Thursday, June 22, 2017

Right Season, Wright Reason

Recalling a dated piece that has enough to keep it relevant in the wake of the Kohli-Kumble controversy...

John Wright’s Indian Summers may not be a pithy commentary on the technicalities of the game but has enough substance to remind the stakeholders of Indian cricket to revisit the age-old system that runs it, as early as they possibly can.

Indian Summers by John Wright

Sudhir Raikar recalls a forgotten gem in the wake of the Indian team’s disgrace in the recently concluded English tour. John Wright’s Indian Summers may not be a pithy commentary on the technicalities of the game but has enough substance to remind the stakeholders of Indian cricket to revisit the age-old system that runs it, as early as they possibly can.

Lurking in the dark recesses of our cricketing tradition are many glaring loopholes engineered and nourished by unseen architects that Wright hints at but never pin points. Call it grace or indecision, but Wright’s shielded words sure ring true for most of us despite the fact that they were largely dismissed by the fourth estate. The Indian media, as also many of the ex-players and managers, picked up all the potentially sensational elements in lashing out at this loner Kiwi while ignoring the sheer beauty of his verse and the apparent sincerity of his purpose. Of course, this ruthless attack should come as no surprise, given the ever-growing power of vested interests and the ever-falling standards of journalism in India.

John tells an engaging life story, right from the days when he called it quits as a player to suffer a short-lived accident with the corporate world. (“My job at Fletcher Challenge, then NZ’s largest building supplies company, was a crash course in everyday reality”)

The coaching stint at Kent paved the way for the prized job and the subject matter of the book - the Coach of the Indian cricket team. Cricketing legend Colin Cowdrey’s dying advice to Wright before the latter left for Indian shores indeed proved prophetic - a nip of whisky in the evenings to keep the bugs away and a SOS call to Raj Singh Dungarpur when in trouble. Only that Wright seems to have replaced whiskey with beer. There was of course no substitute for Dungarpur, as he found out throughout his India stint.

Wright seems to have been a lone crusader to inculcate a sense of professionalism among the players. Not that he failed completely but the players who were fed on a staple diet of tea or biscuits at net practice or taped fingers while fielding would have proved tough nuts to crack. And more than the playing eleven, his real detractors ran the very establishment, whether as tour managers, team selectors, board presidents or governing committee members. His most studied observation is on the selection process where he brings to light several startling practices that run deep in the name of process and convention. We always knew there was something seriously wrong with India’s team selection, but we never knew the culprits could be so brazen in peddling their vested interests.

Certain things are clear and explicit - like Wright’s fluent chemistry with physio Andrew Leipus, his soft corner for players like Kaif and Laxman (although the latter was allegedly axed at his behest for the World Cup), his professional interaction with Jagmohan Dalmiya, his genuine respect for Dravid, his awe for Tendulkar, his trust on Ravi Shastri as an advisor and of course - his love-hate relationship with Sourav Ganguly. (The media only found the last bit worthy of discussion)

He gives an amusing account of the advertising and sponsorship market that’s ever chasing players with star status. In the process, he makes some great observations - Like having to watch Ganguly struggling to ape John Travolta or Rahul Dravid in an uncharacteristic black matrix-style outfit or the fact that Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble never became billboard heroes despite their success, thanks to their less glamorous image, compared to their counterparts. Tendukar’s engaging smile, of course, sends sponsors laughing all the way to the bank. Wright is honest to reveal a secret desire to pose in a TV ad himself but the offer that came his way was a show stopper - “advertising an ointment for old-age aliments at one-tenth of the going rate.”

Though of a poetic disposition, the verse he cites in the book is nothing special. He also does not come as a guy who would really put his foot down despite the repeated claims of “blowing my top”. He rather comes across as a soft guy who would make proactive adjustments to stay put. But more important, Wright is never harsh or prejudiced in pointing out the systemic flaws. “Many a times, things just fell in place, often without you understanding how and why.” His self-deprecating stance is worthy of both adulation and emulation.

The most striking part of his narrative, however, is his accurate sketch of the phenomenon called India - the blended fabric of culture and cricket in a deprived nation that unanimously regards the game as a religion, and the only one that binds people together. (“Indian cricket lovers are never in a state of emotional equilibrium - it’s either ecstasy or despair for them”)

Wright also peeps into the lives of ordinary Indians - like Pintu, the masseur, who supports a family of eight on a salary of Rs 8500/- per month, Prasanna Raman, the enthusiastic software engineer who later became the technical head of National Cricket Academy or the nameless cabbie from Bangalore who religiously handed back the tip of Rs 120/- to Wright as it had not been explicitly labelled as a tip during their first encounter.

Wright throws good light on the mockery that rules the Indian cricketing system - ripe with selection hazards, zonal mandates, blatant favouritism, ruthless axing, bureaucratic hang ups, administrative nuisance, advertising diktats, and rags to riches stories, evils of heady success or the miseries of forgotten heroes. The nuisance for Wright came from all quarters. “A guy with the biggest diamond ear-stud once came wandering into the viewing area as if it was his private box”. This was India’s biggest beer baron, no marks for guessing who we are talking about. Wright invariably found playground boundaries shortened and ‘roped’ to ensure a healthy shower of fours and sixes that rakes in the moolah for the value chain of advertisers, sponsors and broadcasters.

John Wright is a poet at heart. His humour, his idiom and his melancholy all prove arresting and above all, the ring of pathos in his tales and anecdotes is soul-stirring. Yes, he may not have been the best coach in the annals of the game (or a truly great player either) and his knowledge of technicalities could fall short of the Gary Kirsten benchmark, but his hold over the psychological aspects of the game is undoubtedly striking. More often than not, cricket coaching as we have seen it, is about boosting minds, not pushing bodies. The book lingers in memory but more as a fabulous book on India and its cricketing fanatics - a neat summary in the league of Mark Tully’s ‘No Full Stops in India’. If not the bigwigs at BCCI, the beleaguered Indian team led by M S Dhoni will find a handy guide in this book to reinstate conviction and commitment and get back to their winning ways.

Monday, June 19, 2017

NoSQL in perspective: Biz above Buzz, Needs above Names

Random notes from the seminal "NoSQL Distilled by Pramod J. Sadalage and Martin Fowler", aimed at enabling faster comprehension

Business needs of the Modern Enterprise

Real-time capture and analysis of big data – coming from multiple sources and formats and spread across multiple locations

Better customer engagements through personalization, content management and 360 degree views in a Smartphone era

Ability and agility in proactively responding to new markets and channels

Constraints of the RDBMS environment

Frequent database design & schema revisions in response to fast-changing data needs have serious application-wide ramifications as RDBMS is the point of business integration

Growing data storage needs call for more computing resources but RDBMS ‘scale up’ is prohibitively expensive

Clustering is an effective solution but cluster-aware Relational DBs can’t escape the ‘single point of failure’ trap in making all writes to an abundantly-available shared disk.

Sharding in RDBMS puts unsustainable loads on applications

NoSQL in perspective

Over time, enterprise with complex and concurrent data needs created tailored non-relational solutions specific to their respective business environments.

They are a natural fit for the clustering environment and fulfill the two principal needs of the modern enterprise, viz,

Cost-effective data storage ensuring fit-for-purpose resilience and several options for data consistency and distribution

Optimal and efficient database-application interactions

It would be appropriate to name this ever-expanding universe as NoSQL, which contrary to what the name implies, is ‘non-relational’ rather that ‘non-SQL’ since many RDBMS systems come with custom extensions. (NewSQL hybrid databases are likely to open new doors of possibilities)

Each data model of the NoSQL universe has a value prop that needs to be considered in the light of the given business case including the required querying type and data access patters. There’s nothing prescriptive about their adoption. And they are not a replacement for SQL, only smart alternatives.

NoSQL data models

A closer look at two common features:

Concept of Aggregates

Group all related data into ‘aggregates’ or collection of discrete data values (think rows in a RDBMS table)

Operations updating multiple fields within each aggregate are atomic, operations across aggregates generally don’t provide the same level of consistency

In column-oriented models, unit of aggregation is column-family, so updates to column-families for the same row may not be atomic

Graph-oriented models use aggregates differently – writes on a single node or edge are generally atomic, while some graph DBs support ACID transactions across nodes and edges

Materialized views

To enable data combinations and summarization, NoSQL DBs offer pre-computed and cached queries, which is their version of RDBMS materialized views for read-intensive data which can afford to be stale for a while. This can be done in two ways:

Overhead approach
Update materialized views when you update base data: so each entry will update history aggregates as well
Recommended when materialized view reads are more frequent than their writes, and hence views need to be as fresh as possible

This is best handled at application-end as it’s easier to ensure the dual updates – of base data and materialized views.

