And I Need To Know This Why??? Analysis Paralysis, or a bit of fun?

5 Mar


I’m an analyst/ researcher at heart – therefore my respect for and interest in statistics is almost par for the course. (I like to remember what George Bernard Shaw once said “It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.”)

I also ofcourse completely subscribe to Homer Simpson’s view that “Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that.” :) ; or, “There are liars, damn liars and statistics”

Having said that, some of the analysis I see nowadays is just…well…plain…bizarre. Some recent examples of analyses that i came across in the past few days, and, IMHO, helps very few people (this is a bit like the bear of little brain) are listed below. Even though many of the se are pointless, you have to admit most do arouse curiosity, and are fun!:

ellen selfie

a) On the Great Selfie Revolution – Ofcourse, the stats on this have probably been turned on their head post last night’s “most retweeted ever” selfie by Ellen Degeneres. But, someone did an analysis of what how selfies differ by countries and what they portray about the selfie takers (what are they called? selfers?). Click for Selfie Trends .

b) A similar one, on Love – as seen by Facebook. Excerpt from this analysis – For example, two people who are about to enter a relationship interact more and more on Facebook in the weeks leading up to making their coupled status official – up until 12 days before the start of the relationship, when they share an average of 1.67 posts per day. And this helps us….how?

c) A map of the world showing the places in blue where there are no Mcdonalds! Wonder where 3 year olds have (cheap-ish) birthday parties?
Mcdonald's country

d) It is not only surveys that show bizarre analysis – a look at some “weird facts” will convince you that some people have all the time in the world!
di) On average, there are 333 squares of toilet paper on a roll.

dii) The short-term memory capacity for most people is between five and nine items or digits. This is one reason that phone numbers were kept to seven digits for so long.

diii) The hundred billionth crayon made by Crayola was Periwinkle Blue.

div) In Saudi Arabia, a woman reportedly may divorce her husband if he does not keep her supplied with coffee.

dv) 1 out of 350,000 Americans get electrocuted in their life.

e) Ok, this one should interest a lot of folks – just wondering at the “usability” of this piece of research (beyond performance anxiety of course!) So, on Fast Sex !

f) And, perhaps, fittingly, as a sequel (but atleast this I can see being used by the Spirits companies) : Places with Highest vodka consumption.

g) Since we touched upon love, can families be far behind? This is a list of Kickstarter Funding stats. (And, just in case you were wondering, it is topical because Kickstarter just announced that they have reached a billion dollars in funding). An excerpt says : there have been 13 backers named dad, five named grandpa, 17 named grandma and 18 named Mom. “Clearly, moms are the best,” the post adds. Wish my kids would read this – atleast they would know that while moms are evil, they fund your harebrained (or not) schemes more than anyone else!

h) More factoids:
hi) 27% of female lottery winners hid their winning ticket in their bras.

hii) 96% of people put the peanut butter on first when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

hiii) A study revealed that men that were born with a low birth weight were less likely to get married.

hiv) Your statistical chance of being murdered is one in twenty thousand.

hv) Two out of three people sleep on their sides, and they’re about equally divided as to WHICH side. Of the remainder, slightly more sleep on their stomachs than sleep

i) More maps: To show the insularity of the erstwhile British Raj, a map showing in red places in the world that drive on the Right Side of the Road

LHS drive Credit

j) And, another to show the insularity of Americans :), one that shows in red the places that don’t use the metric system

metric Credit

k) An analysis that shows the most popular baby names in every state in the U.S. Again, don’t know why people would want to know (unless it was to figure out which name to avoid), but wish someone would do a similar analysis in India – just for fun!

l) I get a kick out of this – even though it’s very random! This map shows the world if all countries with shorelines were to sink, and only the landlocked ones to remain.

