Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Would Slack be able to overcome Microsoft Teams threat?

Microsoft recently launched Microsoft Teams to compete with Slack as the workplace communication and collaboration software. While this launch from Microsoft was much talked about already but Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield's open letter to Microsoft added an unexpected flavor to the duel.

What really is Slack ? As per Wikipedia- Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool. The name is actually an acronym, which means, "Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge". Slack was launched in August 2013.

...And What is Microsoft Teams? Microsoft prefers to call Microsoft Teams as a new chat-based workspace in Office 365. As it defines, Microsoft Teams is an entirely new experience that brings together people, conversations and content—along with the tools that teams need—so they can easily collaborate to achieve more.

Given the fair share of success that Slack has had so far, it can be credited for being a creator of this new product category and Microsoft a competitor. What could be potential factors against which we can size up the competition between the two?

A battle of a Product and a Feature:
Though it is touted as a battle among the equals, there is a fundamental difference between Slack and Team. Slack is a product. Microsoft Teams is a feature. Teams is a part of comprehensive Office 365 suite. Office 365 does many things but Slack is laser focused on being a office messaging app.

Microsoft Teams- almost at feature parity with Slack:
Microsoft is looking at Teams more as a software that unifies many of their existing applications. As Satya Nadella said recently
"Just like Outlook brought together email, contacts and calendar into one magical user experience scaffolding that changed how we worked, Teams will bring together chat, meetings, notes, Office, Planner, Power BI... and other extensions and applications to help users get work done,"

Beyond Unification of existing office apps, Microsoft Teams already mirrors quite a few features of Slack as is evident in this comprehensive feature analysis between the two.

Strategy to Gain users:
Building a software product for sure is hard, but not many realize the complexity of ensuring a successful go-to-market of software products. The strategy to gain users often becomes a key differentiator between the competing products.

Microsoft Teams doesn't plan to go freemium in attempt to gain users. Freemium model is when the offering has some "free" features (to attract the users) and some "premium" features (to lure users to pay for more beneficial features). The fact that Teams is an Office 365 feature is its biggest strength. Through this association, Teams gains an access to enormous number of Office 365 customers. 
On the contrary, Slack runs on Freemium model. One of the better ways to introduce new product to users is through this model. This has ensured initial usage of slack and helped in building the much-needed credibility. According to an recent user estimate, Slack has over 1.25 million users worldwide and 33000 paid teams using it. 

Market Segments:
Microsoft Teams has a unique advantage of leveraging the large enterprise customers that Office 365 might already have. Whereas Slack, being a start-up won’t have that luxury. Slack at the moment has been gaining a good traction in both smaller and larger enterprises.

External Collaboration:
Slack allows for an easy participation of team members outside the organization. Since Microsoft Teams is bound with Office 365 subscription, it doesn't have an easy (or rather any) way to allow external audience from participating in the communication. Given the complex nature of collaboration in today's world when partners beyond existing employees often help with the decision making, not having this feature could prove to be a deterrent. This feature is said to be on the roadmap of the Teams software.

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence:
There are a still a few years before AI becomes a routine feature. Atleast for now, AI is one of the key differentiator among the software products. Both Slack and Microsoft Teams have leveraged AI by introducing task specific bots that help team collaboration. As an example, Microsoft Teams has a bot called T-Bot that is available to answer questions during the conversation, then there is a WhoBot who helps to answer questions about the team members. Meanwhile Slack seem to be overrun with many bots that users already seem to have gotten a good taste of.

Open Platform vs Closed Ecosystem:
As Slack CEO says in his open letter to Microsoft-
an open platform is essential. Communication is just one part of what humans do on the job. The modern knowledge worker relies on dozens of different products for their daily work, and that number is constantly expanding. These critical business processes and workflows demand the best tools, regardless of vendor.
That’s why we work so hard to find elegant and creative ways to weave third-party software workflows right into Slack. And that’s why there are 750 apps in the Slack App Directory for everything from marketing automation, customer support, and analytics, to project management, CRM, and developer tools. Together with the thousands of applications developed by customers, more than six million apps have been installed on Slack teams so far.

This is an area where slack probably scores over Microsoft. Microsoft has a reputation of being a closed platform, or atleast not as open as modern platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google. It does warrant a mention that Microsoft, under Satya Nadela is working towards fixing this aspect of the business by embracing Linux, building software for Mac etc.

In product management, there are different strategies that either help first-mover (Slack) consolidate an early advantage or there are strategies that help fast-follower (Microsoft) learn from the mistakes of first-mover and emerge stronger. Microsoft has been a dominant force in the Enterprise Office software category. Given its openness, Slack is touted by many a analysts to replace email and other office communication software. The positioning of Slack in the Unicorn category and its ever-increasing popularity has certainly made Microsoft a bit nervous. On the other hand, Microsoft has a huge muscle power built by the enormous piles of cash and a strong network of partners which won't let it reach Obsolescence any time sooner. 

It’s hard to predict who wins this battle eventually but it is certain that this new category of software enabling Office communication is here to stay and there would be room for many a players to seize the initiative. Microsoft's entry in this space only validates the need of this product category. So far Slack seems ahead and Microsoft seems well positioned to play the catch-up game for next few quarters atleast.

