Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

Small World Machines

It is not often that one comes across brilliantly executed advertising campaigns. Ads that tug at your heartstrings. Make a political statement without any pontification or grandstanding. That steal the emotions behind the issue being portrayed and get it ascribed to the brand in the minds of the consumer.

And one often finds the most enduring brands being able to do this repeatedly. Coca Cola has been at the forefront of this for decades. And they get it right again with their Small World Machines campaign. Two vending machines placed strategically amidst the people of two countries purportedly at odds with each other. But with a special catch that makes all the difference.

What made this special in my mind? I found it interesting for the following reasons:

1. This leads directly to one of their missions “To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…”. Coke has been slowly shifting its brand identity towards happiness to capture a larger global mindshare, and this ad is definitely a right step in that direction.

2. ​This also represents a conflict that already exists where people might feel differently from the reality. Through this mechanism, Coke is able to bring associations from the feeling of happiness and camaraderie between the two parties to associate with its brand. Building those associations are hard, and who better than Coke to try to do that. As people try to question the status quo and wonder why that is so, they can remember that Coke was the brand that made them feel happy and feel connected.

3. The campaign itself ties very well with your normal behavior when you try to access the product – through a vending machine. So it is building brand reinforcement into the act of purchasing/acquiring the product itself – again something cool! It does not separate the brand building from the act of engaging with the brand itself – without making it very obvious.

4. Coke sidesteps any political ill-will it might have gained by not suggesting any long-term solutions, but just exploiting the situation to extract out only the feel-good factor that common people feel – the bond that ties the two nations together. This keeps them from losing their largest markets in South Asia through an otherwise risky marketing exercise. While one cannot expect large brands to make political statements through their marketing campaigns, this does raise the issue of cross-border friendship in one of the most sensitive regions of conflict around the world.

A relatively close idea that was executed equally well, but one that does not seem to have strong brand identity building and messaging around it is the Trident window ad.

With high definition video collaboration pretty much the status quo in communications, the time is ripe for campaigns that leverage the human desire to interact with people around the world. with our ability to get pleasantly surprised through unexpected positive interactions and the element of discovery of something new. Maybe time to dust off those pay-it-forward literature and see if there are any messages in there that can be reintroduced into the advertising world.


On knotty issues …


In honor of the Tumblr acquisition, this post will be short and sweet.

Many of you might have faced this problem, but not had the time to go read up on it, so here goes. 


I’m a lazy “shoelace-tier”. I’ve learnt it one way and stuck to that all my life. I didn’t seem to have any problems with it until I came to the US, where the shoelaces started coming off quite often. I’ve heard several explanations for it – that it is due to static, that the material of the shoe lace matters are among them. 

All this, of course, until I came across Professor Shoelace. In one quick video, he set me straight with what I had been doing wrong all these years. And of course, the shoelace coming undone problem has gone down by an order of magnitude!

Also came across another site devoted to shoelace knots. Go re-learn your knots and liberate yourself!

As the WEMBA East folks get ready to graduate today, us on the West Coast are celebrating our first weekend after our graduation ceremony. It has been a peaceful week of plentiful sleep, and unhurried focus at work and in other aspects of our life. So while we raise a toast to celebrate the graduation of our WEMBA East family members, here’s a quick summary of what transpired last Sunday.

ImageSeismic retrofitting at the Herbst Theater meant that this year the Wharton San Francisco graduation ceremony had to be moved to the Marines’ Memorial Theater, an equally impressive building. The day began with an open house at school where all of us took our families, took pictures with them and showed them where a significant portion of our lives was spent in the past two years. The day was a bit chilly and cold but it cleared up to offer us the beautiful views of the Bay that we so wanted to show off to all our families.

Relief, pride, joy, and a bit of nostalgia – these emotions were among the many that ran across the faces of my classmates as they took one last walk around campus as students and then headed out to get lunch before heading to the graduation venue.

After spending about an hour taking photos of each other and on figuring out how to wear our graduation gowns and avoid any wardrobe malfunctions, we finally lined up outside the theater, ready to walk in with pomp and circumstance. It was fun to see the professors in all their interesting regalia. I believe David Bell was actually wearing sneakers .. got to be a Stanford PhD tradition.  It was also interesting to see that the professors that were PhD holders from Chicago had non-square caps that looked sort of cool, amidst the sea of square caps that we had to wear.

We spent a good few minutes standing in the front rows, facing our families and waving to them, applauding them for their tireless support over the past two years. This degree was as much an accomplishment of theirs as it was ours. Many had brought along their sponsors from their companies as well to thank them for their support. Doug kicked off the evening with a special award to Len Lodish for vision in helping start Wharton SF and the years of support that he gave the school. Dean Robertson followed next with five key lessons for us – “Be curious”, “Get a life”, “Its not all about you” and a couple more that was lost in the excitement of the day.

