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




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.


Is it a good idea to ping an investor via LinkedIn?

I personally think it is worth a shot for an entrepreneur to try reaching a potential venture capital (VC) or angel investor via LinkedIn. Particularly if you can find a mutual contact to provide an introduction. The main benefits of this approach, over just cold calling or dropping a note on the investing firms website, are the following:

  • The investor can quickly browse through your profile to get a good sense of your professional background and relevance to the startup you are working on
  • Check for mutual connections to do a quick reference check

But, here are a few suggestions while trying this approach:

  • Do some research on the VC firm you are trying to reach and figure out the most appropriate person to reach out to, based on their profile. Most investor profiles list areas of investment interest (e.g. internet, mobile, education, etc.) and so this should not be tough to do
  • Reach out only to one or at most two people at that firm who are appropriate for your particular startup. It does not help if your ping everyone in the VC firm. Yes, this does happen often and if anything it’s counterproductive. What happens is one of the investing team members who receives this, will forward it to the other team member who is more suitable to look at your company (based on interest areas) and if they realize you pinged all the members indiscriminately, it shows that you have not done any research on which of the investors would be better suited for your startup
  • If you have a mutual connection with the investor, see if you can get an introduction by the mutual connection (especially if this person knows the investor well and is willing to refer you)
  • Avoid requesting to “add as connections” directly. Try sending a message via InMail or through mutual connections. Many investors are particular who they add as connections and so, if you directly try adding them, they might “ignore” your request
  • See if the VC is part of any group that indicates a mutual interest area and use that group to reach out to him/her
  • Keep the LinkedIn message short giving a 3-4 sentence summary on your teams background and what you are trying to do. Ask the VC if you could get 15 mins over the phone to give more background and see if mutual interest. Avoid very long messages.

While on the topic of reaching out via a social network, I would highly recommend reading the following article by Ried Hoofman on “The real way to build a social network“, if you haven’t already read it.

Note: published this blog here.



Introducing Edustars

Go to the EduStars website

Education continues to be an exciting sector for entrepreneurial ventures in India. The following chart shows the extent and frequency of the investments that were made in this sector by Private Equity investors (including Venture Capitalists) over the past few years.

Source: Venture Intelligence, Jan 2012

A recent poll conducted among various investors showed that education is one of the most favored sectors for investing.

Source: Venture Intelligence, Jan 2012

What makes education an exciting sector? Anything new?

In his comparison of India and China, Professor Yasheng Huang of MIT – an expert economist on India and China – calls out education (and thereby Human Capital) as one the top reasons why China is ahead.

Here is a link to Prof Huang’s recent presentation at TED. (Forward to 10:30 if you are pressed for time)

This presents a great opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs to have an impact on the Indian education ecosystem – be it K-12, Higher Education or Skills Development. The growing penetration of technology (mobile/tablet devices, internet, etc.) provides greater opportunity to reach out to millions of people and provide more personalized learning options (Khan Academy is pursuing a similar strategy in the US today). There are several opportunities to make the learning process an enjoyable experience. For example, social media tools can be leveraged to improve user interaction and promote group learning.

Why Edustars?

As of right now, in India there is no convenient platform for information sharing among the Education entrepreneurial community.

Edustars has been created to fill that particular need.

At a high level, Edustars aims to:

  • Provide an online platform for information sharing
  • Provide access to a world class mentoring team with deep domain expertise
  • Periodically recognize outstanding startups with an “Edustar” award, thereby providing nationwide visibility
  • Provide information from similar startups around the world with regard to their challenges and triumphs.

We welcome suggestions from education startups regarding any other venues wherein Edustars can add value and contribute towards your overall su


Steve Jobs’ genius "First 100 Days presentation from 1984"

Just came across this not very often scene video of 29 year old Steve Jobs talking about the “First 100 Days” of the Macintosh. Just to set the stage, this was 1984 and the only other existing personal computers had primitive command line interfaces. With the Macintosh, Steve introduced to the world, the concept of the mouse as an input device and a graphical user interface – both very wildy popular across the personal computer industry even today, 27 years later.

But, more importantly, you can see the genius of Steve jobs in being able to define, build, market and sell a compelling vision to the world. The same genius that brought to our world decades later the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Here are a few  notes I took (along with the time marker in paranthesis) while seeing this video. These are points that are relevant and inspiring even today for anyone building & selling a product:

  • Market your product at every opportunity (1:00):  Steve makes it a point to call out that he has used his revolutionary Macintosh product and a Diskette to make the presentation
  • It’s all about the sales (2:40): He is very clear about what he wanted to achieve in the first 100 days (sell 50K Macintoshs). Highlights how difficult the target was in the context of other similar products: Apple II took 2 1/2 yrs (launched 1977), IBM PC – 7.5 months (1982). And goes on to highlight that the Macintosh did it in only 74 days and that by 100 days they would have beaten the target by 150%
  • You need your channels (4:45): Makes it a point to call out the distributors as partners and thanks them and calls them part of the team
  • Make it easy for customers to say yes (5:30): He shares the story of the VP of McDonald’s and how he became a customer. Goes on to share the customers validation that Apple has shown the industry how to market computers to real people
  • Articulate new features of your product (6:58) – He is clear about what are all the benefits of the Macintosh. These are some revolutionary features given that it was 1984 e.g. external disk drive, letter quality printer Software (Mac Paint & Mac Write), free upgrade to customers as they return to stores, etc. 
  • Embrace your ecosystem (8:41) – Steve realizes how important it is to have a good array of developers. He calls out that Apple has trained 2000 developers (through seminars) and that there will be 150 applications by year end. This is something Apple has continued to focus over the years – particularly with the iPhone and iPad. 
  • Thanking Stakeholders (10:40) – He concludes by saying that the Macintosh was the most important thing in his life. He talks about “how we (including everyone in the ecosystem including employees) together risked on innovation and how we have changed the world of personal computing forever”. 
  • Superbowl ad (11:54) – Shows portions of the much acclaimed “1984” Super Bowl add introducing Macintosh narrated by Steve Jobs. 

Hope you enjoy seeing this as much as I did!