Category Archives: General

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8+ years & moving on…

I joined Cimpress ( then Vistaprint ) as Head of Technology in 2012 . I was excited about the opportunity because of the following three reasons

  • It was greenfield meaning I will be choose my team
  • It was in e-commerce space . I had never worked in that space
  • It was Indian market

This was compelling enough for me to embark upon this journey and make a difference. I was hired by Bernie Barbour & his fellow pals from Europe Engineering groups. Bernie then was leading a team of committed people from Vistaprint in setting up new operations in India post acquisition. When I say new operation it implies setting up whole new business along side plant operations in personalized print space using Mass Customization stack available at Vistaprint!

Since then Bernie [ now Head of Mass Customization Platforms(MCP) at Cimpress Technology ] has been part of my professional life like a constant. While I write this , you will find the equivalence of this in E = mc^2 (German-born physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity that expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed into each other). I have been lucky to have this as coincidence because it is always tough to find such long time partners as an individual , team member and leader within a company.

Bernie & me !! love Boston !!

I contributed and led the technology and product landscape for Vistaprint India technology operations including production tech working on different aspects of e-commerce , supply chain , infrastructure. Given the success in India , the pattern was repeated in Japan , & I was called in to hire as well groom the technology team in Japan that could work independently for Vistaprint Japan. The journey every year was exciting doing different things in India & Japan in space of e-commerce & retail store formats . It was all new for me. When I joined Vistaprint in 2012 , I had always been working for global companies but Vistaprint was becoming a global company not from the sense of having offices in different parts of the world but actually doing business in different parts of the world with localized manufacturing. Next stop was China where I got ability to sit with different stakeholders to look at the market and see how we could integrate mass customization in retail store format with marquee brands. First 4 years were a great learning experience for me. I was excited about building my culture map at global scale thanks to Vistaprint. During these 4 years Bernie & I kept crossing paths bringing engineering and expertise to the region all across time zones starting from US to Asia Pacific!

Images are tell-tales and so are the above one’s through my eventful journey of setting up retail store in Pune for Vistaprint India to Japan operations. Core Team of Vistaprint India led by Nilesh Parwani – serial entrepreneur , whose start-up was the reason India happened to the Boss doing his inspections in Japan 🙂 . I picked great friends in India and across the globe like Chirag Bhuva , Sandeep K , Jitendra Dadhich , Mahesh Shenoy , Rene Kuipers , Conrado & Saigni Ramesh! Met some fine technology leaders like Maarten , Jim , Satish , Marco & Melissa !

Late of 2016 , I started to shift gears at Vistaprint , many acquisitions had been made and we were moving aggressively towards a platform hypothesis as well we transformed into what I was part of that is Cimpress. Core tech needed to expand rapidly and there were a increased desire to start looking at rethinking e-commerce stack across various businesses to speed up out ability for a vertical integration and create network effect across multiple markets.

Again Bernie came into picture and this time the challenge was to create a ground up engineering team that can help create a new multi-tenant e-commerce platform which help us transform the businesses and move them to more modern day world of API-first / data driven architecture. This started my next 4 years time travel at Cimpress. I started to work very closely with businesses In Europe and my attention shifted from Asia Pacific to European businesses. From building the team in India to working a new platform , developing hypothesis and launching it in UK for Tradeprint was a a crazy ride for people around me!

Picked great buddies like Dan Wakabayashi , Kara H , Ashley , Markus T , Michael T , Ryan B , Vikram , Nirav , Cory , Mukul , David Goldman , Rod Scrimgeour , Alan Livie , Stuart Ebdy , Steven Hammond , Ben Hudson , Christian Maas , Henk & Galina. I continue to have great personal relationships with each one of them ! Many more in India like Ameya s , Gurinder Singh , Shekhar S , Sumit S , Himaunshu , Gaurang , Doede , Vinay , Dhaval , Aman , Rohan S , Samyak M , Ankur T , Amit P , Kunjal , Priyanka , Deepa , Prasanna , Rohit , Sharlet , Yogendra , Chandra , Vishwas , Pranav P , Tanu R, Ankush K, Satish , Prasenjit , Hardik , Manoj , Ramya , Vedant , Prateek … there are 100 plus great people from whom I have learned a lot from our India Engineering Centre across Mumbai and Bangalore !!! It is hard to enlist everybody but I have huge respect for every individual who has worked with me !!

