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Book review : The elephant catchers


the_elephant_catchersLet us talk about scale!

These days wherever I go, the topic of scale becomes inevitable topic of discussion among entrepreneurs. What was considered important during bootstrapping phase – having a great idea, creating value proposition, getting initial set of customers, building a great team to deliver, generating cash flow / revenue somehow not sounds exciting any more. There are multiple questions emerge (including our venture) as follows:

  • Do we need to come out of gorilla mode of execution and get into structured model?
  • Is sales is more about ‘gardening’ existing customer by cross-selling and up-selling adjacent diversification?
  • Do we need to create processes in the organization?
  • In case we are introducing processes won’t it kill the spirit of start-up?
  • Is process against the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation?

These questions seems are expected given the phase of the organization where, having a ‘profitable-growth’ takes the first priority in everybody’s mind. In order to scale the organization it requires a different set of thinking which is exactly called out by Bagchi in his recent book ‘The Elephant Catchers’.

As goes with other books, he takes a simple analogy (from his childhood experiences in tribal areas of Odisha) of catching rabbits and elephants. When tribes get together and go for catching rabbits there is more of noise and excitement which ensures they really end up catching a bunch of rabbits at the end of the hunt. However the same technique cannot be applied for catching an elephant, which requires specific set of expertise consisting of multi-phased process involving activities like digging a pit, identifying the path that elephant traverses, trapping the animal, pulling it out of the pit, bringing it back to the civilian locality, taming it to become sober etc. At an outset both instances (of catching rabbits and elephants) might look like ‘hunting’ but when it comes to execution they are radically different.

In similar lines, entrepreneurial ventures go through different phases at different point of time. Even though founding team might have a grand vision, it takes a lot to build specific expertise (similar to the case of elephant catching) in order to take the organization into a scalable and self-sustaining entity. Bagchi divides scaling into four parts:

  • Scaling your intellect – How far and how deep you can think?
  • Scaling your reputation – How to build a sustaining brand and re-invent on a regular basis?
  • Scaling your people – How to build an organization by scaling people?
  • Scaling against adversity – How to face un-expected issues and coming out stronger?

After introducing elements of scale, author gets into deeper aspect of every topic by sharing personal experiences and anecdotes from all possible organizations across the world. For example he quotes examples from how various religious organizations (ex: Nuns from say red-cross) are able to build scale in an area where technology and communications were totally unheard of. He covers importance of having right set of independent board of directors, ensuring organization does the right thing to build right set of reputation among customers, employees to really build on scale.

The most interesting and fascinating tales were about scaling people, where he talks about having right set of people for the right role. During my professional experience and currently as an entrepreneur I think this is the most critical and important aspect of scaling, which is the hardest thing to achieve. The main reason is because as an entrepreneur it is quite natural to get into the mindset of thinking ‘I can do everything’ as doing multiple roles in a given time is an inevitable thing to do. However when the organization requires scaling it simply boils down to scaling people handling right set of responsibilities. For example, a guy with innovative mindset cannot be in a routine-process driven role and vice-versa. It is super critical for the core team to identify this and ensure right set of people are hired for the right roles. This applies to all the cross functional roles like sales, marketing, engineering, operation, people function, strategy and finance of the organization. In my opinion chapter of ‘scaling your people’ is the most critical one from where I have drawn lot of insights about building a scalable organization.

Also scale is not for everybody. There are certain things that will be small and beautiful which can remain the same for years. All of us might have come across some of the other businesses (ex: A small fast food joint in Bangalore) which will remain the same for almost three decades no matter what is the opportunity that might exist in the market for the type of food that they are offering. The founding team of such organization might have opted not to go for scale and happy the way that they are running the business.

In summary scale is a choice, as it with any choices it comes with lot of challenges and compromises. It requires a different paradigm of thinking (remember rabbit v/s elephant catching) and a strong team to achieve the same, provided you have decided to go for it. I have been a regular reader of all of Bagchi’s books this one is very special because I have read it in right time of my entrepreneurial journey. Still there are many unknowns that needs to be conquered, but it has given me right set of mindset and framework to scale our organization.

Recent publications


As a team at Emertxe we are contributing into Electronics For You (EFY) and Open Source For You (OSFY) magazines quite regularly. This is to ensure share our knowledge with broader electronics / open source community that consist of students, enthusiasts and professionals. I have been contributing to this initiative as well, here are couple of my recent publications:

  • Open Source software engineering: The open source phenomenon is not only about getting free source code, it is also providing excellent tools to manage it. We are running this as a series by giving details about individual open source tools. Here is the link to my article titled ‘Open source software engineering’ which I called how these tools are helping to build effective and quality software.
  • Industry report on educational kits: While there are tons of hardware available today in the market, an average Indian student finds is difficult to use these boards / kits. Lack of documentation, distributed resources and lesser access to technical support are the barriers that is preventing larger chunk of community to use these kits and build cool products. EFY folks ran a detailed article where inputs from multiple people are compiled and published. Here is the link to the report titled ‘Educational Products and Services – Sector Needs Focus’.

