Management Lessons from Movies


Had the pleasure of hanging out with my longtime friend Gokul last evening. We were chatting about his book “Management Lessons from Movies” and I was  excited to get a signed copy from him. It is a quick read and I really enjoyed it. I was surprised to find that I had seen 20 of the 33 movies he refers to in his book – not being as big a movie buff as Gokul – he sees on an average 230 movies in a year across most Indian and world languages!

I have created a IMDb List for those interested in checking out these movies. The average IMDb rating is 8.25 for the movies and so a good collection. Gokul has classified these movies into 25+ categories such as the few listed below and in each category he has listed at least 4 movies (in addition the movie he reviewed) and so in all there are more than 100 good movies to checkout from the book. Some of the more fascinating categories that I plan to check out (Can you guess which movie belongs to which category from the above IMDb list?):

  1. Reverse Chronology
  2. Parallel Universe
  3. Time-loop
  4. Docu-fiction
  5. Hyperlink Cinema

And a handful of takeaways from the book that I found particularly relevant to startups – listing a few of them here so that you can checkout the rest in the book directly.

  • Sky is the limit (Forrest Gump)In the book, Gokul quotes how Forrest keeps stretching his goals while running “That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama”. The same applies to startups – first you focus on getting one customer, then ten, then a hundred and the good ones just keep scaling – and there are challenges all along the way, which you take it in your stride.
  • Managing with Limited Resources (Children of Heaven, Persian; Taxi, Persian; The Birds, English) – There are multiple examples of managing ones meager resources and this is a theme across three movies at least – its either the protagonists managing meager resources (Children of Heaven) or the director making the most of his limited resources (Taxi). It goes without saying, startup journey is all about making the most from very limited resources of time, money and talent.
  • Know your team’s strength (Lagaan) – One of the few Indian entrants in the book, it talks about how the protagonist builds a strong team with a handful of riff raffs just by identifying special skills that each of them possess. Goes without saying how applicable this is to startup leaders.
  • Small Joys Matter (Amelie, French; Lagaan, Hindi) – In this busy world, we don’t end up celebrating small successes as much as we should – this is well highlighted in these two movies and very relevant for most of us reading this blog and in particular startups that are always running at light speed with very little time to stop and celebrate the small victories.

There are 100 such takeaways in this small but very delightful book. Hope you get a chance to check it out and maybe the movie buff in you will spot a movie and a lesson that Gokul missed. If so, do highlight it here in the comments.

Note: Blog also posted here

Indian Urban Mass — The Next Frontier?


In my previous blog, I wrote about what products/services are online in India. In it, I referred to the Indian Urban Mass as coined by Goldman Sachs in their detailed report on India. It is a very insightful report and I’m including a couple of images from that report in this blog.

At this moment in time, India has north of 300M smartphone users as per various publications (here’s one report by the Economic Times). With the launch of Reliance Jio, and subsequent mobile data price wars, the average price of data in India is one of the lowest in the world. What this means is there are 300M+ people in India capable of transacting online.

But, when you actually look at the transaction data across the various businesses described in the blog above, there are only about 60M+ people transacting online. One of the major reasons for this is the income levels across India. Majority of people transacting online belong to the top 4 categories of people in the Income Pyramid – Movers&Shakers, Govt/SOE Employees, Urban white collar/SME owners and the Educated Urban mass – which add up to about 60M.

Don’t get me wrong, these 60M people are transacting quite actively on the internet. If we look across startups in India, some of the best in class startups which started around 2015 are able to get to a scale (in terms of # of transactions/day or GMV) in half the time than a startup that started around 2011-12. This is mainly because of the increasing comfort of the higher end of the Indian consumer to transact online – thanks to the first generation of Indian startups such as Flipkart, Myntra, BookMyShow, Ola, etc. to name a few.

Having said that, the 60M transacting users is still a small fraction – 1/5th of the smartphone users. And that bring me to the reason for this blog – the importance of the Urban Mass in India. The Urban Mass, comprising of the Educated Urban Mass and the Urban blue collar/migrant workers account for about 130M people in 2015 and projected to grow to 165M by 2020. Their average income is projected to grow from $3200 (2015) to about $4800 (2020). This is projected to add about $400B in aggregate earning pool.


If you look at most of the online services in India, only a few of them currently cater to this Urban Mass population. As an example, very few services in India, like Flipkart, Amazon, Ola serve north of 50 cities in India. But if you look at many of the other online services in India that are listed in my previous blog, they are focused on probably 20 cities or lesser in India. In comparison, many of the online services in China serve 300 cities.