What do you think ?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Knowledge not shared is knowledge wasted

All of us- through our life experiences, observations, interactions, studying and reading are in the constant process of gaining knowledge throughout our lives. While we consciously or sub- consciously gain a lot of knowledge, the process of sharing of knowledge is, interestingly, always a conscious one. Knowledge sharing is always a voluntary act. A lot of us, in quest for attaining personal expertise in subject of our choice, often don’t give sharing of knowledge an equal priority. As my life experiences have taught me, sharing of knowledge not only helps the receiver but also the teacher in more ways than one. The more of the knowledge we let out, the more it metaphorically creates space in our mind to gain further. I do hold this belief quite in high esteem that- Knowledge not shared is Knowledge wasted.

Knowledge sharing for the sake of Knowledge sharing
As I figured out in my life, one can be as creative in finding avenues to share knowledge as one could be in gaining one. Led by this belief, for most of my professional life I have found ways to codify my knowledge either by means of presenting in conference, writing (this, and few other blogs being example), short interactions, micro-blogging (twitter), visually (infographics) and made the output of my intellect available for wider consumption. All this while, the key motivation has just been Knowledge sharing for the sake of Knowledge sharing. As simple as that! Not for money! Not for any other tangible or tangible benefits!

Imbibe Progressive mindset, not an Excuse mindset to democratize your knowledge
I recently had a fulfilling experience finding such avenue in teaching MBA students at Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM), Bengaluru.
One of my friends and mentor, Tathagat Varma (TV) had come in to impart the knowledge of Agile mindset to my team. During the course of the day, we had several conversations- one of which was around the opportunity to Guest speak at SIBM. Tathagat has made amazing contributions in many areas related to Information Technology professional, as one can make out from his bio. Beyond these, one of the things that I greatly admire in him is the way he has democratized his knowledge. By making his presentations available almost religiously post his sessions, he has ensured that the impact of his work goes beyond the four walls of the classroom. You could catch a glimpse of some of his work here. So when he checked on my interest at speaking at SIBM, I knew I had to say Yes- without any doubt. The fact that I was going through a relatively busy job transition and preparing for a full marathon- among other things in life didn’t deter even once in saying Yes to this opportunity of sharing. Over the various experiences I have had in life, I have learnt that finding time for things you want to do is an art that's not impossible to master. It's always very easy to imbibe an excuse mindset and blame time for everything one cannot do but I think it’s not so hard to imbibe an progressive mindset and find time to say Yes to things you really want do.

Repetition solidifies knowledge
The topic that TV was teaching at SIBM was a course on Creativity for the students. Having gone through the slides that he shared over Slideshare, it was nothing short of a world-class content for the raw minds. The class that i was expected to Guest lecture was "Creativity in Industries" and I was supposed to kick start this session by sharing my thoughts on Creativity in Sports, followed by TV's narrative on the other industries. One of the many ways this session was different that I have done on public speaking platforms is that each of the lecture had to be given 4 times a day to the students of different sections. On surface, this would sound like a boring thing to do, but as i experienced later- it was actually a good experience. I could experience that- not only students but teachers also tend to get better by repeating stuff- if one keeps an open mind to it. Our joint session was set for 3rd-Sept-2016.

Books are among learner’s best friends
Being given some time before the session actually happened meant that I could try and prepare as much as I could. I do rely a lot on books and secondly the articles over the internet to form a solid perspective before imparting the talk. I did no different this time, and read quite a few books (listed below) and even more articles and eventually worked to form a deck which i share-
Books Read in quest of preparing for the talk:

For those of you who have been regular at sharing via public speaking would realize that it does take a considerable amount of time preparing and more so if the topic is offbeat. This was an offbeat topic for me as sports is not my primary profession, though I have been a passive follower of most of the sports India plays and active at marathon running.

The act of sharing is where the rubber actually meets the road
All the preparation is not quite worthwhile unless the sharing actually happens, much like a car tyre is useless unless it’s on the motion in the road. I delivered my session to students on 3rd-Sept-2016
The presentation that i delivered during the day is here-

It was indeed a humbling experience teaching students. I didn’t dislike the act of delivering the session 4 times in the span of 5-6 hours. Apart from me perfecting my delivery, it did help me empathize a good lot with a teacher's life. Moreover, I got to learn a good deal from students and listening to slides that TV presented. The act of repetition does help to reinforce the learnings more solidly.
Some key points from my session:
- Exhibiting Creativity in Sports is difficult because letting your body and mind together follow the creative thoughts are a tad tougher than letting your mind alone follow creative input.
- Your best chance to innovate is where different fields meet. Break down barriers between fields. Don't just go deep in your field alone, develop interest and leverage from the other fields too.
- Leverage self-learning as much as coaching. Some of best sportspeople have been self-taught, atleast initially.

Towards the end
If you have read till here, I am sure you would appreciate a quick summary of my experience here. Here it goes-
1    1.  Make knowledge sharing as much a priority as is learning. That’s an important characteristic of a growth mindset.
2    2. Strive to get in a state of sharing knowledge just for the sake of sharing knowledge. Don’t expect rewards for sharing what you know (though as I experienced I long run, embracing such state has immense professional benefits). Not everything in life is give and take.
3    3.  Lastly, find ways to democratize your knowledge. After all, the knowledge not shared is knowledge wasted.