landlocked Credit

m) For writers/ wannabe authors, who are NOT early birds hoping to get early worms, here’s a beautifully non conclusive piece of analysis on sleep patterns vs. creative outputs. As the result vaguely states, “The most important caveat of all, of course, is that there are countless factors that shape a writer’s creative output, of which sleep is only one — so this isn’t meant to indicate any direction of causation, only to highlight some interesting correlations: for instance, the fact that (with the exception of outliers who are both highly prolific and award-winning, such as like Bradbury and King) late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds”.

n) More weird facts
ni) “Ancient Egyptians shaved off their eyebrows to mourn the deaths of their cats” OK, we love our pets!

nii) “The bubbles in Guinness Beer sink to the bottom rather than float to the top like all other beers. No one knows why” Next time you get your pint, do NOT drown it in one big gulp – please watch the movement of the bubbles!

A related one (just in case you are not into beer, but bubblies) : If you put a raisin in a glass of champagne, it will keep floating to the top and sinking to the bottom.

niii) Jupiter’s core is in fact made of a non-metal, but due to the immense pressure inside Jupiter the core has become a metal. This metal is hydrogen.

niv) A fullgrown bear can run as fast as a horse.

nv) A hamlet is a village without a church and a town is not a city until it has a cathedral.

o) A map showing the world’s most photographed places. Start your bucket list NOW!

photographed Credit

p) More random facts:
pi) A lion’s roar can be heard from five miles away.

pii) The reason firehouses have circular stairways is from the days of yore when the engines were pulled by horses. The horses were stabled on the ground floor and figured out how to walk up straight staircases.

piii) A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why.

piv) The ashes of the average cremated person weigh nine pounds.

pv) The fingerprints of koala bears are virtually indistinguishable from those of humans, so much so that they could be confused at a crime scene.

q) A map showing where the highest number of sky scrapers are found
skyscrapers Credit

A few not so happy pieces of analyses and, you will not, sadly, that India plays a large part here):

r) Now this is atleast worth tracking, though the data quality seems poor. The good part – there is a rise in people reporting, the sad part – the actual number of incidences are not known :(

s) On Underweight kids :(

t) And, maybe, related, a map of the world showing population distribution – More People Live inside the circle than outside it!population circle Credit

u) More bizarre facts:
ui) Ralph Lauren’s original name was Ralph Lifshitz.

uii) Isaac Asimov is the only author to have a book in every Dewey-decimal category.

uiii) Approximately sixty circus performers have been shot from cannons. At last report, thirty-one of these have been killed.

uiv) The Boeing 767 aircraft is a collection of 3.1 million parts from 800 different suppliers around the world: fuselage parts from Japan, center wing section from Southern California, flaps from Italy.

uv) In the kingdom of Bhutan, all citizens officially become a year older on New Year’s Day.

By the way, even the Economist does these does these strange analyses – they do it well of course

You may have noticed, none of the above is about sports – but, when I googled “useless stats analysis” – most are about sports, including this website that says as its header: Written by sports fans with minds analytical enough to try wacky stuff but not analytical enough to make money doing it.

v) Facts on supernatural stuff:
vi) Paranormal experts say people reach the peak of their ability to see ghosts when they’re 7 years old.

vii) Someone on Earth reports seeing a UFO every three minutes. In the U.S., reported sightings are most likely to occur in July, at 9 p.m. or 3 a.m.

viii) Someone within 200 miles of your town claims to have had direct contact with a monster, ghost or other unexplainable being.

And some others…
viv) In 1950, only 7% of Americans dyed their hair, now 75% do.

vv) You blink 10,000,000 times every year.

vvi)46% of violence on T.V. occurs in cartoons.

vvii) Only about 5% of people dream in color.

vviii) If a girl owns one barbie, she most likely owns seven.

vix) Your left hand does an average of 56% of your typing.

vx) It takes an average person seven minutes to fall asleep on an average night.

( Credit. If you want more, click here, and here)

And finally, a) something that just came up – it’s interesting stuff…Note, Mumbai tops list of 10 least expensive cities!

and b) a piece of analysis that the cricket crazed Indians are looking at over and over again since yesterday! :(


Come on, Own Up, it IS your Monkey after all!

