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Friday, February 16, 2018

The Zen and the Art of Powering a Start Up

Hello, all you raring to join the start-up brigade. Read in for some valuable insights from Rahul Bhalla, core member of the team that powered Zenatix.
(I wrote this  piece for the business academy of VISA. It is on the business academy website)

When Rahul Bhalla, Vishal Bansal and Amarjeet Singh of the batch of 2002 graduated from IIT Delhi it was to walk career paths as varied as legal outsourcing, financial services and technology. But the commonality of their engineering background, of having lived in the same hostel and of wanting to do something together at some point ensured that they not only kept in touch but also kept bouncing ideas for a start up. In 2013 when they quit their comfortable jobs the only certainty was that their future lay in the application of data analytics. 

Reminiscing about the ‘ what to do, when to do’ days Rahul says, ‘we felt quitting our jobs as the first step was necessary in order to come out of our  individual cushioned cocoons and look for opportunities. We were passionate about data analytics and as a natural corollary started researching on application of data analytics for verticals such as retail, health care, e-commerce, financial services, energy etc. before zeroing in on energy efficiency’. 

The clinching factor was that Amarjeet had already done a lot of research in energy sustainability.  
Zenatix was formally launched in the November of 2013. Quiz him about how the trio sustained themselves financially in the gap period between leaving their jobs and starting Zenatix, and Rahul Bhalla laughs. Calling it a slow growth period he says that even after the launch the three kept pumping in savings and putting back whatever money they were making into the business. It took 15-18 months for things to start looking up. By this time they had some good customers and had raised some money.
In this period of slow growth it was trust and faith coupled with belief in his co-workers that kept Bhalla going.

Building the Product
This energy data analytics firm helps large commercial customers of energy reduce their energy consumption using intelligence from their energy data. The basic premise of the company is operational behaviour – simply put it is what time certain equipment is switched on or off.
Rahul Bhalla, CEO and Head of Sales, gives an example he has found most people are able to relate to: that of a telephone bill. In a telephone bill one is able to see how much one has spent on SMS’s, local calls, STD charges, and international calls and so on. If the mobile bill is higher than normal in a particular month one can check and see that the roaming charges make sense because one was traveling. Compare this to an electricity bill which gives no insight beyond the total number of units consumed. This lack of insight hits the commercial sector spending lakhs, or even crores, every month the hardest.

Zenatix helps disaggregate energy consumption into major electrical loadsand does so in real time. It uses physical sensors to acquire data on usage and sets up cloud based software for real time monitoring of the client’s energy consumption. It runs advanced analytics on the collected data and the softwaretriggers controls or prompts for controls, which drive energy savings.

Ask him about their journey in developing the product and he feels identifying a problem and its solution is important but even more than that is the ability to evolve because the customers and the market are never static. When one takes a product to the market the market reacts in a certain fashion and the customers react in another and one has to learn very quickly.  He says,’ when we started we were throwing data at people but soon realised that this data was not helping them. If we had not evolved and narrowed down our focus to commercial buildings and air conditioners our product would not have had any compelling raison d 'être.

Building the Team
Zenatix is divided into three verticals. Sales and Business Development headed by Rahul Bhalla,Operations  headed by VishalBansal and Technology headed by Amarjeet Singh. Presently the firm has about fifteen employees but plans to scale up the number by ten in the coming months. Ask Rahul Bhalla what he looks for in a prospective employee and his answer is a succinct ‘passion and mind set’. He feels that in the start up world the mind set a person needs to have is very different from the cushy and predictable environment of established firms where one comes in and leaves office at a certain time. In a start up the employee needs to be able to contribute to self-growth and the growth of the company. And of course get rewarded in return.

This is what worked for him personally and what keeps him going. He always worked for companies which were start ups at the time he joined: Evalueserve ,CPA Global, and UnitedLex  Corporation. He was the first employee at the latter. The company grew to about 100 million dollars in top line in about 6-7 years and concomitantly he went on to become the Vice President of Intellectual Property.

Staying Motivated
Passion is a lietmotif of Bhalla’s talk. ‘The scale of electricity consumption of corporates, hotels hospitals is huge. If I can reduce a large building’s energy consumption by 10% that can possibly power four villages in India. The realisation that if we are able to scale up our business and impact how people live in this world keeps me motivated’. Freshness and newness of challenges also keep him motivated.