Inder Sidhu, the keynote speaker from Cisco provided a few vignettes from his life through the examples of his mother, wife and daughter and how that brought to bear three key lessons for him – courage, caring and curiosity. It was pretty interesting to hear how these experiences shaped his career. After the awards were done, we also had the class gift committee hand over a check for over $125,000 to Wharton as a contribution from our class. Several classmates made big donations and we had a couple of matching donations as well. What was really cool was that we had 100% participation from the class.

To use a Seinfeld analogy, for those of us with kids who’s families had not come to school much, the graduation dinner presented with the ultimate George Costanza moment. There’s the Wharton student, and then there’s the parent or the spouse, and these two worlds were hitherto fairly non-overlapping. It was interesting to see how my classmates managed to alter between those two roles successfully, talking to their kids and spouses for most of the dinner, and yet, finding time to walk around to other tables as well and meet and greet other classmates and their families.

I’ve not been big on ceremonies in general but looking back, I realize that the formality of this process serves as closure in our minds – that we are now MBAs, that for better or worse, we have acquired skills that we could use, or lose. It will be interesting to see how my classmates progress through their careers and lives and go on to do amazing things in the coming years!

Interstitial time …

Classes ended last weekend. No more assignments. No more team calls, emails, deadlines. It feels surreal .. the craving for adrenalin has already started kicking in. Many of my classmates are already wondering what to do to get their next adrenalin fix. At the same time, we are all glad to be back with our families. Reintroduce ourselves to our children, for example :). Work can now get more of our time and attention as well.

I have already started to wonder – how did we  fit it all in? Life already seems so busy in the few days that we had off. The key seems to be interstitial time. The time that used to exist between the different significant commitments in our lives. The time that we started to carve out as a separate part of our lives during the two years in the program. Stop by a cafe and meet team mates to get a home work done before heading home. Stay up later than usual and finish that team call or reading assignment. Finish responding to couple of emails on the phone while walking from one meeting to another.

Now interstitial time is back again in our hands – free to do as we choose. Stare at the walls. Day dream about the 100th startup idea that you had this year. Postpone dusting off that resume and reworking it to test the job market waters with your newly minted hot-shot MBA credentials. Read those books that you have been adding to your wish list, waiting for this day to come.

Interstitial by definition contrasts the ask from that time slot against the ones on the slots that buttress it. Like spending time with children which was a tradeoff that you had to actively make to get through those two years. Now you really don’t need to carve out those big chunks of time. Interstitial time can just be what it should be – short durations of nothingness where the mind gets a rest and the body a breather. And the rest of it gets subsumed yet again into the other higher priorities of our lives, as we plan and scheme to benefit from our newly created identities as graduates from an MBA program.

With due apologies to the Bard and MacBeth, this verse comes to mind on the trade-offs between lazy ambition and the real-world:

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the MBA
Could hurry up the consequences, and catch
With its surcease success; that but this degree
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have interviews here; that we but fail
Bloody resumes, which, being created, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the fallouts of our overwrought expectations
To our own present.”

I had written this a month ago but decided to postpone it until graduation day. So here goes .. this is a preface to what (hopefully) will be a post on the graduation day itself.


We have one more weekend to go for graduation. Many of my classmates are done with their classes and waiting for May 5th to get their degree. We had a process for selecting a graduation speaker for the class and some of us threw our hats in the ring. Needless to say, I got dinged :).

Back in the undergraduate days when we were applying to graduate schools in the US, we had a fun tradition. We would stick reject letters from universities that rejected us on our dorm room doors as badges of honor – for having tried and failed. In that spirit, here is what I would have liked to say a month from now to my class. Its an honor to be graduating with you! So here it goes .. from the heart!


“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

      Emil Zatopek

How do you verbalize an experience sufficiently well to communicate what it really was? As we stand at the finish line of this marathon, medals in hand, families at our side, smiles spread across our sweat-stained faces and hugs and cheers from our friends, what is going through our minds? Are we thinking about the grueling hours we spent on the road, one tired foot in front of the next, the nagging self-doubts through the race and thoughts of quitting … or are we already missing the exhilarating experience and wishing we could live it all over again?