20 Feb


Classic situation at home: regular domestic help off sick, temp one hired. Big clash with housekeeper – about who should be doing what. I ask housekeeper/ nanny – why a certain thing didn’t happen – she said “Lakshmi didn’t do it”. Lakshmi ofcourse said – “I thought Tulasi amma would do it”

This one atleast I get, it is maybe my fault for not delineating responsibility squarely and clearly; and definitely Tulasi’s for not doing the same (she’s been with me long enough to know what her role is – individual as well as supervisory)

What I don’t get, and I see very often now, is this:
When we were growing up, school was where we “learnt” everything – The 3 Rs ofcourse (and later STEM), but also running, basketball, cricket, singing, dance, theatre, art, debating, etc etc. School tenure was shorter (8 to 1 pm I think), we came back by 2 pm, ate a hearty lunch, slept, played till the street lights came on, did H.W., ate again and slept. Nostalgia inducing though this itinerary probably is, the point is not about the simplicity of that era; it is about what school was responsible for. I did NO tuitions, NO extra dance class, NO drama class, NO tennis/ badminton class etc. Everyone did/ tried all activities, some showed natural inclination towards one rather than the other – and then were in general trained harder on those activities than the others were.

Cut to now. There is higher exposure to the kids in terms of avenues of “co curricular” activities (by the way, in our times, it was called “extra curricular” – the shift in terminology is symbolic, but only in talk, not walk!) and attendant competitive events where they get to test themselves, benchmark against others and (presumably) get egged on to perform better…But, the discovery of talent, as well as training/ honing – is ALL done at home! So, most kids start some form of classes after school from when they turn 3-4: craft/ art/ tennis/ keyboard/ guitar/ tennis/ basketball/ swimming/ theatre/ dance/ rock climbing/ fencing/ skating. And most also rotate all these around – so, a) kids do a different activity everyday, their calendar post school therefore being chock full; and b) they get “bored” of these activities sooner or later, and so hop skip and jump to another..then another…then another and so on.

Implied here is the obsessive nature of parents today, and maybe inability/ unwillingness to give their kids free time and/ or keep them entertained (me being a big culprit too) but again, that is NOT the point being made here.

The point is, if the kids are “learning”/ “honing” everything at home, what role does the school play? Admittedly, “education” nowadays has changed form – while in our time, it was “what you know”; it now is “can you find out/ solve” (thanks to the internet, and, google :) ). Having said that, should schools not be the place where they are TAUGHT tennis, swimming, singing, dancing, drawing etc etc — rather than just the place to “aggregate” existing talents and then display them in competitive events – thereby earning laurels for the school?

So, with reference to an old/ classic HBR article, whose monkey is it? The school’s, right? Then why oh why is it being transferred to the parents?

Ofcourse we see this in the corporate scenario – I wrote an article a long time ago, on this, describing scenarios where the monkey keeps leaping onto diverse peoples’ backs.

Links to leadership styles in a way – Are you a “doer leader”, a “delegator leader”, a “shirker leader” (then actually you’re not a leader :) ), the “team work leader”, the “wannabe leader” or the “pretend leader” :)..sounds familiar?

I do this all the time to my husband – my taxes get paid by him, the garage door when stuck gets opened by him, exotic chicken and lamb dishes when guests are coming for dinner get cooked by him. (Wait, that’s division of labour, not monkey passing!)

We are seeing a great example in Indian Politics currently – blame game, responsibility shirking, mud slinging, disruptiveness. And, in the context of monkeys, and politics, a cartoon I love – enjoy!


The Unpredictable Nature of Virality

10 Feb


My household was in mourning on Sunday. Reason, the kids got up and saw that this year’s most popular game, flappy birds, was being taken down by the creator.