There is a smile in his voice as he repeats, ‘my eureka moments’? A pause and then he continues,’the eureka moments come firstly when you see that your product has made a difference in someone’s life. The second is when your start-up raises money.’

Zenatix raised around Rs 1.27 crore ($200k) in seed funding from a number of high profile investors. ‘When you see a good set of individuals helping you in your endeavour to have your product have a wider outreach it is a validation of your work and yes, it becomes a special moment.’
For him the favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur is seeing a new challenge daily. ‘When you get up in the morning you have one thing in your mind but that goes up to ten when you reach office. Every day is a new day and this is what keeps me going. The focus is on how to deliver more and more value to the customer’.

Executing and Staying Ahead
Bhalla feels that innovation and execution are the key to staying ahead in today’s competitive market. An idea is nothing on its own – it requires execution. This means installation of hardware and software, engaging with customers, delivering on promises.

He firmly believes that building a business is not so much about an idea but more about execution. So before one starts looking out for ideas, look for co-founder(s) so that there is a solid team that can execute well. That's what they (co-founders of Zenatix) did. When they quit their jobs, they had no clue what they were we going to do but had faith in each other's capabilities. Their goal was simple - solve a real problem that has a big scale.  Energy efficiency is a real problem and one never has to worry about scale - everybody on this planet is a consumer of electricity!

Ethical concerns are what most entrepreneurs setting up base in India have to face including he and his co-founders. ’We were clear in our minds that we would never engage in any unethical practice. If our business succeeded well and good, otherwise we would figure out something else. Once we had taken a stand we stuck to it and that worked for us. So far we have been able to demonstrate significant growth based on value for our product.’

The ready laugh is there again when he is asked about the trio being labelled “The powerpuff boys” by a national weekly. ‘Yes, that was a smart line and one felt good’.
And that’s how one leaves him- feeling good about his work, motivated by the feedback, in love with the space he is in at the present.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lodhi, The Garden Restaurant: Review

Lodi-The Garden Restaurant
Lodhi Road, Opp. Mausam Bhavan,
 New Delhi, 110003
Price: dinner for two approx 2500 Indian rupees

 Any google search for the best restaurants of Delhi will invariably throw up Lodi-The Garden Restaurant( henceforth L-TGR) somewhere in the top ten. Which sort of  takes one to those blogs which entice with 'How to rank higher on Google in five minutes using....'  Don't get me wrong- L-TGR is nice, it's sweet, it tries hard, it scores on two important parameters but....

The hostess standing at the start of the cobbled pathway trills an eager  'good  evening' even as  we are helping the octogenarian in our party down the steps leading to the pathway with the result that most of us don't hear it and the lone person , me, who does can't look up and respond since the  octogenarian and I are in the process of  synchronized navigation of said steps. 

We go down a short winding path to the right of which is the garden area for outdoor dining. The lush green garden is very prettily done up  with hanging lamps, twinkling lights, water cans serving as fountains mounted on one side. It scores high on ambience but can really be used only for winter lunches and October- March evenings and so, since we in Delhi are in the middle of a muggy August, we toodle off  indoors.

We step inside to dimly lit interiors and a smiling maitre d'. Thankfully two steps take us to our table and so no one falls. The real test comes when the menus are placed before us. The aunt manfully  bells the cat and asks for some light. The waiter pauses in the act of pouring water and switches on his phone's torch light. The water jug stays poised mid air for a good ten minutes or so as the aunt goes through the entire menu  and then comes back to the first page to start the confabulations. We are almost decided when the uncle declares that no, paella is a must. Paella means dropping a dish and so hectic parleys resume.... All this while no one comes to rescue either the water jug or  the waiter. Could be two reasons for the same: given the dim interiors they couldn't see what was happening or the menu  reading by torch light was an all too familiar occurring.

  After the outdoor seating the second parameter on which L-TGR scores is food. The espresso martinis , for the octogenarian and the aunt, were pronounced absolutely delicious, as were the mojitos we opted for. The entree of  vegetarian mezze  ( falafel, cheese fatayer, hummus, babaganoush, tzatziki, tabouleh, pita and home made pickle) was easy on the eye and tasted good. The paella  was cooked just so, the grilled vegetables platter was amazing as was the quinoa. However, what stole the show was the dessert- almond  bread pudding on a bed of  warm toffee sauce with a topping of fig ice cream. Sinful!! Just what a good dessert is meant to be.

