Thursday, 2 November 2017

A Detailed Look into Acquisitions

A decade ago, if you told someone that you were in stealth mode and trying to stay under a radar, they would probably call the cops on you. Today, they'd ask you for a job!
The blossoming startup ecosystem has contributed to a familiarisation of some esoteric concepts dismissed as jargon and leetspeak not so long ago. At the same time, the industry is unforgiving, with cutthroat competition and the perpetual struggle for market share. As burgeoning growth slows down, companies develop cognisance of a hard-hitting reality--not everyone makes it to unicorn evaluation. At the same time, not all these companies fail. In fact most founders are looking for a reasonable return in terms of a merger or acquisition offer to make a clean, profitable exit from their company. 
Acquisitions are offers to purchase a controlling stake if not a company itself, driven by a wide range of factors, especially the opportunity to add to the repertoire of products and services  offered by the acquirer. However, this isn't as corporate a process as we usually perceive such events to be; in fact these offers are followed up by weeks, even months of discussions before an agreement is reached. A people-driven process, acquisitions involve the cooperation of every stakeholder on the executive board from the CEOs and CFOs to the Board of Directors. 
Critical business development often arrives at a grinding halt or frustrating slowdown as the senior management grapples with the idea of an acquisition or a merger, making a solid basis for the decision to sell a prerequisite to enter this process.The first stage involves business evaluation where there is a delineation of factors from the  market share to  corporate culture contributing towards arriving at a price to peg the company at. A proposal is prepared with details of the financials involved, built around the cash flow and time value of money provided by the company for the acquirer.  Next, the management needs to discuss and evaluate the prospects for the company, whether there could be a possible restructuring of the deal, and arrive at a consensus for moving ahead from that stage.
This period is utilised to solicit other offers with the possibility to engage the buyers in a bidding war for the company. This allows time to streamline operations before entering into negotiations over the term sheet. As a rule of thumb, startups have considerable leverage before signing off on the term sheet; however, following the acceptance of this document, the language often favours the acquirer when it comes to the things that were not originally considered or negotiated. 
The final stages encompass a discussion of legal and business terms with the former presided over by teams of lawyers and the latter requiring the company to call its executives to the discussion table once again. Acquisitions are often extended, draining and demoralising processes since they usually involve an exchange of critical intellectual property or market share for fiscal resources. There looms the perpetual risk of the deal falling through right until the final wire transfer of funds. This ostensible golden buzzword fails to convey the arduous journey of a team from inception right up to the minute the deal goes through. Tread with care!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Back on Track

Over the past summer, I worked as an intern at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), cradling the borders of France and Switzerland. I have been receiving a lot of messages about the application process and this post is an attempt to try and address some queries regarding the experience. 

I had filled out a highly detailed application form last October, wondering if I had a snowball's chance in hell to get selected into one of the most prestigious programs at possibly the most unique research collaboration on the face of the earth. After a few weeks of sleepless nights and a few weeks of particle-filled daydreams, I received the much-awaited email from CERN. It was a rejection email from the summer student program. It was a disappointing week as I tried to move on and apply for other internships. There was soon a ray of light shining through this darkness, in the form of an offer to undertake research at Stanford University and I jumped at the marvelous opportunity. As I finally completed my US Visa Application and acceptance of the Stanford offer, I received yet another email from CERN. This time, it wasn't a ding. I got into the CERN Openlab Program! The rest as they say, is history. I spoke with my potential advisor at CERN and the Professors at Stanford who were extremely supportive of my decision to accept the offer from CERN. A month later, I was sitting on the Y Bus traveling from Geneva Airport to my hotel in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France. 