Looks like the boy is throwing away 50 million downloads and some 50K in ad revenue, coz he’s overwhelmed by the buzz (both positive, and negative) and wants his simpler life back. (Can’t say I blame him!). Unless ofcourse it’s a clever marketing ploy.

Really makes one think about this internet-spawned phenomenon of “virality”.

I googled for “how to make a video viral”. Guess how many hits it got? 306 million! (AND it auto-completed before i was halfway there – with other suggestions being – viral Facebook page (241 mil), viral Facebook app (108 mil), how to viral tweet 136 mil.)

Not only is this therefore a marketer’s dream goal – to have a video/ ad go viral (see some top videos of last year embedded roughly midway down this post) , it’s also their biggest nightmare obviously. We all know about the negative/ reputation busting tweets/ videos/ posts that went viral – some of them mentioned in this earlier post of mine.

Incidentally, I had posted a blog roughly a year ago on viral posts, and facebook etiquette regarding reactions to them. It mention some viral videos of that time.

So many PR agencies and marketing departments now make a living out of “listening” to what is being said about their brands out in the digital media landscape. Some 4 – 5 years ago, we spent many days and months attempting to educate clients on how this could be a “proactive” research tool – i.e., people mentioning your brands give you this mound of data that is attitudes/ usage/ behavioral etc – and all unsolicited. But, that use case for social media found far lower traction than the one which was “monitoring” for reputation protection. Basically, the Dell Hell/ Progressive etc PR disasters had instilled so much fear in people’s hearts that they wanted to be on top of any negative, “potentially viral” opinion. My company EmPower actually made a living out of this monitoring of media.

Even more than corporates, we had governments antsy – we had executed monitoring assignments for advisors of kingdoms and governments in the MENA region who were really scared by the social media trigger of the Arab Spring revolution.

Everyone asked us – can you predict what will be viral? That was the million dollar question – how can we ensure that we are not caught napping when a Tahrir happens, or United breaking guitar video happens.

And, I have to say, while we did a pretty good job of predictive analytics in general, this – predicting precisely what content where will go viral, and how, was completely beyond us!

After all, who in their right minds would think that The Fox would be the viral story of late last year!

Moral of the story – don’t overthink this. Controversy does help (banning – witness Sodastream Superbowl commercial), so do spoofs, but most often it is just pure unadulterated luck!

Finally, I think some of you will like a look at this : It lists 10 videos that went viral in the pre internet era!.

And, following a thread running through many of my recent blogs, and a story that has caught the imagination of India at large, this is a hilarious spoof on a much maligned-yet-watched TV show every night, interviewing the hottest young star of Indian Politics; that is now nearly viral. For those of you who havn’t watched it, enjoy!

I think the flappy bird issue also highlights that of success – how people handle it; and of simplicity – and how now many people activity desire a simpler life than the one they have. So good, more food for next posts :).

On Flappy Bird, my kids heaved huge sighs of relief when they figured nothing was happening to it if they’d downloaded it already! Their current high score is 6 – what’s yours?

Leadership Change – Dealing With It

8 Feb


So Microsoft finally decided who their CEO should be, and all of the world has an opinion on it. Ofcourse, so does all of India – most are proud, some contemplative.

I haven’t come across a lot on what the employees of Microsoft (and the erstwhile Nokia) think, but it’s a good time to ruminate how leadership change affects us, and how we should ideally deal with it.

Let me start with an example from home – our kids keep having these discussion frequently on “who’s the boss of the house” – and, atleast for them, its a clearly established hierarchy with role definitions crystal clear. So, Riddhi is the boss of Achchu, Mamma is the boss of all kids’ activities and behavior, Babba has veto power – and so on. One of the things that changed this year was that Manoj became the boss of Riddhi’s studies (I was part-time doing this job earlier for whatever it was worth).
At nearly the end of the year – her grades have slipped drastically, and she is now an avowed and vocal hater of all things “studies”.