The cheque is called for. It comes after a while. In the meantime one is distracted by certain, ahem, loud noises come from  the next table. The guest is unhappy about an error in the billing-  In the meantime our cheque arrives. Aunt looks at it earnestly but it is clear that she needs some help.The mobile ,err torch, arrives. The plastic card is fished out but in the meantime the waiter has vanished. We make idle conversation for five minutes but no Johnny turns up. The octogenarian looks ready to blow a fuse and finally does. An apologetic face turns up finally.

You know what L-TGR reminds one of? The morning after. Everything is still, almost,  the same: the people, the setting.......but something is missing. Perhaps, the zing?


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Twelve Angry Jurors: Play Review

We saw the evening show of Twelve Angry Jurors, a RAGE production, at the Kamani Auditorium, Delhi. It was truly a wonderful experience from the time one entered the gates. We had been dreading the thought of standing in long queues to get the hard copy of our tickets. However,  there were no queues- instead there were  young, smiling faces guiding one through a razzmatazz of offers and giddy fun- spinning wheel,  a mounted fine dining menu , your very own clapboard photograph- all this set to some lovely piano music by  Kaizad Gherda . The well lit Kamani foyer had never looked more inviting and well appointed as it did that evening- with boarded posters of Aadyam’s Season II plays landscaping the walls.  Nice!! Aditya Birla group cultural foray with Aadyam is poised to be a winner.

Some years back I had sat spellbound through the Hollywood movie of the same name - and truth to tell went for the play all ready for a comme ci comme ça version. So here goes: the performances were scintillating, the dialogues thought provoking and fitting very well in the Indian context, the editing -tight, the props masterpieces each, Nadir Khan’s direction- smart, the actors- seasoned and composed, the pièce de résistance-Rajit Kapur’s oft shown backside.

The fact that decades back the jury system, in India, was buried does nothing to take away from the relevance of the play. Human emotions and reactions are woven deftly to create a tapestry of aggression, misconception, boredom, dissent, vindictiveness and escapism. One doesn’t know about the others in the audience but I could see a little of myself in all the 12 jurors.

 Special mention must be made of the clever use of the montage of three screens which alternatively showed the roofs of buildings (Mumbai courts?) scorching on a hot summer day and the interface between jurors in the overworked toilet of the jury room.

Any irritant in Eden’s Garden? A teeny weeny watery one: the three dozen trips to the water cooler by the dozen jurors. Please Nadir- do you remember the time in kindergarten when you got scolded on your second ‘water’ trip for distracting the class? Well, that is what we felt like doing- scolding you for distracting us in an otherwise perfectly riveting play.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

FAAAI to invite WPI tracking body to its next meeting

The first FAAAI (Fat and Ageing Auntys’ Association of India) meeting ended yesterday on a very positive note. The members of the association were seen leaving the venue in upmarket South Delhi in a very happy and notably cheerful mood.

The reason for the positivity is that the two day conclave ended with the passing of the resolution that FAAAI would invite the same body to check its members weight and record their age as the one that keeps track of the WPI ( Wholesale Price Index).

The president of FAAAI told this reporter that the association was formed with the primary purpose of making middle aged women feel happy about themselves. It is par for  the course that what will keep the members really thrilled is an index that shows their weight and age going in the negative rather than inching north.

“I read in the newspapers that deflationary trends continued for the ninth month in a row in July 2015 with wholesale inflation plunging to a historic low, in fact plunging into (-) and that this may prompt RBI to cut interest rate ahead of the September 29 policy meet”, a beaming president stated. “That was my Eureka moment. I realized that if someone out there was still able to show a whole country that the WPI is going into negative then he/she would certainly be able to convince the ladies at FAAAI that their weight is going down and that they have slipped into reverse ageing”, added the president.

One of the founder members, who was lurking on the sidelines, twittered that the WPI measuring body had proved its mettle by releasing mind fuddling stats and data to fox the poor Indian consumer. The gullible and eager to be convinced ladies at FAAAI would be really easy work – almost a cake walk.

As one  prepared to leave calls were being made to all corners of the country to locate the genius who had  fudged the figures and could do so in future too.

