Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Entrepreneurial opportunities in India

We've spoken with several venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in Mumbai over the past few weeks to explore entrepreneurial opportunities in India and have noticed some consistent and interesting themes.

First, most large global VC firms have created India-specific funds over the past five years, which has led to a huge pool of investment capital in the market. All of the people to whom we talked feel that there's far too much capital chasing too few strong entrepreneurs, teams and ideas in India. The other implication though is that this is a great time for entrepreneurs in this market because startup capital is relatively easy to raise if you have a robust idea and at least a basic understanding of the market.

Another common theme from our conversations was the value that VCs place on U.S. work experience and education. We heard that many Indian entrepreneurs still have a "chalta hai, this is the way things are in India" mentality, so people who bring typical American traits of obsessiveness, urgency, and even simply the ability to follow up have a huge advantage in this market. I found this a bit surprising given my experience at McKinsey India where everyone was obsessive and everything was urgent, but this is what we've been hearing. We’ve also heard that there’s a lack of strong product management and business development talent in the market, in contrast to the abundance of strong technical talent.

The final theme we noticed is that many of the top portfolio companies of VC funds here are clearly modeled after successful businesses from the U.S. transplanted to India and sometimes tweaked for cultural differences. One great example we read about in the Economic Times a few days ago: Ink Fruit is India's Threadless, an online t-shirt business driven by “crowd-sourcing.” Definitely time to start combing the U.S. for models that we can bring to India!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

3 Idiots

Just saw 3 Idiots, Aamir Khan's latest blockbuster. Loved it. Best Bollywood movie we've seen in a long time. Hilarious and heartfelt with a wonderful message. Aamir Khan is a genius. I rarely see a movie twice in the theater but this is another movie I'd like to see again.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bombay Christmas with family and friends

Spent Christmas Day with family and friends in Bombay. Visited Ashish in the hospital in the morning, then had lunch with cousins Mahesh and Anuj, Anuj's wife Priti, and their baby girl Anvi at Elco Pani Puri Center, famous for the best pani puri in Bombay. Delicious. We liked it so much that it was our second day in a row eating there.

Spent the evening playing with our baby nephew Somil, then playing some Bingo with the kids, and having dinner at our cousin Ritu's home. There's a great photo of our niece Saumya, who loves donuts so much and even though she's nine years old she gets all messy with chocolate all over her face as if she were three.

Spent the rest of the night with my cousin Tina, Kruti's cousins Manisha and Vinay, and a bunch of friends on a "Christmas pub crawl" organized by our friend Malini. Finished the night eating late night chicken and paneer rolls at the roadside restaurant Bademiya. Great day. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve at Blue Frog

Mumbai's new live music venue, straight out of The Jetsons...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saved by a helmet

My cousin Ashish was in a motorcycle accident last night on his way home from the movie. We received a call from the hospital at 3am instructing us to get there immediately. It was terrifying. Hate to receive calls like that. When we arrived they were doing a CT scan of his brain. We spent the entire night and all day at the hospital, and 24 hours later the doctor was able to declare with confidence that Ashish was going to be OK. Luckily he was wearing his helmet because the doc said it's unlikely he could have survived otherwise. It was a frightening reminder of how dangerous the roads in India can be, particularly on a motorcycle. Thank God Ashish is OK.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Just saw Avatar in an IMAX 3D theater. Awesome. I want to see it again but perhaps in 2D next time so that I can pay more attention to the story. Can't believe Fox spent US$450 million making and marketing the movie, but looks like the franchise will be worth it. Apparently they flew theater owners across Asia to Singapore a few months ago to see a 20min trailer to build excitement and word of mouth. People here think the movie has many elements of Bollywood (fantasy, action, adventure, and romance all rolled into one long three-hour movie) and will do extremely well in India. Felt good to see our first Hollywood movie since we started traveling in September.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


We went to dinner at Trishna with our friends Reena and Taron last night. Dinner at Trishna is a bit of religious experience for me - I make sure to eat there at least once every time I visit Bombay. Butter pepper garlic king crab, Hyderabadi pomfret tikka, tandoori grilled wild tiger prawns...I couldn't wipe the smile off my face for the entire three hours. I still think it's the best seafood anywhere. If there's one place that has a fighting chance of persuading Kruti to try fish, it's this one. Not this time though.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bombay nightlife

