My ikigai – Product, People, and Tech

I have been thinking a lot about what gives me energy, what I can contribute to the world, and what will still make me money – in short, what is my ikigai (the Japanese concept about which you can read here). I have realized that the intersection of product, people and technology is what gets me to this state. In this long piece (and it has been a while since I wrote a long piece), I am going to be writing different facets of these three circles that I am excited about. I am writing this primarily for myself, so that I can introspect now, and later (if/when I re-read it). 

Technology: If I go by journey chronology, my journey starts with technology. My PhD in Computer engineering took me down some deep research rabbit holes on how to do high level synthesis of VLSI circuits optimizing on static leakage power. It was a world when techniques to reduce dynamic power (or the power that is consumed when electronic circuits are running) was just saturating, and the research in the field of leakage power (or the power that is ‘leaked’ even when circuits were not being used) was just beginning. If you are old enough, you would remember that feature phones would start dying on you at the end of the day, even if you did not use them at all. My research focused on how to design circuitry to reduce this power – which was super important for portable electronics that was just picking up. Doing research taught me resilience, persistence, and the power of positivity (you get knocked down so many times with paper rejects!). Fun fact – My advisor Dr. Katkoori was a huge shell scripting fan, and it rubbed on to me – my entire MS dissertation was a multi-hundred line csh script 😀

This is how beautiful LaTeX type-set research documents looked like. This is a screenshot from my doctoral dissertation.

Right after my dissertation, I joined Cadence Design Systems, where I continued working on power optimization, but this time on production quality software, which crunched circuits of millions of transistors, with almost every known VLSI design house using our software (Samsung, Sony, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, nvidia, apple, to name a few). After a few years, I moved on to Synopsys, where I worked on synthesis tools for FPGA (think of it as configurable VLSI circuits). The focus in both of these roles was writing high performance and scalable code in C/C++. These complex algorithms synthesized the VLSI designs for the latest and greatest chips of the time (and to this day).

Towards the end, I landed a new charter to create a new group called Reusable Components team, to focus on building high performance libraries for several common components that were being written/used across the dozen odd product lines in Synopsys. This was almost like Technical Product Management (TPM) where there was much to be discovered / negotiated / deployed between large product groups that worked in silos. This was also when I created the TPAC (Technical Publications Advisory Council), where we encouraged, reviewed, and rewarded engineers for submitting patents and technical papers.

This is how CAD tools looked back in the day. I wouldnt be surprised if they look the same now. The code on the left is RTL code in verilog. img src

This work in Cadence and Synopsys taught me to write solid high performance code. I learnt the subtle art of managing and working with super bright engineers. It also gave me the attitude that any new technology can be learnt and applied, once you have the fundamentals right.  

Product: My jump into Product was purely accidental. I have been blogging for upwards of 18 years. And circa 2010ish, I started writing about interesting products, businesses, and just ideas that just came into me. I was writing about branding/advertising fails (like the mast-kalandar brand in Bangalore around that time). I wrote about products that the travel industry and the upcoming ecommerce industry should implement. One fine summer evening, when I was driving back from work, in the quintessential traffic of Bangalore, I got a cold call from the CEO of goibibo, who wanted to talk about a series that I had written about standardized budget accommodations in India (this was before Oyo, Treebo, Fab etc). We spoke for an hour about what I had written. I was just happy that someone had read my blog (yay!). The next two days, I spent my time (in traffic) happily talking to two other folks. And a week later, I was offered a leadership position to lead Flights at goibibo. I learnt all about product management in consumer startups, from folks at goibibo, and the community (thank you TPF and headstarters). 

web archive of my blog circa 2005. Note metafilter, lifehacker, etc for all the OG folks of that time.

Startups: And then on, I spent some time in goibibo, stayzilla, shotang, and finally ended up doing what I think was closest to being a founder, without the funding responsibilities (ixigo was our parent company). I created and ran travenues – an aviation SaaS ecommerce platform for close to three years. As a tight high performance team, we created magic. Our first paying customer was SpiceJet and we created their entire ecommerce platform from scratch, and as a fully configurable SaaS product. (This still exists in the form of SG’s current android, iOS, PWA, and desktop apps). With CoVid the aviation industry was hit hard, and our prospect funnel disappeared. We ended up selling our IP to SpiceJet and exiting. 

