(25 Dec 2018) So you want to be rich?

October-November-December: This is the season when many students are forced into some soul searching and career planning as they take important decisions about their future. Very often these are triggered by thoughts on which program they should apply for and if certain choices will close certain doors. Often, it is a “Statement of Purpose” or similar essay that forces them to think.

I have been talking to young people who approach me asking me for inputs and advise. In this blog, I am picking up one theme that comes up quite often —- do certain career choices align with a person’s financial aspirations?  Here are some observations and simplistic points.

The framework to think

You will notice the following:

  • Level 1: The richest people in the world are owners of scalable businesses or owners of property (financial, land, building etc or intellectual). Example: Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas, Trump, Saudi kings, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, JK Rowling, etc. Occasionally, a prolific inventor like may be Lemelson. Can include rich land owning farmers.
  • Level 2: The next rung are business people with relatively smaller business (but fairly big businesses), folks who leverage their skills/ talent (including entertainers like actors, sports people, successful artists etc) beyond looking at regular employment
  • Level 3:  Highest level managers, professionals in various companies. CXOs. Presidents. Vice Presidents etc.
  • Level 4: Middle level employees in high paying sectors/ MNCs. Ex: In india, mid management IT jobs or bank jobs, finance / consulting jobs etc. May be successful small business people including doctors, consultants etc
  • Level 5:  Government employees, civil servants, defence employees, teachers, professors, scientists (unless they own any property) etc (many public service roles)
  • Level 6: Skilled labour/ workforce; small marginal farmers; Lower level IT work
  • Level 7: General labour; Farm labour


Each Level is associated with certain preparation, certain risk taking, having access to certain resources (including funds, networks, knowhow etc). For example, it is easy to prepare to be in Level 1 for second generation entrepreneurs whose parents have already put them in Level 1 orbit. A classic example is Mukesh Ambani who was put in Level 1 by his father (Dhirubhai Ambani) who moved from Level 7 to Level 1 in one generation.  Dhirubhai Ambani had ambition and took immense risks. Mukesh Ambani has the benefit of resources at his command, knowhow, networks etc.

Many of us in the Indian middle class, belong to Level 5 and often try to push their kids to Level 4 and Level 3 via (for example) the rat races called IIT-JEE, NEET etc. Occasionally, one first generation entrepreneur makes the jump to Level 1 and 2; and we celebrate those cases. (ex: Narayana Murthy of Infosys, Sachin Bansal of Flipkart etc).

Some of us are content being at the Level we are at and others are not. JK Rowling was at Level 5 or below as a teacher. But she believed she had a talent which will take her to the top league. Fortunately for her, she created intellectual property that was valuable and  she has been propelled into Level 1.

You will also notice that:

  • When the government or large companies or even some foreign governments promote skill development activities, they are just trying to populate Level 6. This may be okay for people in Level 7 (unskilled labour)  but what if they are aspiring to be in Level 5, 4 and above. Of course, there will be unhappiness. Classic example is of a lower middle class urban family or a middle class rural family wanting their children to get “high paying IT jobs”.
  • You will also notice how many middle class families in India want their kids to become IITians so that they can graduate into Level 3 and 4 jobs. Many kids are quite unhappy in those roles (which can be mundane line functions) but they do meet the aspirations of their family.
  • And then you have those who were left with no option (that is did it not because they were very keen on public service careers but because they had no other option!) but  become government employees/ professors etc, and then feel envious  about the guys who chose to go to Level 1, 2, 3,4.


Now, if you wish to be in the top bracket (Level 1), you cannot be preparing for roles more suited for Level 5. And if you have chosen to do Level 5, you have to find satisfaction in the role and its contribution to society and not constantly compare yourself with Level 1 folks.

For students, here are the implications:

  • In school and college, choose the right path for yourself. If you are increasingly focusing singularly on academic excellence and seeing your teachers/ professors as you role model, you may head to Level 5.
  • If you wish to reach Level 1, you will need to learn things to take you there and select those activities which help you build resources, networks, knowhow etc to take you to Level 1. For example, for many first generation entrepreneurs, the ticket to Level 1 is creating, owning and exploiting valuable intellectual property. (Note — I am saying “owning”! ) . Then clearly you need to know how to create and exploit intellectual property.
  • Many young people with entrepreneurial aspirations, need to often steer clear from Level 3/4/5 careers and actively move towards Level 1/2.
  • Do not confuse entrepreneurial training (for Level 1/2) with skill development (Level 6).
  • If you find great satisfaction in public service, research, teaching and the general glory/ respect/ fame it brings or can bring, be comfortable with the idea of being at Level 5. And also convince your family that is where you wish to be.

(25 Dec 2018) Pune Startups: Review and Outlook

Review for CY 2018

  • This year, investors have shown interest in investing in startups with new ideas rather than just India execution plays. This is a good trend. That said, majority of investments (by value) were in sectors where there is no technology innovation but mostly business process innovation and execution challenges (mainly in IT enabled businesses of various kinds such as food delivery, education, commerce, etc etc).
  • Early stage investments in non-IT enabled sectors are primarily happening in healthcare products, mechatronics/ IOT and certain agro and social innovation sectors. The investment size is not that large because these are early stage startups. However, they are very important to the sectors and make a huge difference in encouraging entrepreneurs. This is being driven by seed funds associated with incubators, Angel investors, early stage venture capital funds and impact investors.
  • Investments in sectors such as energy and environment are happening but using traditional models of financing (not really VC) and in late stage deployment of solutions. Not much investment is happening in early stage tech development. So the startup pipeline for investors is likely to be weak in coming years.