Our first night out in Bombay was a bit mad. Started the evening with coffee with our friend Vikram at Cafe Basilico, then Kruti and I went out to dinner separately with other friends in Bandra; we met up again at a party at Olive where Kruti was star struck over Arjun Rampal, and the night ended at 4am after tequila shots with my cousin Tina and our friend Malini at China House. We both love the energy of the city even though Kruti says I am obviously trying to relive my "glory days" back when I used to live here. We don't go out like this in NYC much anymore but somehow it always seems to happen in Bombay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lazy Sunday (and Monday & Tuesday)

After a whirlwind four weeks of sightseeing, visiting family, shopping, attending the wedding, and tracking tigers, we’ve finally arrived back in Bombay. We’re staying with Vipin’s Briju Mama and Raj Mami and cousins Akshat and Priyanka in the suburbs, enjoying some serious downtime. Our last three days have been filled sitting on the couch in our pajamas, catching up on Bollywood movies, and eating Mamiji’s delicious cooking. Vipin hasn’t even showered in two days. So far we’ve seen Ghajini, Ek Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani, Namastey London, and the classic DDLJ. Not sure how we’re going to motivate to get up off this couch.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

India by Train

We’ve done quite a bit of train travel around India on this trip, and I found the images of life from (and on) the trains to be captivating – I never tire of looking out the window. My experience traveling by train has been new and exciting as well – boarding trains without confirmed tickets and working out "deals" with the conductors, traveling sleeper class (just below 3rd class AC) with people sleeping in the aisles and between cars, and the constant shouting of food vendors pitching their goods.

Our first train ride was from Beawar to Saharanpur for Shipra’s wedding, then later from Delhi to Agra, Agra to Ranthambhore, Ranthambhore to Kota, Kota to Baroda and finally Surat to Bombay. Here are our favorite images from the train:

Saturday, December 12, 2009


One of my favorite parts of our visit to Gujarat was spending time with Ba (Kruti's grandmother). Ba is 95 years old and she has the most amazing face, full of character and charm. I love to look at her.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rinchol village

We finally left Rajasthan to come to Gujarat, where Kruti's family is from. We arrived in Karamsad and asked Kruti's uncle, Mota Kaka, if he would take us to Rinchol, the village where Kruti's dad was born and his entire family farmed and lived for many years. I had heard so much about Rinchol from Kruti and I really wanted to see it...I loved it. I used to think my mom's hometown of Beawar was small, but Rinchol is a true village - it doesn't even show up on a detailed map of Gujarat. There are no paved roads and few streetlights, and evenings are spent sitting outside and catching up with the neighbors. I was impressed that Kruti and her sisters spent weeks there as kids!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Eye of the Tigress

Ranthambhore is a national park in Rajasthan famous for its tiger population. Our good friends Arjun and Manisha who live in Washington, DC had planned a trip to Ranthambhore and Kruti and I piled on because it was an opportunity to see our friends after many months and that too in an exotic new location. Moreover, I had wanted to visit the park since I first heard about it when I was living in Mumbai eight years ago, and the dates worked out perfectly. Our friends Utsav, Sunil, Sunil's mother and Arjun's mother also joined the party!

Kruti and I had seen lions, leopards, and a cheetah in Africa, and we were extremely excited to see a tiger, largest of all the big cats, in India. It was our first wildlife experience in India. Our visit to Ranthambhore National Park was very different from our experiences on African safaris - it was much more chaotic with the drivers and guides all shouting at each other to move out of the way so that their clients could get the best photos. But the disorder was tempered by the anticipation that the tiger park would deliver its ultimate prize.

Tiger tracking is all about reading the cats' pug marks imprinted on the sandy paths and interpreting the nuances of the alarm calls issued by the other jungle animals. But often the predator remains deep within the forest so you never see what the "caller" has spotted particularly because the park doesn't allow any off-roading. My cousins and friends had told us their Ranthambhore stories about many failed attempts to find the tigers they were hoping to see. Upon our arrival at the luxury jungle camp Khem Villas, we even met a couple from the UK who had been in Ranthambhore for four days and had not succeeded in seeing a single tiger. But we remained hopeful. Part of me enjoyed the fact that it wasn't guaranteed, that the drivers and guides didn't know where the tigers were ahead of time, that the animals had right of way and we were reduced to the role of true bystanders. Luckily it all fell into place for us.