The full travenues story ->

Microsoft: I joined Microsoft where I have been doing enterprise grade Product Management for the last three years. I have worked on established products such as Outlook and on ultra-large-scale API platforms such as the exchange mail/calendar APIs. In recent years, I have been working on a 0-1 product called Microsoft Places that is solving for the future of hybrid work. I head product for the scenarios that the India team works on. For the sake of completeness, I should include the two years that I spent at Microsoft in the middle of my Synopsys stint, one year of which was disastrous. Being a PM with the Bing team during the time, when the Yahoo! Team-technology-swap happened, took a toll on me. The negativity and the culture mismatch was unnerving, and I went back to Synopsys.

Tech-friendly: Being a technology person in a product leadership role has helped me significantly. I can understand and speak with Engineers and Engineering Managers in their language, which establishes trust very quickly. It also has the hidden side benefit of being able to get better estimates from engineering teams. This is a boon and a bane. There have been times when I have had to learn to tell myself that as a product person, I need to be more mindful of my outcome and the engineering process should not be my problem.

Design-friendly: I had led design in both Stayzilla and Travenues. This educated me significantly on the differences in mind-set and the creative ways of designers. I got to learn how and what levels of autonomy that designers need to bring out their best, and how to build trust with them to trade-off between tactical vs creative work items.  

We did significant redesigns on the home page and on the search page.

People: I contemplated hard on writing this as the first section, because it is so dear to me, but the flow of how I came to be what I am today would not have been clear, if I had done so. 

Creating, growing, leading, and managing high performance teams. Since my early days, I had been doing this in Cadence, Synopsys, and Microsoft. I interviewed, coordinated interview squads, created hiring processes and the likes. I grew my team in goibibo. With the help of my then boss Pankaj Gupta (ex-twitter and a bunch of other great companies, now with Coinbase), I helped do a full-scale org redesign at Stayzilla. We created pods, assigned appropriate lead PMs, set rigorous standup cadences, ship cycles, and right-sized the PM team. We also had to reset the entire design team. I had to rehire almost the full team and was interim head of design for some time. I also headed the awesome content team. There was so much I learnt from Pankaj during this time. I got a chance to do the pod redesign again at Shotang. 

The rockstar team that created magic. We had so much fun doing that. Thats the whole point.

I was part of hiring the entire travenues team. This team was probably the closest tight knit team that I have ever worked with. We created magic (yes, I am repeating myself, but it was!). I even got to bring in my designer and a front-end lead from Stayzilla into travenues. I learnt so much about communicating effectively, client negotiations, high stakes stakeholder management, and dealing with customers. I learnt pitching to customers and creating relationships in the aviation ecosystem at conferences and other opportunities.   

Cross-geographic / cross-cultural interactions. I derive a lot of energy in working with folks across different cultures and geographies. I have worked very closely with teams from the US, Europe, Singapore, Korea, and Japan. It excites me a lot to get to work with people, understand their culture, and get to know them closely. To this day, I enjoy seeing the joy in people’s faces when I do something close to their culture (eg suffixing my Japanese sales counterpart name with the customer ‘san’ salutation). Given my education in the US, I have, in most cases, been the person who will understand the western culture, and get things done with the mothership. This extends to working with folks from different parts of India as well, of course. My Hindi is a unique blend of street cred Mumbaiyya and  respectful salutations from Delhi.  

Teaching, mentoring and community. I learnt most of my product management from working alongside awesome people in startups and meeting up with other people, through communities like The Product Folks and Headstarters. I love to teach. I have been teaching since graduate school. I participate in a lot of panel discussions, do talks, and attend meet-ups as part of PM communities in Bangalore. I have been meeting interesting people for breakfast (as part of what I call #dosaWithMouli) for the last 8 years. This is an agenda-less breakfast where we discuss the vagaries of our career arcs, how we have learnt what we know, what excites us, and many more things. 

My latest talk – Conducted a storytelling workshop at HSX 2023.

Leading style. Leading and growing people/teams is an integral part of my work identity now. It gives me immense joy, and makes me purposeful. I lead people with a balance of structured outcomes, and friendly trust. Radical candor and transparency is a must in my books. If a team member has to always keep guessing what I am thinking, then things are broken. I strive for this mutual trust, without which either of us cannot stand in for each other. I am strong believer that I do my best work when I am having fun, and I try my best to bring in the same with my team.

Culture. They say leave the best for the last, and culture incidentally has landed here. I am one of the strongest believers that culture is what makes people do 10x impact things. I can write a whole blog post on this, but essentially –  setting up people for success, getting the team working seamlessly together, organic transparency and mutual trust, confidence in the team. Culture builds over time but needs to be nurtured from day zero. Culture cannot be built by going to forced team lunches, or t-shirts. Culture needs to be breathed in every day, every minute, and it cannot be forced. Pragmatically, there might be a minority of people who might not subscribe to everything that I described above, but as long as the collective goodness of the ones steeped in it overrides the people who do not subscribe, it wins. Culture also involves continuously be aware of some people going completely against the grain, and taking efforts to align.

