The Value of Middlemen

Last year just before the onslaught of the pandemic, I decided to rent a place closer to my office.

It was mid-February, I wanted to cut down on the daily commute.

In the first week of March, I found a broker and paid the brokerage. I was supposed to shift by mid-March.

The following week, everything came to a standstill. Pune was worst hit.

WFH was declared and I was forced to drop my decision of shifting.

I demanded my brokerage, citing the obvious.

The broker was not rude, but a difficult conversation was imminent.

After a series of follow-ups, I received 50% of the brokerage back.

A few weeks back, the same broker called me, asking whether I need a home for rent.

We had a short conversation but I might seek out his help again.

The bottom line is that brokers are here to stay.

They are the glue between supply and demand.

Neither supply nor demand want to have those difficult conversations.

The supply and the demand have their egos and values to protect. 

The broker is like a matchmaker with all the databases of inventory and locations. Thick skin and experience to handle difficult conversations is their forte.

A platfrom cannont replicate the tacit knowledge and behaviours that brokers have on offer. Not yet.

That’s where we pay a premium the “Brokerage”

The complex business of Food Delivery

The food delivery business is really complex.

There are too many moving parts.

The App, the bike, the biker, the restaurant, the cook, packaging, handling, traffic, weather, address, customer service, payment gateway.

The problem is no one could be held accountable for your #experience.

Delay? Would you blame it on the delivery guy or the restaurant? Or the externalities?

Taste? The delay or the restaurant?

Packaging? The restaurant or the pile of multiple packages that were kept on your package?

Or do you blame #Swiggy and #Zomato for quality control? 

Moreover, the elements of the food delivery system benefit very little from the #learning curve effect

Here is why:

No one sticks in this system for too long.

There is a lot of attrition.

Delivering food is a side gig at best.

No one wants to make a career in it.

Restaurants fold their business faster than they pop-up.

No continuity and learning curve benefits, no operational #excellence.

But given all that, it feels like magic when all these elements work together in tandem.

It makes my day when that sumptuous hot biryani arrives before time on a rainy day.

However, I admire the Pizza delivery operations.

Their vertically integrated #operations simply rock.

And they have been doing this for ages!

Leave your comments.

Do Managers Matter?

Do managers matter?

Google’s management raised that question in 2008.

That led to a research project called Project Oxygen.

Ok, I don’t know whether they answered that question, but instead, they came-up with top traits of successful managers. While you could Google those 10 traits, I am going to paste the statements of Google’s feedback survey.

Employees could rate every statement on a 1(strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree)

I would recommend my manager to others.


My manager assigns stretch opportunities to help me develop in my career.
My manager communicates clear goals for our team.


My manager gives me actionable feedback on a regular basis.


My manager provides the autonomy I need to do my job (i.e., does not “micro-manage” by getting involved in details that should be handled at other levels).


My manager consistently shows consideration for me as a person.


My manager keeps the team focused on priorities, even when it’s difficult (e.g., declining or deprioritizing other projects).

My manager regularly shares relevant information from their manager and senior leadership.

My manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about my career development in the past six months.

My manager has the technical expertise (e.g., technical judgment in Tech, selling in Sales, accounting in Finance) required to effectively manage me.

The actions of my manager show they value the perspective I bring to the team, even if it is different from their own.

My manager makes tough decisions effectively (e.g., decisions involving multiple teams, competing priorities).

My manager effectively collaborates across boundaries (e.g., team, organizational).

Survey statements continue in the comments.

If you reflect on them, they cover all critical aspects of an effective manager.

But do we need managers?

What do you think?

Directing is 90% Casting

Directing is 90% casting.

I don’t remember where I read that but today I watched an interview where Anurag Kashyap says the same thing in a different way.

He says he doesn’t cast actors but characters who make his life easy as a director.

Hiring is no different.

You don’t need to put a lot of efforts into managing if you hire the right people.

You can tell a lot about an organization on basis of its hiring process.

More than technical rounds it is the rounds where the cultural fit of the candidate is tested.

Some organizations take forever to say that disappointing no or that much-awaited yes.

You can blame it on bureaucracy but with some certainty, I can tell they spend a lot of time deciding on the profiles.

Taking their own time to screen profile after profile. Meticulously interviewing candidates at their own pace.

Some great organizations don’t have to do all that hard work.

Great brands attract great talent.

But hiring practices don’t make it to the mainstream.

Hiring is rendered as boring, and it is undermined.

Managing on the other hand remains to be interesting and is covered extensively in academics and other popular media.

Like managing, directing is seen as exciting.

We don’t hear a lot about casting, how many casting directors do you know?

Flat vs Hierarchical

Flat organizations sound cool

But why tall #hierarchies are so uncool these days?

Around 7 years back I and my boss were trying to understand the organizational structure of a manufacturing company.

We were designing some learning programs for the organization across different levels

Their organizational structure was very tall

Out of curiosity, I asked, “do they even need such a long chain of command?”

My boss gave me two answers (he loved to give two answers for every question)

Well, Alok, the first answer is pretty straightforward, he said.

There are defined roles in any formalized and large organizations. There are defined tasks, roles, responsibilities, and ownership assigned to each level. It makes sense.

His answer B: In a hierarchy, everyone needs to have a sense of growth and purpose. People need to feel valued and hence there has to be a position for them every time they get promoted.