On our first game drive we spotted two tigers resting in the undergrowth close to the track. They were taking a post-coital nap so they weren't moving much but still we all fell under the spell of these beautiful creatures. We were assigned the same zone of the park on our second drive so we went back to find the same two tigers resting where we had left them in the morning. Apparently they were waiting for us too because soon after we arrived the male tiger got up and walked within meters of our open jeep. The tigress followed, all feline grace in her elegantly striped, bright gold coat. We held our breath, astounded by their presence. They exuded the strength and power of a lion combined with the stealth and beauty of a leopard. The ultimate big cat. Before we knew it the moment had passed and the tiger show was over, but we did get an awesome shot of the tigress looking directly at us.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Taj Travesty

The disparity between entrance fees for Indians versus foreigners at the Taj Mahal is appalling: INR20 for Indians (US$0.40) and INR750 for foreigners (US$15). So of course we purchased the Indian tickets at the ticket counter. One of the most interesting parts of traveling with Vipin’s family over the last few weeks has been the experience of traveling as an Indian tourist vs. as an NRI (non-resident Indian) – we hired Hindi-speaking guides, ate at the local favorite restaurants, and purchased Indian tickets for all the sites we visited. The Taj Mahal was our fist excursion without any family and the lines for men and women were separate, so guess who got busted – yours truly. The ticket collector just looked at the ticket, looked at me, and then started yelling at me to go back and buy a foreigner ticket. I made the mistake of trying to argue in Hindi instead of Gujarati and had no Indian ID. What’s worse is that I had no phone or money on me, so I had to flag Vipin down, who had gotten through with no problem and we both had to buy new tickets. I was totally dejected after the experience and couldn’t stop thinking about all the arguments I should have made... I've never felt so bad about spending $30.80.

On a brighter note though, the Taj Mahal itself was amazing. I had visited last over twenty years ago, so I felt like I was seeing it again for the first time. It’s impossible not to be moved by the depth of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz which inspired the creation of the Taj. The monument is so majestic in its beauty and we could have spent the entire day just looking at it and taking photos of course, but alas, we only had two hours before we had to catch our next train.

Whirlwind trip to the Taj Mahal

It was a whirlwind trip to the Taj Mahal. Neither Kruti nor I had been there since we were nine years old and we wanted to see it again together so we squeezed in a ten-hour trip to Agra on our way to meeting our friends in Ranthambhore. From Rishikesh we drove to Delhi, dropped off Jay & Tonia and my parents at the airport for their flights back to the States, and caught a late train from Delhi that reached Agra at 1am. My uncle, Ashok Mama, had recommended a wonderful hotel called the Taj Khema – basic, government-owned, only INR1,400 (US$30) per night, with an incredible view of the Taj Mahal from the lawn. After checking in we bundled up, sat on the lawn, and spent a half-hour with the Taj (and a chorus of wild dogs) under the moonlight. Our alarm clock woke us up at 5:30am so that we could visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It was stunning. Too beautiful for words. And pictures. But see the photos anyway. We wish we had more time but at 10am we boarded another train to our next destination, Ranthambhore.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

White water rafting on the Ganges

Even though we took a dip in Haridwar my brother Jay, our cousin Ashish and I decided that we probably had some remnant sins that needed to be washed again in the Ganges in Rishikesh, but this time we did it in a bit more style. Rishikesh is the "Adventure Capital of India" so we decided to go white water rafting on the holy Ganges. The class III rapids were exciting but the real adventure was in braving the freezing temperature of the water flowing from the Himalayas in the winter!

Washing Away our Sins

Following the wedding, we visited the holy cities of Haridwar and Risihikesh located near Saharanpur and along the Ganges River.  In the morning, we we took a holy dip in the Ganga with the family -- freezing cold, but so much fun!!

The water of the Ganga is believed to have the power to cleanse the soul of all past sins and Haridwar (literally “Gateway to God”) and Rishikesh have great religious significance because of their importance in the ancient Hindu scriptures. So naturally we visited several famous temples and attended the aarthi held at sunset on the banks of the Ganga in both cities.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shipra aur Saurabh ki Shaadi

The week-long festivities for Vipin’s cousin Shipra’s wedding were both energizing and exhausting! Weddings in India are generally larger than life, and this wedding was no exception. The fun began in Beawar, at Vipin’s mom’s childhood home in Mangal Market, where the entire family convened for three days of music, mehndi, poojas and a lot of food before taking the party to Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh for the sangeet and wedding. The overnight train ride was a new experience for me, most memorable for the craziness of trying to load more than 120 suitcases and bags (of the 60 family members traveling) within the short 3-5 minute window that the train stopped on the platform, and the vendors waking us up early in the morning screaming "chai, garam garam chai." The wedding itself was held in a massive and glittering outdoor venue, with more food and sweets than I’ve ever seen (including popcorn and cotton candy!), and a stage where professional dancers entertained the guests throughout the night. The highlights of the reception were the super high energy, nonstop baraat, and an amazing revolving stage for the Jaimala exchange on which the bride and groom looked like cake toppers. The pictures tell the story best (plus a few videos)…