End-note: I had been wanting to write this for a while. Why do I want to write this? I tell this story to a lot of people, and almost all of them have said, I should write it down. There is one other reason – I believed that when I do write this down, it would make me think, and boy, it sure made me think. If you have gotten to this point, I applaud your patience, and the interest that you showed in reading my story and who I am. If we are not connected on Linkedin, please do reach out. I am very active on twitter/x as well.

software startup technology

Tech Enabled Restaurant Experience

There are two segments to this post. First is a fictitious sequence of events in a tech enabled restaurant, that I would like to see. The second is my take on how there exists bits and pieces of this experience, but not quite the entire flow yet.

  • We walk into a restaurant. Greeted by the Maitre’D and guided to a table.
  • Waiter heads over to our table and hands us a tablet and gives us general instructions on how to use it.



  • Once the orders are punched in, and ‘Done’ has been clicked, the waiter comes and takes away the tablet.
  • When the food is ready, the waiter brings in the food and he exactly knows which food goes where (because he can find out from the backend version of the app)
  • After the meal, the waiter brings back the tab, where the app can either take payments by splitting the bill or one person pays the bill. The payment can be done through any of the existing online payment mechanisms or by cash.
  • Folks tip the waiter for the service and leave.

A few observations/opinions about the above experience.

  • To my knowledge, the above ordering experience is not yet present in any app/service. A slightly manual version of this exists in some restaurants. The waiter have the tablet with them and punch in the order as the guest rattles out what he/she wants.But even here, I am not sure, if the app that they use help the waiter by table position. It probably takes the order for everyone together.
  • This would improve waiter productivity immensely. Apart from the time it takes for the food to be prepared, the biggest bottleneck is the order-reciting part to the waiter.
  • A related productivity benefit is the billing part. The order is directly translated to the receipt. It results in exponential productivity improvement especially when the guests would like to split the bill.
  • With the whole tech experience, it is only natural to complete the payment also through an online gateway such as PayTM or PayU or Instamojo.
  • A side feature that could be built in from the restaurant side is the capability to get very focussed reviews from the guest (eg. how was the paneer tikka?) or getting feedback on a new menu etc.

Mock-ups courtesy the awesome online tool –

Opinion technology

Solar for the home

Disclaimer: I am no expert in Solar power generation, nor am I an Electrical Engineer. So what I am about to request/propose might be the most absurdest thing – but for me, ignorance is bliss, and I shall propose.

The biggest problem that I see about solar power is that it is available only during the day and that is not the time we consume most of the power at home (work-places is a different issue – I am addressing only homes here). We need a lot more power at night to light up our homes, drive our fans and ACs, and our televisions, and routers and what not. And for doing this, we need to store this energy in batteries.

A premise that I make here is that a lot of us have inverters and they have batteries in them. But with this inverter arrangement, while we keep our batteries fully charged, we use them only if we lose power. Else it is lying unused (dormant).

1. Decouple the battery from the inverter.

2. Split wiring at home into low load and high load. For those who are using an inverter, this would have already been done by now. Keep the high load circuit on direct power (from the utility company).

3. Charge the battery during the day using solar panels. Once the battery is fully charged, divert solar power to the low load circuit to run any day time uses such as fans, TVs etc.

4. For night time power in the low load circuit, use the power stored in the battery. If the battery goes below a certain threshold, switch to main line from utility power company. If there is still power in the battery, even after day breaks the next day, continue using power from battery, switch to utility company only after battery discharges

Couple of advantages that I see here:

1. We use the power that we generate in the day time first, and then, only if needed switch to main line power in the night. So there is definitely a big component of night time power consumption that is offset. If load is low, we can perhaps offset some day time power consumption too.

2. A battery that is charged and discharged continuously lasts longer.

While a lot of this is based on my imagination, I am pretty sure this is doable in the realm of current age electrical circuitry. 

My question: Has someone done this already? Any commercial solutions? 


Restaurant Review startup technology

Zomato and their way forward

Been wanting to write about this for a while. Today seems to be the blogging day. Not feeling sleepy, and feeling an awesome urge to write, and write, and …

As you probably are aware, as of now, Zomato is a restaurant discovery service. And a damn good one at that. They have taken this and scaled it like no one else’s business internationally. Buying UrbanSpoon in the US completed this strategy. They have the US market covered too.