For updates with incremental map-reduce, providing the computation to the database works best which then executes it based on configured parameters.

Batch approach

Update materialized views in batches of regular intervals depending on how ‘stale’ your business can afford them to be

Domain-specific compromises on consistency to achieve:

a. High availability through Replication: Master-slave & peer-to-peer clusters

b. Scalability of performance through Sharding

In each case, the domain realities would matter than developmental possibilities –what level and form of compromise is acceptable in the given business case would help arrive at a fit for purpose solution.

Many NoSQL models offer a blended solution to ensure both High Availability and High Scalability - where sharding is replicated using either Master-slave or peer-to-peer methods.


Master-slave cluster:

Works best for read-intensive operations

Database copies are maintained on each server.

One server is appointed Master: all applications send write requests to Master which updates local copy. Only the requesting application is conveyed of the change which, at some point, is broadcast to slave servers by the Master.

At all times, all servers – master or slaves - respond to read requests to ensure high availability. Consistency is compromised as it is ‘eventually consistent’. Which means an application may see older version of data if the change has not be updated at its end at the time of the read.

Fail scenarios in Master-slave cluster and their possible mitigation:

Master fails: promote a slave as the new master. On recovery, original Master updates needful changes that the new Master conveys.

Slave fails: Read requests can be routed to any operational slave. On recovery, slave is updated with needful changes if any.

Network connecting Master and (one or more) Slaves fails: affected slaves are isolated and live with stale data till connectivity is restored. In the interim, applications accessing isolated slaves will see outdated versions of data.

Peer-to-peer cluster:

Works best for write-intensive operations.

All servers support read and write operations.

Write request can be made to any peer which saves changes locally and intimates them to requesting application. Other peers are subsequently updated.

This approach evenly spreads the load, but if two concurrent applications change the same data simultaneously at different servers, conflicts occur which have to be resolved through Quorums. If there’s a thin chance of two applications updating the same data at almost same times, a quorum rule can state that data values be returned as long as two servers in the cluster agree on it.


Evenly partition data on separate databases, store each database on a separate server. If and when workload increases, add more servers and repartition data across new servers.

To make the most of sharding, data accessed together is ideally kept in the same shard. It’s hence recommended to proactively define aggregates and their relationships in a manner that enables effective sharding.

In case of global enterprises of widely-dispersed user locations, the choice of sites for hosting shards should be based on user proximity apart from most accessed data. Here again, aggregates should be designed in a manner that supports such geography-led partitioning.

Sharding largely comes in two flavors:

Non-sharing Shards that function like an autonomous databases and sharding logic is implemented at application-end.
Auto Shards where sharding logic is implemented at database-end.

Sharding doesn’t work well for graph-oriented data models due to the intricately connected nodes and edges which make partitioning a huge challenge.

Ways to improve ‘eventual consistency’ : Quorums Versioning

Read and Write Quorums

Quorums help consistency by establishing read and write quorums amongst servers in a cluster. In case of reads, data values stored by the read quorum are returned. In case of writes, it is approved by a write quorum of servers in the cluster.

Applications read and write data with no knowledge of quorum arrangements which happen in the background.

The number of servers in a quorum – read or write – have a direct bearing on database performance and application latency. More the number of servers, more the time for read and write quorum approvals.

Version Stamps

Consistency problems can arise in Relational and Non-relational despite ACIDity or quorum rules. A case in point is a lost updates from concurrent access of the same data where one modification overwrites the changes made by other. In business cases which can’t afford pessimistic locking, version stamps are a way out:

An application reading a data item also retrieves version information. While updating, it re-reads version info, if it’s unchanged , it saves modified data to the database with the new version info. If not, it retrieves the latest value probably changed by another application and proceeds to re-read version stamp before modifying data.

In the time between re-reading the version info and changing values, an update can still be lost from a change made by another application. To prevent this, data can be locked in the given time frame in the hope that it will be miniscule.

Few NoSQL models like column-oriented DBS enable storing of multiple versions of the same data in an ag­gregate along with version timestamp. As and when needed, an application can consult the history to determine the latest modification.

When synchronicity between servers in a cluster is in question due to network constraints, vector clocks are seen as a way out. Each server in the cluster maintain a count of updates enforced by it, which other servers can refer to thereby avoiding conflicts.

What ‘schema-less’ actually means?

Onus shifts to Application-side

In NoSQL databases, data structures and aggregates are created by applications. If the application is unable to parse data from the database, a schema-mismatch is certain. Only that it would be encountered at application-end.

So contrary to popular perception, the schema of the data needs to be considered for refactoring applications.

That applications have the freedom to modify data structures does not condone the need for a disciplined approach. Any unscrupulous changes in structure can invite undesirable situations: they can complicate data access logic and even end up with a lot of non-uniform data in the database.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Operation Theatre: The Life and Times of Dr. Subhash Munje

Reproducing this dated piece on the request of a few close friends. Hemant, Sai and Akhilesh - this one's for you:

Dr. Subhash Munje, renowned surgeon and stanch humanitarian, firmly believed in sharing his life stories to the tee. Insight or indecision, accomplishment or astonishment, delight or disappointment; he was keen to lay open his mixed bag of experiences for public dissection. A film on his life will go a long way in restoring the credibility of the medical profession in the guiding light of Dr. Munje’s example.

Dr. Munje’s memoir “Behind the Mask”, an honest and humorous account of his umpteen surgical trials and triumphs in the course of his momentous but largely unsung career – a great window into the mind of a sensitive surgeon who breathes the patient’s sigh of relief every time his treatment works and feels deeply wounded each time he falls short.

Dr. Munje narrates such diverse tales – real-life stories of human courage and conviction, frailties and failures, insecurities and inhibitions – that both enrich and endanger the medical profession in copious ways.

Dr. Munje began his career at age 26, as the youngest civil surgeon of Alibaug near Mumbai. This place in the 60-70 decade was bereft of electricity to safeguard the world’s purest magnetic observatory situated in this sleepy beach town. Unfortunately, the global distinction came at the cost of the general public welfare and community development as the town was left groping in the dark while most of its neighboring regions basked in the glory of lights.

So, Dr. Munje had to operate aided by his hunting light in a deprived district hospital equipped with 12 beds and only two medical officers. Needless to say, he played multiple roles in catering to diverse situations – surgeon, physician, obstetrician, gynecologist, pediatrician, ophthalmologist and even psychiatrist. Had Dr. Munje been in the US, his chronicles would have traveled far and wide as glittering case studies of innovation amidst abject deprivation but here he was in far-flung Alibaug, far-away from the mainstream, oblivious from the glamour of sprawling labs and spacious hospitals and yet, neck deep in the flowing stream of every-day strife that he took by its horns. His manifold trials and tribulations would make the best of surgeons gasp for breath. Let’s take a look at a few:

• The insecure outgoing Civil Surgeon of Alibaug, the one preceding him, had the impudence to mislead unsuspecting patients with a ridiculous assertion (Dr. Munje is only an MS, I am an MBBS) and worse, once he recklessly went ahead with the draining of an abscess only to please his bloated ego. The abscess was a rare case of aneurysm of the Aorta and he was forewarned by Dr. Munje against the drain for the potential blood deluge it would cause (which did happen in full force)

• Dr. Munje successfully managed a surgery of acute appendicitis on a furiously swaying makeshift operating table. Reason? The patient was a notorious sea pirate and the surgery happened at gun point in a rocking boat floating in the middle of the sea.

• On one occasion, he faced a queer request, a tempting surgical challenge, but one he downright refused for ethical reasons. The request was to make yet another invisible “pocket” in the inside of a person’s thighs to help smuggle diamonds. Dr. Munje however was all praise for the dexterity of the anonymous surgeon who had made the first pocket leaving only a thin 1-inch scar that invariably escaped the custom guys’ attention. Just because the surgeon was no more, the designer task had been “referred” to Dr. Munje.