Now, Manoj, who typically is the first one to read all my blogs, will argue that it is the onset of teenage/ maybe friends dynamics/ too much interest in extra-curricular stuff/ a mean mother .. etc, that is responsible.

I agree, there probably will not be any correlation – probably just a series of unfortunate events. But, there IS a before-after situation here, if not a cause-effect one. Time for introspection for all of us.

I saw/ see this when my company EmPower got bought over by a large company. The biggest thing that worried us founders was how our 400 strong people would take this small-to-big change. The advantages were obvious – bigger brand name/ better training etc institutionalised resources available/ better growth prospects since wider pool……

Over 2 years post the acquisition – I still meet many folks who say – “Those were the days – sigh!”. Now, bit of nostalgia is expected, but I think this is more than a “desire-to-please”/ “glorify older times” phenomenon.

After all, between a very flexible/ agile and woman-at-the-top family style leadership culture, and a large process oriented delegatory style, there is a world of difference, some good and some bad. Also, I think what happens with a startup is that the senior leadership joins BECAUSE they like the startup culture – they’ve largely been there and done that in larger orgs. And, for the younger/ fresh inductees, it’s their first job, so their first experience with any form of organisational leadership culture, and so they kind of grow up knowing no other. Both cases make for lower adaptability to the opposite end of the spectrum. Net net, while a lot of our people are still at the company, I see many instances of those sighing for the older ways – and then there are those ofcourse that have quit (and still talk about their time at EmPower :) ).

Not an unusual situation – I have seen, and am a part of many alum networks of companies that meet quite often (Gillette alum, EmPower alum, XGB to name a few)- so there IS a common affinity that exists.

By the way, to refer again to the companies I started this post with, some snips of my friends’ walls at the Nokia-Microsoft deal last year exemplify this as well :

nokia msft

“The shuttle moves on from helsinki to seattle. The only difference is not the ride but the crew would change and its interesting to see whats in store. …. Nokia the brand and culture still remains close to my heart.”

“So, this is what it feels like to witness the end of an era!”

“Had once told someone that its gonna end up as a case study either way. Never thought it’d be this soon”

And this article from leading Indian Financial Outlet was posted again and again..

To take a closer look at some common issues to consider regarding a leadership change:

When leadership change is a natural/ organic process – retirement/ voluntary switching CEO: While one is expected, and the other maybe not so, both probably have probably a scenario where the company is doing OK from a performance/ morale etc perspective. The question here is – continue with an insider/ try and preserve what is already happening; or opt for completely new blood/ change things around a bit.

While there is merit in the status-quo perspective, in most cases, influx of a new personality almost naturally implies new thinking – in many cases, because the new leader would NOT feel like (maybe even be,) a true leader if he did not leave his own imprint on the organization. I think it makes sense actually – I remember discussing succession at our company post integration with the larger organisation, and at the suggestion of one name with the defense that he would be able to maintain status quo, someone saying – no, status quo actually means regression as the world will move ahead!

Witness the number of changes that happen – even to hardcore strategic moves, when leadership changes! I was discussing unification of data (in the context of Master Data Management) with an ex Bankam employee, and he said that when he was there, Bankam tried to unify all their diverse legacy systems (a problem that faces most organisations – only, it existed in a higher degree in BankAm as BankAm is basically a conglomerate of many bought out companies). He said he quit BankAm after 2 years on this project; it’s been 7 years, and the project is still not done. One of the large reasons is – that there have been many leadership changes, and each leader has then accorded a different priority to the project!

Ofcourse, if the company has not been doing all that well, it is even more imperative to shake things around. In fact, this is one of the apprehensions regarding Nadella’s appointment – that the company required more newness – while Nadella signifies a bit of a “status quo” approach.

Incidentally, the other fear that public opinion has regarding Nadella is the fact that he has asked for Bill Gates to be brought back – this, while maybe is good for the company, may just prove not so good for N himself due to the Powerful founder overshadows CEO doubt.