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Support of the Death Penalty

Almost three decades to this day sixteen year old Geeta Chopra , a 2nd year student of Jesus and Mary College, and her  fourteen year old brother, Sanjay, a 10th standard student  of  Modern School,  left home to participate in a radio programme called the Yuva Vani on the All India Radio. Two bright young  peppy cheerful loved happy youngsters with nary a care in the world. Two days later their parents were called to identify their  mutilated, bruised, vandalised, tortured , bodies.

I ask you to close your eyes and bring that moment in front of your eyes. That moment – the moment when the sheets were lifted from the bodies and the parents saw their children. The moment which witnessed the death of a family unit, the death of a mother’s joy, of a father’s pride, the death of hopes, ambitions, laughter, of life as it was that the family had shared.

In that sepia tinted frame of two murdered dead and two living dead, you now see the two  killers - the rapists, the vandalisers, the plunderers . The men who murdered not just two innocent teenagers but a whole family. And then, after having seen all this , you are asked to pronounce a judgement. For this rarest of rare case will you not say what  the hon’ble court read out on a blistery cold January day in 1981…to be hanged until dead?

The decision to include capital punishment was taken unanimously by the framers of our constitution – the same people who gave us our Preamble, the group which included legal luminaries, freedom fighters, the privileged and the scheduled caste.  When the Law Commission submits its report, which by all accounts will recommend abolition of death penalty, it will be going against the considered opinion of those who gave us our constitution.

It is important to remember that the penalty is read out in only the rarest of rare cases. It is because of this rarest of rare clause that a research done by National Law University, Delhi found that only 755 people have been executed since Independence. Wikipedia tells us that a total of 26 executions have taken place in India since 1991. Also important is that just 4 of  the 26 hanged since ’91 have been muslims.

Death penalty is not awarded arbitrarily and in a discriminatory manner. Fairness has always been an essential part of our system of justice. When the highest court of the land finally upholds the death penalty order the case has gone through many years of appeals , arguments, testimonies and travelled a complex legal maze. It is very rare, nee almost impossible, that an innocent is given the death penalty.

Amnesty International, which has been a leading advocate of abolishing the death penalty, maintains an official stance of “we  in no way seek to minimize or condone the crimes for which those sentenced to death were convicted. As an organization deeply concerned with the victims of human rights abuses, Amnesty International does not seek to belittle the suffering of the families of murder victims, for whom we have the greatest sympathy. However, the finality and cruelty inherent in the death penalty render it incompatible with norms of modern-day civilized behaviour….” 

Look at the irony inherent in this statement. The finality and cruelty inherent in the death penalty render it incompatible with norms of modern-day civilized behaviour… The irony lies in the talk of civilized behaviour towards those who have broken each and every mores of the civilized world- those men , and women, who never once paid heed to the finality and cruelty of their actions which resulted in death, who indulged in  behaviour which is incompatible with civilized societies. Hasn’t Amnesty itself given the reason why the ultimate penalty should be given to those who do not subscribe to societal norms?

Sitting in the comfort of our living rooms and weighing the pros and cons of capital punishment is akin to discussing whether anaesthesia should be administered to a patient going in for surgery or not.... Those not undergoing the surgery will never feel the pain. Besides the highest court of the land this should also   be decided by those who have gone through the trauma of losing a loved one to the act of gruesome murder, rape, mutilation . Remember, for capital punishment to be handed out the crime has to come under the category of rarest of rare.

We should ask the survivors of 26/11 if they are able to sleep at night without hearing the staccato of gunshots; we should ask the families who lost their loved ones to Ajmal Kasab’s madness, we should ask the mother of Nirbhaya if she will ever be able to forgive the ‘juvenile’ who rammed an iron rod inside her daughter.

And we should ask ourselves: how cruel is it of us to even think about the possibility of letting people like Billa Ranga, Ajmal Kasab and their ilk to live on? What if they repeat –in jail or outside- what they have shown they are capable of doing?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Of Emily Dickenson, her Poetry and Death.....