So today, class 37 of the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, let us hold our heads high. Have that swagger in our walk. Marathons like the program that we just got done with are not for the faint of heart, and we have earned our badge of honor. At the same time, seldom do we see people claiming that they did it all by themselves. Our crossing the finish line has as much to do with our families, friends and colleagues that stuck with us through all those crazy week night study team calls and absentee weekends. A big thank you to every one of them – we ran this race because we knew we could count on you to carry us over the finish line if it came to that.

How we ran is also a direct function of our coaches, our mentors that taught us how to finish strong. And what an amazing sea of talent it was that we sated our thirst from! Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And our professors taught us to see the world through new eyes. Whether it was Kent Smetters and MAGEC (and Microsoft), Andy Abel and the macroeconomic world around us (and the mess his friend Ben was helping to clean up), Ziv Katalan and modeling (and cash in, cash out), Mike Useem and becoming the leaders of tomorrow (and honoring the room) – our first year was grounded in seeing the world yet anew, through the eyes of these amazing professors.

However, second year started, and as Emily Dickinson wrote,

“For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.”

We had our choice of electives to pick from, to decide which direction our journey was going to take. Some of us looked inward and benefited immensely from Stew Friedman and David Pottruck on how to change ourselves to become better leaders. Others looked at our spreadsheets and Chris Geczy and David Wessels and Mike Gibbons and learnt to run regressions and price any asset in our sleep. Some followed Jagmohan Raju and Barbara Kahn and learnt how to build and sell better products and brands.  Yet others charted their own course in their lives under the guidance of Ethan Mollick and Doug Collom and Raffi Amit and decided to build their own companies. Our lives have been transformed and enriched by these great mentors, and we thank them from the depths of our hearts.

Last but not the least, you can never win a race on an empty stomach without any nourishment. Our Wharton SF family – Bernie, Doug, Juana, Alla, Kathy, Irina, Allison, Rai, Sara, Dayne and all the others – made our lives so much easier by making sure that all the mechanics of the program were taken care of, so we could focus on learning and having fun! Thank you all for your dedication to making our lives at Wharton awesome!

It was Viktor Frankl that wrote “What is to give light must endure burning”. And out of the fire of juggling our family, school and work lives I have seen amazing lights of wisdom and leadership shine through. Brilliant people like Girish that aced the classes, and still took time out to help others keep pace with the class. Great organizers like Jared and Ashmi and Aleyda that took time out to make this journey a wild, fun party. Inspiring stories of overcoming personal hardship that we learnt from people like Lindsay and Ajaiey. Superwomen like Gitte and Madhurima who decided that life was not hard enough and chose to have babies while doing the program. There was something to admire and learn from the lives of every single person in our class.

We also leave the program with a wonderful collection of memories – of time spent together at school, at the pub, at our late night pub sessions and poker face-offs. Robbe shooing cabs out of the way so our buses could park in front of the Windsor in Rio as the rain came pouring down, us singing the Botafogo anthem and doing the waves with the team’s fans against Internacional at the Engenhao stadium, Peter Eberle betting away to his heart’s content at the Sao Paulo Jockey Club, Victor spouting wisdom under the Bodhi Tree at Pe De Manga in Villa Madalena and watching the sun set after that from Por Do Sol in Sao Paulo, watching Tosh and Aniket murder Bon Jovi songs at Karaoke bars, Vijay with his novel glasses and the social experiments, Pramod teaching Prof. Bryce about marginal cost, Aleyda chasing after Luciana in the study rooms, Andrey shouting and cheering the soccer game from our study room during the lunch hour, Vamsi teaching Prof. Roberts about levered and unlevered beta, Nabeel with his impromptu speech in Prof. Werbach’s class, … these are moments that enriched our lives together.

We also remember those rare moments in class, when something unexpected happened. Like a session went by without a single question from Girish, or with Ashish in class, or with Tejas wide awake!

Wouldn’t it have been fun to witness some of these events as well? Like Piotr finishing his question before we hit the restroom and got back. Or John Do coming in wearing contacts and being stopped at the lobby and asked to sign in. Or Pavan sitting in the first row and asking questions, or Vanessa carrying a phone without a camera and Jing walking in wearing sneakers. Or Omar offering you your deal on your terms and throwing in a bonus to boot. Or Nirmal, Manoj and Kalpan sitting in three different corners of the class, or Jared getting drunk and passing out at the pub, and Ajaiey refusing a drink and saying that he was done.

As a class, we can also lay our claim to several firsts. We were the first cohort to rightfully call the new campus our home – having spent almost our entire two years there. The countless hours spent at school were made so much richer by looking out of the window. Seeing the vastness of the Pacific as it changed from steely grey with bars of golden yellow sunlight in the morning as we sat down for breakfast. The mid-day glory of a serene blue ocean with trains, traffic, runners, vendors and bikes whizzing by that gave us pause between sessions over lunch. The brightly lit Bay Bridge with a constant stream of yellow light snaking through as it straddled a sleepy, still, dark ocean on our walks back to the Meridien. We will miss that view more than we realize today.