Having said the above, imminent leadership change is very much the flavour of the moment in the Indian political scene. Two oldtime rivals are fielding “new” faces – one, the scion of the old almost royal political family, the other an extreme right wing conservative yet modern-in-his-approach emerging regional leader. And both these parties have now been challenged by a virtual upstart, a “common man”. It’s the battle of Namo vs. Raga vs. AAP – and we have to see who wins. Exciting times ahead for all!

ceo change

And oh btw, as I was publishing this, I came upon this amusing post on what would happen if Arvind Kejriwal was CEO of Microsoft. Enjoy :)

The New Age Crime: Advertising for the sake of it

29 Jan

Hanes Petal Outdoors

Driving down the streets of Bangalore, I was shocked (not as in mortified/ embarrassed – but as in ohmygod, WHO would DO that, and WHY!) at the sight of big hoardings showing the Hanes Bras with petal technology.

Now, it is a good message – not brilliant, and certainly not unique either in terms of proposition, or creative execution; but certainly topical offering (seamless yet concealing ) and visually eye catching.

What had me foxed was choice of medium – outdoor!. Not, because bras are so called “stay in closet” categories by the way! I like what is happening to lingerie – even in a relatively conservative country like India. But, because the media was so not “optimum” for the Target audience. Now, the Hanes brand is definitely targeting the “SEC A” – the upper class in income/ education and socio economics. Even there, if you were to further segment, it would be the modern/ urban/ relatively younger ones. These folks are ALL connected digitally – intact, many of them order everything online – including lingerie – because of some interesting new e- commerce retailers (which are also quite often dealers for Hanes themselves). These girls/ women are NOT likely to buy a brand because they see it outdoors. Even if, as in this case, the hoarding is placed on a road which contains a shopping mall, and therefore, may be intended to trigger brand recall.

Everyone knows that media is getting fragmented – and ofcourse, digital is increasing in importance. Many big CPG brands are actually thinking “digital first” (See Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G saying digital is first thought, and in India, Pepsi allocating 20% of the IPL budget this year to digital ). (The only reason I have incorporated this link is because Deepika is a great friend! name dropping at its worst, yeah!)

Oh btw, the P&G – Sochi ad referred to in the article above is this:

On Sochi, since that is the other advertising thread running along, I thought the BBC trailer was a bit over the top – eventhough it kind of looked Middle-Earth-From-Lords-Of-the-Rings-ish…What did you think of it?

The other ad that I thought is a bit over the top, just because of the sheer generic nature/ and I-think-flop-attempt-at-laddering is the Axe Superbowl one. Axe and Peace??? huh? (OK, Coke and happiness I kinda get; even IBM and Smarter Planet – but Axe and Peace…nyaahhh..)

That ofcourse brings me to the most awaited advertising event of the U.S. year – the Superbowl. A google search on “Super Bowl 2014″ btw, showed me 1.6 billion hits!!!! wow!) At $4bil a pop, here’s a look at who’s buying what.

I saw a few interesting articles on this:

- The top 10 most shared super bowl ads of all time

- The banning, for the second time, of Sodastream’s ad with Scarlett Johanssen. Apparently, Fox rejected it because they are scared of the sponsor Pepsi. It also looks as if a sure fire way to get viral is to get banned (at last count, the video had been viewed upwards of 7 mil times)

- The fact that the Superbowl, while arguably the most watched show of the year in the U.S., it is not so internationally (well, duh)

And finally, what Google autocomplete says about some top advertising brands – funny!

LGBT advertising Sec 377

I do think that the advertising that hit India when the Supreme court upheld the questionnable Sec 377 (On LGBT rights) was great – though in some cases, remarkably similar (I have also embedded one Coke clip from Russia – given the Putin government’s anti gay laws, there is immense pressure on Coke and other sponsors to boycott the Sochi Olympics!)