• Guided by his impressive track record of quite a few thoracotomies in the district hospital, the incredible doctor performed a phenomenal surgery for the widening of a narrow heart valve on a complex case of Mitral Stenosis, on a patient with Situs Inversus (major visceral organs mirrored from their normal position). In hindsight, he admits it was a risky proposition at a small place like Alibaug. This feat won the admiration of India’s best known cardiologist who was vacationing in Alibaug at the same time. He was intrigued by the blood packs in his Alibaug-bound motor launch and decided to discreetly observe the “village surgeon” in action. Thrilled with what he saw, he offered Dr. Munje a lifetime opportunity to join his privileged team in Mumbai. No doubt, Dr. Munje would have scaled new heights with specialized training in cardiovascular surgery but he decided to stay put in Alibaug. The glorious sense of achievement amidst all the adversity was more precious than any professional recognition.

• Once he traveled all the way to Murud fighting rain and thunderstorm to attend to a bleeding pregnancy crisis but even before he could go about his job, the patient expired. For the sake of an old woman visibly frantic about the child in the womb, he decided to examine the dead body and actually felt a foetal movement. In a miraculous development, he delivered a badly asphyxiated but revivable child through a postmortem cesarean – a girl child after seven boys – who was named after the mother and grew up into a healthy woman and mother of three children herself.

• In one chapter titled “A dose of his own medicine” he recounts his own horrifying first-hand experience of awareness in anesthesia, having woken up in the midst of a routine operation to find him paralyzed, yet aware of every single surgical procedure from incision to retraction to dissection. It was only a miracle that he survived that near-death experience – akin to a blaze of spiritual enlightenment.

There are so many such instances – unbelievable but true - but the most astonishing feature a drunken ward boy called Mr. Sandey who regularly helped the doctor with such ingenious “Eureka” remedies that would find no mention in medical journals but they worked wonders when all medical possibilities had come to a screeching halt.

Here’s an account of one such Sandey solution:

A seven-month pregnant woman was attacked by a wayward bull causing a goring abdomen injury. The wound had perforated the abdominal wall exposing not only the intestinal loop and the protective abdominal fat (called omentum) but also the uterus which clearly showed the baby’s protruding forearm. Dr. Munje successfully opened the abdomen and fixed all injuries save for the baby’s hand. Even as desperate thoughts like amputation or a forced delivery crossed the doctor’s mind, our Mr. Sandey suggested a mild shock with a red hot needle. The suggestion seemed outrageous but Dr. Munje decided to pursue it. Heating an injection needle on a burning spirit swab, he placed it on the hand – and wonder of wonders, the child instinctively pulled its hand back. The birth two months later was perfectly normal and more important the hand had no tell-tale signs of the pre-birth mishap. And Dr. Munje had no qualms in unconditionally accepting Sanday’s genius as also proclaiming him as his most trusted advisor. Quick to express gratitude wherever it was due, he never sought attention or did his own promotion. Else, his world record of performing as many as 400 Tubal Ligations in a small village called Ainpur (that found mention in the London Times) could have easily entered the Guinness Book of World Records.

In the concluding chapter, Dr. Munje reminds us of Hippocrates, father of medicine, who remarked “I would like to know what sort of person has the disease rather than what sort of disease the person has”.

In the pursuit of medical advancement like genetic engineering, heart and kidney transplants, coronary bypasses and laser angioplasties, Dr. Munje laments, we have lost track of the human mind. Corporate entities have turned modalities like C T Scan, MRI, Sonography and nuclear studies into a profitable business. Doctors, he reflects, don’t feel the need to strike conversation with the patient any more. The diagnostic tools, which are only for the sake of confirming diagnosis, dictate the treatment instead.

In one instance, a patient was advised surgery for suspected cancer following a CT Scan which revealed a doubtful shadow in one of the nasal sinuses. Overcome with grief and stress, the patient had lost considerable weight which was linked back to the suspected cancer. When Dr. Munje examined him, he found the patient’s uncontrollable diabetes pointing towards diabetic neuropathy. The patient was taken into confidence and treated for diabetes. He had a full recovery in good time.

Despite his single-handed humanitarian work in remote areas, Dr. Munje was never adequately recognized by the government. Worse, he was repeatedly victimized and cornered by the powers-that-be – by peers and adversaries alike. Thanks to the supremacy of his conviction, he emerged unscathed every single time. And amidst all the strife, he never lost his zest for life. A wildlife enthusiast, he was fond of pets and as the pages of the book reveal, lover of poetry and shayari too. His striking sense of humour makes him a P L Deshpande among surgeons. He narrates many jokes and anecdotes in the book including this one popular in medical circles on the needless but rampant ordeals like Appendectomy: “A pretty nurse was called Appendix. Why? Because every surgeon wanted to take her out”

Whether at Alibaug or later at Thane, the doctor continued his practice largely on the goodwill he generated from his good work. Donations poured in from grateful patients but the doctor ensured they were always in kind – whether x-ray machines, refrigerators, cots, lockers, stretchers or even linen. In this context, Dr. Munje narrates one telling incident which reflects the sorry governmental practices in the name of rules and regulations. At some juncture, he had some of the worn-out instruments replaced with genuine stainless steel ones to sustain the hard water and sea shore proximity of Alibaug. Since the purchase exceeded the Government rate contract, he was questioned for the “exorbitant” expenditure. (He was never congratulated for the good work) Dr. Munje silenced the nuisance makers with some irrefutable logic “If you were to be operated yourself, which instrument would you prefer?” Obviously, there was no answer from the other side.

Dr. Munje’s will and skill in establishing a candid dialogue with his patients as also his unwavering commitment to the larger cause of medicine is a life lesson particularly for those medical professionals who choose to play safe at the cost of human life, and who treat their fraternity as nothing more than an elite club of the chosen few, consciously placed way above the reach and comprehension of the common people.

To put his profession in perspective in his own words “Surgery is a performing art, just like music, dance and stagecraft. But there are no retakes or replays. And as much an art, it’s a science and sacrament too.”

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Riveting Rhythm of an Algorithm

Sudhir Raikar, IIFL | Mumbai |

Algo Trading represents a captivating convergence between Finance, Math and Technology. Before we explore its inherent potential, we need to explode a few myths. Here’s a primer for beginners.

The role of algorithms in addressing the needs and requirements of scores of disciplines across all walks of life – from commuting to computing – cannot be overemphasised. The answer to any challenge, common sense has it, is essentially a list of logically sequenced rules which is what an algorithm is all about. Named after Persian Mathematician Al-Khwarizmi’s set of arithmetic rules for Arabic numerals, algorithms evolved as potent tools for automated analysis, thanks initially to Charles Babbage’s pioneering Differential Engine and later Alan Turing’s dynamic Universal machine.

Today, the internet has truly unleashed the algorithmic potential in ways that were hard to imagine only a few years ago. Search engines, social networking platforms, e-commerce portals, hardware, software and middleware vendors - just about every entity relies heavily on the power of algorithms to identify preferences, define trends, influence target communities and build competitive edge in an ever-evolving marketplace. Data mining and analytics have taken a big leap forward with the recent marriage between algorithms and artificial intelligence.

Talking of the bourses, algorithmic trading is a sterling example highlighting technology’s enabling role of enhancing financial decision making in a highly unpredictable environment. Algo trading is an emotion-free, bias-free, scrupulous and validated mathematical analysis of humungous volumes of market data. Apart from expediting the analysis and execution processes, it helps market players make better decisions across diverse spheres including market making, inter-market spreads, arbitrage, hedging or speculation – whether bullish, bearish or range-bound.

Algorithms analyze market data based on pre-defined parameters and mathematical models which could be diverse in nature – from purely fundamental to the pattern-based. The models are the same, but the algorithmic value-add comes from the precision, flexibility and speed of analysis. Contrary to popular perception, algorithmic logic is fairly simple to understand even if they are intricate to develop and design. Simply put, algorithms study the stock market by weeding out emotional, subjective and irrelevant factors from the analysis. For Algo trading, it’s elementary to define the set of rules for trade entries and exits as also to gainfully employ historical data to build trading strategies.

Now that we have some idea of the essence of Algo trading, let’s explode the popular myths surrounding the term. Based on the clarity of thought, it would become much easier to explore the Algo market space for identifying and engaging with credible vendors and value providers.

Myth 1: Algo trading is fool-proof

Risk is integral to Algo trading like it is to any form of market activity. When it comes to unpredictability, they become as infallible as the weather prediction at times if not more often. The market can beat the models in several unfathomable ways and it’s necessary to take a holistic view of the overall portfolio. You may win some claims, you may lose some stakes but if you end up being a net winner, you have reaped the rewards of Algo trading, much like the common investor who spreads his or her portfolio across sectors and businesses to profit from diversification. And like how one needs to evaluate one’s portfolio potency from time to time, even the mathematical models governing Algo trading need to be regularly assessed for their dynamism and suitability in line with the targets and sectoral specifics of every investment. Another issue of concern and consideration is the caustic Algo warfare wherein certain crafty algorithms regularly look to outsmart the others to make a killing based on the illusions they create. There have been instances of algorithmic manipulations in the market that essentially profit from misleading other algorithm-driven traders as well as common investors. For instance, some Algos create artificial buying pressure on certain counters to influence other players to make aggressive purchases in anticipation of attractive price highs. Once the intended triggers have borne fruit, the mayhem architect quietly exits the scene having reaped a fortune.