Over the next 5-10 years, the Urban Mass with their increasing income and widely prevalent internet connectivity are going to consume/demand more of these online services. There will be a class of products/services that will cater and scale to this Urban Mass. But, there are probably going to be a new set of companies created who are more focused on this Urban Mass.

Any predictions on which products/services will be unique to the Urban Mass –  in the top 20 cities or the broader population in the next 100+ cities? This could be across categories such as communication, commerce, entertainment, health, education or any other sector.

Note: Blog also posted here

What’s On(line) India – 2017?

This is an update on a blog from 2011 titled What’s On(line) India? I wrote that blog about a year after I moved back from US and compared the services that were available in India online to the ones in the US. I had identified a few areas where the services had just launched in India and a few more where we did not have an equivalent service in India.

I was curious to check how things have changed in India and so did a refresh of that table.


Some observations:

  • Most categories popular in the US are all available in India and with reasonably good options
  • There are a few categories (particularly in O2O) that were non-existent (or very early) in 2011 that have quickly evolved in both US and in India and have got to reasonable scale. These categories are highlighted in green.
  • The categories that are driven by subscriptions or purely digital revenue (e.g. Movie rentals) are still early in India – particularly since subscription businesses are yet to catch the Indian consumers favor.
  • Most of these products/services are still getting traction mostly from the top of the Indian consumption pyramid
  • With the growing smartphone penetration and growing income levels, we can expect some of these products/services to trickle down to the next layer of Indian consumption – what Goldman Sachs calls the Urban Mass

The above list is by no means exhaustive. Curious to hear what products/services you would love to order from your mobile or your computer that you are not able to yet in India.

Note: Blog also posted here




Rise of the Indian marketplaces, and what the future holds


Increased connectivity and the spread of smartphones over the past decade have completely transformed Indian commerce. As more and more Indians get access to online services, they become accustomed to buying online – from books and tickets to smartphones, TVs, electronics and increasingly grocery and daily goods.

Over time, the dominant business model of e-commerce players has settled on the marketplace model. While inventory driven e-commerce may often grapple with issues of warehousing or product sourcing, marketplaces have on balance less initial constraints to deal with. More than a dozen startups of the annual Unicorn list published this year by WSJ, had business models that would align themselves to marketplaces. The distinct nature of marketplaces is such that there are push-and-pull factors between buyers and sellers that lead to virtuous cycles – the buyers and sellers on the platform keep providing value to each other thereby bringing scale to the venture.

Before understanding the distinct nature of marketplace, it may be helpful to highlight some of the characteristics that markets must exhibit before they can be accessed using marketplace models. After all, not all offline services can be viably brought onto a marketplace platform. However, there are certain characteristics that take well to marketplaces such as:

  1. High frequency use: The service being provided is of high frequency, such as hailing taxis, ordering food or making restaurant reservations. If the purchase cycles are longer, brand recall and user engagement tend to get minimized thereby preventing the marketplace from gaining network effects and scale.
  1. Existing fragmentation of supply and demand: Fragmentation of value chains lead to hidden value that are either not being used or optimized. Further, it also means less friction for a new marketplace player to enter the market. Cumulatively there also appear to be greater advantages that sellers and buyers can receive from each other that they cannot by themselves.
  1. Network effects: Over time, the marketplace ought to be giving you value that is better than the one that you received in the beginning. In short, the more people that use the service, the better it should get at providing it. Network effects of this kind end up creating tremendous value for both buyers and sellers.

Beneath this view of marketplaces, a helpful distinction can further be made between different categories of marketplaces in this regard. In a sense, not all marketplaces are created equal. Indeed, based upon the service, marketplaces can be divided and sorted into three main categories: basic listings, curated marketplaces, and managed marketplaces. Some characteristics of these are listed below.

Basic listing: These are the plain vanilla listing platforms that basically allow anyone to sell products that they own. A prominent example of this model in the beginning was Ebay and Craigslist. Such platforms have no tabs on the pricing of goods placed on the company as well as they do not dictate the precise user experience (UX) for each good. Expectedly, the service level that a buyer would gain from each listing also varies.

Curated marketplaces: The key difference between this and the basic listings model is the added input that the marketplaces themselves provide to make sure the user experience is a somewhat standardized one. In such a model, there is a filter imposed to vet services/goods providers. In addition, there are mechanisms in place that manage the curation experience through ratings and so on. A large chunk of the marketplaces that have gained scale and have entered the billion+ valuations such as AirBnB, Etsy and Groupon can be bracketed under this rubric.