Many such memories , events and occurrences , also gave me the ability to run for a marathon in Paris ! ( never ran in my life before now I run three times a week ) , all inspired by Kees Andres , whom I revere and respect a lot for astute business sense and eye for correct details.

Over the course of last 8 years , I have built more than once teams suited to different purposes from running business centric technology to e-commerce , marketing and storefront tech every time bringing on amazing talent which is smart , level headed and come with “get shit done” moto.

Cimpress Technology Leadership Team ( core & extended )

My lessons learnt from famous book Making of a Manager are here:

Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.

The first big part of your job as a manager is to ensure that your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.

Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can.

Today, my job looks very different than when I started. Every time I’ve given a piece of it away, I’ve discovered that there was ever more to take on. As long as you continue to be motivated by your purpose, as long as your aspirations extend beyond what your team is currently capable of, as long as you can see new challenges on the horizon, then there’s opportunity for you to have more impact. Often, this means doing new things that you’re not very good at yet.

The act of constantly trying to replace yourself means that you create openings to stretch both your leaders and yourself. Right ahead is another mountain that’s bigger and scarier than the one before. Everyone keeps climbing, and everyone achieves more together.

Leadership is a quality, not a job

& none the least many of my famous quotes given on our printing platform as gift by my AWESOME team !

Cimpress Technology & Cimpress India provided me right level of autonomy to try new things , create new software , run technology organization and making me a Global Software Engineering Leader! I can only be thankful! I hope I am able to create success and get same environment in different context as I reset to paint the canvas again !

As I look back standing now in 2020 , a strange year for entire world! I do not want to say much but only be grateful to God for providing us spiritual strength which is helping us endure and keep moving forward.

Leadership Lessons From The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

In my last blog I talked about new normal and how things have changed in post-COVID era.  The following blog para-phrases key leadership lessons I picked from the movie about William Kamkwamba The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind .

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a movie based on William Kamkwamba’s life in Africa and how he saved his village. After just barely being able to go to school, the dry season hits, leaving his parents poor and their farm dead. Even though he technically still isn’t supposed to be at school, William sneaks in after the morning assembly as to go by unnoticed. He did this because he was inspired by the dynamo on his teacher’s bike. Eventually, he was discovered and kicked out of the school, but since his sister was secretly dating his teacher, William essentially blackmailed him into letting him use the library. Later, he makes a model windmill, and after a lot of persuasion, he got his father to sacrifice his bike so that he could make a larger windmill. This windmill fuels a well and keeps his family farm out of the dry season all year.

Once you give this movie a watch , there are aspects of leadership and execution William exhibits which are noteworthy in these testing times of pandemic and beyond.

Iterative approach to problem solving

William’s approach of solving the problem was iterative – a quality which was essential for him to be what he is today a – Malawian inventor . When you iterate & build prototypes then you get a sense of what you are working on and how it can be scaled. From paper to reality , do not forget to iterate else one never knows what is missing in the puzzle to solve the problem. William started from a book which inspired him to make the windmill , proved that it works to his friends and then took the moon-shot for to build the real windmill. In current pandemic vaccines will come through by doing more test and trial , one needs to keep iterating through it at a fast pace and collaborate globally.

Creativity In Frugality

Current pandemic crisis has shown that one does not have luxury of options and if you are not going to be creative , then it will be struggle from sustaining your meals , work & personal life. You can quickly go out of control & whether it is a drought in Malawi which forced William to think about a solution or current pandemic , it has same forbearance of the impact it has on humans. William is known to have constructed a wind turbine from scavenged parts.  You might be used to seeing something fancy but here is the image of William’s windmill. 