Myth 2: Algo trading is only for the big fish

This is more the result of a fear psychosis emanating from ignorance. Essentially an enabler, this tool is pretty democratic in its utility value and proves gainful provided one is prudent about risk management and constant evaluation. Expert help is available to the retail investor to reap the rewards of Algo trading like it is accessible to treasury houses, family empires and HNIs. Like it’s very common today for common investors to engage in technical analysis based on candlestick patterns and moving averages, they can do well to gain some familiarity about Algo trading as well. As it is, this space is gradually opening up its vistas to the retail investor. There are many companies, predominantly in the West, that now offer an unambiguous design environments and programming templates to common traders for developing customised Algo trading strategies. Many vendors are trying to optimize the coding and back testing time to make Algo trading more attractive for everyday investors who wish to get a flavour of the game without any help from computer whiz kids or mathematical geniuses. In the time to come, we may have more and more user-friendly platforms allowing common investors to input asset types, indicators and algorithms in order to track meaningful patterns and predict movements for specified time frames.

Algo trading is naturally suited to asset classes with limited number of participants with the time, inclination and wherewithal to develop quant-based strategies for high-volume trades in an extremely volatile scenario. There’s no surprise that retail investors are invariably not part of this segment dominated by hedge funds and arbitrage houses. However, this fact does not imply the absence of a level playing field as many like to believe. Even without quant-based trading, small traders could never match the might of the top-notch brokers and institutional investors. More importantly, a small investor looking to make steady long-term gains has no reason to compete with the big guns. He/she can still make gainful long term gains from fundamental analysis as also take benefit of the Algo space to sharpen his/her analytical abilities. No wonder, Algo strategies hitherto applicable to high-frequency trades of a few seconds are increasingly being extended to conventional trading of a larger time span – whether days, weeks or months.

Myth 3: Algo trading technology is copybook

Technology for Algo trading, hard as one may like to believe, is far from standard. Right from the choice of language to system architecture, much depends on the trading specifics including trading frequency and volumes.

Readers will find the following thought piece highly informative in understanding the technology considerations of setting up a Algo trading environment including performance, ease of development, resiliency and testing, separation of concerns, familiarity, maintenance, source code availability, licensing costs and maturity of libraries:

Myth 4: Algo trading is disruptive

This is more an expectation than a myth but still far from reality. Algo trading for all its promise is a great complement to conventional trading. In every trade, the human gut feel is of the greatest essence while the quantitative analysis is a great validation tool to remove ambiguity and bias. With the passage of time, Algo trading will only gain from strength to strength for its value proposition is indisputable in making trading decisions fast, reliable and cost-effective. As our trading and investing psyches evolve, we will be keener to take advantage of analytics to sharpen our financial decision-making. But that certainly won’t make Algo trading disruptive as the place and premium of human intuition and insight is irreplaceable especially in situations which are beyond machine comprehension including political instability and natural calamities. As for the future, it clearly belongs to those who show the maturity and alacrity to become masters of both worlds. This tribe will always be in minority but will rule over the majority.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

मी जगून पाहिलंय

15th March is my dad's birthday. I am reproducing one literary gem from the timeless archives of his philosophical writings (thanks to Meena Aatya, I could access some of his old priceless letters)

असं कार्य मी करून पाहिलंय
ज्याची कदर कधी होत नाही
असा स्वार्थ मी सोडून पाहिलाय
ज्याला त्याग कुणी म्हणत नाही

असं खरं मी बोलून पाहिलंय
जे कधी कुणाला पटत नाही
असा धर्म मी झुगारून पाहिलाय
जो मनाला मोठं करीत नाही

असा विश्वास मी टाकून पाहिलाय
ज्याला किंतु कसा शिवत नाही
अशा बेअब्रूत मी बुडून पाहिलंय
ज्यातून वर कुणी निघत नाही

अशा आगीत मी जळून पाहिलंय
जिची हाळ कुणाला लागत नाही
असं मरण मी मरून पाहिलंय
ज्या मर्तिकाला कुणी जमत नाही

असा प्रवास मी करून पाहिलाय
ज्यात खंड कधी पडत नाही
असं वाळवंट मी पार केलयं
ज्यात ओऍसिस कुठं दिसत नाही

अशा मार्गानं मी चालून आलोय
ज्यात मदत कुणाची मिळत नाही
असं अंतर मी कापून काढलय
जे लक्षात कुणाच्या येत नाही

असं काहीतरी मी मिळवून पाहिलंय
जे सहसा कुणाला लाभत नाही
असं जीवन मी जगून पाहिलंय
जे वाया कधीच जात नाही

- यशवंत रायकर (बडोदा)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Best Option: Trust the Greeks

Courtesy: An IIFL appetizer on Option Greeks and their pivotal significance in Options trading.
Sudhir Raikar, Content architect, IIFL

Ancient Greek philosophy, much like the Indian Vedic thought, is unanimously hailed as the mother of deep introspection and radical reasoning. In fact, the European renaissance owes a lot to the Hellenic republic for the knowledge repository in diverse areas including polity, philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics. No wonder, the Americans still turn to Aristotle’s Poetics to fathom the root cause of any tragedy. The tragic flaw, Aristotle reminds us, is hubris, an excessive pride that causes the hero to ignore a divine warning or to break a moral law.

In the context of financial tragedies, hubris could well be the collective complacency and conceit that breed inertia and indecision. Going deeper into the womb of the financial context, a conveniently complacent perception that guides most players in Options trading is that the macro variable of market direction rules the game, with little or no thought to the velocity and volatility of change as also the associated time bleed.

Trust the Greeks for providing a reliable compass to find our way through the often-turbulent, living waters of premium movements – in the form of a lighthouse popularly known as ‘The Option Greeks’. A better appreciation of the Option Greeks will help novice traders lock horns with the intricacies of Options pricing, which go far beyond mere price movements of the underlying stocks or indices and merit a deeper probe into the distinction between option price and option value.

The Option Greeks find their roots in mathematical models like Black-Scholes and Cox-Ross-Rubinstein. They quarantine a given variable to study the effect of its change on the options price. Consequently, we get a concrete rationale, albeit theoretical, to base our trading decisions which otherwise could prove to be a nightmarish experience if driven by blind faith, half-baked advice or reckless choices. If you develop some resonance for the Option Greeks, you would never say, “It’s all Greek to me”. To help you do just that, here’re five Greeks introducing themselves for the very first time in the history of Options Trading:

Delta: Prices change, so do premia

Hi folks, I am well known to students of physics and mathematics. In the context of options trading, I am a dynamic number revealing the change in premium following the change in the price of the underlying security. For call options, I move between 0 and 1. So if I am 0.3, the premium will vary by 0.3 points for every 1 point of change in the underlying price. For Put options, I range between -1 and 0 (diametrically opposite you see). So, for every gain of underlying price, put premium goes down to my extent (exact opposite for any fall in underlying price). By using an options calculator, you can match my values with the given moneyness applied to calls and puts as per the respective logic in contrary directions (ITM: positive intrinsic value and time value, ATM: strike price equal to current price or OTM: no intrinsic value)

Gamma: Who moved my delta

Hello, I am expressed as a positive number for both calls and puts, calculated in terms of my 2nd order derivative Vomma. I let you know the rate at change in the option’s delta in line with the change in the underlying. So, delta moves to the extent of my value for every point move of the underlying. A revised delta is thus original delta + (point change in underlying multiplied by me) I may appear hopelessly vague to you but do pay close attention nevertheless. It’s only when you consult me for risk analysis, you find that equal deltas may not bear identical outcomes. A delta with a higher value of mine will spell higher risk or reward, given the fact that any antagonistic change in the underlying stock or index will have a large adverse effect on the delta (ditto for favourable outcomes).

