Sunday, May 10, 2020
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
When an old friend Sunny Narang recently wrote to me saying that he needed a short write-up from me on the benefits I have received on mentoring, I wrote the following. My mentor Kannan however feels that this reads more like a vote-of-thanks speech! I guess so but this is what I wrote:
[originally published at https://rasainvestmentsgroup.com/pages/skillveri/ ]
Sabarinath on his journey with mentors :
Coming from a middle class family with both parents working as central govt employees, no one in my family has any prior experience in setting up or running an enterprise. And I certainly didn’t have the attributes one often reads about “successful” entrepreneurs in the Economic Times, fancy degrees from IIT/IIM, nor a business plan that potential investors are already salivating at, nor a back up plan if things were to go wrong, nor a large bank balance.
So when the opportunity came up to start what would go on to become Skillveri, even the idea of the product wasn’t mine, it was just a strong feeling that if at 29 I let this opportunity go by, I may never get to really start something ever. I have no qualms in admitting it was a blind leap of faith, in this friend/mentor of mine, Kannan, 16 years elder than me, despite him providing all kinds of disclaimers (a long list of things i shouldn’t expect him to do, but in reality he did most of them when required) and pitfalls of taking the plunge.
From then on, it’s been like the cliched “universe conspiring to make it happen”. Through contacts I’m able to set up a small yet inspired team of 5 people who’d willingly work full time on prototype development without getting paid, merely believing in the mission, and find more mentors on the way, almost just in time on several occasions, who are willing to lend or invest money sufficient to keep the ship afloat till the promised land is sighted.
Throughout the journey, apart from Kannan, a lot of senior mentors have contributed significantly to making Skillveri a success, be it Shivkumar sir who gave us time, materials, men and money, right from the time Skillveri was just a few slides of ppt to the time it created sophisticated simulations for multiple skills, or Prof Jhunjhunwala , Prof Bhaskar and the incubation team at IIT Madras, Paul Basil and P R Ganapathy at Villgro, Stuthi who not just put up with me throughout the pre-revenue stage till we raised funding from Ankur capital and MSDF, but also loaned me money when my ability to return it was questionable; M M Murugappa sir sharing his wisdom on one on one sessions at IIT Madras, to Keshab beginning to help me handle HR challenges and ending up being a leadership coach, to Biji Kurien sir who came in to help with spray painting simulator but ending up helping in multiple ways (ahem, yes, loaning money yet again when ability to return was questionable). It’s difficult to actually list out the entire set of people from whom I’ve shamelessly taken support in this journey!
And Kannan of course lives up to the meaning of his name, becoming Krishna to the under-confident Arjuna in me.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
So what makes people stick to FB? I think somewhere it satisfies a core human need - the need to 'brag' to others on their 'achievements'. Sharing pics taken from foreign countries, honeymoon pics, etc and then waiting impatiently for "wow!!! so cute!!!" kind of comments - no social networking site has serviced this need better than facebook. Also, facebook is turning out to be a "second life" or alternate reality platform where even if your life sucks, you can make it appear to your peers that is is "rocking". Apparently making it appear all rosy to your peers is more important than it really being rosy!
That way, I like the crowd and postings on Google+. If Google+ were to become popular with the same kind of crowd, it would no longer be able to stand out - it would become another Orkut.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Nilambur is a small town in Malappuram district of Kerala, and the shortest route from Bangalore is just 300 km via Mysore-Gundulpet-Gudalur. Though Bangalore-Mysore road is 4 lane, there is quite a lot of traffic. Between Chennapatna and Maddur, there are some good restaurants on the highway. We had breakfast at Kamat's - food was very good, and tasty.
Though Mysore has a ring road nearing completion, it is better to take the route through the city (which we did on the onward journey, and took the ring road on the return journey - adds 22km without saving much time. Also, if you are used to Bangalore/Chennai traffic, Mysore is a breeze).
The route gets interesting from a little beyond Gundulpet, when you enter the Bandipur National Park. There was thorough checking for plastic items (but surprisingly none on the return journey. Inside the park, you can spot a few animals including deer, peacock, wild boar, etc - there are signboards warning against wild elephants, and that you should not take any of the interior roads without permission. The place is spotlessly clean.
Though the park is one single continuous entity, the interstate border comes in between, so it is officially Mudumalai National Park on the Tamil Nadu side.
