Thursday, September 08, 2011

Learnings from WCBU 2011 - 2

Just a last couple of notes..

1) It was notable, the number of spouses and kids that had accompanied players to the championship. There were SO many young Ultimate couples (both people playing) who had come with toddlers to the tournament. Haven't seen this in any other sport before!

2) To give people an idea of what kind of players we need to create a competitive team.. ideally it should be a player with Bajji's stamina, Raj's speed and quick feet, AP's build, Boon's throws, Thunder's strength, Paddu's verticals, Abhi's heart, Mama's enthu & discipline and maybe my ability to learn quickly, and strategize (for lack of a better example). We'd need 15 players of this type :-). A whole generation of evolution required, I'd say. But, we've gotta start somewhere. Most of these things are learnable and evolvable over time.

3) Some of the top countries had dedicated coaches, and some teams even came with their own physio. Eg. Italy, France, GB, etc.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Learnings from WCBU 2011

Thought I might as well put down some points that I observed, so that the next time we think of putting together an Indian squad, we take some of these things into account.

1) Squad Size: I think this is the biggest learning from the tournament. Most successful teams came with a squad size of about 17 or 18, for a 5 vs. 5 tournament. Team India went with 10! We got killed. I said this before, and I'll dwell on it again. Every point lasts typically 45-50 seconds. And so pretty much 5 people are sprinting hard in the field, while the other 5 are catching their breath, and getting a sip of water. This means (a) no side line support, which is a critical defensive weakness (b) you're going in every alternate point, whether it's Defense or Offense. I would size the Defense squad to be 10 people, and the Offence squad to be about 7 - 8 people.
The Canadian Women's team for example had 2 lineups within themselves, and they would alter the lineup at the end of everyday depending on what worked and what didn't.

2) Depth of squad: It doesn't make sense just having numbers, when you don't have the depth of skill sets & stamina in the squad. Which would mean that the top 5-6 players will end up going in every alternate point! From what I observed, no competitive team had players going in every 2nd point.. and no players played more than 2 points in a row. There were no clearly defined roles as handlers and cutters to be honest. 99% of the players did both

3) Defensive and Offensive plays: From what I observed from the US open team, they had 3 kinds of defensive plays only. They had codewords (I think blue and white) for a force backhand, force forehand for man-defense. Then they had a straight up aggressive mark defense, with cutters being marked under. And then they had a zone defense. They had practiced this well, and every player played their role.
On offense, everyone played ho-stack without exception. And I think the Indian team itself lacked knowledge on how to defend against this formation. We handle vert stacks much better. We need to practice this hard.

4) Squad age: I would say that the average age of the open division squad was about 25-26. The Indian team was probably a much higher average age squad. This becomes imporant, as along with that, comes increased agility and speed.

5) Sideline - The 6th man on defense: This was a clear difference between the top teams and the rest. The top teams communicated a lot more from the sidelines to the defenders in the field. Calling a no-break / no-inside / no-outside, strike, no up-line, etc. etc. really made a big difference to the game play.

6) Pulls - One thing I did notice was the blady backhand outside-in pulls that some of the top teams had. Very effective, and put a lot of pressure on the receiver right from the word go. Most of the lesser teams did not have this pull in their arsenal.

Can't think of anymore at this point. Will add more later if I remember anything!


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 6: Final day - US win 5 out of the 6 categories!

The friendly match against the Great Britain Grandmasters was probably one of the most fun games I ever played. Remember, that the Grandmasters category was 40+ age. They had even one lady (Diane, if I remember right) playing on their team. There was a John who looked like the oldest player on their side. Had played ultimate for about 37 years I think! That's frigging older than anyone on our team. John was telling me that he's planning on coming to India to take part in the Auroville Hat tourney in 2012!
We agreed to play for 5 points, and then mix-up. And guess what? They beat us 5-4! Hehe, we weren't playing too hard or anything, but still! After that, we mixed up and had a lot of fun. The spirit huddle was also a lot of fun.

After the game, we all headed to the Arena for the finals. And oh man, was it a treat for everyone. The Masters was a little one-sided. But the mixed was super close. Germany almost beat the US.. but in the last second, US pulled through for a victory. This was the one game, where I thought that the US team wasn't the tallest! :-). The Open finals between the US and Philippines was mind blowingly athletic. The video will be up on Vimeo I heard. Everyone should watch it. I thought that the Phillipinos stood a great chance to win, but they made a couple of mistakes, and that came back to bite them.

