Majority of decisions in life and business which leads to survival / 10x growth are counter-intuitive. However Democratic Govt by nature of it, follow popular advice which is intuitive/common sense. So are democratic Govt designed to fail?Continue reading
One fine morning In India, millions of Android phone users (Google Mobile operating system), discovered a strange phone number in their address book which they have never entered. It was the number of UIDAI helpline, and all hell broke loose (UIDAI is managing Aadhar – a Govt run a biometric program to create a unique identification system for all Indian citizens). Pretty soon, it started trending on Twitter with allegations flying thick and high. Privacy activists who are already highly suspicious of Narendra Modi Govt went on a super allegation spree. Is it Ministry of Electronics or Ministry of Communication or UIDAI itself or BJP govt (interesting nobody blamed foreign hand – the default culprit behind everything going wrong in India). However, all the outrage quickly died down when it appeared that it was Google which had inserted UIDAI contact number in phone books (so it was really a foreign hand this time). All outrage on a state having access to phone books while no outrage while a private company incorporated for profit having full access!!
In another universe, some years back there was a huge uproar about NSA snooping over call data / accessing chats/emails etc. It created a huge uproar among activists/privacy champions and everybody questioned NSA who was trying hard to figure out terrorist activities. However, there has been no outrage or hysteria when same activists buy Amazon eco and use Alexa or Google assistant and allow the companies to listen to everything. Some activists believe that one can opt out from subscribing to these services and these are optional services. Really!!
Very recently, in a coordinated move, Apple, FaceBook and Google, all US companies governed by US laws, purged some ultra-right activist presence on their system as they found his content offensive. No first amendment/free speech protection worked here. There were hardly any voice protesting this move but rather applauses as the majority was not happy with that particular person. What if the leadership of these technology majors subscribe to some extreme ideologies or have the error of judgment? any scope of appeal or play of natural justice.
It seems that citizens have more freedom in physical space and access to the law but are just powerless data/revenue source without any right/legal recourse for all tech companies.
From a distance, it seems like the biggest paradox of our times, where we are willing to put maximum trust in the for-profit digital private enterprises but are deeply suspicious of Governments/welfare state.
The one reason can be related to the influence or control which digital private enterprises have on our life compared to the governments. While we are hardly dependant on the govt in conducting over day to day life, we literally can’t function without access to the digital world. Imagine for a moment where Facebook bans you and google does not accept you as you refuse to sign their “not another yada yada” terms of conditions! You are an app developer or an Amazon seller and one fine day without assigning any reasons, Google / Apple / Amazon can wipe your economic existence without giving even a hint or scope of redressal. Life suddenly can be very lonely or can have server economic consequences against which you have very little chance of appeal or redressal. Courts can do a little as you have agreed to those 40 pages of terms of conditions and knowing your senator/member of parliament won’t help as we are yet to build a knowhow to penetrate support call centers.
Interestingly while one shall expect Governments to be extra vigilant about the excessive power being enjoyed by these digital private enterprises, Govt seems to be either clueless or seems to be providing more and more powers to these faceless, unaccountable private enterprises who are getting more and more powerful thanks to the network effect. However, we hardly see any government action like it was done against AT&T etc in the early 70s. Interestingly governments seem to be totally oblivious to the danger and power of these new powerhouses as we have seen in terms of fake news or Cambridge analytics scandal etc.
The role of Russia in manipulating US presidential election is still being debated however very few have questioned the role Facebook played in influencing elections or pondered about the role except few meme or jokes. Any law being passed to limit social media control. What if there is an enemy within and some evil Dr manages the election using social media? So far, all focus has remained on Russia, but almost negligible measures have been taken to control or manage SocialMedia influence related to management of state/democracies. Already elections are being won or lost, people are being killed on basis of some rumors being spread on social media, reputation, and livelihood of the digital population is being managed beyond their control while the state looks on in a confused state!
Has the end of nation-state began and the age of corporate state arrived?
Part II – Money
मैंने उसको जब-जब देखा
लोहे जैसा तपते देखा
मैंने उसको गोली जैसा चलते देखा
~ केदारनाथ अग्रवाल
Summits are generally yada yada affairs with an opportunity to escape the routine and meet fellow industry people. There are always more people outside chatting away than inside. On top of it, being the first event, the huge challenge of having delegates/speakers etc. The event management company advised subtly to have cocktail and dinner so as to hold guest till then and oh yes do not have more than 7 sessions in a day, with a lot of large panels so as to handle last-minute dropouts-was the parting friendly advice.
Off-course with conferences happening every second day, one needs a sure shot recipe for success, or what they say in Bollywood – the perfect formula film.