BECAUSE I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility…….
Since then ’t is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.
So wrote Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest female poets.  I had first stumbled upon her poetry about five years back (There’s a certain slant of light/On winter afternoons/That oppresses/ like the weight/of cathedral tunes. These were the first lines I read and was hooked for life). But the more I read of her poetry the more it emerged that death was a leitmotif - a regular feature.
IT was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down;
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues, for noon.
It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,—
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.
And yet it tasted like them all;
The figures I have seen
Set orderly, for burial,
Reminded me of mine………
Wikipedia informs that ‘Dickinson was troubled from a young age by the "deepening menace" of death, especially the deaths of those who were close to her. When Sophia Holland, her second cousin and a close friend, grew ill and died in April 1844, Emily was traumatized. She became so melancholic that her parents sent her to stay with family in Boston to recover’.
SO proud she was to die
  It made us all ashamed
That what we cherished, so unknown
  To her desire seemed.
So satisfied to go
  Where none of us should be,
Immediately, that anguish stooped
  Almost to jealousy.

At another place she writes
I ’VE seen a dying eye
Run round and round a room
In search of something, as it seemed,
Then cloudier become;
And then, obscure with fog,
And then be soldered down,
Without disclosing what it be,
’T were blessed to have seen.
Emily seems to be not a wee bit scared of death. Isn’t this why she wrote
A LONG, long sleep, a famous sleep
  That makes no show for dawn
By stretch of limb or stir of lid,—
  An independent one.
Was ever idleness like this?
  Within a hut of stone
To bask the centuries away
  Nor once look up for noon?
Withdrawing more and more from the outside world by the summer of 1858 she spent her time in writing and reviewing the poems she had written. The forty fascicles she created from 1858 through 1865 eventually held nearly eight hundred poems. This treasure house of poetry was discovered only after her death.
I HEARD a fly buzz when I died;
  The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
  Between the heaves of storm……..
At another place she wrote
IF I shouldn’t be alive

When the robins come,

Give the one in red cravat

A memorial crumb.


If I could n’t thank you,
Being just asleep,

You will know I ’m trying

With my granite lip!

However, death assumes an unfriendly color at another place…
DEATH is like the insect
  Menacing the tree,
Competent to kill it,
  But decoyed may be…..
An article in the American Journal of Psychiatry (May 2001) shows that she suffered from a type of manic depression called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I CAN wade grief,
Whole pools of it,—
I ’m used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet,
And I tip—drunken.
 People  with manic depression go through periods of depression where they can do nothing and periods of mania in which they can do everything.
HEAVEN is what I cannot reach!
  The apple on the tree,
Provided it do hopeless hang,
  That “heaven” is, to me.
The color on the cruising cloud,
  The interdicted ground
Behind the hill, the house behind,—
  There Paradise is found!
 Emily Dickinson wrote more than half of her 1800 poems in the three years between 1862 and 1865 when she was manic. She had long periods when she couldn’t write because she was depressed. She wrote almost all of her works in the spring and summer months when sunlight made her feel good, and was unable to write in the winter when lack of sunlight sent her into depression.
Her lasting legacy is that what she wrote in the 1800’s will forever stand the test of time. Can anyone negate these lines?
Death is a lasting argument between
The spirit and the dust.
“Dissolve,” says Death. The Spirit, “Sir,
I have another trust…..”

Or these ?
DEATH sets a thing significant
The eye had hurried by…….
A book I have, a friend gave,
Whose pencil, here and there,
Had notched the place that pleased him,—
At rest his fingers are.
Now, when I read, I read not,
For interrupting tears
Obliterate the etchings
Too costly for repairs.
And these lines……
THE DYING need but little, dear,—
  A glass of water’s all,
A flower’s unobtrusive face
  To punctuate the wall,
A fan, perhaps, a friend’s regret,
  And certainly that one
No color in the rainbow
Perceives when you are gone
And then these…..
THE DISTANCE that the dead have gone

  Does not at first appear;

Their coming back seems possible

  For many an ardent year.


And then, that we have followed them
  We more than half suspect,

So intimate have we become

  With their dear retrospect.

IF I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene…….
If there was a touch of madness in her sublime genius can one stop oneself from wishing more of us were truly absolutely mad? To get more of such lines….
THERE’S been a death in the opposite house

  As lately as to-day.

I know it by the numb look

  Such houses have always.


The neighbors rustle in and out,
  The doctor drives away…..


Somebody flings a mattress out,—

  The children hurry by;
They wonder if It died on that,—

  I used to when a boy…..


The minister goes stiffly in

  As if the house were his,

And he owned all the mourners now,
  And little boys besides……