Vega: Left, right, centre of Ups and Downs

I measure the rate of change of option’s premium for every percent change in volatility which is in turn represented by fear and uncertainty over likely and unlikely market developments. All options, whether calls or puts, rise in value with the rise in volatility thereby increasing the likelihood of the option expiring ITM. No marks for guessing that I am a positive number, for both calls and puts. All other things being constant, I will always be higher for ATM options compared to the other two variants given that ATM options are most sensitive to volatility in terms of aggregate points. Need I add that OTM options are the most sensitive to volatility in percent terms.

Theta: All about time and its decay

I measure the rate at which an option loses value with the passage of time. As options get closer to expiration, the rate of money loss increases, so does the premium. The eroding premium represents the time decay. Simply put, I represent loss of points in the given time frame. I have different mood swings for different strike prices. For deep OTM and ITM options, I deplete at a furious pace in the initial stages and get reduced to almost nil during the concluding phase. But for ATM options, I do the contrary, constant during the initial periods and super-fast in decay during the last phase, with the pace of deterioration maximum in the last leg. I am the hot favourite of option sellers for obvious reasons. By the way, time expiry is more crucial than what you think. So even if my friend Vega shows high volatility, he may have a limited impact on the option value if the time to expiry is less. So, read mine and Vega’s values in concurrence given that time and volatility are interrelated variables.

Rho: Strictly a matter of interest

I begin (and end) with a humble submission! Yes, I don’t matter much to you given the relatively steady state of bank interest rates. Yet, no harm in knowing me better. I stand for the change in option value for every percent-point change in interest rates. My formula is rather complex, but it should suffice to say that I am calculated as the first derivative of the option's value with respect to the risk-free rate. Interest rates are used in pricing models to consider the options price based on its hedged value. I am positive for calls bought, as higher interest rates push call premiums up. Conversely, I am negative for puts bought as higher interest rates erode put premiums.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Workshop interventions...Celebrating five fruitful years

On Feb 5, 2017, I will be completing five years of workshop intervention programs aimed at facilitating different target groups - individuals, institutions and organizations - to move up the value chain in respective spheres. These workshops continue to be free of cost and will remain so, despite the repeated plea from some stakeholders to make them fee-based. I appreciate their view point, that anything free, more so in the fertile space of education, is undervalued by default, which also implies that anything offered for a fee is upheld by design.

Having said that, the whole charm of my workshops is their 'free for all' tag which helps me escape the burden of obligation - and yet ensures measurable value for the target audience provided they come with an open mind, free of the baggage of pre-conceived notions and prescriptive expectations.

Over the span of five years, I have conducted these freewheeling sessions across different geographies - whether pan India, US, UK, Central Asia or Africa - from the scenic town called Horley near London to a sleepy village called Nakuru in Nairobi, from the Mount prospect locality near downtown Chicago to the central business district of Almaty, Kazakhstan, from the pious landmark of Rishikesh to the tribal pockets of Meghalaya, and from the Haddo market area of Port Blair to the awesome terrain of Alangar in Karnataka - for diverse target groups - whether MNCs or SMEs, PSUs or NGOs, kids or housewives, salaried or self employed, contractors or workers, children of plush societies or urchins from slum pockets...

Some of the popular workshops and modules:

Poetry of Mathematics and the science of languages

From Classroom to Workplace: managing the academia-industry transition

Learning beyond the confines of Arts, Science and Commerce

Learning through Music, Literature, Films & Theatre

Probing the Child's mind: No child's play

Decoding gender sensitivity, financial literacy, career planning and life & language skills

Moving from intent to content: Actionable tips on ‘Fit for purpose’ writing

Why get better at communication?

o A brief on communication challenges of the ‘playground’ called Workplace

o What is Fit for Purpose writing and how it helps?

Cutting across cultures: Camaraderie beyond comfort zones

• The Pivotal Role of Language, History and philosophy in cross-culture communication
• Edward Hall’s concept of low-context and high-context communication
• Persuasion and assertion in a multi-cultural scenario – I, we and us.
• Managing a global team: Consensus stems from cultural relativity
• How to become a culture catalyst – going beyond acceptance and tolerance
• Interactive discussion on interesting specifics of cultural contexts – American, European, Asian

Friday, January 20, 2017

Shemaroo Entertainment: The Content Connoisseurs

Very few corporates have their legacy rooted in innovation the way Shemaroo has. Incepted way back in 1962, the year of the Indo-China war, the Shemaroo trump card of ‘engaging content’ has come a long way, locking horns with the evolving paradigms of the entertainment market across eras: from the relatively restrained avenues of the erstwhile ‘webless’ and ‘immobile’ world to the boundless opportunities of an ever-expanding digital universe.

Sudhir Raikar, Content Architect, IIFL | Mumbai | January 20, 2017 10:50 IST

Book library, video rentals, home video, broadcast syndication, film distribution, production and restoration, phenomenal progression is a way of life for the 55-year old warhorse, Shemaroo Entertainment. Given its seamless transition into greener pastures and smart assortment of diverse businesses across media - whether Satellite channels, Physical formats, Mobile, Internet, Broadband, IPTV or DTH – Shemaroo has raised the bar for the burgeoning content creation, aggregation and distribution market in India.

Shemaroo Think Tank: Thought leadership across generations

From the flagship book library to the current day YouTube repository, the Shemaroo management has carved a niche in territory after territory on the wings of its unflinching conviction and rock-solid resolve. That’s precisely why the Shemaroo narrative of exemplary evolution is incomplete without a tribute to founder Buddhichand Maroo’s flagship book library - its ethos and essence - that continues to guide the flagbearers of Shemaroo’s current day businesses.

The Shemaroo saga: Offbeat Off-screen blockbuster

The roots of the Shemaroo’s 200-crore enterprise employing over 500 people can be traced to Buddhichand Maroo’s eternal love for books. The invigorating company of thriller bestsellers during a part-time stint at an old paper mart enthused him to incept a circulating library of his own. The dream came true in 1962, albeit on borrowed money, in Warden Road of South Mumbai (then Bombay) The name Shemaroo was an acronym of the surnames of friends-turned-partners - Gangajibhai Shethia and Buddhichand Maroo. (Subsequently, Shetias exited the business but the Maroos retained the name, presumably for the emotional connect.)

The library stocked magazines and books across genres – from detective novels, literary gems and glossy paperbacks to inspirational and self-help literature, children’s books and women-centric publications. But Buddhichand was not content with the mere sourcing and stocking (from different old paper and book marts). He travelled the extra mile, in the true spirt of a knowledge catalyst, to establish a personal bond with members – whether commoners or celebrities - based on which he would tailor the library collection to suit the needs of an ever-growing clientele from all walks of life. No wonder, the readership was also a rich assortment of the most happening people of Mumbai including industrialists, writers, journalists and film and theatre personalities. The library opened three branches in quick time.

Innovation being an integral part of the Shemaroo DNA, the family was always looking for greener pastures even though their existing business was yet in its prime years. When Video Cassette Recorders (VCR) arrived on Indian shores, people raved about these incredible ‘fairy-tale machines’ that magically sucked in a cassette to play a film or recorded programme just like a tape recorder played audio. But the Maroos saw an irresistible business opportunity in the technology, beyond the wonderment. The Shemaroo Home Library, brainchild of younger brother Raman, who had seen an exhibition demo en route a business trip to Cologne, began life in 1976 with an inventory of 20 cassettes. With VCR technology in its formative stage in India and the then prevalent Licence Raj regime which made imports impossible, cassette production was itself a limiting factor. But the brothers worked around this supply-side constraint with yet another Shemaroo brainwave. They initially borrowed cassettes from different affluent business families, who had their own personal collections, and circulated the stock-in-trade, routing it from one family to another for a fee. This way, each family enjoyed a steady fare of new arrivals without having to own them. Subsequently, the Maroo family also acquired a few cassettes on their trips abroad. In due course, the library had over 3000 members relishing thousands of titles. The VCR market was by now at a tipping point, and with scores of nondescript libraries cropping up in every nook and corner of the country’s cities and towns, Shemaroo set its eyes on a new goal: creating an in-house video label.

A heart-to-heart conversation at a film gathering, with the nephew of noted filmmaker Raj Khosla, proved the turning point. Convinced of the value prop of Raman Maroo’s proposition, the Khoslas sold the rights of many a blockbuster film from their stable. Memorable hits like Mera Gaon Mera Desh and Do Raaste entered the video market under the Shemaroo banner. The film library swelled with time and effort and today Shemaroo’s content library has over 3400 titles across different genres.

