We are the Champions: Lessons for a Startup


Congratulations on the World Cup Victory! A nation’s hopes have been pinned on this victory and this is what our boys have achieved in Mumbai. A billion (and a quarter) hearts pounding together can product a massive impact, and it’s in that din and glory that we will always remember forever our lives.

The Cup of Victory

A victory, however, doesn’t come easy. It takes years of hard work, it takes months of preparation, a lifetime of determination and all that culminates in that one day when all your hard work can either puff up in smoke or create a bang that lifts a nation’s spirits. Champions are forged in this journey – people the nation looks up to, ordinary folks like you and I – who came into this journey as boys but leave as men who leave a mark. However, individual brilliance cannot win alone – the Indian victory was a true team effort – where each man worked harder, complemented each other, backed up his neighbour, and produced a result that far grander than an individual performance – they all gave it their 200% to achieve what not many of us have seen in our own lifetime – a World Cup victory. It’s the story of believing in yourself, it’s the story of the silence that you feel when the whole stadium is erupting but all you see is the next ball. It is the story of chasing a dream – a shooting star, a wish, an idea, a passion – whose true denouement is the victory lap.

In a startup, we chase a similar dream. It’s born of an idea – an idea that we can build something that is larger than ourselves, an idea that one has the ability to build a winning company that the hearts and minds of its employees, customers, stakeholders all around. An idea that innovation can produce a killer product and when you back it up with awe inspiring service – it produces a cracker and the world sits up and takes notice.

Most importantly, it needs the team, its employees to have played like champions. Each an every person – from the smallest right upto the top, has to play his or her part in this larger story, essay a brilliant individual performance in this difficult stage, and at the same time, play the ultimate team sport, come together as a collective, back each other up, and come up with a whole which is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The most exciting part of a startup is not what you build, or what you earn, its about chasing that dream, living that vision, winning in each step, the small battles and the big war, the ability to do something for which one is known always. It’s a long and arduous journey – its never gonna be easy, but its your co-passengers who make sure it never gets too hard. It’s a journey of following an idea till you get to an appropriate climax – and even if the climax is not to your expectations, in most cases you would enjoy the journey. Because at the end of this journey, we would have been there and done that. It’s never about where you end up – it *IS* about chasing a dream.

Congratulations once again on the World Cup win, but remember, the time is NOW.

School Chale Hum

This is a video by Bharatbala productions on the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan (Wikipedia). The music is by Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy. The video shows students from all over the country running to school in the morning. The blurb reads:

192 million children between 6-14 years of age across 1.1 million places in India are not going to school. This film for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Universilisation of Elementary Education) addresses the needs of these children.

The film catches the moment when children all across India from Kashmir to Kerala wake up in the morning and run to go to school.

Directed by: Kanika and Bala, Bharatbala Productions (BBP) for the Ministry of Human Resource Development, India.

It is good to see the government releasing such inspiring videos for its campaign. We need a lot of infrastructure, organization, resource mobilization (both material and human), and determination if such a bold target has to be achieved. There is not doubting that universal education, which only remains a dream at this point in India, will unlock the potential of millions of children and help them build a respectable and rewarding life for themselves.

It is sad that even now, after 60 years of independence, we have been unable to provide the right of education to its children. Unless we are united in our campaign to bring the benefits of education to the population at large, we will find unemployment spiralling up as these young kids grow up. Unemployment breeds most other social evils since ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. As the blurb above says 192 million children are unable to receive the benefits of education. As these children grow up and we are unable to provide for their ‘fish’ everyday since we have been unsuccessful in ‘teaching them how to fish’, we will find that more and more of them will turn to unacceptable and often anti-social means of earning their livelihood.

As the discontent grows into unrest, we will find our country being divided into a ‘developed India’ and a ‘under-developed India’. This is foreboding since unlike developing and developed nations, the two Indias will be geographically co-located and very finely interspersed. In a shirt, every thread is important. Even if one thread is unable to hold together, a gaping hole appears which only grows with time. No amount of stitching can help (which most of our upliftment programs try to do). It is important to ensure all threads are strong and sturdy right from the beginning. Disharmony and unemployment has the potential to cast a shadow on the shining India we take so much pride in.

A divided India will bring the progressive India down like a pack of cards.

If those of us who have been lucky to receive the benefits of education, and a world of opportunities opening to us feel that we can progress and enrich our lives while these kids remain illiterate, we are only fooling ourselves. We need to worry about the India we see outside our tinted car windows, the children who should be going to school but go to work, kids who if guided well will be India’s strength, but if left misguided will pull it back.

It is also important to focus on the education of the girl child. While girls have equalled and even surpassed men in many spheres, vast hinterlands of the country still don’t understand the need of the equality, which is sad considering that in a lot of cases women are actually the breadwinners of the family. Even in the cities, we have so many maids working in our houses. I don’t have any statistics but I am confident that in a lot of cases they just dont supplement the income of the man of the house but in fact perhaps are the sole breadwinners in the family. I am certain that instances of alcoholism and other social evils are much less amongst women than men in the lower strata of the society, and it certainly makes more sense that the money stays with them which would be used for caring for the family, rather than spent on a drinking binge. Not long back I went to a temple where we paid our guide (who took us around) handsomely since we were happy with the services rendered. The next morning I found him stinking of cheap alcohol. I just felt sorry for his family who could not even get the benefits.

It is important that we realize that with the family cushion gradually degenerating from around us, it is essential that girls can not only read and write, but also be able to pursue opportunities in at least one vocation so that they can support their family in case of any adversity. They could actually do a better job at it. And it’s not the elite who need to understand this, it is really the multitude of Indians who despise modern society who need to get this hammered into theri heads!