If you would like to share your knowledge sharing experiences, I would like to hear and learn from you. Please do add your thoughts in comments.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Internal Talk to Emerging Leaders on the Topic of Leading Change

I am just sharing an internal talk that I gave to emerging leaders in my organization on the topic of Leading Change and fostering Innovation.
Just sharing the contents of my speech as below-

An Emerging Leader speaking to Talented Emerging Leaders: 
Standing in front of the talented set of people like all of you, one of the first thoughts that run into my mind is that almost all of us are emerging leaders for most part of our careers- probably at different stages of emergence. I would like to count myself as an emerging leader too.  My belief is that when we think that we have become accomplished leaders, we stop growing. I love sports- play a few of them and follow a lot of them. I can quote example from the world of Cricket.

When the Australian team was winning almost everything in the Cricket field from mid-90s through most of 2000s, their captain during the initial stages of its transformation Steve Waugh shared a secret of their success. I remember him once saying that internally the Australian team used to consider themselves as world no. 2 (though they were undisputed #1). This feel of them not being #1, even though artificial one but deeply internalized one, helped them get better even when they won. If they won by 10 runs, they did make sure to celebrate but more than that set themselves the goal to do win by a bigger margin in the next match. So this team remained emerging and constantly strived towards reaching great heights.

There is another opposing example, again from the world of sport. There was an England bowler named Monty Panesar, who was bowling in one of the Ashes tests. Commentating in the match and seeing Monty bowl, Australian legend Shane Warne said
“Is Monty bowling in his 33rd test or the 1st test for the 33rd time?”

Monty probably stopped growing and probably he started to think of himself as having been an accomplished bowler after getting a break into England playing 11 and didn't improve as much as the situation demanded.

Leander Paes won the Bronze medal for India in 1996 Olympics. The aspect that was unique about this achievement was that this was the first time in 44 unbelievable years that India won an individual Olympic medal. In this barren phase for India, athletes seemed to have lost self-belief.  There are a lot of stories that confirm that only participating in Olympics was a pinnacle of achievement as if winning a medal was a deal only for aliens.  After Paes won, it raised the self-belief of athletes and we have won in all the Olympics since then.

I fully embrace this thinking I shared so here's an emerging leader talking to a group of emerging 

Further to kind introduction HR gave, one thing I want to tell about myself is that inside office, I try to lean myself towards achieving expertise in the area of my choice- and outside of office, on a lighter note- I try to become the best "Jack-of-all trades". I do try to indulge myself in newer areas/hobbies as I believe this helps you learn a lot about life at a broader level and a lot more about self at a narrow level. Among the things that I have indulged myself in and that has surprisingly stayed with me consistently over the years is the hobby of Technology journalism. I do write on technology areas frequently and this indulgence, more than anything has made me a student of
various events that happen in our industry. And my intention is to decipher the events, finding meanings and relevant learnings that could be applied at the workplace.

I have been an apprentice about the subject of leading change. As much as I have thought in the past that I have mastered learning about the change, I have always fallen short as newer and unknown situations keep emerging. Having observed our industry quite closely for a considerable time, I can safely vouch that we live in a very dynamic industry in which no two days are the same. In this little talk, I would like my focus to be narrow.  And I would just try and focus on 3 core points-

Point#1. Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill…
…and if we don't treat it as a skill we leave a gap open to become victims of change. And one of the things that I often tell myself and my team is that we should not let ourselves be labeled as victims. Being a victim is not one of the nicest and positive feelings at all. Our attitude should make us accountable to ourselves and own-up things.

A couple of years back, Facebook brought WhatApp for a whopping $21 billion dollars. There was a lot of analysis done on why Facebook would have spent so much for just an App. I mean one could buy multiple steel companies for that sum. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easier to tell Facebook anticipated the disruption caused by Messaging apps much earlier before they even became a threat. They realized that amount of time average users were spending on WhatsApp was the time they were b spending on Facebook. Even though they haven’t possibly earned a dollar from WhatsApp in all these years, this acquisition helped them prevent cannibalization and stay relevant. Bottom line- they had mechanisms to anticipate these changes before they caused disruption.

John Chambers was a former CEO of Cisco who, after almost 2 eventful decades at top, finally hung his boots last year. In our career times, we have seen some legendary companies like Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Digital Equipment, McAfee, EMC etc. either merge with bigger companies or bite the dust altogether. What makes some companies and CEO like Chambers tick? Chambers wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review on his/Cisco’s longevity and associated the same with his ability to stay ahead of technology shifts. Did Chambers view the technology shifts and changes as a “threat”? He says-
“When you’re a large company with significant market share, it’s tempting to view market disruptions as a threat, but we view them as an opportunity. When a market isn’t in transition, gaining market share is hard—you’re fighting to take one or two points of share from competitors. That’s why we’re transforming our entire business, expanding to capture growth, and thinking very differently about the future of information technology.”

While describing how Chambers saw leading change as a skill, he considers listening to the customers are one of the key ways to gain insights about the trends. He further says-
"The best indication of when to make the jump frequently comes from our customers. That’s been true in nearly every market transition. Many years ago, before the market moved from routing to switching, I visited Ford Motor Company, a key customer. Executives there told me they were exploring a new networking technology called Fast Ethernet. I’d never heard of it before. A week later I called on some Boeing managers, and I asked them about Fast Ethernet. “Yeah, we think that might be the way to go,” they said. They told me about a company called Crescendo Communications that was making advances in that area. We ended up buying Crescendo to help us make this transition.