Have a look into them and let me know what you think.

Electronics Rocks – 2014


erocks_logoBeen thinking of writing about Electronics Rocks 2014 (eRocks), finally able to pen-down few things. For people who don’t know what eRocks, here is a brief – it is one of the most popular electronics conference organized by EFY media. Last year I attended as a participant found some interesting things in the conference. This year, after joining Emertxe we got opportunity to be a community partner of the event and offer a presentation on the Internet-Of-Things (IoT) design challenges. The event happened during October 10th and 11th at NIMHANS convention center, Bangalore that attracted 3000+ participants for the event. For my session about IoT which was the key focus for the conference attracted 200+ participants. Post presentation we have received very positive feedback from the community.

While there are many things about the conference, here are my top-3 learnings from the conference:

  • Not only Open software: The field of electronics has become more interesting in the recent years mainly because of open source software and easily available/affordable hardware. While devices like Raspberry-Pi, Arduino has already become very popular, I found some of the new devices like UDOO which are becoming very powerful around which many cool things can be built. Going forward I see many companies flocking into this space which is yet to be tapped to its full potential.
  • Product design: While the previous point gives opportunity to build around so many ideas, there seems to be very large gap when it comes to product design knowledge. While student level knowledge is enough to build a prototype (ex: Agriculture automation) making it as a complete product required a different set of knowledge. During my discussions with many enthusiasts I found there is a severe lack of knowledge about Productization using real hardware.
  • IoT is not new: While there is a lot of opportunity around the IoT space, in my opinion it is not something very new. Connecting devices to network (say LAN) is been existing for a long time, which has taken a upgraded as IoT thanks to multiple advancements happening in embedded & web application development. During my talk also I mainly stressed about this aspect, where fundamentals needs to be taken care to build products in the IoT space.

Here is the Slideshare link to my presentation, comments are welcome. Couldn’t spend much time across various tracks due to my time constraints hopefully next year I will be able to do better by listening into multiple tracks (ex: Jugaad innovation).

CV Raman nagar : A green running route


Bagmane Lake There are many interesting running routes in and around Bangalore city, some of them still remain unexplored. CV Raman Nagar DRDO are is one such running route, which will always remain very close to my heart for many reasons. First I have been living in the same area for years together now, used to go for long walks in the same route much before I started training for long distance running with Runners High. Second, this serene and green router is well maintained, one of the most beautiful landscapes that I am aware of.  It also gives a great opportunity to listen to self while running.

For people who don’t know, DRDO Township is located in CV Raman Nagar, about 2 KM from Indira Nagar. This access restricted Township has some timing limitations where pedestrians and vehicles are not allowed to pass through between 8 PM to 8 AM. Also none of the private vehicles are allowed into the township during any part of the day, which relates the traffic to a larger extent. Well maintained roads, restricted access combined with excellent greenery offers a very good opportunity to use this route as a walking or running track.

The route starting from CV Raman statue -> Bagmane Tech park entrance -> DRDO Township -> DRDO shopping complexDRDO_entrance (1024x768) covers good 2 KM stretch, which is ideal for anybody to start running. This stretch has good combination of flat, uphill and downhill surfaces that gives a good experience for a runner. Since the whole stretch consist of well laid out roads, possibility of skidding or falling is almost ruled out. With ample parking facilities (both inside and outside the complex), a good ‘out-and-back’ of the above mentioned stretch will give a 4 KM distance. As a part of our running program with RH, I have been using this route as per the weekly plan. Also when I miss my weekend runs, this route serves as an alternative option thereby getting rid of guilt feeling that comes as a bonus for missing the routine.

From timing point of view evenings (especially between 5 PM – 8 PM) serves as an ideal slot to go for a run as there will be a lot of regular walkers and runners. Couple of vivid incidents always comes to my mind when I think of this route. The first one being spotting a dead snake on the route, which not only scared people who were walking or running, it created a bad stink in the entire area for more than a week. It was stinking so badly that it even after a week I couldn’t run in the route. The second one being picking up smaller fights with security authorities for stopping me by asking some vague questions, irrespective me mentioned that I came to run in that area. Every other day security personnel keep changing each of them have their own set of rules for pedestrians and timings. It would be better if they come up with some proper mechanism for handling this.

If you are looking for Running_route_3 (1024x768)a good running route well within the city, especially in the Bangalore east area I would strongly recommend DRDO. The ‘darshini’ located inside the complex serves crispy plain-dosa, combining it with a cup of hot tea will complete your run in a high note for sure. Now it’s time to tie your laces!