It was interesting to watch the audience (mostly players from all other teams) support the opposition that the US teams played.. No one really supported the US teams on any occasion, except the Americans themselves. Now, I really like America as a country, have had the chance to live some really awesome years there, and the US players are all those we idolize and learn from online and videos. And the US team definitely played with the BEST spirit from what I've seen. The US open team especially I thought was EXCEPTIONAL (and I will mention an incident towards the end of this post which will give an example of how highly spirited they played). But, still, there was something impersonal about them, that made everyone (and maybe even me) support the opposition. One of the American players even came and spoke to us about it that morning, and was feeling a little sad that no one supported them. It was hard for them to understand why, but I think I sort of get it.

I have limited international exposure (Manila, Singapore, Malaysia) before this tournament, and hence am completely new to the whole Europe, US ultimate scene. But it seemed to me like the US squad came into the tournament with 2 disadvantages. 1, they were the favourites to win in most categories, and hence the big bad guy. 2, in general, there's a perception (which I heard through jokes, imitations or comments around in tents and sidelines) that the US players are full of themselves. This may/may-not be true, but in general, that's a perception of Americans as a bunch from all the European teams from what I could see.

The US squad themselves didn't do much to help their image. For instance, they pretty much hung out by themselves from what I saw.. atleast the younger teams in the squad. I don't think I ever saw a single US player hang out with any of the other teams (post game, or at parties, or at dinner / lunch tables). Also, personally, I thought that the spirit give-aways that they had for other teams, could've been thought through with a little more sensitivity. They had USA Ultimate caps, US flags wristbands, and I think some US flag temporary tattoos. Now, in a world tournament, why would you expect other teams (which are being super charged emotionally on their nationality, patriotism and flag), to wear someone elses flag? Especially given the perception that the US is considered to be full of themselves anyway and you probably just lost to them in the game. To put it in perspective, I'm not sure a Sockeye player would find it very easy to accept Revolver fan merchandise (to wear) in a spirit huddle, especially after being beaten by them. Most probably not, especially when you're breathing fire and feeling super patriotic about your club. This is that equivalent. And, no, it's not the same as exchanging a jersey with the opponent. That's mutual to a large extent. Also, it was nothing for the other teams to connect with. For example, Italy's spirit gift was simple, a small packet of spagetti, a red pepper, a single garlic, a mini bottle of Olive Oil and a small printout of cooking instructions, for us to get an essence of Italy. We gave out Lungis, a garland and Mango candy to give an essence of our culture. Ireland had this big fun bag which had some random fun objects like an odd shaped bottle opener, etc. All objects, which created a small but important connect with the team. Yes, it takes a wee bit of time, and a wee bit of effort, but it could go a long way. Sure, most people know a lot about the US than most other countries, but then there are so many things that outsiders don't know, until you actually live in the country. For example, I would've spent some time picking up some very small, but American artifacts. For example, a mini dream catcher, or a cowboy boot / hat fridge magnet, a dried cedar cone, etc and explained its significance or nativity in the US. Everyone of us wants to connect with something about the other team/nationality, and understand where they come from. In fact, you don't even have to give gifts, to create a connect with other teams. You could just do a super fun spirit game, and still create a connect. How would there be support, if there is no connect? The default connect is to the under-dogs! Which in this case was any non-US team.

Coming back to one of the example incidences I was talking about, I think it was the game between US and Belgium? or was it US and Spain, I forget. US player Brett Matzuka got a superb layout D on the opposition player. This was somewhere near the sidelines. The opposition player called a foul on the D, calling a body bump before the catch which caused him to drop the catch. Matzuka was furious, and got up in indignation. I think he was about to yell and contest the foul call, when Tyler Kinley (I think) who was standing just outside the sidelines just said "Brett.. Maybe".. and then he repeated "maybe". Matzuka took back the contest call, and the catch was deemed complete. This was just one such incident, where I thought the US was an example of exemplary spirited play.