To generalize the view which Chambers and Zuckerberg’s actions presented, in my thinking, as a leaders we should keep our eyes and ears open and build systems that can help us sniff change and formulate the ways to connect the dots and make sense of what trends and happenings in our industry means to us, to our products, to our teams and to our careers.

If we just look at our work home, i feel Citrix as an organization is a great example of how the technology and market changes are anticipated and our response are planned. Citrix started in 1989 and has successfully weathered the storm created by many technology changes that has happened from the pre-Internet days of 1989 and today's times when we are doing all the work that we need to do on miniature devices. Not many companies, which started as long back as Citrix did, are still around and thriving as we are. We should be proud of this.

So summarizing my first point-
Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill and if we don't treat it as a skill we leave a gap open to become victims of change.

Point#2: As much as we try, it's not possible to anticipate change every time
The second point that I present here is in a way contradicting with the point I just presented and it is that- As much as we try and want, it's not possible to anticipate and predict the change every time accurately. And when we cannot predict it, we should do the next best thing- respond to the situation like the best in the world.

Prior to joining Citrix, I was working at McAfee- which is a well-known company dealing with security software products. When I was there more than a decade back, its product and selling proposition used to be an anti-virus (AV) software. AV software, by definition, works on the premise of preventing the known threats. It creates a layer of security that prevents all the known threats from happening. Over the last decade, the security landscape has changed drastically as much as that it is no longer possible to predict all the threats from happening. The best thing that could be sometimes is the faster detection of vulnerabilities and swifter response to minimize the damage when the security is found to be compromised. Another security product vendor, FireEye- recently acquired a company called Mandiant which essentially deals with faster response after the security has been breached.

Taking a cue from this experience of mine and use this as analogy, it is not always possible to anticipate change as we don't live in predictable world anymore. In those situations, it's better for us to gear us up for a faster response. Sharing some more examples-
The companies that survived the aftermath of 9/11 attacks weren't experts in dealing with such situations. But they were the companies that were most responsive to change, they were the ones who were willing to work on the ground, they were the ones who changed their plans by every hour and do all that was need to get back on feet despite numerous odds. Southwest Airlines was one example which survived post 9/11 situation when most airlines just couldn't cope up with the gravity of the situation.

In the similar way, even the great economists couldn't predict the banking disaster of 2008 that lead to wide-spread recession. The companies that were most responsive to the change came our victorious during this time. I remember having been a part of Citrix in 2009 and one of the decisions we made then was to make our core platform product- XenServer free. Whether this move was successful or not is a debate for a different time, but the fact is that we didn't shy away from making a bold move. The intent here was to help our customers who were cash-strapped to try any new technology and pay for it, thereby helping us build a good footprint of the platform, which would have later helped us sell the management applications on top of it.

In 2000, The semiconductor chip manufacturing facility of Philips caught fire after a lightning strike created electrical surges across the state of New Mexico. They had automated sprinklers and a trained staff, as a result of which, the fire was put off in 10 minutes. At the first glance, the damaged seemed minimal. Semi-conductor industry has a concept called as "Clean Room" where silicon wafers are produced. Due to the requirements, this room is kept a thousand times cleaner than operating theaters in hospitals. Philips estimated around a week's delay in production as the water from sprinkler and the smoke itself had done some damage to Clean room.
Philips semiconductors had 2 major competitors as its customers at that time (who sourced the chips from Philips)- let’s say it- Company A and Company B for the time being. Company B, upon receiving the news about the fire and shipment delay; quickly checked its inventory. It determined that it had enough chips in stock to tide over the week's delay. Thus, they waited for the Philip's factory to be restored.
Company A, on the other hand, went into classic firefighting mode. It took some steps-
1. Setup a team to monitor the progress of the repairs to the factory. It figured out that the problem was bigger than was originally thoughts.
2. As a result of this knowledge, they went fast and contacted other supplier who could help them fill the void.
3. CEOs got engaged and Philips got into action to rearrange production in its factories in Asia.
4. It redesigned portions of the critical chip so that the chop could be manufactured in other plans.
By the time Company B woke up to this situation, it was too late and Company A took the lead. Company B, not surprisingly, incurred amounting to more than 100s of millions. Company B was Ericsson. Company A was Nokia.

Nokia rode on such thinking and agility to win more than 50% of market by 2007.
What happened after 2007 to Nokia is also widely known and written about. Though operationally, it had the best brains to take them past the fire-like situations with suppliers but strategically, it probably lacked the anticipation machinery that could help them assess the impact of disruption iPhone and Android were about to cause.
Another aspect in this case is that Nokia failed to part ways with Symbian OS when Android seem to be becoming a de-facto standard.
Instead of engaging in the futile exercise of predicting inflections, companies and individuals should develop capabilities that will allow them to deal with the inflections as and when they occur.

Point#3. During the early days of change, focus more on people who accept change fast than the ones who don’t
I have been quite inspired with former HCL CEO Vineet Nayar's book- Employees first Customers second and the management philosophy that he shares. During his tenure as a CEO, he brought about a massive change in HCL while keeping key focus on what he calls as true value zone for any knowledge based company True value he says, is not generated by the top management or middle management but it is the people who are closest to the product and the customers. In a way, the change he brought, turned the traditional management paradigms upside down.