Outlook and emerging opportunities

  • IT enabled services/ sectors (commerce, food delivery, ride hailing, education, agro, finance, payments etc) will continue to draw the largest funding.
  • I think CY 2019 will be a good year for healthcare products startups.
  • I am also hopeful that algorithm intensive areas like cyber security will throw up new opportunities for India.
  • I am not hopeful about early stage funding in energy and environment sectors.
  • I am hopeful that the Government of India will create a vehicle like BIRAC for other sectors. If that happens, a lot of pipeline creation for future investments in knowledge intensive and IP rich startups will take place. This will create good candidates for investment say 3 years hence.
  • This year might see a boom in waste management companies. Since funding in this sector is a problem, large players with strong balance sheets will eventually dominate and probably squeeze out startups and first generation entrepreneurs.
  • The focus on startups will reduce in the election year of 2019. The government will focus more on rural areas and probably de-emphasize startups.
  • As usual, this should be a good year for corporate ventures and family businesses.


  • First generation entrepreneur interest and availability of financing always go hand-in-hand. Lack of early stage financing to spur startup creation and empower first generation entrepreneurs is still limited to only very few sectors in India. That remains the greatest challenge.
  • The funding landscape is not continuous in India and has gaps. Which means that Indian startups will either a) raise money from foreign funders or b) move overseas to raise money. This is especially likely in knowledge intensive areas where the appetite for Indian investors has been low.
  • Again a missed opportunity will be inability of the Indian ecosystem to draw upon academia and R&D institutions for new technical capabilities seamlessly to build new technologies.

(16 Dec 2018) The Perfect Librarian and “Cool” Lady: Remembering Saroj Krishnaswami

The Perfect Librarian and “Cool” Lady: Remembering Saroj Krishnaswami

My colleague and the Venture Center Librarian, Saroj Krishnaswami, passed away on Friday, 14 December 2018. She had been ailing for some time with a weak heart and a bothersome lung. She passed away peacefully. She lived a long, good and proud life, and will leave us all with happy memories.

Saroj—the Librarian

Saroj was the perfect librarian; she took great pride in her profession! In a day and age when we meet so many people who take up professions without a passion or love for their work, she stood out in her deep love and respect for her profession. She knew that libraries are important for any civilized society and that she was doing important work!  She made sure that the library celebrated “Saraswati” (Goddess of Knowledge in the Indian tradition) both directly and indirectly — one of her first acquisitions was a painting of Saraswati done in Warli painting style. She promptly put up a picture of SR Ranganathan (Father of Library Science in India; His birthday is remembered as National Librarian Day in India; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._R._Ranganathan ). She followed his five(simple and elegant)  laws of Library Science: 1) Books are for use.2) Every person his or her book. 3) Every book its reader. 4) Save the time of the reader. 5) The library is a growing organism.

Saroj read widely herself and made sure she knew every book in the collection in some measure. She often recommended sections and books to readers – a dying art in current times. Once in a while, she would politely admonish my colleagues who did not visit the library. She goaded people to read via her monthly “Must read” or “New additions” emails. Many of us will definitely remember this because she made it such attractive reading for all of us with a brief summary, a link to a recent book review from a reputable source and then some related cartoons and limericks. I always enjoyed these emails enormously!

Times are changing and the role of libraries is also changing very rapidly. The Internet has made information easily accessible online and so libraries are not anymore the primary source of reference information. Books have also become quite accessible and affordable with online bookstores and rising affluence. There are now online platforms for bookworms. Various people seek book recommendations and curated lists online and in social media.  These are clearly testing times for physical libraries. But, in my view, there is still a role for old-fashioned libraries and librarians.  Physical libraries are still the place where you can sit at leisure and browse through pages without straining your eyes or too many distractions. One gets lost in the words. One gets into a different world. There is peace. All said and done, people crave human contact and physical gatherings that stimulate their brain, heart and soul – what better place for this than a library. Saroj herself embodied that spirit and aspiration for many of us.

In a recent email, Dr Vijay Kelkar (Padma Vibhushan) so aptly put it –“She was an ideal Librarian: a lover of books and also of their readers!”.

Saroj – the person

In Venture Center, Saroj was unique in many ways.

She joined Venture Center almost after crossing retirement age (whatever that means). She was in the midst of a much younger group of colleagues but amazingly at ease with all of them. She happily joined all the celebrations and get-togethers. She joined in the non-strenuous parts of the staff outings or picnics. She made sure she was savvy with computers, phones, email, social media etc.  There would be friendly bantering between colleagues and she was not one to be left out. I hear that her nickname was “Colonel” amongst some of our team members – perhaps a name she earned because she could assert herself when she wanted!

Saroj for recognized and adored for her gentleness, politeness, kindness, generosity and helpfulness. After getting some requests from local students (especially from the poorer areas in the vicinity), she started a reading room service for these students. If there was someone in need, she found ways to accommodate that person. Saroj was also quite passionate about many other themes affecting society especially the environment. She was keen on solving the plastic littering menace. She knew that I work with polymeric materials and wanted to understand more on what could be the right ways to go about it and enquired about what I thought of government/ judicial initiatives. In all this, she kept a surprisingly open mind.

Saroj enjoyed her travel and visits. She made sure she visited some place new every year.  Occasionally, I would see her holiday pictures in jeans, t-shirt and straw hats and be surprised by the transformation. Interestingly, Saroj was also a keen follower of the financial pages and the stock market.  I think she did this more as a hobby — but with considerable knowledge and reading. She had read Peter Lynch’s books and the investor’s bible “The Intelligent Investor”. With all this, I can easily say that she was the “coolest” 60+ lady I have ever met!!

We will all miss Saroj dearly but I am glad she chose to share some of her journey in this world with us and be part of our family!


16 December 2018