Anyways, after the finals was over, and the prize distribution ceremony was going on, I was standing on the far side of the arena, with Mama, Abhi and Navin, hearing all the anthems being played n stuff. And they were giving out the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. And then they were announcing the Spirit Awards, and we heard Patrick, the BULA head, say "this year, the most spirited team is a team which is appearing for the first time in the International Arena.. and they have come a long way, and played their hearts out. The most spirited team award goes to team India!". We couldn't believe our ears. Then pandemonium. We got down from the bleachers, and raaaaan all the way to the front. We couldn't believe it. We were so thrilled. We knew that at the end of Day 1, we led on spirit points, but this, we didn't expect. We didn't get any medals, but we didn't care. We were just happy to be recognized, and to stand on the podium with all those amazingly experienced team, who played some of the most amazing Ultimate I've ever seen. Team India, I loved playing with you. Indian Ultimate, we have a LONG LONG way to go in terms of game evolution, before we can have a chance to stand on the podium as game winners. But till then, we should atleast play to the best spirit, play fair, and play our heart out, giving every point our best, at every tournament. That may not seem very easy to do, when you're going down 13-0 in games, but nothing that is worth it, is easy. So what if you're down? Still go play with a lot of heart, and it will show.

Post the ceremony, when all the excitement has died down, somewhere deep down inside I wonder if they gave us the award to encourage us ('cause we'd lost all our games). One grand masters player came to Navin and congratulated him and said that he's been playing Ultimate for 31 years, and has tried hard, but has never won the Spirit award in any tournament so far. That put some things in perspective. Maybe it is this, maybe it's that. Maybe it's a mixture of both. But, I'm happy nevertheless. Team India, we have atleast set a good bar for ourselves to perform to next tournament. Play to the best spirits!

One more post to come. Learnings from the tournaments, and what we can / need to do better!
Go India!

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Day 5: Placement Bracket

It so happened that we had to compete against Ireland again for the 16th and 17th position. And so we played them again. We were hoping it would be much more evenly matched, since Ireland would've played 2 matches for the day before we played them at 6pm (btw, sun sets here at 9pm at this time of the year). But Ireland beat us 10 - 6 (I think) in the end. They outclassed us definitely this time. All of us played well. Navin's layout lefthanded grab was the best play of the game I'd say. That was the last game for us this tournament. We finished bottom of the Open category at 17th place (I don't count Ukraine which was disqualified). But I don't think we had any regrets! We played our hearts out. We smiled our way through every game, spent a lot of time with a lot of experienced players, learnt a LOT, enjoyed the post game huddles in the sea waters (to beat the boiling sand), and partied hard. Though we were disappointed we didn't place higher, it was a strange feeling of exhilaration.

In the night we watched the women's finals at the Arena (which is about 2 km away from the place where all the usual matches took place) between US and Canada. It was a really really close match and went to Universe point. US had a very questionable foul call on a throwaway and the crowd boo'd the US player who called the foul. After a lot of discussion, the play was re-done, and US score to win the point. But, the crowd was completely for Canada. Unfortunately, that doesn't count.

Tomorrow, we play a friendly game against the Great Britain Grand Masters team.. Also looking forward to watching the Mixed Finals, Masters Finals and Open Finals at the Arena tomorrow! And tonight is pool party night! :-)

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 4 WCBU 2011 - the last day of pool play

Our first game against France was quite one sided. We lost 13 - 2. I played a few points (and not too well). They had some really fast youngsters and finished us off in quick.

The second game vs. Ireland was very very close. We lost 7 - 10 to Ireland. We were neck to neck all the way till the last 10 min of the game. Ireland was playing their first match of the day with a 13 member squad. They had plenty of fresh legs and that made the difference in the end. I'm willing to bet that if we had had a 13 member squad, we'd have beaten them. But anyway, reality was that we lost to them. I did play the matc ok I guess. 3 assists and 1 score, but was still feeling a little rusty. My body is literally creaking.

And oh, guess what! The Ukraine team gets kicked out of the league. Not sure of the exact reason. Some say that they played in very poor spirit, and some say they had a player who faked a name and participated with Ukraine, and at the same time participated in the Russian mixed team with his original name. Not sure why exactly. If it was the latter, then why didn't the Russia mixed team get kicked out as well?