Holi Aali Re

As Holi comes to town, here is a video which will refresh you at first and then make you think.

Hope your life is full of colours in this coming year. Happy Holi :)


Insouciant about Independence?

Another Independence Day went by. India grew 59 years old today and I a day older. Apart from the fact that we had to take a compulsory holiday from our office, was there anything ‘special’ for me about this Independence day? Was this anything more than just another holiday?
I am not sure. My apartment-mate had been itching for donating blood, but I laughed him off. Chill maadi – picked up from the local FM Station – is what I told him. I slept all day, read Amartya Sen (the closest I got to patriotism), went shopping to Bangalore Central due to the SALE there, ate heartily, "died by chocolate" and thus another day got over. I did’t even lay hands on a flag let alone hoisting it.
But then, why I am coming back to write this? If I spent it just as another holiday, why do I need to listen to my conscience now that the day is over? Does it show my patriotism or does it show the lack of it?
I think one of the reasons I just can not "show" patriotism is perhaps because the whole concept of pop patriotism puts me off. You watch TV, listen to radio stations, read the newspapers and everywhere you find that independence has been made into one big deal, with opinions from failed actors, and aspiring villains filling the broadsheet. In the taboid world, Independance day is spiced up, the only difference being that the P3 crowd wears saffron, white and green clothes. You shop till you drop as usual, but in most cases, the floor on which you drop will be painted in the tricolour. And not to forget showing our patriotism via status messages on our IM clients!
Is it really that bad or am I imagining? Is there a section of society which we do not hear about, who feel?
I think there is, and I would like to know about them. I would like to watch some kids singing Vande Mataram and Jana Gana Mana. I would like to sing the immortal words Saare Jahan se Accha. I would like to visit museams: see and read about what life was like pre-independance. What our countrymen were treated like, and what hell-hole we have been delivered out of. I would watch Gandhi, and then complete the day reading Amartya Sen (the only thing I already did, and really liked — my admiration and reverence for him have grown manifold).
I am yet to find out if the problem lies with me, or with the world at large. Perhaps both. We will find out when India turns 60. But I hope that is a more meaningful day.
I need a spellchecker. Even though Independence is a dance, at least in India, it is better not spelt as IndepenDANCE. (now corrected)

Equality and the Youth

The preamble of our constitution clearly declares that we are a "Sovereign, Socialist, Secular and Democratic Republic" which provides to its citizens "Social, Political, and Economic" justice and "Equality of Status and Opportunity" (refer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_India#Preamble). And suddenly comes the very esteemed Minister of HRD, and takes it all away!
Accepted that we need to pull people who have been ostrasized from society all these centuries.
Accepted that we need to provide them opportunities to live a respectable life.
Accepted that we need to educate their children.
Accepted that we need to help them climb the social ladder.
But, is reservation the answer to it all? I am not too sure. For starters, by providing reservations to a section of society, are we not re-establishing the same caste system we had wanted to fight? Are we not segregating society on the basis of one’s birth? Are we becoming secular and modern or are we becoming more feudal?
This is indeed a very sensitive issue. I have met a lot of people who support reservations. And yes, if you sometimes listen to them, you would perhaps find it difficult to argue. Our society has oppressed this section of society for so many years that we need to do something to help them now. If we were just to leave them to their fate, that would be turning a blind eye to the aspirations of millions of Indians, that would be mean and selfish, and that would only increase the severity of the divide and make it harder and harder for those on the other bank to cross!
We have to provide a means to help them cross the chasm – by all means. But will the bridge of reservations, by enabling people only on the basis of their birth to cross be able to serve the purpose? Will it be able to help those on the other side cross, or will it strain the divide even more that it itself cracks under its own weight?
What we need is to fill the chasm, and not to just build bridges which can only help a few millions to cross, while there are hundreds of millions waiting on the other side.
Reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been present since the country was born, and yet if we look at the profuse numbers of those who are yet to cross the bridge, we would be appalled by the state. In most cases, those who have the birth-ticket to cross, are not even aware of the privileges. Ask the guy who works in your neighbourhood tea-stall — has he ever tried writing the IIT JEE? Or AIIMS?
We need to think of what will help this guy earn a better standard of living.
We need to study how reservations has helped the country in the last 60 odd years before we try to make it more pervasive. Has the government even one independant study to show that reservations have helped a mass of SC/STs to climb up the ladder. One study to show that it will help in fighting inequalityf of opportunities. In national integration. If we can establish that reservations can help that tea-stall worker to live a better life, then by all means, we should support it. But we first need to establish that it helps him — and not just pass a law to be able to earn his vote.
On a different note, reservations are like patents. If you have a patent on building a car engine, you can not necessarily build a car since the patent on the wheel might lie with somebody else. Patent do not give you the power to productize your idea, but they let you prevent others from productizing theirs. Similarly, reservations in higher educational institutions may not necessarily enable a person from an underprivileged background to live a higher standard of living, but it sure denies admission to others.
To summarize, before we push for reservations, we need to think about the following:
  1. Has it worked for the subsections of society, who had the benefit earlier?
  2. Is is the best way of ensuring upliftment?
  3. Is it helping those it is meant to?
  4. Is it better for national integration and equality?

We need more analysis, numbers, and not more hubbub in the parliament. If after that, we answer YES to all of the above, there should be no stopping legislation to help the downtrodden. But just playing divide-and-conquer to win electoral votes, does not look like a very appealing idea to me. 

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