Building self-organizing team: Five key learnings


self_organizing_teamsThe 11th principle of Agile framework reads as ‘The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge from self-organizing teams’. Now the question comes what is a self-organizing team and how to build one? In simple words self-organization is about a team that self regulates, prioritizes and executes the work by keeping customer as the center of everything. Team members are supposed to be ‘responsible’ so that bottom-up culture is built instead of top-down ‘authoritative’ management approach. Based on my experience in working with multiple SCRUM teams, building self-organizing teams creates wonders for individuals, managers and customers. Here are my top-5 learnings.

  1. It takes time: Building self-organizing teams take a lot of time. Since it demands high technical capability and high behavioral skills, it’s hard to find individuals with mix of these two and still able to work together as a team. Personally I have spent significant amount of time to figure out right combination for the SCRUM team that has got potential to become self-organized.
  2. It demands maturity: Self organizing teams require very high self-regulation with the ability to ‘take-up’ higher set of responsibilities. On the other hand the manager / supervisor should be able to ‘give-up’ the control and feel comfortable with the team driving themselves. This requires very high amount of maturity from both the sides by giving up by feeling completely secure. It is easier said than done.
  3. Managing individual velocity: Agile talks about team velocity, which is about the ability of the team to churn out work volume. It is equally important to see that each member in the team is having similar velocity, failing which it will affect rhythm of the team. Regulating this requires a lot of focus and effort.
  4. Customer alignment: Ultimately the customer should be able to see the benefit of self-organizing teams, which requires customer alignment of the whole team. This means they should be able to understand the customer priorities, constantly deliver and build a strong relationship with them.
  5. Continuous improvement: Agile, at its core talks about having right mindset. During the journey of becoming a self-organized, tons of things that might go wrong. In such situations each member in the team should exhibit continuous improvement mindset. They should be able to critically retrospect and take focused action to keep improving. Ability to take feedback, being open and honest, keeping team and customer interest over individual interest are some of the attributes that team members should have in order to become truly self-organized.

In summary I see building self-organizing teams is the true testimony of leadership as it eventually makes the leader redundant for team functioning by demonstrating high amount of responsibility. After all who don’t want the team which drives itself without any external ‘push-pull’ from the manager :-)

Almabase: Building scalable alumni networks


almabaseProfessional networking plays a critical role in individual and the organization’s growth. Even dealing with customers, we are actually working with a human being, where professional connect is super important. Thanks to the Internet, there are tons of professional networking sites (ex: LinkedIn) available which do wonderful job of connecting people worldwide. However they still fall in short when it comes to alumni of a particular college, who are spread across multiple batches, courses and geographies. It is highly possible that alumnus of a particular college/university is seeking a professional help, which can be easily provided by another alumnus. Just because they are not able to connect many such win-win propositions doesn’t get leveraged. Compared to any other references, saying ‘I am from the same college’ immediately establishes trust among individuals in any conversation, that eventually make things happen.

After passing out from National Institute of Warangal during the year 2001, I have been reasonably connected with our local alumnus chapter. It is always challenging days to maintain multiple spreadsheets, mailing lists etc, in a world where information about each individual is changing very fast. Considering that we all are working professionals with pretty busy schedule it’s hard to keep the data updated all the time. Having networked with alumni helps in multiple ways (seeking mentorship, getting reference with a potential customer, applying for a new job with a company, building personal/family level connections, building social community, contributing for a special cause, simply recollecting those good-old-days etc…). In each of the situations mentioned above, when unknown people are coming together it takes a lot of time to establish trust because both parties don’t know each other. Alumni networks significantly help to establish the trust factor quickly, thereby making things happen much faster than it would be otherwise. Building this gap of connecting this trusted network with the power of technology was lacking for quite some time.

Recently came across Almabase, build by couple of my college juniors which perfectly fills this gap. It is a hosted solution that helps to build alumni portals (check out this URL, built for NITW Alumni)in no time. The main power of this platform comes from the powerful algorithms that builds the alumni tree in no time by leveraging social networks. For example today we have built about 28000 strong alumni network in no time. Once this network building (which is the most difficult task) is established, other activities like creating chapter wise sub-pages, specific events, news and collaboration activities can be done quite effectively which also this portal supports quite well. By subscribing to this service, all the college alumni network need to do is to buy a domain, configure it and forget it. It is quite easy to maintain and gives quite a lot of customization features that can be built on a per college basis. With collaborative content editing and sharing such portals make the alumni networking a real easy and effective one.