Also, there was trade night today, where there's a trading floor / market, where people come and trade their jersey's and shorts for other interesting ones. I had ordered a couple of extra jersey's and shorts forthis exactly. I got some really cool trade-ins. I traded a spare blue team India jersey for a Ring Of Fire #13 jersey fro Brian Conklin of the US open team. That's the North Carolina's biggest Ultimate club name. Interestingly Brian and I use the same kersey number. He's doing his masters at NCSU! :-). And the jersey looks super cool too! And it's a 5 Ultimate branded t-shirt. The other white India jersey got traded for a Black German jersey which also looks uber cool! I also swapped a India #13 shorts from Zone with an Oxford shorts from 5 Ultimate (I didn't like my Zone shorts anyway). and have a promised 2 more pairs from Team Canada and Team Venezuela (which has a nice No Break written on the backside). Let's see if I manage to actually get one. Mama managed to get a cool trade of his CUF jersey with Chicken (Adam Simon)'s USA jersey. Chicken was looking for an Indian Jersey 'cos his girlfriend's half Indian and her dad would be thrilled to have an Indian Ultimate Jersey!

Tomorrow we have a cross pool game at 6pm in the evening, against winner of the Pool A last position game. We expect that it will be Portugal. Let's see.

Finally, I think I'm starting to understand what it's going to take to put together a decent team by the next World Cup in 4 years, and make sure that we perform decently! I'll write more abt this tomm. Now headed to sleep on the beach on a lounge chair! :-)

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Day 3 WCBU 2011

Hmm, what can I say about today. Just a not so good performance by us. We scored a couple of points against Italy, but the second game was a complete washout. Germany beat us 13 - 0. The most clinical defense I've seen so far. Talk about German efficiency eh? :-)
That brings us to two important games tomorrow France and Ireland. France has scored 40+ points over the tournament so far (compared to our 16). Ireland on the other hand has only 12 points scored so far. Let's see.

Last night's showcase game between Canada and the US masters team was well attended. They showed some amaazing athleticism, but US quite wasily vanquished Canada.

Today was a bad day for the US squad. US open team was beaten by Italy 12 - 10. US women's team was beaten on universe point by Great Britain. Brilliant match I thought. Got a chance to watch this from the sidelines. And the other brilliant match I got to watch waqs the US vs. Austria masters game. Austria actually beat the US on universe point. Amazing grit showed by the Austrians. And kudos to the sideline support from the rest of the Austrian squad. Was the best I've seen in any tournament.

The other match I got to see was the Ukraine vs. Austria. Very very poor in spirit I would say from the Ukrainian team. Three or four strip calls in the end-zone on universe point, which were clean Ds! Ukraine went on to win the game. I heard Ukraine has done this in other matches as well. Very poor show. What's the point of winning on poor sportsmanship.

Looking forward to tomorrow's games. I so badly want to play. Let's see!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 2 WCBU 2011 - From the sidelines

We had the pleasure of playing Belgium and the US today, and though we lost both games (obviously! They were totally out of our league), we had a lot of fun. Belgium beat us 13 - 3 (or was it 13 - 4), and US beat us 13 -3. It was good fun having spirit circle huddles happening in the sea, 'cos it was too hot to stand on the sand. We gave Chicken the Tri-color garland and distributed the lungi and dried mango candy to them. They had some goodies for us to. They gave Amberish a USA ultimate hat for being their pick for the best player on our team. Amberish had a superb layout grab score from a throw off Chetan. It was a superb point, with Amberish laying out twice and Chetan once for catches all in the same point.
Against the Belgium team, Paul had a sweet inside out breakmark throw to Amberish for a score, and a Jaidip zipthrow to Abhi across the pitch for a score. Abhi also had a good huck to Chetan who had a super box-out scoring catch over a Belgian who was a good 6 inches taller than him!
Now headed for dinner, and then the floodlight showcase match between Canada and US open masters team, and then finally another party.
Legs feeling better today. Tomm we will be playing Germany and Italy, both again seeded in the top 8. I don't plan to test my playability tomorrow. Will save that for Thursday when we play France and Ireland. We heard that both those teams are more in our league, and will be fighting matches!

And oh, the Blockstack TV interview is now up on

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Day 1 WCBU 2011 - Games begin - disaster strikes

Aaaaaargghhh! Strained my left hip flexor during the first game. The physio examined me after the first game and said that I need to completely rest it and not stretch or load it for a few days. Totally bummed out. After working on the ankle and shoulder for the last so many days and making sure they don't trouble me, something else pops. Indication of how critical overall fitness is, to such a strenuous game. Trying not to load my right ankle, I think I must've over loaded my left leg. I'm reduced to being a side-line captain/support, and team correspondence. Sigh. Annoying!