Some fresher perspectives were provided by my all time favorite outdoors advertiser – Amul (and another all time favorite though controversial advertiser Gap)

Amul Gap LGBT

On the subject of Amul, I think their latest take on a highly awaited but turned out to be damp squib interview by an Indian politician is, as usual, brilliant! Enjoy:

amul ad

Shoot the Messenger, the Media or the Originator? Social Media can do Good..

21 Jan

Last weekend saw the tragic death of a fairly high profile socialite/ businesswoman/ minister’s wife in India. Cause of death is still uncertain – but it followed a fairly venomous yet convoluted debacle on twitter, followed by retractments/ clarifications by husband and wife on Facebook.

A long debate followed – on the role of social media, twitter specially, in her death. Leading newspaper Hindustan Times actually carried a poll on whether Twitter was to blame for Ms. Tharoor’s death. (Results: 52% agreed that SM was to blame for her death!)

I say this is BS (pardon the french) – all that Social Media has done is allowed everyone an easily accessible/ easy to use/ free/ and increasingly popular medium for self expression – the presence of this medium in no way controls emotions/ behavior – except ofcourse allowing for an increasing need for sharing these emotions and behavior (and yes, in consequence making these same emotions/ behavior more share-worthy). It cannot be held responsible for what may be infidelity (except maybe give a means for communication of infidelity), and by no means is it a trigger for someone to pull a figurative trigger on oneself!

A now fairly viral article agrees with me – it looks like traditional media (read print and TV journalists) are those making the strongest allegations that Social Media was to blame; while, interestingly, post this article, Social Media is loudly saying that traditional media was to blame! (the lady had reached out to many journalists to “tell her story” – most were too busy to grant her a hearing!)

What Social Media is doing, is putting the onus on most of us to learn some new etiquette, and a newer/ maturer way of handling it. Celebs are most vulnerable (An interesting related article on Social Media savvy politicians mentions an interesting website Politwoops – check it for some fun stuff!). By the way, an Analysis of twitter behaviour for Mr. and Mrs. Tharoor shows that the politician was far more savvy than his wife.

There is a lot of good that Social Media is doing – look at its impact on Healthcare, with advocacy groups on most conditions bringing support and relief to millions of patients to state one. Or, as an example, my ex co founder’s initiative Let’s Do Some Good , and my husband’s proposed body for investing in Uttarakhand (yes yes, shameless plug!) that she is primarily promoting on Facebook. Or, just the pleasure that Facebook gives to the silver surfers – my mom and aunt being two avid proponents! It is really silly to state that the medium or the messenger is responsible for people’s stupidities.

I could go on and on, but just as I was writing this (reasonably impassioned) piece, I came across a new short film made in collaboration with…yes…you guessed it – Dove! It’s the perfect ending methinks to underline this message – the medium is not to blame! It can be used for a lovely reason as well…enjoy….

StartUp Dilemma 8 – What’s the Magic Number of Founders?

16 Jan

Entrepreneurship is a bit like marriage – you get married (willingly that is) either because you really like a person and would like to spend the rest of your life with him/ her; OR (seen less often in the western world, but very common in India) because you feel that this is the right time to get married (for whatever reason – biological clock and the need to guarantee perpetuity of race/ the desire to not live alone/ the pressure society is putting on you to find your soul mate/…).

Entrepreneurship also, very often hits either because you have an idea/ (or many ideas) that you really think will allow you to rule the world; or, because you want to start ‘something” on your own (“something” is undefined – and you are open to trying many of those). (Click here to read an earlier post on the right age to be an entrepreneur, and some segments of those!).

To take the corollary further, choosing co-founders is also a bit like marriage – you basically either know someone really well already, and are used to doing things with them – so they become a natural part of whatever you embark upon. Or, you kind of mount a hunt for someone who has what you need – it could be the code/ the BD contacts or skills/ the Ops knowledge/ the charisma/ and ofcourse the money!

So this questions often gets asked – how many co-founders should I have? Should I have any at all? How many is too much? And, how do I go about looking for founders.