So, now that, people can figure out where to go eat, or order delivery from, what are two things that they could move forward on.

Home Delivery for food. When you can show them where to order delivery from, why not deliver the food itself. This is what Zomato has been experimenting on, for a while (or so I read somewhere). There are already quite a few players in this industry, like the tiny TinyOwl which got some not-so-tiny-amount of funding, and others too (such as delyvery, swiggy, grofers etc). The modus operandi in most of these services is:to display the menu of the restaurant on their website

  1. Display the menu of the restaurant on their website
  2. Take the order from the customer (app or website or phone)
  3. Call the restaurant and create the order
  4. Send the delivery person to the restaurant to pick up the order
  5. Delivery person delivers the food.

The one hiccup that could happen (and happens a lot) in this strategy is the fact that restaurants can say that they cannot make a certain order item, because of chef-absent, raw-material-over, whatever-nonsensical-yet-plausible-reason. In this case, the middle delivery guy is hosed. He needs to call the delivery company, who then calls up the customer, and asks for an alternative order, and pass it back to delivery guy, to the restaurant, etc, and so on and so forth. You get the drift.

Zomato, from what I read, is planning to solve this problem in a pretty nifty way, by using technology. They are planning to give all participating restaurants a Point of Sale (POS) device – most likely an android tablet-like device. When an order comes into the system from a customer (app/web), it goes directly to the restaurant, which has the control to accept or reject order-items immediately. The one inefficiency, that was the delivery-call-center is gone. Once the order is accepted by the restaurant, the delivery guy is dispatched to the restaurant, who picks up the food and delivers. To me, this sounds like an awesome use of technology – well worth the cost of a cheap tablet – many many times over.

Now, let us step back. There are several more side-advantages of this approach. Zomato now has a foot (well, a technological foot) in the restaurant’s door.

  • Zomato and the restaurant can capture analytics on which food is most ordered.
    • Zomato could potentially even crunch the numbers and figure out how long a certain delivery might take, based on distance of customer from restaurant, timing of the order etc.
  • Zomato can run online specials in collaboration with the restaurant.
  • Zomato can feedback ratings from customers back to restaurants directly.
  • Zomato ratings for restaurants and the ‘price for two’ numbers can become accurate.

Table Booking: Now lets talk about the second direction in which Zomato could potentially expand. If you are a restaurant discovery service, and you have suggested a restaurant to a customer, who has narrowed into this choice, based on a variety of choices, the next easy thing to capture is to help the customer to book a table.

Sure, there are players in this market too –, etc.

What does Zomato have (or can do) that gives it an edge?

Well, let us go back to the first direction (home delivery) that we discussed in length earlier. We remember that Zomato was giving the restaurants a POS (point of sale) terminal – an android device, which was going to help in getting an order into the restaurant. This same device could very well be used to book a table in the restaurant. In fact, this booking would be so much more reliable and real-time. This would replace the register that the Maitre’D has on his podium at the entrance. So, when half the restaurant has been booked by a large party online,  someone showing up at the door, would know immediately ; and vice versa.

With such a real time interaction between the restaurant and Zomato, one could do several more things as well:

  • Accurately enter the number of regular chair seats vs sofa seating and track the reservations based on this. (Personal problem that I have faced often).
  • Crunch analytics on when a restaurant is most crowded, how long (on an average) a table is occupied, and hence when a next slot can be opened up.

And ofcourse, let us throw in some capitalism for the fun of it:

  • Zomato could have ‘promoted’ hotels –
  • Restaurants could do dip pricing (my invented term – opposite of surge pricing ) for irregular hours
  • When a customer tries booking a table, and is unsuccessful, Zomato could suggest something else nearby. (This could also be the case, when you have booked a table, but the restaurant is so busy, that they cannot guarantee you, and make you wait).

Summary: I have been a big fan of Zomato and what they have been doing. And I see these two directions as promising directions that they are heading (could head towards).

Well, I have to say this. I do have one thing I did not like that Zomato did. This was when they moved from Bangalore to Gurgaon. They tried trash talking Bangalore to lure devs to Gurgaon. While it got them a lot of publicity, I kind-of felt that was in bad taste. Well, to each, their opinion.

gadgets technology

IoE and Retail

I read an article by Mala Anand (@malaAnandCisco) of Cisco on how Internet of Everything (IoE) can be harnessed for retail, and that got me thinking. This is another of those dream product posts that I occasionally write (dream-write?). There may be overlaps in some of the things that Mala had used, but this here post is my interpretation 🙂

My definition of IoE or IoT is the system where multiple devices capable of collecting, transmitting, and/or processing data, are interconnected towards achieving a specific result.