We lost both our games on day 1. First match against the Philippines (13-3), and the second game against Curier islands (13-5). Both games were no contest and hard on our players in the sapping heat, with very few subs. We could've done better in the 2nd game, where we had a few unnecessary turnovers near the end-zone. Maybe a 13-9 or so could've been managed in those games. The first game had Abhi scoring to Amberish twice (hammer and forehand), Jaidip to Ed. Second game Paul had a super huck to Abhi, Abhi had a sweet break mark forehand huck to Chetan, Girish had 2 scores and Chetan had one more.

We watched a few good games, but the best one we watched on day 1 was the Italy vs. Belgium open category game. We thought it would be a bo contest win for Italy, but wow..Belgium really stepped it up. Belgium led most of the way till it was tied at 11 - 11 and time ran out (games are 45 min or 13points whichever comes first). So a last point eas played with Belgium on offense. But Italy's defense put some amazing pressure on Belgium and caused a turnover..and went on to win the game. What a match it was. Nail biting finish. Some of the most amazing layout scores and bids were in this match. Incredible.

Tomorrow we face Belgium in the morning and the US in the evening. Also we're looking forward to the showcase match of the day tomorrow between the Canada and US in the open masters category. These are all the who's who of Sockeye, Jam, Furious, Sub Zero, etc.who have now moved into the Masters category (between ages 32 and 39)

Some observations from this tournament in general..
1) It's frigging hot, we had to all buy and wear sand socks to step onto the sand past 11am. It was like starting to play at 1pm on the Chennai beaches.
2) Every team we observed play, had 3 lines of players. Which meant that every player played only once in 3 points, and hence they were super fresh when they got back to the line. A little chat with the other teams revealed that that's how most competitive line-ups play. So that they can keep the same intensity up point after point. In comparison, team India had only a 10 man squad (now only 9), which meant that every person had typically a 50 second break before going out there and sprinting hard for another 50 seconds (average time for every point). Comparing this to a 200 meter dash which is typically completed in 30 seconds, that's a LOT of sprinting on the beach! And imagine doing this every alternate min for 40 min. Gave me a little insight into why my team seemed gassed out all the time.
3) The sand is so much softer and hence harder to run
4) All teams played a 3:2 or 2:3 ho-stack. No vert stack what so ever. Vert stack doesn't really work in a small 5 vs 5 field. As a team, we aren't as comfortable playing a ho-stack.
5) The level of the games here are definitely MUCH higher than the games I've watched in Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines. So its safe to say that US, Canada, Japan levels > Europe levels > Philippines, Singapore, Australia levels >>> Malaysia, India levels. Being the best in India means nothing yet.
6) On the better teams, there were no specific handlers or cutters. Everyone could do everything. This was the single biggest difference between the top teams and the rest. Everyone had the same level of stamina and speed otherwise!
7) We were by far the heaviest team in the open division and also the second shortest team I would say. Not that those are any indication of game levels, but this was just a general observation. The Philippinos were shorter but well built, but not an inch of fat from what I observed. All those are only "looking good" factors. Though, the fat content has some correlation to speed and stamina, I noticed some heavy built or big made people on other teams move super fast and not be out of breath. Only thing that matters is stamina and speed, and that's one of the areas the next Indian contingent will have to focus on. If it so happens that this 'causes a 6 pack, so be it.
8) Universally, everyone is surprised that India put up a team that plays proper ultimate, and are very supportive of it and welcome it. One of the captains said it beautifully when he said "I never thought I'd ever get to say this in my Ultimate carrier, but Well played India". Steve and Tom Styles from Blockstack TV (one of the primary ultimate frisbee networks in Europe) spoke to us and asked us about India Ultimate, and Beach Ultimate in India. Everyone is very excited that India is finally onboard the ultimate community!