As Vineet says, a change initiative can’t be termed as successful if affected people are not onboard. It
is generally not possible to have everyone onboard right from the day the change was introduced. When he first began to drive the changes in his organization, Vineer Nayar understood that not all people would come on board immediately and in fact there are three different groups of people depending largely on the way they embrace change-

Transformers: Transformers are the people who were just waiting for someone to initiate the change and they join the bandwagon almost immediately. They are the ones who are usually aware of shortcomings in the current environment but probably were not the influential enough to drive the change themselves earlier on. They are the people who not only embrace change but also are ready with suggestions, ideas and raise their hand to implement some to completion.

Lost Souls: They are the people who would never support any kind of change. They always have this negativity surrounding them and they somehow are never able to lift themselves from their hopeless state. They somehow believe that every new initiative is an eye wash from the management or the organization. Whenever the new idea is suggested they would simply go ahead and dismiss that not only in their minds but also knowingly and unknowingly try to spread their negativity by airing their views.

Fence sitters: These are the third bunch of people, who generally are reluctant to share their views, rarely would ask the questions and would rather play a wait and watch game. They may not openly criticize the change but won’t either embrace it with wholeheartedness. When asked their opinions, they are likely to say nice things rather than be upfront honest. They would closely watch "Transformers" and the "Lost Souls" and may even change their opinions in short time. In any change initiatives, such people are usually in the majority. They get easily influenced in either direction.
During my early years as a leader, while driving any change initiative I used to focus too much on getting a buy-in from the Lost Souls as a measure for success. As I learned from Vineet's experience here, I figured out the leader should focus more on Transformers at the start of change initiative and empower these set of people to show positive examples of adopting the change to the Fence sitters and Lost Souls and use Transformer's energy to help get buy-in from Fence sitters first.

In my experience, in any hierarchical organization, any mid-level leader plays the role of a leader to his/her team and at the same time- plays a role of a follower to his or her boss. Thus, we get to play the role of initiator and a leader of the change in some cases and in some, it is aptly following the change and ensuring the alignment of the teams. Both these situations requires different skills to get the buy-in from the team and from the management upwards and leaders should be willing to think of these differently.

Bonus point: Have a beginner's mindset
Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.

So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.
·       Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!
·       Robert says we sure do.
·       Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.
·       Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.
So Andy Grove says, Yes why don't we do that before these other guys get in.

To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more willing to be a beginner again. And to me that is what is needed the most when we drive the change efforts.
Most of the organizations fail to cannibalize the stuff at the right time.
As John Chambers also said-
"For Cisco, each transition required a decision about when to jump from selling a profitable product to a new technology—often one that would cannibalize our existing product line. These jumps were critical, though, if we wanted to stay ahead of the curve."

Even when we attempt to reinvent our careers, most of the people tend to focus a lot of learning new stuff but in reality the harder thing in any reinvention efforts is to unlearn what we already know that will not be needed in the future. As a leaders, we should help our teams unlearn stuff that’s hampering the growth to drive the positive change.

The Book “One Thing” narrates this story about Steve Jobs that reflects further on adopting beginner’s mindset.
"No one knew how to go small better than Steve Jobs. He was famously as proud of the products he didn't pursue as he was of the transformative products Apple created. In the two years after his return in 1999, he took the company from 350 products to ten. That's 340 nos, not counting anything else during that period. At the 1997 MacWorld Developers Conference, he explained, "When you think about focusing, you think, 'Well, focusing is saying "yes", No! Focusing is about saying no. Jobs was after extraordinary results and he knew there was only one way to get there. Jobs was a "no" man."

As a key learning, we should be ready to cannibalize something that's working for the sake of something better that you foresee coming.

Closing thoughts:

I will close the talk with the words of our CEO, Mark Templeton that he shared after one of our difficult change initiatives-
“Truth is people don't like change. And the older you get, the less you like it.
Change has to start here (pointing towards mind). You have to move mind before you move your bodies. Change is an intellectual process that you have to work to see it for what it is. It’s about staying relevant and not becoming a dinosaur.”

Thank you.

Images sources:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Did Microsoft Acquire Wand Labs for Talent or Technology?

While the whole world was talking about Microsoft’s famed acquisition of Linkedin, it quietly acquired yet another company- rather small in size called as Wand Labs.
In order to understand the specifics behind this acquisition, we would need to reverse jog our memory a few months back to Microsoft Build Conference. In this conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out the vision of something called as “Conversation-as-a-Platform”.

Last year, I did write a bit about how future of IT will more depend upon how invisible it will be for the users. The crux here being that eventually technology will become so seamless that it will weave with our very fabric of existence, so much aligned with our lives that we wouldn’t even know it existed. When we reach that stage of maturity of technology, the current means of interacting with technology i.e. through keyboard or mouse or stylus or any other physical means with exist but will become unpopular over a period of time. When that happens, Microsoft (and a lot others) believe that we will interact with technology with language, with the power of spoken words- as we do as a second nature when interacting with humans. This future transformation is best put-forward by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert when he argues-

The current Web is “pull-based,” meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications. The future of the Web is “push-based,” meaning the Web will be coming to us. In the next 10 years, we will witness a transformation from a pull-based Web to a push-based Web. When this “Big Reverse” is complete, the Web will disappear into the background much like our electricity or water supply.