In the nineties, spurred by Dr. Manmohan Singh’s liberalization drive, the private TV channel industry took off and the Shemaroo family was keen to mark its presence in this space too. While exploring a deal to buy films of Sony’s Columbia Tristar, the Maroo brothers ended up taking an equity stake in Sony’s Indian TV channel. Raman’s experience as the channel’s director came handy for a ringside view of India’s entertainment dynamic and later paved the way for Shemaroo’s debut into filmmaking.

Even a cursory glance at the Shemaroo graph makes it evident that innovation is at the core of their business. Working around problems, going beyond constraints and looking at the larger picture is ingrained into the management vision, mission and values. Today, the firm’s digital initiatives are being spearheaded by Buddhichand’s son Jai Maroo and maternal nephew Hiren Gada. Although they are locking horns with a new set of challenges and opportunities, the rock-solid Shemaroo business sense is intact. So is the zest and zeal to conquer new frontiers.

The Road Ahead
Shemaroo’s new media initiatives, at this juncture, constitute less than 20 per cent of total revenues. Bulk of the contribution comes from content aggregation and distribution while the home entertainment segment fetches a small slice. But given the company’s track record of making smart inroads into sunrise segments as also its rich insights into the digital space, Shemaroo’s new media business is set to scale new highs in the immediate future. The momentum should come about from one, the growing viewership on digital platforms led by high-speed internet, increased smart phone penetration and better infrastructure and two, more realizations from better view monetization and RPM rates, notwithstanding the glaring gap between India and the West in RPM rates.

On the conventional business front, India’s prominent film-centric entertainment preferences continue to spell great news for Shemaroo. Here, any meteoric rise in business opportunities seems unlikely going forward but Shemaroo should be able to maintain its competitive edge based on its impressive catalog and first-mover advantage. The future revenue mix, that would tilt in favour of new media in due course, should also improve margins and enhance asset utilization due to the inherent rewards of the digital turf.

Going forward in the digital-led era, Shemaroo would have to constantly strike a judicious balance between the tranquillity of balance sheet stability and the traction of library ramp up. Given the dynamic nature of opportunities on both sides – on one end, the graph of new media topline revenues and on the other, acquisition of compelling content to enhance the content bank - deciding the cut off for tapering the ongoing investment spree would obviously be a tight rope walk. But given the management’s overall prudence as also the practice of cautiously weighing each proposition for the cost and benefit, we strongly believe they will achieve the golden mean with resounding conviction, if not immediately strike gold. After all, it’s the management’s far-sightedness that has placed it in a comfortable position on the debt front with enough leeway for making more investments, if an opportunity should arise, and more importantly devoid of any undue FCF worries unlike what many analysts would like to believe.

Already the Shemaroo digital strides are quite impressive, especially the traction on their YouTube channels (although the revenue contribution is currently way less than what the Telco traction contributes). The Shemaroo creative value-add in this space is superlative. A case in point is their channel Retro Diaries which recalls Hindi film classics like Taxi Driver, Pakeezah and Do Bigha Zameen for a contemporary audience - a voiceover-led neat summary, rich in style and substance, highlights the timelessness of handpicked films of the bygone era for the benefit of today’s youth. This initiative makes Shemaroo a high-minded cultural ambassador on behalf of the entire film fraternity, an edge that goes beyond the triumph of mere numbers linked with views and clicks. Going forward, this value-add should motivate yester year film producers to grant perpetual rights to Shemaroo for their creations, especially when they face the looming threat of shelf-life expiry and given Shemaroo’s command over second and subsequent revenue cycles of content distribution.

Having said that, one feels the Shemaroo team needs to articulate its value prop more effectively, especially for the benefit of a global audience. The YouTube channels demand a better preface introducing the Shemaroo universe at a glance, where the conviction behind each channel needs to be elaborated, more than a mere mention of number of hits. Ditto for the Shemaroo website which hardly conveys the distinctive features of the Shemaroo DNA. This is one area where the staple Shemaroo obsession with caution could prove counterproductive.

Many PEs/VCs still regard Shemaroo as only a catalog library even though it has travelled many a mile to become a wholesome content creator and provider across media with credible presence even in tech-centric areas like animation and restoration. In the quality time and attention to the repackaging of Bollywood content, the Shemaroo team seems to have inadvertently kept the packaging of their core value content on the backburner. After all, founder Buddhichand’s Midas touch is their most crucial intangible asset of undeniably tangible gains. The founding story deserves better packaging, rather than leaving it solely to the media to rehash the Shemaroo lineage saga from time to time.

The Shemaroo conviction, as expressed in impromptu management conversations, is way more powerful and reassuring than what the web content conveys. And articulation doesn’t mean telling the whole story unlike what most managements believe. A smart gist of the past, present and future should suffice. Shemaroo, given its wealth of content, has the potential to become the most definitive encyclopaedia on India-stamped entertainment – film as well as non-film. For overseas communication & entertainment players keen to make quick inroads into India, Shemaroo can offer an India-advisory service ahead of collaborating with them.

Management Interaction

Shemaroo’s most distinctive value prop is undoubtedly the management’s vision and values, which in IT terminology is much like the Microservices Approach to Solution Architecture, of not replacing the monolith by a new structure overnight, rather testing out new waters in smaller, parallel silos and launching new initiatives in incremental fashion, and once convinced of the overall cost-benefit at a portfolio level, focusing on the new pursuit, mitigating risks to the extent possible and working around challenges and constraints aided by lateral thinking. Hiren Gada, whole-time director and CFO, Shemaroo Entertainment in conversation with IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar.

How has the entertainment industry evolved over the years?
The vehicles of delivery have changed, not the need for quality content. Content is timeless across eras, more so in the entertainment space. In the bygone era, film watching was a rare privilege for most households. Our home video service served the demand of the time admirably well, enabling one to watch one’s favourite movies from the comforts of the living room. In stark contrast, today one has the luxury of the proverbial remote to sift through scores of serials, films and entertainment programs being aired on different channels at any point of time.

The entertainment market in India is very different from that of the developed countries. Notwithstanding the fact that India has a thriving film and music industry, RPUs in India are very low as compared to US. So, despite the plethora of conventional and new media platforms on the supply side, India is still largely an underserved market. At the same time, demographics and a predominantly young population are India’s biggest strengths. So the scope for market expansion is huge.

Thanks to our creative team’s acumen and alacrity, we have repackaged our vintage content to suit the demands of the digital generation. A case in point is our 15-minute movie segment, an astutely condensed version of a regular three-hour movie, in line with the tastes and preferences of the YouTube fraternity. It offers them a delightful peak into the film’s plot which more than keeping them glued, motivates them to watch the whole film. So, in more ways than one, we are reviving the charm of a vintage movie for the youth of today.

Has the new media changed the demand-supply equation of entertainment?
The enabling role of technology is undeniable. With technology, access to various forms of entertainment is now easier, faster and better, be it broadcast via satellite, cable or terrestrial mode. In the personal consumption space, video cassettes made way for physical media which in turn is migrating to the digital regime. The prevalent trend is in favour of internet-based and mobile-based platforms. But content is still the king. After all, our YouTube are not because of the ease of access, it’s primarily due to the quality of our content, the value-adds we etch it with. Technology enriches the recall value by facilitating any time access and repeat viewing at will. For us, content and tech always go hand in hand. ​

Having said that, certain realities of today can’t be overlooked. Today’s households, middle class in particular, have a default ‘second-best’ alternative screen in their form of their cell phones. Invariably, the living room TV screen is switched on and off depending on the preferences of a select, mostly elderly, group – either by housewives for their regular Saas-Bahu fare or by the male members for their daily dose of news, sports and action spectacles. So, the younger folks of the family invariably look up to the ever-obliging cell phone as their most reliable source of entertainment – which is more user-friendly, delightfully mobile and ripe with downloadable variety entertainment. This household factor has changed the very dynamic of the entertainment industry and almost all the providers and via media players are vying for a share of this pie.

So, digital is the way to go for you?
Absolutely. Our acknowledgement in favour of this vibrant platform came way back in 2007. Given the nature of business, of owning and aggregating content, digital was a natural evolution for us. So, we tied up with a few regional players of the music and audio space for supply of ringtones, mobile radio and song downloads in as many as 20 languages. We also digitised our film library and made it compatible and accessible across different formats.

Our digital strategy is broad-based. We are not just thinking of films here but even special interest productions. The whole idea is to build sustainable revenue streams. That explains our premium DTH offerings – based on themes like fitness, health and self-help - running on channels like Tata Sky, Airtel and Dish TV. Besides, we have the refurbished library content of films and TV serials that become our additional monetization mechanisms.

