the tricultural premium

February 2020 

Globalisation, ubiquitous air travel, and the growth of MBA programs led to the emergence of a whole new class of people. Born in Country A, learned in Country B, professional in Country B; moving fluidly between geographies/cultures/careers and social networks. 

Colloquially they are known as bicultural people/professionals/executives/kids. 

The US & its policies (economic, social) played a major role in enabling this. As the global anchor of trade/culture/immigration and technological developments from the 80’s through the early 2000’s, the US has been a crucible of this category of people … and the surplus created by this has been felt positively all over the world. 

Chinese-American, Indian-American, Iranian-American, Irish-American are fairly common terms we hear and speak all around us. 

Bicultural people excelled tremendously in their newly adopted countries (professionally, socially, and so on), but at the same time had a massive premium when they went back to where they came from. Having brought back the much needed exposure of “how things are done” in the West, many doors open up back home. 

Bicultural execs got higher salaries, faster promotions, a seat at the table on most important decision making fora, and so on. Not just Industry, this premium is seen across Government, Academia, and even the Arts. 

You can tell where I am going with this, it has been a X-American dominated era of bicultural professionals. 

That said, we are now at the cusp of a new era — the age of “tricultural” era. 

As China surges in global (starting with sharing the stage, to become an equal partner with the US) tech, policy, capital, and cultural relevance … a new class of people with China experience/exposure is becoming a crucial ingredient. MNCs, Startups, Asset Managers, Think Tanks, and Academia are going to increasingly place a premium on China credentials. 

X-America-China is the new tricultural premium

Many of you are probably already seeing this play out in your lines of work. Naturally, existing bicultural folks have a leg up in this new race. 

Exciting times! 

2019, an exponential year

when I entered 2019, it seemed like it would be like any other year, but boy its been a rollercoaster like never before.

here is a short list of stuff that got done (where i’ve been involved) …in no-particular order.

  1. Haptik acquisition by Reliance Jio (exit)
  2. MPL series-A (new start)
  3. Upraised – a new beginning for my partner Mona
  4. Invideonew capital (angel)
  5. Shuttl – follow on capital (growth)
  6. PocketFM – seed cheque & follow-ons (new start)
  7. Byjus secondary (exit)
  8. Classplusseed cheque & follow-ons (new start)
  9. Myra acquisition by Medlife (exit)
  10. MX Player – Series A & partnership with Tencent (growth)
  11. Tookitaki – new capital (angel) (growth)
  12. Dilmil acquisition by Group (angel) (exit)
  13. Third Wave Coffeenew investment (angel)
  14. Oxfordcaps series-A (new start)
  15. Parkwheels – new investment (angel) (new start)
  16. Ayopop – new capital (angel) (growth)
  17. Two other meaningful developments (still in stealth)

Phew! … In any other year, I’d be happy to have achieved even 1 or 2 such milestones!

In many ways, this year has been a culmination of compounding effects building up over the past few years. Relationships, investments, product strategy decisions, and karma of the past all converging into an incredible and highly improbable sequence of events.

It has also been a tough year emotionally, perhaps the second toughest year in life after 2016 (when my father passed away, and my daughter was born within a short window of a mere 46 days).

Many tricky transitions, and decisions that tested my resolve to conduct myself and my peers in a fair and appropriate manner. Delivering win-win outcomes in many cases is far tougher than meets the eye!

Exits are momentary conclusions, before they become legacies; while new investments and ventures are the beginning of many new aspirations and fears. I’ve had way too many of them this year.

Above all a sharper awareness and focus around my own purpose/utility came afore.

Thank you 2019 I am grateful, and thank you to each of you who I’ve had the luck and good fortune to be associated with 🙏

ending with a poem to look back to 2019 with!