Somehow Massive Earth Summit 2018, first edition didn’t have any of it. No cocktails, no dinner, no management institute students to fill tables and no large panels. Well all sessions barring startup showcase, was one on one Q&A. Result – Sessions were packed until the end. On top of it, no speaker dropouts so instead of 6 suggested, we had 17.
Massive Summit happened in a Massive way by a team which not only imagined but executed it flawlessly – ending the summit right on time at 7.30 sharp!!!
The first Massive Earth Summit was first in many ways – No plastic bottles, sustainable locally sourced food, no plastic badges, no flex side walls and a fine line of 38 speakers and some 290 delegates (1600+ had applied and 350 were invited). ( all this impeccable concept/design/execution was done by Gomassive team, Lemon Design, and V Resorts.)
The opening keynotes were delivered by Dr. K VijayRaghvan (Principal Scientific Advisor, Government of India) and Mr. Vijay Sekhar Sharma – Founder PayTM while The closing talks were delivered by Mr. Suresh Prabhu ji (Minister of State Commerce & Industry and Mr. Gajendra Singh Shekhawat ji (Minister of State for Agriculture & Farmers’s Welfare).Some of the other key speakers were
- Dr. Anil Kakodkar – Ex-Chairman Atomic Energy Commission of India
- Mr. Manoj Kohli – Executive Chairman, SoftBank Energy
- Dr. H Purushotham – Chairman & MD, National Research Development Corporation
- Mr. Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Founder Infoedge)
- His Excellency Mr. Nils Ragnar Kamsvag (Ambassador of Norway)
- Mr. Satya S Tripathi – Chairperson, Sustainable India Finance Facility, UN
- Ms. Helena Molin Valdes -Head of the Secretariat, Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), UNEP
- Dr. Ashok Khosla, Chairperson – Development Alternatives, winner of King Zayed Award, lifetime achievement award by UNEP
Apart from the interesting sessions, we also had showcase by some 4 startups with very interesting technologies. The event created quite a buzz in media while the tag #massivesummit #massivebydesign #gomassive was trending on Twitter. The notable mentions were Sand Art at Puri beach about Massive Summit and coverage of the event in TV – CNBC Away, News24, print, and online media.
So great conference, massive buzz and great visibility! Now what? Do we end up being a yada yada summit where people come and talk or while World in General and Delhi in particular battles with Air Pollution and climate change?
So Massive summit was the beginning of the war which we wage against these large problems. The summit saw the launch of Massive Design Challenge.
, which allows people from all across the world to submit their solutions regarding large challenges. So pls do apply and you can win up to $250,000 to build your prototype/solution.
And we just didn’t stop at Massive Design challenge but also launched a 1000 Cr ( $150mn) fund, named Massive Fund with Vijay Sekhar Sharma -UN Environment’s Patron for Clean Air. This fund will solely invest in Pollution reduction industry.
Some of the fund coverage
So hope to see you at Second Edition with some solid startups/executions and a cleaner environment.
There have been numerous presentations, articles, columns since the late 90s about India’s potential and how India can be a super economy in time to come. With the rise and rise of neighbor China in the last 10 odd years to unimaginable levels, this dream has not only bigger but also look so close and achievable. Unfortunately, despite getting billions of Dollars as FDI in the Indian economy, we are yet to see a China level growth. In the world of a friendly Institutional investor – “the Indian story has remained a story so far”.
However, while all experts/economies have been debating about the growth rate of India in next 2/5/10 years and why this is not possible based on rearview mirror data. Two mega events which happened quite silently and without much hoopla, are now going to change the path of India forever and will finally put India in autobahn of economic growth. These two events proved that finally after a lot of errors/mistakes, India seems to be finally getting its act together. For the first time, a GDP growth of 9% or 10% does not seem such an impossible dream.
The first mega event which grabbed everybody’s attention was the acquisition of Flipkart by Walmart for $17 billion. This deal was the biggest deal in the world and gave not only 400x plus returns to earlier investors, but also made founders richer by $1 billion. While it was a fantabulous deal for investors and founders, it was even better for the Indian ecosystem.
From the time Indian VC/PE story started, there has been one single complaint by investors of all shapes and size and that is lack of exits. Money just comes into India and never goes back. Of late, the momentum of exits have started ( it started by RedBus when Seedfund made an exit, as Naspers acquired Redbus) but Flipkart had remained worrisome as it had absorbed almost $7 bn and almost anyone with even a tiny India interest, had some exposure to Flipkart either through direct investment or through being investor in the funds which had invested in Flipkart. This liquidity event of $17 billion is going to erase a lot of doubts and will pave another wave of capital hitting Indian shores.