Nadella’s vision of “Conversation-as-a-Platform” calls for three “actors” as was framed in Build 2016 conference 1) People 2) Personal Digital Assistant 3) Bots.

Simply explained, People are conversation starters, Digital Assistants like Siri and Cortana understands people, their habits much like personal assistants (using AI, machine learning) and Bots integrate with digital assistants and help do very specific chores like booking a ticket, ordering food etc.
Satya Nadella believes puts Conversations-as-a-Platform in the same category of breakthrough innovations of the past like the graphical user interface, the web browser and the iPhone-driven adoption of the touchscreen. And Microsoft is not alone in the game here. We have Amazon Echo (Alexa), Facebook Messenger (which as per the recent news supports ~ 11000 bots) and Slack (something I need to explore more). I am awaiting my Echo device that I recently and luckily have won in a contest in my organization to experiment more.

Again, this gets me curious on what has made such big organizations bet so big on messaging apps ?
A comprehensive data would serve me better here but if i need to make an educated guess, the success of apps like WhatsApp has made every organization stand-up and take notice. Just look at the amount of time and attention we spend on WhatsApp (or any other competing app) every day. Every organization is trying to see what more can they do with this massive user attention. Bots seem to be a natural way to add more value to that user attention span by making it easier for users to do more tasks and further making them hooked.

So where does Wand Labs' offerings aligns with Microsoft's vision?

The technology that Wand Labs (was still in beta when acquired) offered revolved around questioning some key assumptions around the usage of mobile phones-
What if your apps could all talk to each other?
What if you could let your loved ones borrow your services like you lend them your credit card?

This shortcoming as shared by Vishal Sharma, the CEO of Wand Labs in a talk to explains the motive behind his start-up-

Back when the desktop ruled, there was a single comprehensible hub that provided access to unlimited content and activities — the browser. People typically used it with several tabs open and painlessly shifted from one task to the next. “But the minute we went to mobile, the browser failed,” he says. Living in a browser world was like residing in a contiguous continent. But now we live in a land of a thousand islands — those apps we keep installing — and keep hopping from one to another. And good luck if you try to share what’s inside one of those apps — in many cases even if your recipient is using the same app, he or she can’t do what you can, because your stuff is (understandably) protected with a password.

So Wand is meant to be an super application that acts much like browser did for desktop and helps turn an island of app into a continent of sorts where there are ways established for apps to talk to each other via its advanced messaging technology.

While Microsoft’s current bot technology and framework helps people talk to phone to get specific work done, the way Wand possibly adds value is that it augments this vision further by enabling various apps to exchange information with each other and lets users share app features with other friends.

I wasn’t quite able to try Wand to add my experience here as the service is shut now but will be eagerly waiting to see what Microsoft eventually does with it. I will particularly be interested in understanding the enterprise use cases such technology can support.

so why did Microsofy eventually acquire Wand Labs ?

To understand this, I will look back at Satya Nadella's memo to Microsoft employees post Linkedin acquisition where he shared the factors he keeps in mind while taking acquisitions decisions-

Given this is the biggest acquisition for Microsoft since I became CEO, I wanted to share with you 
how I think about acquisitions overall. To start, 
I consider if an asset will expand our opportunity — specifically, does it expand our total addressable market? 
Is this asset riding secular usage and technology trends? 
And does this asset align with our core business and overall sense of purpose?

Companies do acquisitions for various reasons, prime of them usually being make them more profitable and adding additional revenue streams like the last acquisition that I assessed. But this one seem different as Microsoft seem to have taken an early beta player (with possibly no revenue of its own). Its prime motives could be two-fold-
1. As evident from Nadella's memo- this posssibly helps be more relevant by being adept to technology trends.
2. Again from Nadella's memo, something that aligns with overall sense of purpose.
3. Getting great people into its talented work-force.
2    What are your thoughts ?

Further, I will be looking forward to further assess a recent acquisition in enterprise space. Do watch this space for more updates.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My Advice to the Class of 2016

I had a chance last week to interact with the campus grads. joining my organization. It was more of a fun event with the Engineering Directors and towards the end, each Director was asked to give some piece of advice to the engineers on the first day of their jobs. There were some brilliant pieces of advice given by my colleagues and I did share few points from my side that I intend to share here. By nature, I am not the one to initiate giving advises unless asked. This is certainly not because I don’t want to help people but more so the realization that the engineers who have cleared such stringent selection process are smart and can be trusted to seek help when they need. Other aspect that I am mindful of is also that unsolicited advice (that’s given without being asked) is usually ignored and tends to project the advice-giver as someone superior, which I certainly not want to be seen as.

Here are my piece of two advises (given I had 2-3 minutes to talk) I gave to class of 2016-

Snapshot “First day of the Career” mindset:
As you will start working from next week, you would be dealing with Virtual Machines and Containers while working on engineering tasks. One of the interesting features that Virtual Machines and Containers have is creating infrastructure is the snapshot. The snapshot feature is most useful when you want to preserve the state of the virtual machine so you can return to the same state repeatedly.

Unfortunately our minds do not have snapshot feature and I would have so dearly liked it to have. But hypothetically if it had snapshot feature, I would have requested all of you to take snapshot of your current mindset, and asked you to retain it for future.

