An entrepreneur has to make decisions with incomplete information. Many times, an instinctive call has to be made. On many occasions this year, I have been called upon to make such calls – both in Netcore and in Niti. One is never quite sure when making the decision, but that doesn’t mean that a decision can be postponed. Many times, I cannot fully explain the reasons for the decision other than a sort-of gut reaction. An entrepreneur succeeds not if he makes more right decisions, but if he makes fewer wrong decisions. Each day at work is about reducing the risk of failure. As I look back at the year and many of the decisions made, I think very few calls turned out to be wrong.
Many times, we wait forever to make a decision. We agonise. We think. And as we do so, time passes us by. By nature, I tend to take some of the decisions even though they have some risk. It is not about throwing caution to the winds. It is about creating opportunities where they are none. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned, but that cannot be the reason to not open oneself up to the unknown. Entrepreneurship is about recognising and converting half-chances. I saw this very clearly this year as I was back in start-up mode with Niti.
Looking ahead, we now have a good foundation to build on. We can now dream higher in Netcore with the strong base that we have. That will require a different mindset. What got us hear will not get us the next 10X growth. In Niti, this year will be a test of all the things we have been working to put together. We have to now make these various projects come together to achieve a common purpose. It promises to be yet another exciting year.
Between Netcore and Niti, it has been a very interesting journey. Like Paulo Coelho writes in his book, “The Alchemist”, once you start a journey, the world conspires to help you along. And that is exactly what has happened, especially in Niti. I have met some amazing people who have provided rich additions to the thinking. And that has helped enrich our execution.
When I look back at the year, if there are two things that stand out. First, one’s focus has to be clear. In Netcore, we set the focus on profitable growth. This helped us whenever we faced choices and needed to make decisions. There will be many moments of doubt, but one has to stay the course. Profits are critical for us to ensure financial independence. It was the principle I had followed during my IndiaWorld days, and had then forgotten this lesson for many years in between.
Second, it is important to get started. As long as one knows the general direction of the goal, do not wait for a map to be laid out in front. Instead, navigate with a compass. But, start walking. This is what helped get Niti off the ground. And as we moved along, many others joined the journey and the fog started lifting. There is now a sharp clarity. But If I had waited a year for this, it would never have happened. Action creates its own roadmap.
Niti (New Initiatives to Transform India) was the new addition in the past year. For the past few years, I have written often about many things we needed to do to transform India’s future. For the most part, it was just talk. Without putting in time and money and thus building a capacity to execute, the ideas would remain on paper. So, this year, I decided that the time had come to make Niti a reality. With a leader at the helm, I started putting together a team of people so we could start on a wide portfolio of activities.
Over the coming months, we will start launching the various projects across media and technology. The focus is what I had outlined in my speech at Columbia in April – changing minds to change people’s votes to bringing political change to bringing about the right policies for India’s development. The economic mess that we now find ourselves in now is a direct consequence of flawed policies through the years. Unless people know and realise this, we will not be able to bring lasting change in India.
My approach to Niti is that of an entrepreneur – think of the problem differently, and see what out-of the—box, disruptive solutions are possible. The constraint is time, not money.
In Netcore, the period from last September to December was marked by many changes – both internal and external. We had a few senior members of our management team quit, and we had new regulations from TRAI which saw a sharp drop in the SMS business overnight resulting in immediate losses. Those were tough months as we had to navigate troubled waters with looming uncertainty. When the government starts regulating a business, all bets are off.
In retrospect, we managed it well. We cut costs in our mobility business to align with the new normal. We also focused more on our email marketing business which had quietly grown to good scale over the past couple of years and, quite literally, became the oxygen of our company.
We made profitability our number one objective. Our goal was to ensure that we could sustain and grow it. That would give us the money to make the right investments for the future. We have no external investors in Netcore, so I can make decisions quickly and with a focus on the long-term.
All of this has helped tremendously over the past year. Even as the mobility business has improved, the mailing business has grown from strength to strength. I have a good team in place to handle the challenges going forward. We can now think along multiple time horizons with the added confidence that tomorrow will be substantially better than today.
Every year for the past few years, in the week of my birthday, I have been reflecting back on the year that was and looking ahead to the year that is coming. It is, along with the New Year, one of two opportunities annually to take stock of one’s life and work.
The past year has been a fascinatingly diverse one. On the one hand, there has been the work at Netcore in building out the digital communications business. And on the other hand, I started work on Niti, with a number of ideas to see how we can make a difference to India’s future. Most days, the two streams juxtapose themselves creating for a richness in a day that I could not have possibly imagined a year ago.
The past year has been primarily about building the capacity to execute so we can look ahead with greater aspiration and ambition to the future. Ideas fail not because of good intent, but because we do not put in the resources and time to get things done. Ideas also fail because we try and do too many things. The past year has also been about narrowing focus to a few things which I think can make an impact.
From my musings on my last birthday:
Today, I turn 44. And after 7 years, I am once again travelling internationally on my birthday. This trip is not as much about work as it is about thinking through how I am going to bring about the political and policy change in India that I have written about.
This August 15 comes at a time when I am in transition. Over the past few months, I have been delegating more in Netcore and increasing slowly the time spent on the other activities, which are largely on the political side. Not direct politics, but more on the peripheral side, as a supporting player.
Going ahead, I need to start a new innings – a second life, as it were. As an entrepreneur and change agent in the political sphere, working to build what I think of as the third pillar of the Indian Right. BJP and RSS are two powerful pillars, but there needs to be a complement to get centre-right policies and transform India.
Airports are just one example of where the dysfunctions become much more than nuisances and irritants. They reflect a mindset that says “we don’t care” and “take it or leave it.” Surely, we can do better than that.
Even as we need big ideas to speed up our growth, governance and development, we also need small ideas that can improve daily lives – not just at airports, but all around us. What would it take to install GPS devices in buses and then broadcast “time to arrival” at bus stop displays? Our bus stops have stayed the same since my childhood. What would it take to have fast-track options at toll booths? What would it take to stop having odd figures like Rs 82.50 for toll payments – why cannot these be rounded off thus saving time for the driver and the toll collector?
If we just look around us, there will be many things we will see which can be improved. And if we can see them, surely those whose job it is it improve them can also see them. Why then do these improvements not happen? Why is there not a belief that we need to make things better?
These may be seemingly minor irritants in a process designed to safeguard us. But, surely, we can learn from other countries. Surely, we can look at each process and determine if it is still relevant and useful. Someone has to be thinking about what can be done better.
What we need to do is to learn from best practicses elsewhere in the world. Others have done things before us. We need to simply copy them – and then see if we can improve on them. Here, we seem to be going retro.
Like with our announcements at airports. I have said this multiple times on the blog, but the tenth “last call” for a flight or eight “paging announcement” for that missing passenger has to surely be too much. We have LCD screens showing departures put next to each other which both show the same thing instead of showing the next sequence of flights. Simple things like these – surely, we can do better.