The other bigger question which this event answered was if India’s Amazon would be either Amazon or Flipkart. This question has been adequately answered now by Flipkart, Ola, Paytm and host of others. Despite no barriers or walls, Indian startups have fought and fought well. Two of my investors asked me last year as to why Indians don’t buy from Flipkart and what will Flipkart do? I have told them that India is country of surprises so please wait and don’t be so fast in your judgment! So the bottom line is – cheer up! India will have its share of Indian startups as well as global model startups and some will win in both categories. So keep calm and keep investing.
The other bigger or rather far bigger megadevelopment which happened last week. Surprisingly this mega event didn’t create the same level of excitement as Flipkart deal but will have for sure a 100 times bigger impact than Flipkart-Walmart deal. Tata Steel bought bank defaulter Bhusan Steel for agreeing to pay some 37,000 Cr ($5.5 bn) to bankers. One may say, what’s the big deal if a loan defaulting company has been acquired by lenders and sold to a bidder. It might be routine in any civilized and democratic society but is almost a miracle in India. In Indian banks there is a popular proverb – In India, companies go bankrupt not the promoters. They continue to live a lavish lifestyle and loot the public forever. As per last available data, Indian banks have a gross NPA of INR 8.41 lakh crore ( $125 billion approx) which amounts to around INR 16,000 per person if one account working population of India. This NPA is not because of the bad business environment but is more a function of fraud, questionable business practices, and questionable lending practices. Govt banks with no accountability and no skin in the game have squandered public money with abundance. India real estate survived mayhem of 2008 financial crisis and there was no correction in housing because of govt banks who kept on rescheduling loans and waving NPAs and kept builders happy.
This liberal loan policy didn’t mean that every business was getting loans liberally. It just meant that people with connections and huge liability were getting loans while ordinary businessmen were still making rounds and rounds of govt bank officers to get even a 10 lakh loan. This insider networks where everything moved on connections not only looted the banks but also crowded out genuine businesses. Due to massive NPAs and with no hope of its recovery, banks build this loss in their business models. No wonder we have deposit rates of 6% but prime lending rates for SMEs hovers 12.5% (nonbanking – this rates jump to 18% plus) as SMEs and saving account holders were jointly subsiding corrupt defaulters.
This naked dance of the last 70 years was put to stop by NCLT/ bankrupts law and resulted in a first big win when Bhusan Steel was finally acquired by Tata Steel. There are some 28 other companies with big loan defaults and a lot of pressure on promoters who otherwise used to run the system on their own whims and fancies. Already some ¾ NPA accounts have been regularised and even unsecured trade creditors have started getting their long pending dues.
This cleaning and disposal of default assets are doing following things on the ground. First, a huge amount of capital which was already written off by Banks is going back in the system thus boosting profitability and stability of system and might even reduce the lending rates as risk spread will come down. Second, it has created a sense of law among promoters who are now aware of consequences as it is no longer an empty rhetoric that law of the land will take its own course, and so this large drawdown of fraudulent loan no longer happen as consequences are severe. This will lead to opening this capital to the unconnected, honest and hardworking businesses in India who remain uncompetitive in the world market due to lack of capital as well as high cost of capital. Hence suddenly all the capital which used to find its way to big businesses and to the connected ones will go to normal businesses.
There is a sense of belief that India is capital scare country and without foreign capital, we will remain starved. While we all believe in this, we forget that same capital starved Indians also buy gold worth $35 billion every year. So India is not capital scare country but capital does not go to right areas due to the issue of lack of legal system, crony capitalism, and corruption which are built in the last 70 years. These walls of corruption, crony capitalism etc have started to fall now.
India in the last 70 years has seen a culture of crony capitalism in its finest form where to succeed all one needed, was connections. These two events in the summer of 2018 have demolished this theory forever and connections do not matter anymore. The honest and hardworking get billions and defaulters’ business get sold.
Gentleman, the age of India has arrived.
Every disruption is driven not by intuition but counter-intuitive learnings of the founder.
जहाँ वर्ग भेद की ज्वाला है,
जहाँ मानव भेद की हाला है,
जहाँ अपराध भी बाटा जाता है A, B, C के भागो में,
जहाँ मानव भी आँका जाता है, वेतन के प्रतिमानो में,
क्या वहाँ भी मानव समता का उजाला है ।
written in 1984, discovered in an old diary
Farmers as usual for last 70 years, are in limelight and slogans have changed (Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan to Double income mandate), but focus and condition have not!
So why Indian farmers are poor? Middlemen / Small land holdings / Lack of storage facilities, Poor productivity – all of this combined or none of the above?
The issue is why despite so much focus and attention, farmers condition keep on getting from bad to worse? So some puzzles on RBI / Govt role
Puzzle 1: Inflation targeting & poverty of farmers
1. The policy of Govt / RBI is to keep inflation rates low as that’s is one of the key economic parameters
2. The rise of food prices creates maximum havoc politically ( onions have led to the loss of many govt, though don’t know as to why Onion is such sensitive topic when its share in household budget is less than 1%. Media focus probably?)