I have gained a lot both professionally and personally thanks to alumni networking. However there is a limit to individual’s ability to establish and sustain the network, where solutions like Almabase can come handy. Nowadays I am performing some specific search in my alumni portal (powered by Almabase) which is providing accurate and latest information about alumnus located across the globe. I am sure this is just a beginning, quite a lot of things that can be done with this.

Trusted network powered by technology is a killer combination, which Almabase is trying to leverage. If you are college alumnus or local chapter member or want to revive you connections, go ahead have a look into it, it’s worth your time.

Agile = No need for managers?


The Agile framework, especially implemented with SCRUM talks about ‘self-organizing teams’ as one of its benefits. According to definition, as the term says self-organizing-teams are the ones which regulate themselves, demonstrate very high amount of collaboration & teamwork by keeping customer as the first priority. This also means a self-correcting system where teams themselves figure out what has gone wrong and what can be made better.

Does this mean Agile SCRUM implementation results in getting rid of project or people managers? If agile is deployed can we give pink slips to people managers and ask them to leave? The answer is clear NO.

Agile don’t have any standard guideline or reference about people managers or project managers however based on my practical experience I would like to share few points:

  1. Agile requires very high amount of maturity among team members, till then it requires stronger involvement of managers. Here the role of traditional manager take a slight deviation where he needs to play the role of a coach by taking inspirational leadership approach rather than authoritarian.
  2. All people are not same, they need to be differentiated. In order to implement performance management system managers are required to work closely with team.
  3. Only prioritized task level activities are done by SCRUM framework, whereas program / product level activities still needs to be managed well
  4. Will bring down task-level or micro-level action done by managers by still requires supervision and management to run the business show.

Idea or Execution?


After taking up Entrepreneurial path, I have come across many interesting experiences on a daily basis. Every day is filled with unknown or unclear activities with more effort is put to make it more and more clear. In due course of time I also got an opportunity to meet a bunch of entrepreneurs, consultants, mentors and ecosystems partners in Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem. Also I also got opportunity to work more closely with a smaller entrepreneurial teams and execute things at ‘ground zero’.

It is a very popular (or hyped) belief that everything starts with Idea. If an individual has a breathtaking idea he can make it happen. Thanks to some of the recent bigger acquisitions, millions and billions are looking smaller and smaller. However when I work more closely with my organizations or meet people who are ‘really’ successful entrepreneurs it gives me totally a contrarian perspective. No matter how good an idea an individual or a team has, it’s all about execution.

The reason is very simple. Strong execution is what helps organization create customer value and business results. Let me take example of our education segment itself. It is very easy for anybody with decent technical knowledge to come up with a training program in a relatively niche area like Linux. Thanks to lower entry barrier it is easy for an individual to come up with learning materials, doing market research and coming up with value proposition of a particular training program. However following are the key questions are not hyped enough but very critical when it comes to business.

  • How quickly can I find a paying customer, who is in real need of my service?
  • How can I ensure that the customer signs a cheque?
  • How do I gauge current skill level of target audience and figure out what exactly they expect?
  • In case I already know I can’t exceed their expectations in the training program how do I manage it at least by meeting their expectations?
  • How do I tune my way of delivery so that audience have maximum take away?
  • How to I collect feedback from them, in case of negative feedback how can I address them?
  • In case of getting positive feedback how can I convert into a repeatable business?

The whole crux of all above mentioned questions directly relates with the way of a particular training program is executed. Apart from above mentioned questions there might be another bunch of questions, issues, challenges we face every day at ground zero level when we actually deliver something to our customers. When we go through this grind every day it has become quite obvious that execution is super important than idea. With technology advancements, mentor ecosystem and internet it is very easy for anybody to come up with relatively new idea. However ensuring that a particular product or service is really accepted from the customer end and generates value requires a strong execution backed up by the idea. I am not under estimating or downplaying the importance of having an important idea, building a strategy or having marketing/GTM activity, eventually execution is what makes all the difference.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

My talk on “Open Source and Embedded Systems”


Lounge47 is one of the new age entrepreneurial platform connecting Entrepreneurs, Ideas and Businesses. Couple of weeks back I got a chance to talk on the topic “Tracing the evolution – Open Source & Embedded Systems” among entrepreneurs, enthusiasts and seasoned professionals. The talk was for about 45 minutes followed by Q & A which triggered many interesting questions.

Here is the presentation slides:

Running as a therapy


Most of us think Running as a physical activity, resulting in better health.

The real impact that running has created goes way beyond physical health, thereby acting as a therapy. The Alternative, a new age media created a set of stories recently where they covered stories of individuals where running made a big impact. There were people suffering from migraine, autism, schizophrenia etc…and how running has transformed their lives. I am happy to be surrounded by such individuals with whom we run as a community in Runners High.

Check out the following URLs for the individual stories:

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