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Lead By Example

It is always important to do lead by example . One can have a idea but it is not relevant unless you prove it and show it that is a workable idea with some more effort. In William’s case, he researched how dynamos and windmills work before he tried to get hands on with them. Had he not done that, he would have been at risk of breaking the dynamo. It is important to be confident about your plan and how you intend to get it through with others. In current pandemic situation leaders in any capacity do not have to just be bearer of information but will have to embrace it themselves more than ever.

Team Is Important

When William Kamkwamba decided that it was time to get things to work, he had to make his friends understand that without them, he would be damned. You need a team that is on the same page as you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s only one person on the team! We have to have a team and work as a team for an effective response to the pandemic. Any kind of of discord will not help cure , save and protect lives !

Need To Be On The Problem

Persistence is important part of problem solving , if you loose heart then you will not be able to solve the problem. Iterations will bring heart-breaks and failures but one cannot put them in front of solving the real issue at hand. One needs to persuade different people at different levels in order to meet with a successful outcome. If William didn’t have the skill of persuasion, his father would never have let him use his bike. And he would have never persuaded his sister to convince his teacher to give him the dynamo.  In current crisis one needs to communicate broadly and effectively. It is also important to remain on top of the problem and organize the teams to deliver towards a successful outcome.

I hope these reflections are useful to my readers who are trying to tackle various types of issues at different levels. If you have any thoughts to share , please do not hesitate to write back to me or post a comment!

100% Online Household

The current pandemic has very visible impact & I am not judging but listing ( a list which will remain always incomplete…)

Digital Transformation & Inclusion

All the stats that drove the meaning of going digital would need a reset as they have generally considered people going digital if they ended up having a smartphone or a social media account. The pandemic is impacting every age-group and its digital interaction patterns.

Since 10th of March in India , my family has been at home operating three different digital world activities:

Self : Somebody who wants to solve problems on ground zero with three different displays , now question I why we have so many displays ! Everything just fits in on one laptop window and you can still work ! I have been cribbing about my time on road and the distances I cover; nature took care of it !

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Wife : She has been pursuing entrepreneurial journey since last three years and home has been her office with outbound activities like doing workshops. Now she finds intruded by me and her son( to whom I would come just in a minute ) ! Imagine office goers are now intruding Work For home(WFH) professionals. World has shifted from office to co-working & now WFH ! Her workshops have shifted to online Facebook live and next is moving them to Zoom.  One needs to constantly keep evaluating the new normal , it is not clear what it will be but there will be one for sure !

 

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Kid : My kid had to move into new session from 16th March , but due to pandemic crisis , we have full closure and an old world response would have been to wait for the situation to weather out , so that we can move on , but it does not seem the case at all! A school that has got a portal initiative under consideration for last couple of years went online in a week to a point that another corner of my house sees my kid taking online classes with his future teacher whom he has not yet met from new session physically. Pandemic needs a response that not only matches but abates its speed!

In today’s world a power-cut will get less quibbling as compared to a fiber cut as smart phones are able to only deliver small screen experience whilst serious business requires you more than that ! A hot-spot is no longer enough to be online !

Since the onset of cornoavirus, the definition of being online will change forever!

Picking New Skills

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Children are showing us the with new way to tackle the pandemic by going beyond just playing or watching TV. They are going back to the things that they wish to do but do not find time or are just getting bored doing same thing. We should learn from them and distract ourselves by picking up things we would want to do and have always found an alibi for not doing! Here my kid is trying to make wearable Lego articles ! So if you have to pick some book or skill now is the time !

 

Environment

Nature found its own way to deal with global warming problems. Humans are batting and professing hard to save the environment and here comes one invisible organism that turns the human race head-over-heels. Literally we are fighting for our own survival …picking threads from Darwin’s theory!

There have been reports of drop in AQI levels in various cities across the world where lock-down has been enforced.  Animals are taking field trips ! tables have turned & we are struggling to grapple with it! penguins

The Shedd Aquarium has been closed for six days due to coronavirus concerns, but there’s still some activity inside the iconic Chicago museum. Animals have been allowed to experience parts of the museum normally reserved for human guests. On Thursday, the “field trips” continued with a 5-year-old prehensile-tailed porcupine named Tyson. Animal care staff took Tyson to the Polar Play Zone to visit with the penguins in their own habitat.