3. So Govt works overtime to keep food prices low
4. India being an agrarian country, almost 60% of the population is dependant on agriculture. Agriculture is food production
5. Remember Govt is committed to keeping food prices low
6. That means, Govt is committed to keeping the income of this 50 % of population low ( while all costs are education/housing/travel/health/electronics etc rising)
7. So why it is a surprise that farmers remain poor. Remember, Govt and policymakers are working to keep prices low. So overall policy is succeeding not failing
Puzzle 2: Interest, Inflation, and elasticity of food prices
1. In India weight of food products in CPI is close to 50% ( 14% in the US, Singapore 16% and Japan / Thailand exclude fresh food from inflation ).
2. RBI is targeting inflation so one can that it is targeting food inflation given such high weight.
3. Now food consumption shall be inelastic in nature for most of the items. Nobody starts consuming 20 kg of onion or 100 kg of potatoes per month if prices drop to 50 paise per kg.
4. So how low-interest rates will help in the demand side. They might kill the supply side only. So is RBI killing supply side rather than managing the demand side?
So are these fallacies or realities? please, point out counter-arguments or what I am missing here?
I have spent almost two decades in Startups / Investments and believe strongly that venture capital is probably the best option as a career. And no it is not the glamour or the usual challenges and interaction with new teams, new ideas day in day out and being in changing landscape every day/month/quarter but the real fun is in the ability to impact the world in a meaningful way.
Despite all the criticism of VC world – about loss-making business models, utopian ideas and the inability of many funds to outperform many indices or even return capital, the fact remains that venture capital industry is one of the finest product of the dark ugly big capitalism. In no other models, interest is aligned so beautifully where motivated founders slog day and night while dreaming of changing the world by bits and pieces and many time succeed as well.
Hence apart from those massive returns, the biggest contribution of venture capital has been its ability to change the world, create hope in society and on top set an example of fairness and equal opportunity where one crazy passionate entrepreneur can change the world and create wealth without resorting to all dirty underbelly tricks of capitalism. Hence I am not only proud of this career but am rather a staunch worshipper at the altar of this VC world which continues to dream big and aim big.
However as I pound the street raising my next fund with a good track record of success and failure, I have much time caught myself wondering about the big goals which drive me and the question which I ask all founders as what keeps me awake in the night. The fact of matter is that the biggest problem which haunt me are no longer next big idea in e-commerce, deep learning, possibilities in B2B space or consumption but rather the large and real problems of declining forest cover, sad state of water / sanitation, environment, polluted & choked rivers / ocean and our ever declining bad air which we are breathing in and out.
Having set up an NGO (SAVEN) to protect environment at age of 18 in 1990s, I probably feel more strongly about it but despite all my hope, energy and commitment, fact of the matter is I am not doing anything real about it and much worse is that all of us who can do something, are busy and excited about bitcoin prices, next food delivery company or doctor discovery app while (secretly) hoping somebody else to appear and save us from the coming catastrophe.
The existing scenario of supercharged investors, euphoric entrepreneurs, and the orgasmic environment was best captured by Adam Smith in supermoney.
“We are all at a wonderful ball where the champagne sparkles in every glass and soft laughter fall upon the summer air. We know, by the rules, that at some moment the Black Horsemen will come shattering through the great terrace doors, wreaking vengeance and scattering the survivors. Those who leave early are saved, but the ball is so splendid no-one wants to leave while there is still time, so that everyone keeps asking, “What time is it? What time is it?” But none of the clocks have any hands.”– From Supermoney by Adam Smith.
Today one doesn’t need to be a climate scientist to figure out that environment is in deep peril. Oceans are silent, choked by plastic. Air is nothing but smog. Poverty is very well alive and kicking and pesticides have infiltrated every food system. However, the response from all of us is more on a confused state where people look at leaders and leaders look at politicians and who only look at short-term voters.
The fact is that we need to solve this problem our selves as it is too important a problem to leave to others and hope for others to solve. Hence at this juncture of my life when I have the luxury to choose, and the choice is available so my thought is as to why I am not solving this and the fundamental question comes as if not now then when, if not us then who?
As humans, we have created challenges for Nature by housing, transportation, and food and now in turn chickens are coming home and we are staring at these big challenges. I believe that if we are able to drive talent, money & networks to solve complex problems, we shall be able to solve them. Google Driverless cars are such an example. To start with, we are looking at opportunities in Agriculture, Electric Vehicles & Storage, Pollution (Air, Water, Plastics), Renewable energy, Sustainable housing, Water & Sanitation and aiming to solve them by using science, technology, and venture capital thinking of scale and disruption.
Hence time has come for me to say goodbye to regular venture investing space and say hello to Massive challenges, Massive efforts and Massive opportunities.