We were also the first to host a student-run entrepreneurship conference. And the first to vote for a class on social impact, one of the three pillars of focus for Wharton. We followed that up with yet another first – a student-run social impact conference in San Francisco. We hope to have future cohorts take these on and continue the tradition. We were also the first batch to see the Wharton Entrepreneurship Program take off well and grow wings, with our classmates like Daniel, Amilcar, Vijay, Manoj, Vinay and Tim leading the charge. And of course, we’re proud to have in our class our one and only Kaufman Fellow, Victor! We hope to have the Wharton brand firmly established in the West Coast as an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship as well, and not just finance.

Today, as we sit here, battle-weary but wearing the smiles of victory on our faces, we should congratulate ourselves that we did not pick the path of least resistance. We lived by the motto – “pain is temporary, glory eternal”. What we have accomplished along with our families in the past two years is something that we will look back upon for years to come with amazement and disbelief.

Knowledge is a strange beast. Once you know something, it is hard to unknow it. Armed with our newly acquired skills, as we head out of this room to go change the world, it would be good for us to remember, as Albert Schweitzer said, that “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” I hope we are all able to find happiness in what we do, or find something to do that makes us happy. At the same time, let us also learn to distinguish between happiness and meaning. Happiness comes from having our needs, wants and desires met. Meaning, however, comes from giving, from making the world at large a better place for everyone. So here’s wishing us all wonderful, happy, meaningful lives ahead!

Here are a couple of updates on interviews/articles on other sites.

Here’s an interview I did with a few weeks ago –

And here’s a contributed article on Huffington Post on the social impact conference scheduled for tomorrow –

Hope many of you can make it to the conference tomorrow!


Three more weekends to completion. Seven more days of classes. And then its done. Hard to believe, hard to wrap my head around. Life has been so busy since the program began! As we head towards the finish line, sure enough comes Heartbreak Hill to make things harder. A busy-as-hell three-day weekend of classes coming up this week with tons of deliverables. As we huff and puff along, this uphill climb needs more energy than what our tired limbs have .. so we’re taking it one step at a time up the hill..

So many things happened since I applied to the program. I changed jobs and joined a startup which at that time had two founders and a Series A check. Moved two homes. Had a baby. Took a year off from the WEMBA program to spend more time with my kids. Moved from engineering to product management. Joined the leadership teams for the Wharton Nonprofit Board Leadership Program and the Energy and Cleantech Club in my first year. Helped organize the first Wharton Social Impact Conference at Wharton SF in conjunction with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative in 2012, and am in the process of helping with the second one with a rockstar team of classmates. Helped put together the Startup Pavilion at the Wharton India Economic Forum 2013. Took part in the Wharton Business Plan Competition and lost. Represented Wharton and won at the Western Regional Finals of the CFA Global Investment Research Challenge 2011 and went all the way to the semi-finals where we lost. Paid forward the amazing help that Wharton students and alums were when I applied by helping others through the process.

I cheered from the sidelines as several classmates carved out their own career paths and built startups, listening to their stories of battle-bruised wisdom and wondering whether I would ever take the plunge myself. I celebrated with my class as people got married, had kids or changed jobs or careers. I spent the year trying to get to know as many of my classmates as possible – I wish had had the full two years.

On the volunteering front, I joined Mindful Schools as a board member and watched it grow so much under an amazing leadership team. Helped start Energize the Chain with Prof. Kent Smetters and Dr. Harvey Rubin and tried to keep pace as an amazingly talented set of volunteers came on board, taking us to so many new directions. Started volunteering with One Million Lights to the extent I could to help donate solar lanterns to thousands of needy children and families. Started volunteering with Milaap Social Ventures to transform lives in India through affordable micro-credit.

And revived my passion for reading books .. and writing and started writing at the class 36 blog and the Wharton Magazine blog and then this one.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a sea of talent around me on every front to make all this happen. Continued support at home to keep me going at breakneck speed through all this while my kids were being taken care of in my absence through all those grueling weekends of school and other evenings and weekends of study team work or assignment deadlines. Study team members and classmates that helped me through the complexities of classes and homework … and organized amazing events and talks to keep us entertained and informed. Inspirational team mates in every one of those non-profits who’s lives I could live vicariously by participating in their work.

Here’s a shout out to all those amazing folks that made this possible .. few more weeks and I will have a lot more time to thank you in person!