Being at your situation years back, the first day a job mindset is something like-
1.       All of you have a Beginners mindset. You are not afraid to try anything new and also not bogged down by thoughts/processes of the past.
2.       You have a positive fear that is leading you to think that you need to do well in your jobs.
3.       Passion to do well for yourselves and the organization.
4.       Very high energy/enthusiasm and motivation.

I bet to you- if you are able to retain this mindset every day, every hour till the last day of your career- you would have surely achieved something significant in your lives and careers. Just try and snapshot and use this state everywhere, especially when things aren’t working for you.

Software Engineering is a Team Game:
Second point, I believe all of you are special and very talented to have been selected to drive Citrix’s future. All of you would be looking to contribute individually towards the success of your respective products and Citrix. One thing that I wanted to share with you was to never forget that Software engineering is a team game. In order to win this game, in addition to being very strong Individual contributors, we need to be world class team players.

I admire Rahul Dravid as an outstanding Cricket player, but more so for his selfless display as a world-class team player for Indian cricket team. He said in Harsha Bhogle’s book-

“the team is like a pot. Some people put into the pot, others draw from it. Who puts in and who takes out depends upon the people as well as the moment. Ultimately, a team that has more people putting in rather than taking out is a happy team, a team more likely to win.”

So, please do remember this. As this quote says and I figured out personally by experiencing- one of the great ways to being a world-class team player is focusing on giving back to the team be it knowledge, a helping hand and voluntarily finding opportunities to help. Give back more than what you take from your team members.
School/College tests usually do not measure:
Creativity, Vision, Teamwork, Integrity, Grit, Passion, Empathy, Loyalty, Endurance, Humility, Compassion
But your success in organization will more depend upon how you master these skills in addition to technical skills. So, while you chase your individual glory, please remember that- individual successes alone don’t make organizations great but when team succeeds, organization succeeds.

What advice would you give to smart engineers on the first day of their jobs ?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Is Salesforce's Acquisition of Demandware a mutually beneficial one?

I started my career with contribution to a massive CRM based product and contributed towards it for more than 3 years. So it is safe to say that my last stint with CRM software was way back in the past. In that sense, this blog (about Salesforce acquiring Demandware for $2.8 bn- both CRM related companies) was not a default choice for me to write about but something still got me interested. Sharing some of my reasons here-
1. I was in one of the meetings recently that CEO of my current organization was hosting. A question came up about his philosophy around acquisitions. He said that his guiding question is- "What would we do to make them (the target company) better?". In saying this, he shared this example of Salesforce and Demandware acquisition, which got me curious to explore further.
2. Another coincidence, I was reading this book currently- "Behind the Cloud", which tracks the amazing story of success of
3.I was recently discussing with my college friend on his idea of starting a podcast to study recent technology trends. We got to discuss a bit about studying technology acquisitions as a way to understand the direction our industry is headed.
4. Lastly, I had a good run while doing the technology journalism for and during that stint, almost a year back or so. I did write a good lot about acquisitions happening at that time.

So, let’s look at some of the specifics here- starting with the core reason of existence of these companies.'s customer relationship management service is broken down into several broad categories: Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, Data Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Community Cloud, Analytics Cloud, App Cloud, and IoT with over 100,000 customers. was the first cloud-based enterprise application company.
Demandware is a software technology company providing a cloud-based e-commerce platform and related services for retailers and brand manufacturers around the world. Demandware was founded to provide a hosted service that would enable companies to develop and manage easy-to-use, customizable e-commerce websites, rather than building a site from scratch.

Given the similarity in the delivery models i.e. Software-as-a-Service, Demandware's acquisition allows Salesforce a direct entry into lucrative digital commerce market- which apparently was a missing piece in its portfolio.

So this raises a question- Why would Salesforce really have to target digital commerce segment?
A simple answer- because its competitors already have a presence in that segment. As this Forbes article suggests, 
SAP and Oracle have already ventured into the e-commerce domain through their acquisitions of Hybris and Art Technology Group, respectively, so the Demandware acquisition should help Salesforce continue to compete with its rivals.

As this graphic from the same Forbes article suggests, Salesforce has a steady lead over its competitors and this acquisition should further help them augment that lead.

In all, this acquisition will help Salesforce fill a major product gap and form a new product "Salesforce Commerce Cloud".

So, will Demandware really gain from this acquisition ?
On a lighter note, yes- they will gain $2.8 billion :-). But more seriously, the answer lies in the leveraging the success of Salesforce's Customer Success Platform. As this news suggests-
The Salesforce Commerce Cloud will be an integral part of Salesforce's Customer Success Platform, creating opportunities for companies to connect with their customers in entirely new ways. Salesforce customers will have access to the industry's leading enterprise cloud commerce platform, and Demandware's customers will be able to leverage Salesforce's leading sales, service, marketing, communities, analytics, IoT and platform solutions to deliver a more comprehensive, personalized consumer experience.

Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison who originally mentored CEO Marc Benioff. The book "Behind the Cloud" talks about how Ellison allowed Benioff, then an Oracle Executive, a rare privilege to start-up and work on Salesforce while being an Oracle employee. Interestingly, proved to be the case of child exceeding father's achievements as it created a new market of online enterprise software and became an undisputed leader. Now, Oracle is playing a catch-up game with Salesforce. Larry Ellison was recently quoted to be bullish about reaching the $10 billion mark, a first for cloud based software company, even before Salesforce. Such competition makes Salesforce's Demandware acquisition even more strategic and necessary for retaining the future leadership of the company.

