some basic lessons i intend to teach you, the first of which i shall impart today. so, here goes:
13 August, 2016
|lord harold samuel is credited with this quote, but it probably predates him|
|what's with luxury and brand names?|
|this is literally the first quote that pops up on google. not very innovative of me!|
|globally certified as "well-travelled"|
|it's a tightrope walk, and there are no second chances|
|inner peace....innnnnnnner peaaaaaaaace!|
|"ek goli, ek dushman"|
|you wanna sell something to uncle scrooge? think like him|
|well then, what are you waiting for?|