Every position becomes a goal or a career objective. Hence it makes sense.

While the answer B is subjective and might need some research, I feel it holds some water.

Tall hierarchies exist because they serve a deep purpose.

What about flat structures? are they really cool?

In my next post write why I feel truly flat organizations can’t exist

#organizationalstructure

A truly flat organization cannot exist

A truly flat organization cannot exist.

We often hear that flat structures are cool. The word “flat” attracts young talent.

But come to think of it

The moment we decide to “organize”, structures emerge

People assume their responsibilities

Some lead and some follow

Some decide and others agree

Some plan and others execute

In small organizations, people tend to influence “without authority”

But there is a very dark side to it

There are informal cabals that influence more (politics)

And there are awesome people who might not be able to influence despite having all that expertise

In which case, I feel hierarchies make things fair and democratic to an extent, there is a clear line of command and everyone follows that

In flat orgs there are informal structures/hierarchies only visible to those who are curious

Lack of structure might drive wrong and crazy behaviors

Declaring that “we are flat” is one aspect

managing conflicts and issues arising from unclear or duplicate responsibilities is a different ball game altogether

Ok, I agree that I have only shared the dark side of flat orgs

But tomorrow will share a post about an organization that calls itself flat in the true sense. Will also provide a link to their #culture book. Stay tuned.

What is Culture?

The culture at most start-ups is often misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The bean bags, immense flexibility, no dress code is not culture.

A bean bag can tell you nothing about the culture of a place.

Even open office architecture and free lunch are just standards.

They don’t define culture.

Culture is the set of shared attitudes, #values, goals, and practices that characterizes an organization.

Culture has more to do with shared values and beliefs.

If the employees don’t value collaboration and don’t completely believe that seamless collaboration leads to better team efficiencies then what is the point of having open office architecture?

Want to define culture? try to search for norms in a workplace that are linked to values.

Is it a norm to be assertive and openly express your ideas?
Is it a norm that management listens to those ideas and readily implements them?
Is it a norm that you are left to your own good judgment without being micromanaged?
Is it okay to hold a different opinion without being reprimanded?

Answers to these questions can give you some hints about the #culture

Even organizations that are heavily hierarchical, bureaucratic, having conventional chairs, cubicles, and rigid policies could be great #workplaces.

They only need to have better norms. 🙂

Dream Company? what’s that?

Did you ever aspire for a dream company?

What is a dream company? And what are the parameters?

I remember a conversation that I had with the director at my B-school.

I was the placement rep and we were having some discussions around placement season.

Somewhere in the conversation, I said “ All the good companies will go by then”.

The director retorted “ define a good company to me”.

And I was left speechless.

7 years later, I have some clarity.

Most people in their early careers long for dream companies.

And the parameters are pretty straightforward; brand, money, growth opportunities, etc

But most dream companies are dream companies because they have a good brand

And more often than not this “brand” is created through the awesome products/services that the company offers

Does that mean any company that has awesome products and services and buzz in the market should qualify as an awesome workplace or a dream company?

I don’t think so.

After all, you will be working with people that follow some processes under some leadership.

These three elements will be common everywhere.

A good/dream company might be awesome in one of the areas but not all.

And a dream is no longer a dream when it comes true 🙂

Realities might be starkly different from the dream.

Thoughts?

There no difference between people who are employed and those who are self-employed

There is no difference between people who are employed and those who are self-employed.
The common denominator here is the term “employed”.
Self-employed sounds fancy because it has a certain sense of freedom attached to it.
Employed doesn’t sound so fancy because it has a dogma of confinement attached to it.
Whether employed or self-employed you just trade your time for money.
You are in the market selling your services.
You have to manage your time and remain accountable.
Many people use self-employed and #entrepreneurship interchangeably.
But being self-employed and entrepreneurial pursuits are two different things.
Lately, there is a big buzz around the #freelancing economy.
Please don’t get carried away.
A self-employed person may not have an #entrepreneurial #mindset at all.
One may lack risk-taking attitude, business acumen, resourcefulness, and all those quintessential entrepreneurial qualities that you may be aware of.
Employment brings that certainty, feeling of community or belongingness, and the comfort that you are not vulnerable to the vagaries of the market.
I would urge you to explore the aspects of employment before you deep dive into the world of self-employment.
To conclude, self-employment is not always the answer to your repulsion towards regular #employment.

Stock Markets are just like Social Media

Stock markets and social media have their share of similarities.

A short story to drive the point.

A year ago, long before the pandemic hit us, Yes Bank was dealing with a crisis of its own.

Yes Bank’s stock had hit a new bottom. Lacs of investors (including me) bought the stock, thinking it will rise again like a phoenix.

Well, it did not. It kept on sinking.

All hell broke loose. I exited the stock.

And then it hit new lows every day. Thousands of crores of investor wealth was destroyed.

During that time 20-30% of investors in India had Yes Bank in their accounts.

I later learned that even after my exit, my dad and brother had their positions in Yes Bank.

Yes Bank was a falling knife everyone wanted to catch.

To cut the long story short, stock markets and social media work on trends.

These trends are built overnight, thanks to the internet.

You better be quick to invest in these trends.

Or by the time you invest your efforts and money into these trends, the world would have already become a different place

The information these days travels at the speed of light

It is like watching bright star millions of light-years away

Who knows whether the star still exists or has already collapsed to form a black hole