Managed marketplaces: The last category is that in which services are still provided by a third party. However, the environment, pricing as well as service experience and customer support are all guaranteed by the marketplace itself. TaxiforSure and Ola are perfect examples of how an effective marketplace can develop with buyers and sellers operating under a standardized user experience that in turn is coupled with an assurance provided by the marketplace regarding certain basic quality parameters.

Accel and marketplaces

At Accel, we have worked with many terrific entrepreneurs and helped them in building businesses that have had well executed marketplaces at the core. Globally, we have led the charge in helping build marketplaces that have redefined categories. In the US, Accel has been involved with marketplaces such as 99designs (design services), Etsy (handmade products), Groupon (daily deals) and Trulia (connecting home buyers, renters and sellers). Furthermore, in Europe, Accel has led efforts in startups such as (Russian classifieds), BlaBlaCar (ride sharing service), Deliveroo (food delivery) and Wallapop (a P2P second hand goods marketplace).

In India, our partnerships with entrepreneurs in the marketplace category have ranged from hugely successful e-commerce players such as Flipkart & Myntra to movie/event ticketing platform BookMyShow and taxi hailing service TaxiForSure and Ola. More recently, we have also backed innovative new companies across industries such as Capricoast (home furniture solutions), Coverfox (buying insurance online), Medigo (arranging medical tourism), Portea (healthcare at home), PropTiger (real estate transaction facilitator), Swiggy (food ordering and delivery), Vedantu (online tutoring for K12 students), UrbanClap (all your local services) and ZopNow (grocery ordering). All these startups connect service providers across various sectors while ensuring certain standardized quality that the Indian consumer now expects and demands.


In addition, marketplaces also have tremendous value in streamlining and improving the efficiency of business-to-business transactions. Power2SME is an example of a marketplace that functions in the B2B space. Through Power2SME, Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) get connected to suppliers of essential commodities and supplies that allows them to gain savings and ultimately scale their business more efficiently. Similarly, we have three other businesses in the B2B category that are still early in their evolution.

The future of marketplaces

The broader ecosystem of connectivity that has led to the emergence of the new Internet economy also has other components ranging from the tremendous smartphone penetration to social media engagement among India’s younger demographics.

There is, therefore, a huge opportunity to remake the first generation of Internet marketplaces (across industries) and make them more responsive to the needs of the young Indian mobile consumer. In particular, the demands of the smartphones would place greater emphasis on the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) of the product so that it meets the experiential demands of the discerning Indian consumer. The emphasis that mobile products place has shifted from being transactional — getting the best value for a particular good to being experiential – enjoy using the medium that allows me to get a particular service. In the current scenario, the feel and user friendliness of the medium of availing the service is almost as important as the service itself.

Through YourStory’s ‘The Marketplace’ campaign, we hope to engage with a whole new set of startups that are using innovative marketplace models to disrupt traditional and first-generation Internet businesses in India and to touch millions of Indian consumers and businesses in the years to come.

If you are building one, then apply now! –

Note: YourStory published this blog here.

image credit – shutterstock

Education Investments in India – 2013 (Part 1)

It is more than a year since we took a close look at the education investment landscape in India. In this blog post and a couple of subsequent ones, I would like to cover the following:

  • Quick update on investment landscape in education in India
  • How do we split up the education sector and market potential across sub-sectors
  • What are the challenges for each of these sub-sectors
  • How does this compare to what’s happening in the US

India investment landscape for Education

If we look across all VC and PE investments in India it has held more or less steady in the last few years with about 20 investments and about $200M being invested annually (data below courtesy Venture Intelligence)


If you leave out Private Equity investments (growth stage) and look at only Venture Capital and Angel investments the number for 2012 was about 15 investments (and $55M total invested).


Now, lets dive deeper into what’s happening across the various sub-sectors of Education. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s look at the following sub-sectors: Test Preparation, K12, Higher Education & corporate training and Skills/Certification training

In this blog, let’s take a closer look at Test Preparation and in subsequent blogs we can dive deeper into other sub-sectors.

Test Preparation

Test Preparation companies focus on helping students prepare for various entrance exams for engineering, medical, management and other professional streams.  This is probably one of the largest organized sub-sectors within education and has emerged strongly over the past decade. To set the context, there are about 1.2M students who take the engineering entrance exam and about 350K who take the medical entrance exam alone in India. The total addressable market for this sector is safely north of Rs 3500 Cr in revenue potential. Here is a good blog by education entrepreneur Jayadev Gopalakrishnan pegging the market conservatively at about Rs 4000 Cr.  There are two public companies in this space – Career Point and MT Educare and at least 5 other with revenue >Rs100Cr.