Having said that, our digital focus in no way implies the end of the home video segment. The demand for home video is still alive, what’s changed is only the format of delivery. Given the higher price tag and susceptibility to piracy, the physical format is no longer feasible. Digital makes the whole process efficient and secure. Hence the thrust on moving to digital as fast as possible.

What’s your take on the competitive landscape of today?
We have minimised the risk window through our focus on re-issue segment, steering clear of new film arena. Besides, we put in a lot of thought in the choice of films. The enduring nature of the product – say a film like Amar Akbar Anthony – itself creates sustainable demand. Talking of competition, we see one strong contender in the producer fraternity but having said that, it’s difficult to make quick inroads into this sector especially when you have no experience of the space. The production houses are focused on theatrical distribution where we have no presence. Content distribution is our forte.

What about your home productions?
We are distributors first and then producers. Of course, we’ll selectively look at opportunities for film production but we are focused on the special interest non-film segments given the healthy demand for such products.

​Has the ongoing data volume slowdown in the telecom space affected your new media prospects?
Notwithstanding a minor slowdown in data volume in the telecom space in the recent few months, the video content consumption has been steadily increasing. In the developed countries, video based consumption is substantially higher as compared to India. The important aspect in India is that the overall trend of data consumption is still on an upward path and most drivers for this continued momentum are strongly intact. The current trends like wider acceptance of 3G & 4G, introduction of competitive data plans by telecom operators in the wake of Jio launch, improving broadband connectivity, surge in affordable smartphones sales, etc. are bound to increase the demand for video consumption.

In the new media, bandwidth issues are the biggest challenge. With time the cost of bandwidth is reducing and so even a normal consumer enjoys higher bandwidth. This is also one of the reasons why consumption of entertainment on the online platform is gaining popularity. Also, with better streaming solutions and increasing Internet penetration in India, bandwidth is no longer a constraint.

Managing a good creative product at a reasonable cost is a challenge these days. As we see it, video consumption gets a boost with bandwidth growth. Hence a delay in the rollout of 4G in India could be a challenge.

Which platform(s) among mobile, DTH and TV have proved more productive, both in terms of revenue and brand visibility?
Shemaroo is technology and platform agnostic. Our business model is based on content monetization across multiple platforms. In this context, our business growth would be linked to the scale of the respective platforms. We have presence/relationships across the ecosystem. We are partners to most of the services/platforms due to our content strength and industry experience. At this point, television is one platform with maximum scale and reach in the M&E space; Consequently, even for us, TV remains one of the biggest contributors of revenue.

Could you brief us on the status of your initiative to create a self-regulatory code of conduct which is critical to your industry.
This initiative is currently work-in-progress and with respect to time span, it is medium to long term in nature. I acknowledge piracy is an issue for entire Bollywood.

What’s the thought behind your Bollywood-theme merchandise initiative Yedaz?
Globally, Licensing & Merchandising (L & M) is a huge space and a major source of revenue for content owners. However, in India, the L&M business is currently at a very nascent stage and only serves as an auxiliary source of revenue. Bollywood has a strong consumer and emotional connect in India. Shemaroo has a large library of content (including movie dialogues, songs and characters) which appeals to various age categories. So, we are trying to leverage on an existing content asset under the umbrella of ‘Yedaz’. This is our experiment in the L&M space with minimal capital investments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kedar Vanjape: Maverick in Motion

Kedar Vanjape, 38, represents the changing face of Real Estate, away from the surreal towards the real. His corporate den, situated in a quiet corner off a busy road in the heart of Pune, hardly looks like a real estate developer's office. Basking in the glory of bright sunlight, adorned with minimalistic decor, blessed with an inviting sit out balcony and to top it all, manned by a friendly and courteous staff, the cosy place looks more like a sport and recreation club. But if you suspect business would be amiss in this laid-back space, you are sadly mistaken. The whole office is buzzing with positive action, staffers greeting prospective clients and helping flat owners with different modalities.

The man at the helm, Kedar Vanjape, is in the thick of things himself: taking phone calls, attending to visitors and also addressing the flurry of questions I throw at him. One look at him and you can make out his humility is not for the sake of advertisement. He's unassuming to the core, and delightfully blunt in his observations, calling spade a spade on just about every issue under the sun - real estate included. His phenomenal life story is an inspiration for all those who wish to tread on the offbeat path to success and achievement,who wish to scale new heights and yet stay grounded at all times.

Hailing from the small town of Kopargaon in Ahmednagar district, Kedar aspired to earn his laurels in the medical field, following in the footsteps of his Surgeon father and Gynecologist mother. When he could not secure the requisite marks for enrollment into the medical stream, he opted for engineering and cleared his Industrial Engineering from VIT, Pune. His first tryst with employment happened with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in the capacity of a Junior National Consultant. Life was going the UN way when he got what he thought was an irresistible offer. His cousin Sanjay Deshpande, who worked with the renowned DSK Developers, asked him to join him. "Honestly, glamour was the biggest pull for me at that age, having seen Sanjay's life style from close quarters. I was convinced, at first sight, that real estate was the ultimate gateway to a life adorned with swanky cars and palatial homes."

So, Kedar took the plunge in the brick and mortar world, armed with his starry-eyed ambition and steely resolve. But to his utter dismay, Sanjay quit DSK and started out on his own in quick succession. Having burnt all bridges, Kedar had no option but to stay put, and somehow try and come to terms with the new reality. He decided to take the challenge head on and the ensuing effort earned him rich dividends. In a short span, he got quality exposure in different facets of realty - desk work, drawing blueprints, managing contractors, supervising sites, customer facing, ensuring legal formalities, marketing, liasioning with government offices - you name it, he did it. The depth and gravity of the grassroots experience helps him to this day as he's on first name terms with most stakeholders in the business who have moved up the value chain in terms of designations but still value their relationships with him above mere transactions.

His dogged determination and back-breaking effort saw him rise to the position of Executive Director at DSK Developers. But after this elevation, his career suffered the consequences of the glass ceiling effect. "I have learnt a lot from the founder D S Kulkarni, especially about maintaining a judicious balance between lifestyle preferences and professional decorum. Having said that,I found him highly insecure in matters of succession planning and delegation of authority. My ambition, soaring on the wings of my capability, was bursting at the seams then and I just couldn't continue in an environment which, knowingly or unknowingly, sought to clip my wings."

A chance encounter with the legendary Daji Kaka Gadgil (of P N Gadgil Jewellers fame) proved the decisive turning point. The Gadgils wished to venture into real estate and found in Kedar the perfect partner to take the idea to fruition. The four-year collaboration indeed turned out to be quite fruitful and they completed many a sterling project in the given span. It was in June 2013 that Kedar branched out on his own under the name Kedar Vanjape Developers Limited (KVDL). The failing health of Daji Kaka Gadgil and his demise in Jan 2014 left a permanent void for Kedar, as his chemistry was solely with the doyen of the jewellery industry, not with his successors.

KVDL has undertaken several landmark projects on the outskirts of Pune, with few on the verge of completion. But KVDL narrative is incomplete without the mention of an incredible life lesson that Kedar learnt from his mother.

Having seen a fair amount of success, Kedar was tempted to upgrade his lifestyle at a juncture when the construction industry was on a downturn. "I somehow could foresee that this slowdown was not a market correction, it was a business correction, yet the lure of an affluent lifestyle was overpowering." Kedar reveals.

So he went ahead and bought a plot of land to construct a lavish bungalow for the family. Subsequently, he also decided to buy his dream Merc car and wanted his mom to accompany him to the showroom for paying the booking amount.

She agreed to accompany him but posed three questions upfront

1. Can you afford the car?

2. Would it match your persona? ,and,

3. Is there a compelling need for it?

His mom herself answered the first two questions in the affirmative but passed the third in his court.

"My answer was obviously a big resounding 'No' and the car purchase plan was scrapped on spot." Kedar reminisces.

But the radical thought chain didn't stop at that. Kedar then had a detached re-look at the plan of building his bungalow under the new microscope and the honest answer was a 'No' on that front too. Without second thoughts, he sold off the bungalow plot and what's more, he even sold his residence flat and shifted to a rental accommodation, only to self-fund his construction projects rather than rely on a potential mountain of debt in an era of constrained resources.

The timely advice from his mom turned out to be god sent indeed, as Kedar gradually built his fortune brick by brick without succumbing to the lure of ostentation or lavish display of wealth, the defining traits of the real estate fraternity otherwise.

