28 April 2009

The Importance of Chaos, Cash and Karma

Management by definition is the science of minimising disorder and maximising predictability. Unfortunately, life, business and especially startups are anything but predictable. Chaos is not only inevitable; I'd say it’s important, desirable even, to the process of starting up an enterprise.

After completing my MBA, I had to do my fair share of unlearning to adapt to the real world. Very often my ‘instinctive response’, based on my education, to situations would be the wrong one. A response which would further complicate the situation rather than resolve matters. In the same situation an 'innovative (or I dare say, ‘Jugaad’) response' would be more appropriate.

After doing this several times over in the early years, I realised that my responses based on education would probably bring better results in the long term as compared to the ‘Jugaad’ decisions. But then "in the long term we're all dead"... Often, startups are about getting through the here and now. If one was to implement the long-term-friendly-educated-response, one wouldn't survive long enough to see if it was a good call.

To a typical corporate-minded outsider this gives the appearance of chaos in a startup. Someone who is not involved in a series of ‘Jugaad’ decisions taken to manage the short-term would not see the order in the chaos. The long-term outcome is often a hugely positive and desirable result of a series of such short-term events.

The same often applies to managing cash, real cash. Cashflow management is a crucial part of management education but the way it is imbibed is to treat cash at a very theoretical or esoteric level.

Life teaches you otherwise. It’s a proven fact that the single biggest reason enterprises fail is because they run out of cash. This element is more important than marketing, operations, HR, sales, or anything else. Day-to-day management decisions in a startup enterprise are often guided by keeping your cash-head afloat rather than looking at long term profitability, organisational or financial health (Remember.... in the long term, we're all dead).

This brings me to Karma. Doing all that one can, doing one’s duty, to the best of one’s ability and aptitude without 'attachment' to the results and rewards of such actions. This nature of approach to one’s work is pretty much an anathema to classical management theory which would focus strongly on goal-orientation. But I have found this to be one of the most crucial aspects of building a business. And I don't just mean this in a spiritual sense, I believe that keeping a karmic approach to everyday work, projects and business allows one to focus better and achieve higher productivity and results.

Management education taught me a lot and brought me the distance but left me tantalisingly close... I had to learn a few crucial life-lessons to truly apply myself to the challenge of building Candid Marketing into the No.1 Brand Promotion Agency in India.



21 April 2009

IPL: Opportunity lost

I love cricket, I really do. I love Test cricket - most people in non-test-playing-countries don't even understand how a sporting contest can last 5 days, but I love test cricket. (The memory of Rahul Dravid square-cutting for a boundary to win a test match for India in Australia will live with me forever).

And yet I'm no purist, I think 20-20 cricket is very cool.. Amazing entertainment.. Will be very good for cricket as a sport in the long term.

T20 is a sport. Make no mistake. It is not entertainment or a tamasha alone. It takes tremendous athleticism, strength, strategy, power, stamina, mental strength, intelligence, perseverance and other such essentials to be successful and a winner at a sport. I love the entertainment part of T20, the music, the flashy colours, the cheerleaders, the innovative rules and innovation.

But..

The IPL has gone too far. The IPL had the opportunity to be the first major sports franchise created in the 2000s. As it is now, IPL is the first major marketing sports franchise of the 2000s.

Have a look at all the major respected and popular sports franchises around us. The football world cup, the olympics, the football leagues in Europe. Most of them have major sponsors and have tremendous money involved and yet when you watch the sport, brands are not in your face, players' clothes are not covered with them.

In football, the club strip has ONE sponsor logo on it and no more. For years, Barcelona FC didn't even have that because they didn't want to commercialise the club. Even now that they do its "Unicef" and they are not paid for it. Its that kind of approach that builds sanctity and loyalty for a club that lasts generations.

IPL teams have 4, 5 and in some cases 6 logos on their uniforms - its sickening to see. The players are walking billboards. I won't even get into the marketing effectiveness of such branding - that's a debate for another day and another blog-entry.

Marketing in the IPL is crass. It is overriding cricket and undermining it. It makes me ill.

Creating a break after every 10 overs is absurd. It breaks the momentum of the sport. What is even more absurd and hypocritical is for IPL authorities to say its not done for marketing reasons. Can one imagine a strategy break after every 15 minutes in football or hockey? I know its there in Basketball, American Football etc but that pretty much rests my case.

The approach to the IPL both for the organisers as well as the team owners seems to be to make as much money as quickly as possible. Its almost as if they don't believe that the IPL will last more than a few years and so its best to 'break-even' and make money NOW... Who knows if it will last?!

The Taj Mahal was built to last forever, the IPL is certainly not being built with any such noble intention or vision. If the IPL is successful over time and stands the test of time, it will not be because of the BCCI and Lalit Modi, it will be despite them.

Lalit Modi has famously said that IPL2 will redefine how a sports event is marketed for the whole world. At the moment its looking like by redefine he meant how NOT to market a sports event.

06 April 2009

Kiko Macheda, take a bow

When i sat down to watch the Manchester United game this evening, I knew it was no ordinary game. United have had it tough over the past couple of weeks. Seldom do united lose 2 consecutive games and they had. A third would be unthinkable. But even i could not have imagined as extra-ordinary an evening as it turned out. 

I saw the starting line-up and it was distressing - 6-7 first team players injured or suspended. Rio Ferdinand wouldnt be starting - that was a bit unexpected. With him and Vida both out, things at the back were embarrasingly weak.

I glanced across at the substitutes list and it was worse, not even one established player. I saw several youngsters names there that I knew but saw one I had never heard of - "MacHeda" - thats how it was spelt and so I throught he was probably scottish or Irish.

The game started well with Ronaldo scoring and then it quickly went south for us and we were down 1-2. If ever we needed the famous Manchester United spirit and the noise of the Old Trafford faithful, this was the time.

I have seen United fight hard and long before and never say die, I never get up from watching a United game however bleak the chances of a turnaround because I know and I believe that the Manchester United team never gives up and so I never give up. and this time they did it again.

Love him or Hate him but you can't ignore him. Sir Alex Ferguson, and he did the unthinkable. He threw on Federico Macheda. 17 years old. never played for the United first team before. yes, he had scored a hat-trick for the reserves earlier this week but this is the premiership and we were a goal down.... Sir Alex knows when its time.

Ronaldo was sulky and petulant in parts and was probably responsible for the 2nd we conceded but he stepped and scored with his weaker foot that too.... we were level and from there, only one team wanted to to win. With ten minutes to go, the sense of expectation around Old Trafford was palpable.

With 5 minutes going up as injury time, there was hope.

Three minutes into this, history was made. Macheda was in the box, not just waiting for, but seeking the ball. Pointing to his right, away from the goal - he signalled for a through pass. Ryan Giggs played a perfectly weighted pass.

Then it was all Kiko, with his back to goal, the ball the wrong side of the near post. For those of us who have played the game, in fact any sport, know that often what happens next is not something you plan or think, instinct takes over. Chances are Kiko didn't even think: he just did it. In one fluid motion he teed the ball up with his heel, turned, and put his weight low behind the ball, and curled a shot past the goalkeeper and inside the post. It was utterly sublime.

I could NOT restrain myself and yelled and screamed and ran around the room.... truely unbelievable. Mark of the champions.

United may not go on to win the premiership, only time will tell. No trophy was decided tonight.  
But this isnt about that at all. This is about reaching such highs and peaks. Such joyous occassions are what have made me support Manchester United for 26 years. No club can match it. I am proud to be a Manchester United Fan!