In the blog above, Jayadev points out three major trends – exams going online, exams consolidating (JEE Main as an example where there were multiple entrance exams earlier) and renewed importance of Board exams.

We believe that all three are important and hence companies that embrace technologies such as tablet and online practice systems and offer integrated test preparation have an edge. Integrated test prep refers to programs such as FITJEE and ACE-Deeksha that provide integrated board and entrance test preparation thereby using the students time more efficiently without having to shuttle between school and tuitions (for test prep) and using the extra time to effectively practice online or with tablets (full disclosure: ACE is an Accel Partner India’s portfolio company)

One of the pleasures of being an investor in education is that I get to meet entrepreneurs trying to disrupt test preparation using technology. A few companies that are doing outstanding work in this regard are Edutor (tablet learning), Vedantu (online and tablet), Embibe and Toppr (both provide online/tablet based test prep).  These are just a few off the top of my head – I have met at least a dozen other interesting startups in the space.

Challenges: A few challenges that startups that are taking the technology route need to think through:

  • Platform providers: If you are a technology platform provider to test preparation companies you would need to ensure that you are deeply embedded into the test prep companies ecosystem and that you will not be easily switched out.  A good measure of this  – most test prep companies charge >Rs25K per student/year, what fraction of that are  you able to retain?
  • Primary vs Supplementary: For startups that are aiming to go direct to students and selling their solution as a primary test preparation tool, based on numbers I have been able to gather 70-80% of the 1.2M test takers go to some kind of coaching for test preparation. These students are already bombarded with practice tests from their test prep institute and do not have time to use supplementary tools. And so, for your tool to be used by the student, it might be necessary to get it integrated into the test prep institutes curriculum.
  • Addressable market: You need to be able to command >Rs10,000 per student/year so that if 40% of students use your technology solution that is about a Rs500 Cr market (1.2M*40%*Rs10,000)
  • Distribution: And finally, how will you acquire your student customer? Will it be through coaching institutes or by directly marketing to them? If its direct marketing (online and offline) what will be the cost of customer acquisition and will your revenue per customer (over the two years of preparation) support that customer acquisition cost?

Through the Edustars program (applications open through end of November), we hope to discover that next great disruption in the Test Prep market using technology. The above questions are meant for you to think through the basics of building that business so that we can quickly get past these questions and onto building a company that touches millions of students over the coming decade.  Would love to hear your questions and get your feedback on the Test Prep topic.

Will touch upon the other three topics in the next blog post: K12, Higher Education & corporate training, Skills/Certification training

Note: published this blog here.

Accel @ Nasscom Product Conclave 2013

Wanted to briefly recap a couple of events in which Shekhar Kiran and I had the pleasure of participating at the recently concluded Nasscom Product Conclave 2013. Overall, we really enjoyed being at the event (this is my third year attending the event). Just like previous years, the 2013 event managed to get a great set of entrepreneurs to attend and really enjoyed interacting with them. Now to the recap.

Building fundable startups

Shekhar Kirani (my colleague at Accel) and Vijay Anand (from TheStartupCenter in Chennai) brought out the essence of how to build fundable startups in this 45 min panel. Topics where covered in a top-down fashion where they set the context that for Indian VC’s a good exit to shoot for is $200M+. And to achieve that the two essential components are – market and team. They went into great detail on how to pick the right markets and what are the essential components of building a team. If you are a first-time entrepreneur, would encourage you to spend 45 mins reviewing the following video.

Desi vs Pardesi Capital

I had the pleasure of moderating a short 30 min panel on raising capital from Indian investors vs. from investors outside India. More details about the context for the panel is here in this blog post. A quick summary of what we discussed:

  • If you are a startup going after the local Indian market, your best option might be to raise capital from India
  • On the other hand, if you are startup going after the global market, you might want to talk to investors from India as well as outside.
  • We also discussed nuances of fundraising outside India and then trying to raise capital in India (and vice versa).
  • And a shameless plug, there are funds such as our own ( that has global presence and so you have flexibility to raise capital and get help from our team in India as well as across the globe (US, Europe and China).

We are sure there are many questions we did not manage to cover in our short sessions. Please feel free to share those via our Accel India Facebook page.