On a comical note, Mama (in his new avataar of 7kgs less + starting to show a 6 pack) says that his P90 program is of no use anymore. He should plan Program Rebirth :-P.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 0 WCBU 2011 - Ge.tur sports village

I am super excited to be here in the sports village. The atmosphere was super charged with all the teams arriving and checking in. The US contingent is the largest one at WCBU 2011. They have over a 100 athletes competing as 6 teams, one for each division (Open, Mixed, Womens, Open Masters, Mixed Masters, and Open Grand Masters). On the bus from the airport to the sports village, we spoke to Tony (US Open Masters team) who was the one who wrote the article about the Indian team on Skyd magazine last week. Jim Parinella (author of the famous Ultimate Frisbee book) was also on the same bus, but I didn't get to meet him. I hope to meet him in the next few days.
After we'd checked in..we had the grand parade of nations from the village to the Arena, where the showcase match was to take place. It felt AWESOME to wear the team India jersey and carry the Indian flag representing our country amongst 40 other nations.
The showcase match was between Italy Open (the hosts who are seeded 7) and the Philippines Open (seeded #2, current favorites to win). It was interesting to see a girl on the Philippines Open team line-up (though she didn't play any points this particular game). The match was explosive and just watching it in peak 3pm heat sapped us audience. The game ended in upset victory with Italy beating Philippines 12 - 9. This means team India will face the brunt of it, tomorrow morning when we play Philippines.
Oh btw, Team India is seeded #16 and in the same pool as the Philippines, Italy, Ireland, the US, etc. We're one of the 3 first-timer teams in the World Championships and the only new entrant in the Open Division itself. Only Portugal and Curier Island (a non-existent country on whose team random pick-up players not playing on any other national team, can take part) are seeded below us. Team India would be happy if we held seed at the end of the tournament! The level of Ultimate here is incredibly high (way higher than any Indian tournament I've seen)..and fairly so, because the sport is atleast a decade old in all the countries, whereas in India its only 3 or 4 years. We have a lot to learn from the other countries and I already have a few ideas to take back and experiment with in Chennai.
Day 1 games for us, Team Philippines at 11am and Curier Island at 4pm. First one will probably be very one sided. 2nd idea what kind of players have picked-up with the Curier Island team! More tomorrow.

Note on the Indian Team
We had our first team get-together at dinner and introduced ourselves to each other. Apart from the 4 of us from Chennai, the others are all NRIs from Europe, or people of Indian origins living in India (Jaidip) and one foreigner in India (Paul). We could've not put in a true all-Indian team because most people cannot spend Rs. 1 lakh (minimum) on getting to such a tournament in a foreign location. Many players in India don't even own a passport! Yes, we have probably the oldest team in the open division, we probably have a lower skillset than most other teams, we have one of the smallest squad (only 10 players) amongst all teams, and yes, a few of our players are not in the best shape and are carrying minor injuries (I am still recovering from a rotor-cuff injury on my throwing shoulder, and a right ankle ligament tear from the last few months).
But nevertheless it is important we put together a team (some / any team) to get here once. We'd be setting a good precedent and an aspirational target for many many other younger players 4 years from now when the next World Championship Beach Ultimate will take place.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

San Francisco - there's something about the city

There's something about the city. There's something about driving into the city in the morning for work. The air is crisp. The breeze is nippy. There's an almost palpable excitement in the atmosphere. I love the first view of the city from 280 when I'm on my way to the Marina bay. My adrenalin pumps every morning without fail. Feels like progress. Feels like a million bucks.

I will miss the city, when our San Francisco office moves to Belmont completely in the next couple of months. The next work trip to the US will not be as exciting.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

iPad 2 - Almost

I had decided to buy a tablet this trip to the US, and hence made my way to the nearest Best Buy from office. Yes, after having been one of the earliest adoptors of netbooks 3.5 years ago, I was finally ready for a tablet. My market options were the IPad 2, PlayBook, Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, Acer Iconia and Moto Xoom.
Being a fan of open ecosystems, the IPad 2 was basically ruled out already when I walked into the store. I was really looking forward to getting a really good Android Honeycomb 10" tablet!

But guess what?
1. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" - Ruled out!
Reason: 7" form factor wasn't too compelling. I like bigger screens and I have fat fingers. Also, the response was quite sluggish, it is a previous generation product, yada yada

2. Blackberry PlayBook - Tempting, but still not compelling enough!
Reason: UI was brilliant, superb use of the bezel as part of the touch experience. Multi-tasking was top-notch. Screen quality was top-notch. But then once again 7". Also too new in the market, and I wasn't sure about the apps support, and hadn't read any reviews on it.