At the end of the day nature will have last laugh , please let us not tinker with it !

Businesses

We are all in business of doing business and seems this norm has been attacked at core due to the pandemic. We are scrambling our response system like jets are scrambled for attack during a war. Automobile companies are making face masks (Read – Chinese Automaker BYD Is Now The Largest Producer Of Face Masks ) to Distilleries who have shifted from Gin to Disinfectants ! ( Read – From Gin To Disinfectants, Distillery Changes Business To Fight Virus )

These are unprecedented times and so the responses , it is hard to predict for how long and  to what stretch responses will have to be beyond anybody’s normal imagination. We will have think how we can help counter this pandemic beyond social distancing ( Read – Policy Action for a Healthy Global Economy ) . Who would have imagined that we are expected to change our response by the hour !

Businesses not only will have to survive but also innovate business model to look at the new normal !

Many things will change for life but we need to brace for it , and accept it. Some of our actions today will shape future and therefore being strong about those actions is important as well pertinent.

Please stay safe in these difficult times , educate others to stay safe !

Women don multiple hats !

This blog post is dedicated to women in our society on eve of International Women’s Day !

I personally have spent my schooling days either in all-boys or co-ed but never had imagined or experienced that we had a kind of divide existent where-in there is unconscious bias in social structures globally with respect to women; may be I was too naive to make that judgement! Here are some anecdotal stories that will build a perspective!

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Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

While I start to relate and reflect , it seems how my mother once used to play cricket in good old days but never made to a sporting career ( she ended up on academic side as a teacher beyond just being a house-maker , a wife , a guide to her children ) to present day where Shafali Verma is playing and achieving new heights as part of the India Women Cricket team. Just to remind my readers , Shafali used to dress up as a boy to get opportunity to play ( you can call that progress because my mother would not have even gotten away by dressing up like a boy )

Airports in India ( at least Mumbai where I live ) , offer facility of women cab drivers , but there are explicit counters for it and you are asked about your preference. Think how this signage creates a bias in your mind to have them as driver ? Honestly I have taken the offer to be driven by women cab drivers and found them to be far more careful as well having 10 times cleaner vehicle than their male counter-parts!

My wife who juggles between being a micropreneur and home-maker has made me discover a whole new world of self-empowered women , who are very well educated with double major and are trying to be creative in various fields and carry an identity of their own. You would state that well , is that not good ? . Yes it is but the support infrastructure that is needed for them to juggle their many roles , sometimes questions their effort and makes it transactional and asks how much do you even make by following your passion! ; whilst we should have celebrated the spirit of them being really entrepreneurial !

There are many more such stories that will raise fundamental reflections around gender diversity. Whilst I personally feel that my country which has historically seen very skewed empowerment numbers has taken simple steps to increase symbolism around empowerment ( Read article details ) , there are things that we can do to encourage larger cultural change around us.

We should :

  • Reject bias and remove it
  • Create empathy and walk-the-talk
  • Understand and acknowledge diversity as fact of life
  • Stop Judging
  • Celebrate success in diversity

Again to all the women out there ! Big Shout-out ! Happy International Women’s Day ! It’s on a Sunday so enjoy it to fullest !

“She believed she could, so she did.” –Unknown

A Year In Making…

As we start the count down timer for the year to turn new leaf , there is always this feeling of nostalgia on how farther along we have come in our life journey.  Several evcoffee-in-plants_373x_2xents would have happened which our powerful brain would have tried to process and react to.  The myriad nature of these events in itself can put anybody in  awe of what a human body is capable of handling with resilience over a period of time!

We generally tend to keep pushing our limits to commit more & do more , but I guess the biggest gift we can give ourselves in coming year is to take a resolution of not making any resolutions! Life has come a long way and I am sure each one of us has some incomplete resolutions of past which need attention if they are still important and relevant to us , so looking through that would be a better idea than piling more on self.