ये लम्हे , ये पल हम , बरसों याद करेंगे … ये मौसम बदल गये तो … हम फ़रियाद करेंगे !
ये लम्हे , ये पल हम , बरसों याद करेंगे … बरसो याद करेंगे

Hariharan, for the movie Lamhe (c 1991)

… and a clip from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara called
” तो जिंदा हो तुम ”

onwards into 2020!

being awesome at Corp Dev

abridged thoughts on how to excel at Corporate Development

did a podcast with my friends at IVM Podcasts on this a few months ago.


talk to your skeptics

their feedback helps you hone you message & your work

startups and innovators encounter skeptics on a daily basis. most of them like to point at the umpteen shortcomings of your concept (or solution) and how the status-quo or the 800-pound gorilla in your field is better.

i am certain you are thinking “trying to create something new and change the world is hard enough ! … now you are telling me to listen to my skeptics ?!? …are you crazy?”

however, I have found that these skeptics often give invaluable feedback that you rather get from them, than your customers. Use them as a litmus test to help calibrate your solution !

It is because the skeptics are right about some things that they are so wrong about the whole thing. Simon Cox, The Economist

the genesis of my short post was this quote from Simon Cox in the book “Economics, Making Sense of the Modern Economy”, 2nd Edition, The Economist Newspaper Ltd.

Simon gives me hope !

Fight on my friends.

Making big decisions

its not about choosing the defaults

Each of us typically make one or two big decisions about our lives every so often. For example, which career to choose? whether to buy a house or not? finding a life partner, or deciding where to take a big vacation. The implications of each of these choices is varied, but one thing is common — the defaults are well laid out for you.

Defaults are what you are supposed to choose. Thats what normal or good people do. It is what society expects you to do, and will shower you with positive energy when you ‘stick to what is right’.

Fred Wilson wrote a thoughtful article about Foursquare and their deliberations to decide the future of their business.

don’t let conventional wisdom force you into making decisions you don’t need to make and you aren’t ready to make, particularly about very big decisions that you will be living with the rest of your life

I find these words extremely valuable in times of ambiguity and lack of a clear way forward.

You are told that the default choice works, despite being either unprepared or in gross disagreement with it. Some times we do it for loved ones, and at other times we refrain from rocking the cradle.

Its not about spending more time with big decisions, but about spending enough to iterate and not be afraid of making an unconventional choice.

Recently, I made the choice of moving back to India after having stayed in America for a little over a decade. Many friends, colleagues, relatives, and general observers were quite baffled by my decision. I made the choice within the context of what is important to me, and that is what matters most.

Do what you think is right for you.

photo credit:

Annual Reviews

so what did you do all last year?

Every year in January, many of us sit down with our bosses, supervisors, and mentors to review the year past. Often these reviews are institutionalized (read:required) by our organizations, and closely tied to financial incentives (bonuses). Through the years, I have found these reviews to be a great look-back mechanism for what I achieved (or didn’t) in the past year. In conversations with friends and colleagues though, I have found that many of us don’t like these reviews as much as I seem to. So, I thought I’d write a short post to share my point of view.

Realizing that every organization does reviews differently, encapsulating thoughts on the subject instantly starts to look like multivariate calculus to some. I distill reviews into the following measures for the individual:

  • Have you defined the right measures?
  • Are you making progress toward your long term goals?
  • Do you like your organization and your team?
  • Does your manager really care about your career?
  • Was it a good year or a bad year?
  • How did you perform compared to your peers?

These are the questions I’ve asked myself, my team, and my organization every year. Some of these are obvious questions, and others are not. For example, the measures change through different stages of our career, life-stage, and external circumstances.

For organizations on the other hand, annual reviews are a good way to recognize, reward, and retain their top-performers; and at the same time introspect whether they have the right mix of people to meet the goals of the business.

How do you think about reviews? … like em? … hate em? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Note: this is a repost from my blog, and was originally posted in Jan 2013

Mentors – your aides in career navigation

I often find myself deeply confused and unclear about navigating life and career decisions. These may range from simple things such as whether to take on a project at work?, or broader questions such as what geography do I want to be in 10 years from now?

No matter what the question, it is quite challenging to step outside of one’s own bubble and see the forest from the trees. What makes navigating these crossroads even harder is that the consequences of most such decisions may only be evaluated over long periods of time. All of us face these questions regularly, and am sure each of us has devised unique ways to find answers.

I constantly turn to my Mentors for guidance and direction when faced with multifaceted decisions. They (my Mentors) are the only way I am able to understand what is going on beyond my own life stage, industry, financial circumstances, geography, career track, and ideologies.

