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)

the curse of 10%

a 10 percent improvement means that you’re basically doing the same thing as everybody else. You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly.

the curse of 10%

Larry Page succinctly described, in the above quote, the 10% growth syndrome that companies get into and miss out on doing great things.

Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely challenging to run a large company and motivate the team to work towards a common goal of 10% growth, but at the same time our business leaders owe a debt to society to attempt great things with the resources at their disposal

I hope more business leaders and politicians would see the roles the way Larry Page does.

You can see the entire interview with Larry Page in Wired mag here.

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.

startup culture — where does it come from ?

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One of the most mysterious elements of startup culture is question that Naval Ravikant posed in his tweet above.

So, where does it really come from ?

Culture is mostly intangible at the earliest stages, and tends to be dictated by the relationship amongst the founders (or the founding team). In my time at Feeva, and my startup project at Virginia Tech, the culture of the group could primarily be described as a function of the relationship the group shared among themselves.

At the same time, culture morphs at various stages of team size and the product lifecycle of a startups offering. In the very beginning, everything pretty much happens around the one and only conference table (if you have one that is) and all decisions around hiring, strategy, fund-raising, marketing, tactics, etc are made. I think this changes at somewhere around 15 people or so, when the company needs to start to institute a basic abstraction of decision making by a few for the collective. This evolution in a young companies life (or need for change) is a seminal moment for the long term culture of the company.

And naturally, a company and its organization continues to morph at 50, 250, 500, 1000 employees and upwards and onwards! It is critical for the founders/founding-team to think about their culture at each of these stages to define how they want to make decisions and conduct business. In the long run, the relationship between the founders/founding-team really drives the culture of the company.

There are umpteen examples of this: Google (with its college campus lifestyle), Facebook (the hacker way), Twitter (and its emergent chaos), my own experience at Feeva (though not public), and several others out there.

what do you think?

teachers will soon be celebrities

That technology is changing the way we think of education is a fact that few can deny, especially in 2012. As we look ahead 10 years from now, one potential implication of the use of technology and the break-down of traditional institutions of learning, such as universities, could be the emergence of the superstar teacher.

What do I mean by the superstar (or celebrity) teacher?

Imagine for a moment, that everyone student in the world who is interested in learning about a particular topic is able to access content created by the best teacher for that subject. Students in Vietnam tuning into Physics lectures by Einstein; or taking philosophy classes from Daniel Kahneman. Daniel Kahneman instantly goes from being able to teach 500 students over 10 years, to teaching 50000 students every year !

Hard to imagine? Dr Sebastian Thrun of Stanford University delivered an AI class to 160,000 students in the Fall of 2011.

The best teachers of any, and every subject in the world have a massive opportunity to reach each and every student interested in learning from them, through the use of simple broadcasting tools. This will give rise to a new class of celebrities, teachers !

Teachers are no longer required to restrict themselves to teaching primarily at elite institutions to have a great impact on society, but rather aim to reach a global audience with their product. This also changes the fundamental economics of education and the opportunity for outstanding compensation for outstanding educators !

To wrap, I want to add that Dr Sebastian Thrun recently resigned from Stanford to launch his own platform to deliver his courses — complete with lectures, grading, and classrooms. Salman Khan of the Khan Academy is another prominent example !

The celebrity teacher will enjoy the same kind of following, fame, and fortune as leading Hollywood artists. Sebastian is one of the first celebrity teachers !

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.