My internship at CERN has been an amazing learning experience not just in terms of the work but also in terms of people--each with a unique story to tell. These factors have contributed in no small part to the life-changing experience this has been. I arrived as a wide-eyed teenager, and leave as a wider-eyed teenager, with an insatiable curiosity to learn more. I would like to say I've matured and realized some of my goals in life. I wouldn't be very off the point, but what I'm trying to say is that CERN kindles that flame within everyone which cajoles you to push a little harder, ask more questions, and try to find a better solution to the problems you work on. It's not just about achieving life goals, it's about setting new ones for yourself. CERN doesn't expect your work to be about completing a given task but how you figured it out, and whether the solution can be extended to other problems. Because with an organisation of this scale, there are going to be multiple problems of a similar nature, with fine lines of separation. It's a personal decision whether you'd want to focus on a microscopic solution that can address a niche problem which may impact macroscopic issues intrinsically, or an inherently macroscopic solution that may stimulate the intuition to address challenges affecting segments of work in great depth. CERN afforded me the opportunity to choose my path in spite of being just one of many hundreds of summer students. Amazingly enough, I learnt over the course of the summer, this was a privilege extended to all members of CERN regardless of position or responsibilities. 

The credit for a fantabulous summer belongs in no small part with my supervisors, both of whom were the driving forces, constantly challenging me to research and review better practices and improve the models for my project--Anomaly Detection in Database Connections. Mr. Prasanth Kothuri and Mr. Daniel Lanza Garcia helped me figure out the research subjects that aligned with my interests and constantly supporting me in terms of resources and domain expertise. If Prashanth Sir was doubtful about the solution to my issues that were seemingly esoteric, he would encourage me to find others at CERN who possessed the domain-specific knowledge and even accompanied me to some seminars in order to seek the same understanding as I would and eventually figure out a solution together. It was really encouraging to find this kind of support being extended to a relative newbie in one of the most active and experienced groups at CERN. 

The problem I was working on involved detecting anomalous database connections in order to serve multiple purposes including but not limited to analysing and deriving insights from usage patterns, monitoring the number of connections, and ultimately database security. With no real benchmarks or training data in this field, we set out to find a solution and use various machine learning practices and models to apply unsupervised learning and arrive at a conclusive result. We managed to utilise an ensemble of different models that measured deviation based on differing metrics. Further, we cross-verified results and extracted common anomalies that were then flagged to be verified. Through my interactions with my peers within the same program, I realized a lot of us were working on the same problem with different forms of data. I was motivated to move beyond the scope of my project and build an intuitive system that could not only provide a common base to leverage these models, but also offer an intuitive interface for non-technical users, seeing as a lot of CERN staff include physicists that may not be familiar with cutting-edge computing practices. It was a start towards utilising the research that has gone into multiple Openlab projects into a single end-user application. 

On the personal front, this experience has taught me a lot about people and the way they look at the problem. I had always been reading about how it helps to have different perspectives towards the same problem and I often wondered what would make such a huge difference to any given problem. Meeting students literally from the other side of the globe has taught me that there is a lot of truth to that statement after all. I was lucky enough to have probably the best roommates I've ever had, notwithstanding the fact that these are the only roommates I've ever had. We have cooked, cleaned, driven, trekked, hitchhiked, played, and somersaulted off boats together. Openlab has really provided a unique platform that has resulted in friendships across continents and a network that encompasses most countries across the world. It leads to a sense of security--no matter where we go on after this experience, we will have friends nearby that we can count on in times of need or maybe just to blow off some steam over the weekends. 

I could rave about the past summer until the end of time because it's hard to out all my experiences into a single blog post but I figure I have to sum it up at some point so I would like to conclude with some quotes from one of the wiser role models in my life, Master Shifu from Kung-Fu Panda, as answers to some of the common questions people have been asking me about getting into CERN:

1. What is CERN looking for? What do I write on my application? How did you get into CERN? 

"Your real strength comes from being the best you you can be. Who are you? What are you good at? What makes you, you?" 

"There is no secret ingredient"

Write about yourself, your experiences, your projects, and trust the universe to align the rest of the factors. Maybe you get in, maybe you don't. All I can say is that you need to ensure you research every detail about CERN before applying because my motivation for applying was derived from the nature of work being undertaken within the specific department that ultimately accepted me. Keep trying until you make it, because honestly, if I did, you most definitely can. 

2. How was your experience at CERN? Is it really worth it? 

(in case the blog post wasn't clear enough) 

I would do it all over again, twelve times over. Because thirteen is just an unlucky number. 