The drive through both National Parks is a very refreshing experience - clean air, no noise, very less traffic. Soon after leaving the parks, we reached Gudalur town in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, a crowded town, from where we take the detour for Nilambur from the Ooty road. The portion of the ghat roads closer to the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala was the best part of the ride - at 12:30 noon we encountered thick fog, so much that visibility was reduced to a few feet, and we drove with headlights & hazard lights on, not because we could see better, but in the hope that vehicles on the opposite side could at least see the lights and avoid collision. This fog, called as Koda Manju in Malayalam, was the first time for me not just for any roads in Kerala/TN but also not encountered during my trip to the Himalayas.
The roads then enters the Kerala plains very soon, but the scenery is still beautiful.
The next day we went on a short outing to a lesser known waterfalls, called Adyanpara. It is not very popular, and hence not at all crowded except for some 10 local tourists. The beauty of the place was more than worth the trouble of climbing up the narrow hilly roads.
I knew photographs could not capture the full feel of the place, so I shot a video on the mobile phone as well.
The key places we missed during this trip was going to the Teak Museum, Nilambur Kovilakam, and taking the train journey from Nilambur to Shoranur. That's for the next time.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
This product can be called KillVeri, a spoof on my real company name, SkillVeri. Some electronics added to ensure that each real mosquito killed is counted (and some other means to ensure that wires being shorted don't count) and a mechanism to send each bat's kill number to a central server: I'm sure a business can be built around a game which rewards the person who kills max mosquitoes in a locality, region and so on.
This business also directly encourages eliminating mosquito menace, thus indirectly help eradicate malaria, thus helping improve health of people, and such blah blah to call it a 'social business' and hence call myself a 'social entrepreneur'. Yes, I know this is stretching things too far, but then what else are MBAs meant for?
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Most of the spiritual gurus say ambiguous and confusing this such that if you openly admit not understanding them you are considered to be a fool by the others. While they're doing a decent job right now, I think they'll run out of more ambiguous statements pretty soon.
And who's better than MBAs when it comes to generating paragraphs of content without meaning much? Huge potential indeed!
Update: The same day I had written this blog, famous spiritual guru Deepak Chopra tweeted something like this - "Forgiveness is attention without judgement". Now you get the drift better, right?
Thursday, March 29, 2012
I got the fortune of getting admission to a short course for entrepreneurs, which essentially refreshes a few things I should have studied properly at my b school.
The two main teachers are from London Business School, and I did come here with a prejudice that what they teach may be more from a British context and may not fit into Indian situations.
Also after reaching here I was a little dismayed that most of the peer group was too young and felt initially that peer group learning may not be as effective as I wished it to be.
I can't explain how wrong I've been on both counts. The professor Mr Jeff Skinner is just amazing- the contents of his course is very appropriate and the energy he brings to a highly interactive session is tremendous. Among the bunch of youngsters there are quite a few really talented people from whom I've learned quite a lot.
Just a few days into the course has brought about a good amount of change in the way I think, both from classroom discussions and late night hostel discussions, making me feel a lot younger!
I'm really glad that I made the effort and spent money in coming all the way to Ghaziabad to attend this programme.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
What a movie! I'd read rave reviews of the movie and had gone with very high expectations, that too with two friends who'd already seen the movie, threatening to reveal thhe suspense everytime the movie took a turn. Yet I found the movie very thrilling, with very powerful and convincing performances.
Vidya Balan has been fantastic, playing the role of a pregnant woman with keen attention to detail like style of walking, getting tired easily, mannerisms, etc. Other supporting roles- especially that of police officer Rana and intelligence officer Khan - have also been excellent.
In spite of having two friends cracking jokes now and then, the spookiness factor was not lost. Then, like mentioned in two contexts towards the end, a pregnant woman, whom no one sees as harmful, can get to information normal people cannot.
Yet another bonus of the movie is the way Kolkata is captured in a very natural way.
Initially it is difficult to keep connecting the seemingly disconnected incidents, but the dots gets connected at the end.
A very good thriller, in short a must watch. Hats off to Vidya for carrying the entire movie on her shoulder, and hats off to the director for the right casting, including for people with minor roles like the LIC agent cum serial killer.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Today was my last day at Vortex. Honestly it has not yet sunk in fully that I'm no longer part of the company. The product and the team behind the product has been so much of an inspiration. For the last three plus years, I had lived Vortex. It will surely take a while before my mind accepts the change.
It has not been an easy decision to foray into entrepreneurship, especially coming from a middle class family of regular salary earners. The rebellious streak I had early on as mentioned in my previous post was rekindled recently while coming across this new opportunity. The sense of increased purpose made me feel that if I did not grab the chance now, I'd regret it my entire life. And thus I've embarked on something unthinkable in my middle class family and friends circle - let go of an assured decent salary in return for passion and potential for higher returns.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
With my latest venture SkillVeri shaping up to use tablet based gaming for skill development and training, the destination, road and vehicle mentioned in the last of the three posts have now become clear.