Let us take retail as an example, for the case of this blog post.

As you walk into the door, apps from your mobile phone could communicate to the store about the list of things that you are looking for. Perhaps at a high level, you walk into a super-store such as Star Bazaar in India, or Walmart in the US, and your intention is to buy some groceries and perhaps a dress for your nephew. One of these things could be done:

  • Your to-buy list could be transmitted to a central unit, which could dispatch a human personnel to you to guide you through buying your dress.
  • The store central unit sends the directions to your app indicating where the items you intending purchasing are stocked. It is worth mentioning here, that stores tend to keep changing their locations. So without the latest directions, you could be searching for a while.
  • If you have a long list of grocery items, the central system could guide the phone in your app to an optimized route.
  • If you have taken a shopping cart/trolley, the central system could now talk to a display on the trolley and guide you.
  • And ofcourse, let us toss in a bit of capitalism in here, judging you by your past behaviors, the system could ‘surreptitiously’ guide you to some items that you did not have on our list, but you crave/wish for. And ofcourse give you some deals while at it, to persuade you to buy it.
  • The system could also help you keep you within a budget – money-wise and time-wise.

And hey, while you were still at home, creating your to-buy list, your refrigerator could have let you know the status of milk and other staples at home, and if you need to purchase any.

While at the store, let us shift away from the customer experience, and move towards how it could potentially help the store itself.

  • Based on the sensors that could detect weather (current and predictions), the store manager could get data on if he should be stocking up on related items such as umbrellas, suntan lotion etc, and if he should be putting them up in the center aisles.
  • The temperature sensors could also optimally adjust the thermostats and lighting (this is already done by NEST kind of devices)
  • Stock inventory (weight sensors on the shelves) and Resource deployment could also be updated based on connected devices in the store.
  • Billing lines could be avoided – the connected devices would have calculated the bill, gotten the buyers approval and charged the credit card or deducted from an online wallet.
  • Connected cleaning agents such as robotized roombas could help clean the stores in co-ordination with the other systems in the store.
  • Connected cameras could potentially infer demographics of the customers visiting the stores. Example – Retired folks in a Target at St.Petersburg, Tampa would probably not be needing baseball bats and specialized soccer equipment. Golf clubs might be a better idea to stock.

These are some of the ideas that came up, off the top of my mind. But the Internet of Things is a very interesting subject and even though, much of it is made of dreams, there are promising directions that companies are headed towards, which makes all of these dreams potentially feasible in the not so distant future.



Solar plants add glare to Pilots

Based on reports from pilots flying over the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, glare from the plant’s massive heliostat mirror array has obstructed the vision of some pilots, presenting a potential hazard for aircrafts flying overhead.

Solar plants are super helpful in adding renewable energy to society, I hope they do something about the glare for the sake of airline safety.


design technology

A 1000 No’s for a single Yes

Does resonate with what Apple believes in.

(via daringfireball)

startup technology

What if Apple bought Tesla


Nice article on TNW hypothesizing what if Apple bought Tesla. There are several similarities. Steve Jobs did want to build a car and take on Detroit (he had made that comment to a NYT reported before he died). Tesla is loaded with elegant technology. Elon Musk dreams big – really big – kind of like Jobs. Tesla sells only through its own stores. And well, Apple very well has the cash to buy the car company. There is one more nice point made in the article – if this does happen, there is a risk to Tim Cook – a good chance that the investors might want to replace Cook with Musk!

Read the full article here. [link]

(image src: flickr)

gadgets geekzone technology

OpenTable’s new feature


Restaurant reservation startup Open Table has a new feature and I think it is a pretty cool feature (I think!). This is rolled out only in select cities and in select restaurants.

You book a restaurant reservation through OpenTable. You arrive at the restaurant. You order your meal. You finish. And then the restaurant bill arrives on your mobile phone through OpenTable. You swipe to pay direct from your phone. Done. You walk away.

And yeah, ofcourse, this caught my attention of the South Indian food on display in the phone app in the picture 🙂 And sure, it will not roll out in India for a while, but I think this is where the future lies.

Read the full article on techcrunch here. [link]


Microsoft – past and Future

This morning, I was talking exactly the same thing with my boss on the hallway. MS should just concentrate on the cloud – the azure platform. Build the developer community for it. Make sure it delivers data and functionality to every connected device. Bring office and sharepoint as services to the world. To every connected device. That is the future.

And was I surprised to read a blog post by John @gruber  on today which pretty much ended on that same note. Very well written article I should say.

Read the article here. [link]