Surround yourself with mentors who not only share their life experiences but also challenge you to think about dimensions you may not have contemplated. Having an insight into what lies ahead, or how people in a different industry think about the same decision is invaluable.

As you think about Mentors, here are my thoughts on who to surround yourself with:

  • a peer in your industry
  • someone whose life/achievements you admire
  • a family member
  • someone in a different geography than your own
  • someone much younger than yourself
    (you are the
    present, they are the future)

Keep in mind that cultivating a Mentor/Mentee relationship takes time and diligence. You want to be selective in finding Mentors who are genuinely interested in you as an individual, and this takes time. An ideal mentor is someone you have known for atleast a couple of years, and is someone you would love to have a beer with.

Your relationship with your Mentors is a two-way street. You have to pay it forward and share as much as (and perhaps more) you wish to learn.

Think of a person without mentors as a sailor relying on astrology to cross the seas, and a person with mentors as an Admiral with the support of sophisticated GPS satellite navigation and mapping to assist him. The Admiral has a much better lay of the land and the many pitfalls and traps on the path to his goal.

Be the Admiral.

I hope you find Mentors that help make your life more interesting, and at the same time be sure to share your own perspectives with others who could benefit from your experiences.

(Special thanks to Aakrit Vaish, Dev Khare, and Tomas Tunguz for their feedback)

Reacting to competition

As an innovator, you are often ahead of the curve in introducing products and services to a market.

Then come the battery of fast following competitors who copy your capabilities, or yet others who say they’ve already got what your latest and greatest innovation is.

How you react in these situations can often make or break your leadership with customers.

Making a better product isn’t the end of the story: market it better, deliver it better, support it better, and make the usage experience better, be honest, and be human !

Take your advantage to the next level by out executing your competition across all aspects of your solution, rather than fighting with copy cats or looking at their tactics.

Competition is a good thing, and in most markets buyers will gravitate to the best overall package.

my next stop — Quova

Over the past 5 years, I have had a simple mission of enabling location awareness on the web.

At Virginia Tech, we built an early version of a location awareness platform using WiFi that culminated in a few Windows Mobile apps and my masters thesis. The basic conclusions were that application developers dont care about how you sense location, they care about location itself and context about that location. Taking it one step further, developers want a standard interface to get location, ideally agnostic of platform. Having developed SeeVT (with Dr Scott McCrickard and a great team of fellow students at VT) as a platform, I was ready for bringing my learnings to the real world and moved to Silicon Valley.

With a broader canvas at Feeva, I went to work on envisioning and creating a platform that would leverage the core infrastructure of the Internet (routers) to add the context of location to one of its fundamental information exchange protocols (HTTP). During this effort, I had the unique opportunity of sitting at the intersection of varying interests of some of the largest players on the Internet — from the access infrastructure, vendors, content owners and privacy advocates. While we managed to do accomplish a great deal, Feeva recently succumbed to financial and market timing related challenges in its way.

Looking ahead, I continue to be very enthusiastic about “location” on the web.

There is a great deal of action around location today, with the likes of Foursquare (check-ins), GroupOn (local deals), and an ever growing list of apps that leverage location awareness on iOS, Android, and the desktop web. This is also a time when the mainstream begins to take notice of what we geeks have been obsessing about for the past half decade. And that is what brings me to my next gig at Quova !

Quova is the leading provider of location (using IP addresses) to the largest providers of content and services on the Internet today. The leading providers of ecommerce, search, advertising, fraud detection, and content personalization rely on the Quova platform to understand “where” their customers come from. Quova has built its leadership position on a series of unique capabilities that allow it to “map” the internet infrastructure more accurately than other providers of similar services. Quova was recently acquired by Neustar, which operates several pieces of critical infrastructure for telecommunications and the Internet across the world.

At Quova, I am working on a team to create its next generation platform that helps our customers achieve greater accuracy ! …the effort will be a combination of algorithms, architecture, and service delivery innovations. More about this soon !

The web continues to be an area ripe for innovation, and location will play a central role over the next 5 years. Of which, I hope to create some value for our customers at Quova and beyond.