Spread A Message

The Delhi gang rape incident is still fresh in the minds of many. An intolerable mix of anger and helplessness is how I remember the incident.

A few days after that angel from the Delhi gang rape succumbed to her injuries, a friend informed me about a peace protest that was taking place here in Bombay. I was caught up with some work and was unable to make it. Regretting not being able to participate, I then thought I’d try something else to protest, to convey the message that a lot of Delhiites were trying to convey in the mind-numbing winter cold, and for days on end. Here’s what I came up with. These are posters that I made that night, and that were on my car for almost a month since, before my family asked me to take them off because they didn’t like the attention the car got when they were traveling with me.

Make India safe for women

Teach your sons to behave
Respect women

Sure it was initially very, very awkward, with people staring at my car. But the cause and the purpose of it overshadowed the uncomfortable feeling quickly. And while I was doing what anyone at the peace-protest was, this way I could  protest for longer, and I got to cover more geographical area while driving around town.

Now, this brings me to another thought. Most of the heinous crimes are usually committed by illiterate men, but instances of household violence, eve-teasing and harassment at work, etc. tend to come from the literate, well-read and even the rich and famous. And if just posters could reform anyone, the world would have already been a lot better than it is. So, what I hoped to achieve by keeping the posters on long enough, was to have connected with like-minded people whom I could work with to find a workable solution to make India safe for women.

Now, with the posters gone, I’m essentially back at the drawing board with regard to figuring out a solution, but here are a few of the encouraging responses I got while the posters were still on:

  • I was at a company’s office on invitation, to address their team on strategy. While driving out of their office building, the security guard there asked me what the posters conveyed; he then appreciated the messages and said I was doing a good thing
  • An employee at a very popular cafe, who was helping me park outside the cafe into a tight parking spot, was thrilled on reading the messages. He shook my hand vigorously while praising the messages with a ‘you’re doing the right thing’ look. I gulped at the unexpected but encouraging reaction, as I thanked him
  • A girl sitting in an adjoining taxi while I was waiting at a signal light looked pleased. She instantly sat up in her seat, almost magically pulled out a camera and took a snap
  • This one took the cake. I was stuck in peak traffic at a place where 7 roads merged at a circle  (with no signals functioning). I noticed a car zip from behind me to my right, dodge a car or two and manage to line up on my side. The driver pulled down the window, honked to draw my attention, pointed to the posters and gave me an encouraging ‘thumbs up’, before vanishing into the sea of traffic

People still care. We all care a lot about such a cause. Everyone cares about their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers. All we need, is to take some time, work together, to find a solution, and to implement it. We have to do it. No one else will.

If you feel you have workable ideas or suggestions to make our country (and other countries) safer, I’d love to hear from you. It’ll be even better if we could discuss (over coffee, via email or any which way that works for you) and see if we can come up with a workable & easily replicable solution. You can reach me at shrutinshetty@gmail.com, or on Twitter @shrutinshetty.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful and touching sand art by Hari Krishna in memory of the Angel who was the victim of the Delhi gang rape.

Herd Capital

Everyone’s aware of the herd mentality. Be it iPods, bigger and bigger cars, or even a Twitter account.
I’ve noticed similar mentalities in the VC industry. Why do we seek the safety of the herd?
Here are a few examples of it, and also the effects of the same on industries.

Herd Capital

Everyone’s aware of the herd mentality. Be it iPods, bigger and bigger cars or houses. Or even a Twitter account (which doesn’t really make sense if you’re not actually gonna use it). Hell, even I got a Twitter account that I don’t use.

And many a times, it takes a while before a smart management guru finds the method behind some of the madness.

I’ve come across a few similar instances of herd mentality in the Venture Capital industry too in the past few years.

Before I mention them, I’d just like to state here, that the views below are only mine, and I don’t, in any way mean to undermine or insult the knowledge and strategies of my fellow members of the VC community. I’m merely expressing my concern about something I’ve observed.

Herd Mentality. Hmm.

Here’s one such example that comes to mind. The textile/ garment manufacturing and associated retail industry back from 2006 through most of 2008. Companies saw several Million $ of investment, and were doubling and tripling their manufacturing capacities – spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, stitching; you name it… not to mention the number of retail outlets, adding customers (read big brands in apparel) with demands going into astronomical numbers of pieces of clothing.

And obviously all of this took the valuations of these companies pretty high. Just to give some perspective to the quantum of investing, this sector saw around 3% of the total $5.6 billion of VC investment in just the first six months of 2007. That’s roughly a whopping Rs.750 crore.!!

And then, with the collapse of the US economy, textile exporters suddenly lost one of their prime markets. What followed, quite instinctively, is that many of them came back home and focused their energies and capacities on the domestic market. A domestic market that was beyond saturated with all the domestic expansions that were funded.

That led to more n’ more discount malls springing up, running on wafer thin margins.

Then, there was the mad rush after clean n’ green businesses. Of course, there’s nothing bad about investing in technology that’ll help conserve the limited resources of the globe. But from a VC’s point of view, it’s about making money too, right? The focus on making those returns should be a fine filter through which great companies and amazing business models must pass.

However, here’s what happens with the herd mentality. Some companies with limited knowledge or capability, get invested into. And that’s only because some VC was probably not approached by the best companies in the sector yet. Or the VC did not want to miss out on the ‘gold rush’. And so they end up investing in the 20th company in the sunrise sector at a ridiculous valuation. The VC seeks the safety of the herd. Everyone’s doing it, so maybe I should too. This makes the top team at the company over-confident of their supposed capabilities. What’s worse, it makes it tougher to raise its next round of investment. Because of the already sky-high valuation it got its first round investment at.

So, we end up with:

  • Just a handful of the numerous funded companies actually adding reasonable value, globally
  • Several overconfident funded companies that just trudge along, finding it difficult to raise additional money
  • The sector very quickly becoming over-invested and going out of flavor with the VCs. This is due to high valuation expectations by other companies. This is resulting in less investment happening in creating more effective and widespread clean and green technologies and applications; something that was needed by the world on an urgent basis, to begin with

It would help if VCs invested after a well thought-out strategy rather than almost on impulse. Irrespective of whether it means missing the bus on a fad investment sector. This would result in the VC not making losses on a bad investment. At the same time, she or he could focus on understanding the sector quickly and perhaps support young companies with innovative products or solutions that they feel might significantly help preserve the planet. Instead of dumping money into just another solar-cell manufacturer. Or another wind turbine manufacturer, or something like that.

In the end, all this could be herd mentality, or perhaps even the wisdom of the crowds.

Only time and lots of investing will tell.

[Again, these are just my views on it, being strongly based on my belief that known and stable businesses or mass producing of products should be funded more by debt; and the risk investing in paradigm-shifting technologies and solutions should be left to VCs. I would like to get the views of promoters and fellow VCs on this. In the end, it’s all a part of our learning process.]

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