Further studying this acquisition from Product Strategy perspective, there are 2 strategies that appear on surface. One is that of product differentiation and other that of product expansion. The case of Salesforce acquiring Demandware seem to be more of the latter. This acquisition is not really a solid differentiation for Salesforce as its competitors are already invading that space. As the book- "Product Strategies for High Technology Companies" states-
Create and launch a continuing series of products that open new markets and fuel rapid growth. This is the dream of most high-technology companies. Expansion into the new markets is sometimes necessary for survival.

The book further states the case of approaches followed by Lotus Development Corporation and Microsoft in 80s. While Lotus achieved immense success with its 1-2-3 spreadsheet application but it remained vertically oriented, achieved its growth with variations around one successful product. Microsoft's strategy, on the other hand, contrasted with that of Lotus as it pursued a strategy of growth by expansion into related markets (OS- client, server, Browser etc.) .

Taking a cue from this example, it is probably in the best interests of future growth and survival of both Salesforce and Demandware that they operate under a single direction and help each other grow.

Please do share your comments regarding this analysis.

Coming up next is a bit of commentary around Microsoft's recent acquisition. And no, its not about Microsoft-Linkedin.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fundamental Lessons I (re)learned from a Public Spotfix Activity

The last week was a memorable one for me, truly memorable. I was part of a group of volunteers from my organization, in collaboration with Ugly Indians, helped rescue a filthy part of our city and made it liveable again.
From Wikipedia - The Ugly Indians (TUI) are an anonymous group of motivated volunteers who clean Indian streets.TUI calls cleaning the street "Spot-fixing". TUI chooses small segments of road each week to clean: pavements piled up with plastic, defaced walls, footpaths rendered unusable by potholes as spot-fixing places. All tools, materials and instructions are provided on the spot. All spot fixes are self-funded and volunteers are requested to make a contribution towards material costs.

The Spotfix area chosen was at the start of Ulsoor Road, which is one of the prominent areas around the heart of city of Bengaluru. This Spotfix area we chose is surrounded by Army establishments. This event was scheduled from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM everyday from 24th-May to 26th-May.
This picture depicting before and after situation tells a lot about the transformation that was achieved in a record time of almost three hours by 40 plus volunteers-

As amazing as the transformation looks, we couldn't think but admire how much could we achieve in so less time. Before we started the volunteering act, the representative from The Ugly Indians during the address to the team said this- “How much work can you get done in 3 hours?”. He also referred to us in corporate life having been a part of many multiple hours meetings that achieved almost nothing productive. And he said that today, you will be surprised at what you will achieve as a group if you just stick to the tasks and work hard at achieving them.
When we looked at the place after the event, I personally didn’t believe that we would be able to turn it around I just 3 hours as well as it eventually became.
Bill Gates had once said “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” What this group of volunteers achieved in three hours was pretty much reverse of what Bill Gates seem to have been suggesting in this quote. We actually underestimated what we could achieve in a short span of three hours.

This transformation wasn't just physical in nature as it helped transform my mind and thoughts a bit and helped me relearn some of the aspects about leading the life, that i share below-

When faced with a mammoth task, always first look to break it into manageable chunks-
This is what Ugly Indians team seemed to have done when they came up with everything possible for this project ready. They had broken down tasks to the level of granularity that each person knew what was supposed to be done. Overall tasks that got accomplished were- cleaning the filthy areas (pulled 2 trucks worth of garbage) during shovels, brooms etc., painting of walls after brushing and cleaning, painting the pavements. All this couldn't have been done without simplifying the visibly complex chore into the chunks that each person could singularly accomplish.

When working in a team, focus more on giving back-
There were several instances where people just volunteered for the tasks without being told. I could see when some people were tried after hammering, digging the surface and resting- the other set of people just took over from where the previous set of people left, without being asked. That is the essence of true team work- understanding the pain of team members and silently offer self to the cause of helping others without expecting a sense of reciprocity.

Focus on Work, not who gets the credit:
 The Ugly Indian's guiding philosophy is summed-up in this Hindi language phrase- "Kaam chalu mooh bandh", which means- Stop Talking, Start Doing. And that is exactly what happened during those three hours. One of the most beautiful feelings that i encountered during this whole act was people just didn't worry about who got the credit. Everyone was so engrossed in getting the tasks during, almost in their zone, that helping others almost became a second nature for these 3 hours that we spent there. It was so refreshing to see "will i get credit for my work" mentality taking a backseat.

Do the difficult, more often:
We should find ways to squeeze in few difficult tasks, the tasks that we have never done before in our work days and life in general. Most of the folks who participated today hadn’t done spot fixing before, but at the end- almost everyone were happy seeing the outcome. All the participants felt happy going beyond their own comfort zone and achieving something tangible.

Focus on work, not on distractions:
The Ugly Indians representative, earlier in the day, shared that sometimes few folks who see people work in public try to rebuke and make comments. Given that it’s a public activity such reaction, though unwarranted, is somewhat not uncommon. He suggested us to just stay focused on work and politely ask the people to join and help make city clean. Though there were few people we encountered who acted like this, most of the passerby thanked us for our act of selflessness.