3. Are the other programs similar? Is it worth undertaking other opportunities at CERN? 

"In order to make something special, you simply have to believe it is special" 

My perspective is rather biased because like I said, I've had an amazing summer. However there are periods where I've been told there's very little activity, when the climate isn't all that great, and there are hardly any people on the streets of Geneva. It's not ideal, but your work is undoubtedly going to remain challenging and interesting regardless of how it is outside the window. It's just that life becomes slightly slow. You must learn to adapt at some point, and this is a great place bustling with activities ranging from Zumba and Krav Maga to lunch hours with random people in order to get to know them better. It's such a diverse environment that you never going to be bored with so many different nationalities around! 

With that, I've reached the end of the tiny window that I've provided into my work and life at CERN. It has been an amazing eight weeks and I look forward to seeing more of this place in the near future! 

Friday, 24 June 2016


There is a class of attributes constantly undervalued in life. One of these, very notably, is boredom. It has always been perceived as the root cause behind procrastination, laziness, disinterest and impassiveness. That last one isn't a word, in case you haven't noticed already. What can I say, I'm bored.

Typically, when observing boredom, or introspecting on the same, we bear a certain bias in that we perceive it in a negative light.

"I'm bored."

Immediately, a fleeting assumption of the person not being sincere or dedicated enough to their current task passes across our mind. Whether or not it actually is the case, that's what we've ended up having boredom symbolize today.

What I've come to realize is that boredom is good. Boredom is the precursor for enthusiasm. Terms and conditions apply.

So what I'm getting at, here, is not a generalization at all. My thoughts are completely in accord with those that consider the majority of boredom as not usually resulting in much productivity. However, in at least a significant percentage of the cases, I believe boredom is simply an alternative form of opportunity.

Boredom is the least perpetual of all human emotions. It is simply the manifestation of tiredness and we all know you can't be tired forever. Even people who tire easily at some point grow tired of being tired, so to speak. Which results in a spark of intense productivity. And success is all about keeping that spark burning till it turns into a flame and eventually you end up with a raging wildfire.

So when someone says "I'm bored" the next time, be an optimist. Consider all that is possible instead of just the clichés. Help them turn that boredom into a spark of awesomeness instead.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Why Blog?

Blogging is complicated business. It takes a bit of time and a bit of recklessness to pick at the dense (point of) matter holed up inside that singularity in your mind and have it spew your thoughts all over the Internet. I assume, of course, that this blog would be popular. Quite the opposite of what I expect of my own blog. In fact, it's because I don't ever expect anyone that knows me to find this blog, that I actually blog.
I never understood why I think, write or publish these blog posts. I ask myself, periodically, whether this is worth my time. The reply I come up with is pretty much self-sufficient for any context I ask this question in - 'Do you really do anything productive in life?'
There we have it, folks.
I kid, of course.
The more important question, I believe, is why I blog about the stuff I do, or rather think about doing.
See, I have a lot of things going on in my mind. Most of it is nonsense but some of it helps me when I feel like I lack the enthusiasm that usually keeps me going; it's mostly because I read my "philosophy" in these posts, get a good laugh out of it and move on. Sometimes though, I derive some form of motivation out of reading these posts. Those 'sometimes' are enough to keep me going.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Twice, I've tried to complete this post. Twice, the Internet connection has failed. The frustration has grown exponentially, though.
I've learnt a lot of stuff in the past month, during my internship at IIT Bombay. One of the more enlightening discoveries being that the word 'learnt', while used extensively in British English, is considered colloquial in American English and is to be avoided like the plague on your University Application.

The other slightly insightful discoveries which forms the crux of my stay at IIT Bombay is that you cannot - I emphasize, cannot - survive life, no matter how skilled/rich/hardworking/determined/sincere/add-random-positive-adjective you are if you are a stranger to the art of diplomacy.

This is something I've learnt the hard way, or as it is commonly termed, from personal experience. You must develop the talent of sweet-talking people into getting your way and yet ending up satisfied with the outcome. If you cannot, you won't live long enough to know what hit you. It starts of as a small job; something rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. You slip up, not giving it enough attention, assuming it's a very common occurrence or maybe it won't happen the next time. But there's always someone watching. And that someone is biding his time, waiting for the moment when he can catch you off guard and leave you lost in the blame that is bound to find its way to you.

