private boom v/s public gloom

how startups need to adapt in such a capital cycle (India)

August 2019

the India market is in a unique spot for early stage tech entrepreneurs, at least in recent history. with this post, I’ve attempted to explain the disconnects in the market, and a shared a few pointers for founders on how to navigate in the short-term.

public markets are cautioned by a slowdown in consumer spending across many sectors; banks & nbfc’s are going through a prolonged correction cycle; and between the India/Pak + USA/China + UK/Brexit geo-political complexities – there is enough caution in the winds globally.

Apr to Aug 2019 MMI data from Tickertape.in
relative scale legend: Green is Greed, Red is fear

here is some evidence: auto, garments, FMCG, real-estate.

what might this lead to? —> consumers will likely delay non-essential spends, enterprises will likely delay capex & try to reduce opex. effectively, purchases & upgrade cycles will be delayed. there are many spiralling effects to this which are unpredictable even to the most sophisticated market observers.

on the contrary, private markets (at least in tech) are at a new local-maxima of optimism. Seed & Series-A rounds are closing faster than I’ve witnessed in the past 5-6 years. Repeat/successful founders are raising outsized first cheques, and Series-B+ rounds are happening at rich valuations! … almost as if private tech investors aren’t even looking at what is happening in the public markets & the global macro.

to a large extent, I get why private tech investors do not worry about short term pessimism in public markets – they are backing entrepreneurs & ideas that will take shape and grow over the next 18-24 months – hoping things will turn for a positive very soon.

for Founders, here is what worries me

  1. when you raise capital, there is an urge to rack up costs – team, infrastructure, marketing, etc.
  2. one or two quarters in, you will start to feel the pressure to show “hockey stick growth” to your oft impatient investors
  3. in a negative sentiment cycle in public markets, there is little you can do to change that, despite our best intentions & strategies.

public market sentiment is a real-time reflection on the broader economy (beyond the tech bubble), and when/how that turns and what brings it back is an N dimensional multi-variate calculus problem. Ultimately, both markets are connected, and so when public markets are in crises, private markets won’t be left far behind.

as Entrepreneurs, what should you consider doing?

  1. manage your fixed costs carefully
  2. look for structural ways to extend your runway
  3. set expectations with your investors/board — have that tough conversation sooner rather than later (the good ones will be supportive/accommodating)
  4. get laser focused on quality metrics over vanity metrics
  5. some companies/products thrive in such environments, if you are one of them, double down and get more aggressive (but this is rare)

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but you have to regulate your behaviour when the external environment has fundamentally changed – and for most of born in/after the 1980’s we haven’t really seen a true recession in recent memory. If we end up in one, don’t let that kill your startup!

(discount-led products/services could see an artificial surge in usage, but that could be a double-whammy to your burn rates & possibility of surviving the cycle)

thx to Mona, Tarun, Sai, Aakrit, and Soaib for feedback

College costs twice as much as it did 10 years ago

Earlier today, I started to wonder how expense it has become to go to college these days. As Mona and I were chatting, we conjectured that the increases were tiny if we were to consider cumulative inflation over the same period.

Best way to find out was to dig into the data, so here we go:

Chart 1: Tuition fees data from Virginia Tech & UC Berkeley


Well, it is pretty interesting to see that VT increased its In-state tuition from $2537 in 2003 to $5254 in 2011; an increase of 107%.

During the same period UC Berkeley went from $2928 in 2003 to $6696 in 2011; clocking a whopping increase of 128%.

Chart 2: Wondering what the percentage increases were year over year ?


Chart 2 reveals a sudden spike of 27% in UC Berkeley in-state tuition due to the State of California going bankrupt, and the reduction of state support to the institute.

On average though, both programs saw double digit % increases at the start of the decade and sustained a stable 5+% increase every year.

And what about inflation?
While, I am not an expert in inflation, a few Google searches brought me to Inflationdata.com’s Inflation Calculator which helps you check the cumulative inflation over a given period of time.

Cumulative inflation
over this (2003 to 2011) period is 22.3%

Therefore, the cost of college has accelerated at 4X-5X when compared to inflation.

In the Information Age when content wants to be free, it is quite surprising to see the cost of education continue to skyrocket.

PS: Yes, I know the distinction between information and knowledge; and do not mean to discount the value of good teaching.

excess capacity helps accelerate innovation

Historically, the supply curve of utility services (electricity, public transport, water supply) has trailed the demand curve by a matter of several years (if not decades). From an economic standpoint, there is a clear alignment with the basic principles of micro-economics and the rules of supply and demand.

Why build excess capacity when there is no clear demand ?

But, for a moment let’s think about the excess build up of fiber connectivity and internet infrastructure before the bubble burst in 2000. Following the episode of gloom, the surplus of capacity across the globe helped initiate a wave of innovations that would not have been attempted without easy (and cheap) access to infrastructure.

I would argue that Web 2.0, voice over IP, peer-to-peer technologies, and more recently cloud computing wouldn’t have come about this rapidly.

So, the question that comes to mind is: 

“what is the role of abundant infrastructure in the growth of innovative applications of a fundamental technology ?”

Clearly a complex question to address, but I will try nonetheless. To do justice to the topic, I will break this down into the following posts (as follow ups to this one):

1) what is infrastructure for innovation?

2) who is responsible for building infrastructure? (can companies do this?)

3) when do we end up in situations of excess/abundance ?

4) what are the tell signs? 

5) role of Investors? (or investor community in general) 

6) does excess infrastructure really help accelerate innovation?

If you specific questions in addition to these, please add your comments and I will try ton address them as well.

While I am not a planning or forecasting expert, this topic is close to my heart as a systems designer who thinks about systems at scale, and systems that have tremendously interconnected fates.