These ideas came a half circle when I joined Vortex, where instead of making software on behalf of an MNC I became part of a team that made the entire ATM fully on innovative Indian technology. With this venture on skill training, I hope to come a full circle and make a difference, in line with the sense of purpose I mentioned in my previous post.
Subject: So Far So Good, What Next?
Sent: Fri, Dec 3, 2004 8:50:55 AM
So Far So Good, What next?
India has become an Information Technology superpower, where we have the most brilliant computer professionals. We are also the most preferred back-end office sites in the world. The middle class and upper middle class are increasing in number, and a lot of people are able to ride the wave of IT and IT enabled services, call centres, and make a lot of money.
Fine. So far, so good. But looking from a long term perspective, where are we heading to? Get some degree, speak good English, join a call centre, make money, and spend it – does everything end there? Or take the case of engineers, who, even while in their final semesters, compete and get jobs in the IT industry as software developers irrespective of their branch of specialization, or go on to take an MBA from IiIMs, and work in an MNC. It’s not that their contribution is not good, nor that these are not to be done. But ultimately, are we not just helping the richer people in developed countries become richer, by sweating out our youth by serving some foreign interest?
Even those who become entrepreneurs, what they do is to break off from some larger company and found their own, get a few contracts from foreign clients, and again continue the same story. The question is when do we Indians start to make our own products? The success of the IT industry proves that we are capable of doing good quality work – only that no company here is ready to take the risk of coming out with a new product. The risky part of conceptualising a new product, designing it, etc is left to foreign entrepreneurs and we are happy doing the low end implementation part – no risks, easy money, just sweat out our youth.
It’s high time our engineers thought beyond joining MNCs and working for foreigners, and begin to innovate for ourselves. Why else should we study all branches of engineering and ultimately end up writing code for others? Why not try and work in the true engineering style, to ‘engineer’ new products of our own? Why not pool our resources and contribute in some manner for a better, self-reliant India?
Subject: Next Steps - Indian Dreams, Not American
Sent: Mon, Dec 6, 2004 4:51:07 AM
Next Steps - Indian Dreams, Not American
In my last posting, I pondered extensively on the lack of innovation amongst Indian engineers, and amongst the Indian society as a whole. In our yahoogroup, we’ve discussed on the problems and causes for problems – we are not ready to innovate, nor is the system conducive for any innovation.
But again, blaming the system and not doing anything about it – that has become another characteristic of us Indians. I am not suggesting all of us join politics en masse and fight corruption – just making an appeal to do our bit. The majority of us have American dreams, think (or should I say, know?) that “kuchch bhi nahin sudharega” and pack off to greener pastures at the first chance. A famous politician of a developed country had once remarked, “Ask not what the state did for you, ask what you did for the state”. Had we Indians applied the same principle in our lives, we would have been at their place. Take for instance, the fees we paid at KVs. We paid no tuition fees till 9th standard, from 9th to 12th we paid, as far as I remember, less than $10 a year. In my engineering days, I paid Rs 600 per semester (less than $25 a year). The governments we are so fond of blaming – haven’t they done their part in some way? Where else in the world do we get education so cheap? If they give you scholarship, hey make you work for more than what the pay is worth for. Or like they do in Singapore, they make you sign a bond that you would work for six years in their territory. Wouldn’t there be a hue and cry, if any IITians or IIMian were to be made to work similarly for 6 years before they can look for greener pastures?
The key lies in attitude – the will to stay on and fight the ills of the system.. I have had the fortune to get associated with a person here in Thiruvananthapuram, who, despite all odds and lures of a much higher pay abroad – chose to stay on, that too in government service. He has been able to made his own mark here, and was instrumental in setting up the Friends counter in all district headquarters – a single window system through which common man can pay all his government bills – taxes, electricity bills, exam fees, what not – at a professionally managed, computerized office, where there are no office “babus”. When I approached him regarding my Industrial Training, he deputed me to Kerala State Vigilance Bureau, who needed a software to be developed for them but didn’t have enough money to pay professionals. So it was a deal – we needn’t pay like my classmates [who paid for their internships], nor the client – a win/win situation. I am happy to think that I saved the exchequer about 1 lakh rupees, and saved a few thousands myself in payments to companies.
This mentor of mine has an Indian dream he shares with all his students – that, instead of blaming the system, we all shall do something about it. In my next and concluding part of this series, I shall put forth a few of his as well as my ideas. In the meantime, please continue to share your views.
Subject: Dreams to reality - the million rupee question
Sent: Wed, Dec 8, 2004 3:56:49 AM