3. Moto Xoom - Ruled out!
Reason: Heard some bad reviews on it. 10" was good, but finger prints showed very badly. Also, was heavy, and very thick. Seemed like a Gen 1 product for sure. Played some games on it. They were brilliant. Very high quality. Really liked it otherwise. But the whole interface was very cluttered and unintuitive. Was unlike any Google product I've seen before. Maybe the store had a really messed up version. Anyway, something about it put me off.

4. Acer Iconia - Quite good, but still not compelling enough
Reason: Screen was much better than the Xoom. Even had a USB port on it. But I still couldn't commit to buying one because after looking at the IPad 2, it seemed like a monster. Even thicker than the Xoom. Also unsure of the Acer brand after my last Acer netbook conked out in less than a year!

5. IPad 2 - The best of the lot! Almost bought it! Sanity prevailed in the end!
Reason: Definitely the best product in the market. Even tempted an anti-apple guy like me. The screen was crystal clear. Touch experience, much better than the others. And far thinner and lighter than any of the other options in the market! I was just about to pick it up and walk out of the store when I decided to go for a walk and come back. Finally sanity prevailed. No USB. No AVI support. Definitely deal breakers for me. My use case was for the Tablet to be a replacement for my laptop when I'm not on work. In that case, I'm not really "creating" anything, but would definitely like to
a) Download the photos from my DSLR when my CF card gets full.. Typically during vacations or Ultimate Frisbee tourneys
b) Plug in my external drive and play movies from it when on travel. Obviously I'm not going to store all my movies on the tablet.
c) AVI support? Xvid support? "oh.. you can convert the movie to mp4 through iTunes." said the Best Buy support guy.
NOT happening! It takes forever. Also a pain to keep converting whatever I need, when the most popular format is clearly AVI.

Mr. Jobs. You got me. Almost. But yeah, definitely kudos on the product. I wish you would reconsider your stupid stance on a closed ecosystem and NOT supporting any of the standards (Mass Storage Class, AVI, etc.)
Mr. Competitors. You guys really have some catching up to do.

So, the wait continues. I hear that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1" is even thinner and slicker than the iPad 2. That solves half my problems. Hope they support USB, and I'll buy it and retire my netbooks! I'm not going to buy an iPad 2 just for the sake of owning one. If Email is all I needed to check on that, I'd use my BB. Far better typing experience! :-P


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Negotiations Lesson No. 1?

I remember Prof. Dishan Kamdar repeating over and over again.

Get a BATNA / NBA.

(BATNA = Best Alternative To A Negotiated Alternative, NBA = Next Best Alternative).

I love corporate drama. Reading this WSJ article on the Microsoft - Nokia - Google mating dance, I was fascinated about how every lesson we were taught in our Negotiation Analysis course / workshop at ISB can be followed in this drama.


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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The sign of a true leader

Earlier this week, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop wrote a memo to his entire organization. This memo has now come to be known as the "Burning Platform" memo (see transcribed below). This is probably the most straight forward a CEO can ever get. I can only imagine the turmoil that must've been going through the company ranks and all it's employees prior to this memo. I'm sure the employees were disillusioned about the leadership and why the "leaders" were not able to see ground reality. As a consumer, I've always wondered what the heck the Nokia guys were smoking up! Stale products. Totally unexciting. If I'd been an employee, I'm sure I'd have been wondering why I'm working on whatever I was working 'cause it's totally irrelevant to the market.

There are four parts to the situation Nokia is in (a) Recognizing the problem (b) Accepting it openly to send out strong signals that the problem is known (c) identifying corrective actions (d) executing on the corrective actions. Even if one of those steps is missed out, it's impossible for a leader to re-gain confidence of his workers, peers and investors. If one of those parts were missed out, it always leaves people wondering "What the heck are these guys are up to? They are clueless!"

Stephen Elop took a strong step in the right direction by his memo. He addressed (a) and (b). Let's see what happens at Mobile World Congress this week. He should talk about (c). Hopefully a partnership with Windows Phone 7?
Stephen Elop, we bow to you. It's the hardest thing for any leader to have said openly (and proactively), especially when there are thousands of employees depending on you. Once you have said what you said, it all seems so simple. But, the simplest things are often the hardest to say. Yours is a text-book move, for every aspiring leader to learn from.

RIM.. I hope you're watching and learning? Your Blackberrys are going sour!