Kedar's approach to development is a sterling case study for all practitioners of the construction business. Transparency is the hall mark of every KVDL project. Comprehensive monthly reports are sent to every buyer, conveying the progress of under-construction projects, thereby weeding out any fear and uncertainty from the buyer's mind about the fate of his decision post purchase.And every project has stringent self-penalty clauses for non-completion of projects in the committed time frame.

Kedar and his team deserve rich accolades for their pioneering strides in an industry shrouded with secrecy and better known for shady dealings. The executive team, however, needs some value-added training in client-centric communication and proactive conversation. The KVDL intent is not in question but the content is far from compelling, so also the website communication which hardly does justice to the KVDL's sterling ethos and essence. The founder conveys all the right messages in his impromptu conversations, but it's high time the team does the same in respective roles.

KVDL, given its conviction, has the capability to become a global thought leader in its own right. If KVDL doesn't reach where it should in the time to come, it would go down in history as a Greek tragedy of epic proportions.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

In conversation with Shivnath Thukral, MD, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, India

Sudhir Raikar, Content Architect, IIFL | Mumbai | December 14, 2016 10:44 IST

"The Global Tech Summit 2016 (GTS’16) was our first major event under the Tech Forum Initiative. The tech forum is an effort to bring together serious players from the industry, stakeholders across the policy spectrum and government decision makers to discuss critical issues. As a think tank, our aim is to study and research policy issues that need to evolve or re-written based on objective and scholarly analysis."

Carnegie India, the sixth international center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently hosted a Global Tech Summit in Bengaluru which saw eminent entrepreneurs, technologists, and academicians sharing their thoughts on a common podium. What seemed like a logical ‘next step’ resonating founding director C Raja Mohan’s incisive views (Trump, Artificial Intelligence, and India) the summit is an attempt to bring together the seemingly disparate worlds of governance and technology by hosting a purposeful dialogue between the policy heads in Delhi and the wizards of Bengaluru and other tech hubs. The thought churn, the organizers believe, will help develop the competencies and curricula that the discerningly disruptive digital transformation deems mandatory, and will also enable global businesses to reimagine legacy processes and redesign contemporary systems in the race to remain relevant, rather in a bid to carve their niche in a fertile space of immense possibilities. On the other hand, the summit also seeks to stimulate policymaking in India towards designing effective governance and regulatory solutions to facilitate the big change rather than watch the action from the side-lines.

Excerpts of the interaction between Shivnath Thukral, Managing Director, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace India and IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar.

Will the summit kick-off engaging conversations between New Delhi and Bengaluru, i.e. India's Power hub and India's Tech hub? How would you measure the success of this event?

The Global Tech Summit 2016 (GTS’16) was our first major event under the Tech Forum Initiative. The tech forum is an effort to bring together serious players from the industry, stakeholders across the policy spectrum and government decision makers to discuss critical issues. As a think tank, our aim is to study and research policy issues that need to evolve or re-written based on objective and scholarly analysis. To that effect, we felt the Global Tech Summit managed to emerge as a serious platform where some critical issues concerning industry and policy were identified and discussed. From the issue of protection to domestic e-commerce players to how Indian start-ups can help India’s diplomatic cause to futuristic technologies such as Hyperloop to how policy needs to evolve within a framework, GTS’16 managed to achieve some key goals. The fact that stakeholders in both Delhi and Bangalore recognise the need for a greater dialogue and that the summit took the first step towards closing it leaves us satisfied.

Going by the website, Carnegie India aims to stimulate new thinking in India's policy space. Going forward, would you look beyond summits to foster collaboration and co-creation of various stakeholders? esp. for bridging the academia-industry divide...

We plan to have a deep dive on issues planned every quarter starting in March. The year will also see policy briefs, research papers and smaller convening sessions on issues earmarked for discussion next year. This will culminate into the second edition of the Global Tech Summit in December 2017.

The list of summit participants is impressive - just that one would have liked to see some representation by India's offbeat productized software development companies - esp. those with clear Big data and Analytics agendas - which have rich insights for developing a new economic strategy that relies on technological innovation.

This was our first attempt to identify certain specific topics and focus areas. We are sure we will be able to expand the discussion and debate horizon for more issues which merit policy intervention or attention of policy makers. The deep dive sessions during the year will attempt to experiment with more ideas and issues.

Elaborating on the same point, it would have been great to see some non-ecomm, non-retail startup representation who may be ripe with disruptive ideas for a new India.

As I mentioned earlier, GTS’16 in its inaugural chapter identified issues which we felt were important and relevant but these are clearly not exhaustive. The sectors you mention have a huge impact on citizens and need further study and we hope to include them in our upcoming discussions.

The India inception of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Carnegie, as late as in 2016, one feels, has a lot to do with the value prop of a New India under the stewardship of PM Modi. Was the Fund wary of seeding an India office all these years?

The work to set up Carnegie India started as early as 2013. It was launched once all the relevant permissions and compliance requirements were met to set up an office.

Few resounding sound bytes from the summit:

China has very rapidly assimilated nuclear reactors and high speed trains through policies that are designed to encourage sharing technology. To do that, we must develop the infrastructure and experience to absorb such technologies - S Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary

India needs to do what China did 15 years ago, tell the world we need your capital, but we don’t need your companies - Sachin Bansal, Flipkart

The real fight is on capital, not innovation - Bhavish Aggarwal, Ola Cabs

A tectonic shift in technology will not only impact blue-collar jobs but also has the potential to at least partially wipe out human interference in sectors such as healthcare and brokerage, among others” - Ravi Venkatesan, Bank of Baroda

I’m not worried about the next 10 years because these 10 years will be about how to make the existing jobs more productive through technology - Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Biocon

India needs to make five transitions—from farm to non-farm, rural to urban, subsistence wage employment to decent wage employment, informal enterprises to formal enterprises and school to work (human capital) - Manish Sabharwal, TeamLease

There is inertia and lack of clarity on the purpose of regulation. Most regulations have been from experience, and they are often knee-jerk reactions. We need to re-look at things to leverage benefits that technology must offer - Rahul Matthan, Trilegal

India needs to have regulations such that innovators and regulators can work together smoothly, to balance public interest and incentives for innovation - Ananth Padmanabhan, Carnegie India

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

House of knowledge

Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities. – R. David Lankes

Today, we happened to visit the Indian Library of Thane, a one-of-a-kind initiative of Sanjeev Malhotra and his brothers Rajeev and Jitendra, makers of the unique indigenous shirt brand DEVAA. It was their parents' dream of building a House of knowledge for college and university students, especially those coming from the deprived sections of society - that was realized in the form of Indian Library, a spacious structure of six reading rooms and a conference room spanning 6000 square feet, open round the clock 365 days of the year. What's more, the library is equipped with a hygienic canteen offering snacks and beverages at subsidized rates. The Indian Library also furnishes the latest information on various courses conducted in India post SSC and HSC. Every quarter, there's a seminar on Vocational Guidance on different course and career avenues.

For long, we were on the lookout for a good library which accepts books across different knowledge spheres, but we had to suffer scores of dreadful interactions with pompous NGOs and charitable (read chair table) organizations (who seem to stand for everything but their stated objectives proudly proclaimed on their websites)

Smiling reception: Rakhi & Pratibha

Luckily, we stumbled upon the modest web site of Indian Library and a short and sweet telephonic inquiry made way for a pleasant, seamless experience. The lady at the reception was very polite and proactive, and honest about the submission that the library being short staffed, door step pick up of books was out of question. So, we drove down to the place with our rich repository of books and were immediately helped by the office boys in the unloading and transfer at their end.

Office peons Ajit Khan and Ashok More

Across the expanse of the reading rooms, you'll find worthy students of Arts, Commerce, Science, Government Services, Management Courses, Medical, CA, ICWA, CS, Engineering and Law engrossed in deep study. A nominal subscription fee entitles students to refer books across various fields under one roof, nearly arranged by titles and authors. They can also order a reference Book,if not readily available. A highly professional staff caters to their needs, as also attends to visitors who come for donating books, making inquiries or seeking admission. The positive energy of the place is contagiously inspiring. No wonder, it has found a place of pride in the Limca Book of Records.

This is one place you must visit at least once and if possible, do donate your used books. The American Library Association famously said "When you absolutely positively have to know, ask a librarian." We would like to humbly add "Ask the Indian Library of Thane"

Right Season, Wright Reason

Recalling a dated piece that has enough to keep it relevant in the wake of the Kohli-Kumble controversy... John Wright’s Indian Summers m...