Do things:

  • Take time out to say thank you to everybody
  • Spend time with your elders ( they are more valuable and relevant than what google can teach us and whatsapp can make us aware of ).  Elders help you slow down a bit and breathe !

Act responsibly and stay calm ! Happy New Year to everybody who reads this short post !

Always remember “people make people” , value each other and respect for what they stand for !

 

More Than Entrepreneurship…

Entrepreneurship is buzz across the world , & everybody wants to take a plunge. I have observed various casual conversations as well other groups where everybody wants to do something but does not full acknowledge the entrepreneurship landscape. In warfare tactics , it is important to know your terrain before making a move and I firmly believe this is one thing which everybody should do to understand his or her current ecosystem before taking decisions. Bottom line understand it is game of patience and sustainability coupled with marketability of the idea.Realise the being an Entrepreneur is not a +1 notion but somebody who may have been able to sustain & show patience longer than you.

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Image via Creative Commons, thephotographymuse’s Flickr photostream. (Source) http://sumo.ly/l2Wz via @jwhite

I would not talk about why you should or should not take-up entrepreneurship but will try to pen down how to celebrate and acknowledge the world of being an employee.

  • S.W.O.T ( don’t go to b-school to just learn this. Any mature individual who is tad bit career minded should keep this always handy ). Knowing your strengths , weakness. Assessing your opportunities and acknowledging threats , helps one frame set of guard-rails of operating boundary. Being self-aware is the mantra. It can lead to be entrepreneurship if the idea matches up to your strengths and you don’t play to weakness as well remain away from threats or at least ebb them.
  • Follow Passion ( don’t confuse this with entrepreneurship , because it always does not mean that you have to be an entrepreneur to activate your passion ). One should always find time to do what you like from your innermost gut call. Don’t rely on organisations and individuals to do that. This allows one to focus better on work , as one finds peace in pursuit for passion
  • Define your operating landscape ( don’t be way-led on making your organisation a battlefield ! ). As an individual you should identify what type of people you did like to work , environment that makes you happy ( flexible hours / locations ) & what kind of management style suits you ( flat or hierarchical ) & above all what role you would like to be in. Don’t force yourself into role. Always have an image projection of where you are currently ( short term ) , where you want to be in next 2 years time ( medium term ) and how would you want your future role to look like ( long term )

At the end of the day inner happiness , credibility & respect can be achieved through many ways.

4 years & counting for more to come…

I have been two days late in sharing my thoughts on a personal achievement…which is completing 4 years at Cimpress. The delay has been  because of confluence of many events in last 48 hours , the PGPM Milan-2016 alum meet at SPJIMR , Arrival of Lord Ganesha & our real gods on ground.. which is Teachers Day.

To many it may seem , what kind of achievement is this , but for me it is a personal milestone. I have traversed through couple of companies in last 15 years & my satisfaction level has been never so high as it has been at Cimpress.

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Working for the India business unit since its formative years , has been truly a great learning experience. Providing support to other business units and the flexibility with which leadership allows you to operate has been rewarding one too. I am passionate about solving problems and learn as we solution them. Cimpress due its disruptive vision has been a ripe a bed for me to face new problems in business and technology almost on daily basis. It is always exciting and I am even more respectful of level of engagement which every employee offers as part of  Cimpress  vision.

I have found to apply my learning from my engineering and b-school days more at Cimpress , than anywhere else. So a big thank you to my teachers in Jaipuria  , IET & SPJIMR , who made me what I am today & Wishing them a Very Happy Teachers Day!

I would yearn to spend many more at Cimpress & make positive contribution towards its vision in my own capacity & stride , but as the last two lines of the famous poem Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost states:

” But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.”

Perspective On e-learning from Arun Gupta

The industry required periodic training for new products to have an intelligent conversation with customers; so every company conducted training programs to equip their teams with requisite knowledge which would serve all kinds of customers. It was early days of automation, e-learning was just beginning to raise a baby head; early versions were complex, unwieldy,…

via e-learning in the enterprise: pain or gain or … — Oh I See (CIO Inverted)