Hello there,

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform's edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a "burning platform," and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times - his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a "burning platform" caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a "burning platform," and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I've shared with you what I've heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I'm going to share what I've learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion - we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple's market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry's innovation to its core.

Let's not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally - taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, "the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation." They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we're not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren't taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we're going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we've lost market share, we've lost mind share and we've lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor's informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody's took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It's also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven't been delivering innovation fast enough. We're not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward -- a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.


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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Biases and us..

American History X. One of the most powerful movies I have ever seen in my life. For those of you who've not seen it before, it's all about the Black - White conflict in many suburbs in Amaerica. I've seen it twice before, and I saw it again today on my San Fransisco - Hong Kong flight. I knew what was in the movie. I knew what it was all about. And still it had the same effect on me as the first time. Every time I see that movie, I am deeply moved. So many of us have pre-judices against certain kind of people, certain sects of people, certain religions, certain castes, etc. etc. Even though we don't really know anything about them.
It's all about simple people finally. They're defined only by their actions, and not by where they come from or which group of people we slot them into.

I am very lucky in many ways. It has almost been 4 years now since I moved back to Chennai. I get to meet someone new almost EVERY week. There is always someone new showing up to try out Ultimate, or someone wanting to learn Cuban Salsa or a new intern/full time at office. I get to meet all sorts of people: people from different backgrounds, different religions, different ethnicity, different countries, different states, different sexes, different sexual preferences, different colours; some very good looking, some not at all; some who can speak fluent English, some who can't put a single sentence together; some who talk a lot, some who just stand silent and stare in a very discomforting way; etc. etc. All walks of life.
And not only do I get to meet someone new, but I'm lucky enough to be in a situation where I get to know them over an extended period of time. Most people would probably meet 1 or 2 people in a year at the max.. who they get to know. I've had a chance to observe my own reactions to new people, and also the reactions of those around me to the same new people. Its interesting how almost 90% of the time people get it wrong.. they/we are incorrectly scared of/dismissive about certain kinds of people. Or incorrectly confident/trusting about certain kinds of people. Over the years, I am am learning to let go of the biases to a large extent. Its very hard, but it's possible to put aside the urge to slot someone into a category and the need to interact with someone only on the basis of where I slotted them.

American History X reminded me today of all those things. The movie just got done, and I leant back in my seat reflecting at nothing in particular. Somewhat happy that I've come a long way from 6-7 years ago, from being a very judgemental & reactive person. And then I realized that there is someone I know now.. one of my friends... someone much younger than me, who does an AMAZING job at this. Someone I met less than a year ago through Ultimate. I've played on the same team as him a couple of times, travelled with him, been a mentor/coach for a short while, and now a peer. But, at this point, I find myself marveling at his amazing ability to interact with anyone with zero bias.. (or at least thats what it looks like to me). I find myself being the student learning from him. It is this ability of his which reinforces into so much good that happens around him. I have watched people I have written off performing superbly just because they are playing on his team. He brings out the best in them. He gives them self-belief. He is genuinely interested in seeing them progress. Doesn't matter if it's the most unfit person, or the oldest person, or the youngest kid from the nearby slum that turns up to play. They all love him. They want to play for him, they all want to play with him. They all enjoy his company.
For those of you who play Ultimate and haven't figured out who this is yet.. I'm sure you will now. Just keep your eyes and ears open. You will observe what I see.

And sir, if you yourself are reading this note.. :-). Kudos. This is your strength. This defines a big part of what you are. Hopefully this part of you will change only for the better as you grow older. The last couple of months has been great learning for me. I still continue to learn, just by being around you. You inspire me to look at people as people, even more. To trust them. And just to try and bring out the best in them, and hence myself. Finally I think I'm the one who stands to gain.

p.s. On a totally different note.. anyone who thought Surya did a great job in Vaaranam Ayiram. You gotta check out Edward Norton in this. How he plays an action hero, 14 year old, 17 year old.. all very very convincingly!

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Life is like a box of chocolates..

Life is sure like a box of chocolates! Dayum! Godiva sure knows how to package its chocolates! :-). I may not have the time to go shopping. But the US rocks 'cause you can just find these in the convenience stores! Awesome!

p.s. For those of you who know me well. Yes, you guessed right. This box didn't last me 10 min :-(