Founder fin

Sometimes, (rarely though) this meeting happens a bit by chance – like it did for us. Debjani had a skeleton of an idea, her boss said – go for it; she knew Shoma of old, and said – OK, you want to try working from home/ in your pyjamas for a few days an hour, Shoma said yes; they figured they needed someone who India better, asked a neighbour if she would join, Asha said – not me, ask my friend (me); I was at a loose end and just getting bored with parenthood, agreed to meet Debjani and Shoma for a coffee (was in a hurry as had left 2 year old at home), listened to “idea” for 5 mins, figured there was no downside, wrote their numbers on the back of a tissue paper; Debjani figured now that we had 2 in India she needed one in the U.S. – asked her old friend Kyung if he would join – he was at a loose end too, said yes – EmPower was born!

And, for obvious reasons, while it turned out well for us, that is so not what you should bank on (co-founders falling into your lap pretty much).

So, start from the top – solo? (Obvious advantages – you are sole master, can control your destiny – have no one to blame, and ofcourse, get to take all your winnings home…) Actually, there are both pros and cons to being a solo founder, but in balance, it is better to have a team than not.

I can recall one successful Indian entrepreneur in the analytics field who did it alone (actually roped in his wife later) – but he got many advisors and early angel investors – and kept adding to his core management team who were all equity holders that helped him build his company – he’s done it really well. But he I think is a minority. (Though, to be fair, some examples of successful companies with one founder are Dell,, Facebook, plentyoffish)

Two? Sure, gives you a shoulder to lean/ cry on, a sounding board, and added expertise (in general, one is client facing, and the other is the techie/ content person). But, what if you have completely divergent views on a critical topic?

Hence, as a tie breaker – Three? Looks like VCs prefer 3. An old, but interesting article shows empirical evidence for the magic number to be —- yeah yeah it’s stat so it has to be weird —– 2.09 :). Also, this article on the “unicorn club” – i.e., those with Billion dollar valuations in recent years, seems to show that 3 is the magic number…

I agree – 2 to 3 is a good number. But, in our case, 4 worked well mainly because we were a cross border organisation – the market was primarily in the U.S., and development in India. So, both geographies needed the shoulders to cry on/ lean on – and sometimes bitch to, (about the other 2 :) ).

Ofcourse, the more founders you add, the more “noise” from fighting interpersonal battles emerges, and ofcourse, your share of the pie keeps getting diluted.

On this point, what do u do when u feel one is not pulling weight, or if you have a clash. Most startup failures are attributable to founder clash. Zuckerberg’s arguably ruthless treatment of his “co-founders” has been made famous in the movie The Social Network (watch this clip at 1.23-ish). Most people suggest a parting of ways is the best – if not the most pleasant option. Speaking for myself, we couldn’t do it ever. Not that we had major clashes, but there were times when one of us suggested that they just couldn’t work with someone else – and the others would step in, and say – “Hey, we started as a team, we will finish as a team, come what may”. Maybe not wise, in retrospect; but certainly easier to live with our own consciences – clearly, we are no Zuckerbergs :)

On the search for a good co-founder, this article is a good read, and has a few good examples. A further few interesting tips on hiring non-technical co-founders can be read in this article

Finally, I think there is no magic number honestly, it is what you feel the need for/ can make happen. If you feel you need skills in areas you cannot provide, and can find the “right” people for it, for sure, go ahead and look. What is important is that they should have complementary skills, and the right chemistry.

Even the “unicorn club” analysis shows that Ninety percent of co-founding teams comprise people who have years of history together, either from school or work; 60 percent have co-founders who worked together; and 46 percent who went to school together. But, teams that worked together have driven more value per company than those who went to school together.!

I think the defining opinion on this topic can be found in the following article.

So, don’t spend too much time over thinking this problem – it IS an important one, just like marriage, but, do what feels right to you – the money will follow :)


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