I say this with utmost care. Learn to sweet-talk the boss. Don't be a suck up. That would be overdoing it and leads to problems of another kind, entirely. But keep the boss happy. Then use that happiness to get what you want. If you can't do that, I'm afraid you've already lost the battle. Yes, it's not work, it's war. Deal with it.

While I've been on the wrong side of diplomacy and experienced all that can go wrong, I've also seen the good side and how much you can achieve given that you know your way around people. The difference is mind-numbing. So that's going to be my goal for the next month. This internship at IIT will teach me diplomacy, if nothing else. I'm pretty sure it's the most important skill I could have learnt.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Path

There is always a path to follow. It doesn't matter where you are and where you wish to go. There will always be a clear, well trodden path. It will be simple, straight forward and will lead you to your goal. Or what you would consider your goal. Because there hasn't been a single person that knew what their goal was. All they know is they need to get somewhere in the vicinity of what they think is their goal. That's about it. It would be enough for them to consider themselves successful.

The truth is, no path is ever going to get you satisfaction. There will always be that longing for having done something different; something better. Being a better man takes the will and determination to break the path. Success isn't ever a title held by the followers. This sounds clichéd but that's only because it takes experience to realize it, and by the time you have that experience, you're too far gone from the choice to break free of that path.

There is always an idiot that will choose to break the path just for the sake of saying 'I did it'. They may or may not, in their adrenaline-fueled frenzy to break free of the norms, achieve success. That's mighty lucky and an accidental case, not to be mistaken as well-deserved fruits of labor, or worse -  destiny. It is highly short-lived and pretty much like giving a box of cigarettes to a monkey. He won't know what to do with them, and by the time he tries everything and realizes, there won't be a cigarette left in a condition worth lighting. Pardon the complicated analogy, I'm in a state of semi-conscious torpor.

The point I'm trying to make is it's not always necessary to break the path. You need to realize when it calls for keeping your head down and pushing onward and when to break free to Forge your own path, unsure of where the destination lies. More importantly one needs to have their priorities clear on why they would break the path otherwise it is all in vain. Simply a waste of time, efforts, and a life. So feel free to walk off the path. Jump, duck, run and fall. Learn as much as you can because experience is the best teacher. Break the path when you know in your gut that it's the right thing to do. At the end of the day, if nothing else, the experience will make it worth it.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Deconstructing Opportunity

I haven't posted anything in a while so I thought I'd check in. Today is basically about an update on some facts I've come to realize in life.

Opportunity is everywhere. All you gotta do is take it. You're not/never going to be different. The old saying about everyone being unique is a farce. You're fooling nobody but yourself if you believe it. However, there is a little truth in the statement when they say everyone is unique. The meaning becomes lucid when you alter it slightly to put it as "Everyone has the potential to be unique". Now that's what they should be teaching kids at school.

These past few weeks have been an introspection on my life. I got into a Summer Internship Program at one of the premier institutions in the country - the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. It's almost every Engineer's wet dream to get into this place, be it on the basis of merit or luck (read 'reservation') - but that's just a personal opinion. I'm not getting into the details of that discussion in this post. So I got into this place for a Summer Project and it's been a few busy weeks considering I've got my examinations going on simultaneously. Studying and working have been pretty much what I do all day. Life has become slightly different. I won't say dull because this is probably how life will work for the next two years if not rest of my career and I don't want to scare myself by putting down the lifestyle. Obviously I'll get a little time once I'm done with my examinations and hopefully I'll explore the sports facilities offered by the institution more closely. Again, I digress.

Once I got into the Program, I received tons of emails and messages from friends and family alike; all congratulatory in nature, but with that tinge of envy and curiosity as to how I managed to get in and if they could all get in as well. The fact is, it's a consequence of two key factors - I worked hard and I got lucky. Another fact is, they could all get in as well. But they don't want to look. Most people want opportunity to come to them. Too bad, bub. Life doesn't work that way. I admit I got lucky but I worked very hard to get into thus place and if you're asking me for a shortcut, I'm afraid there isn't one.

The point behind this anecdote was to get people to understand that you can't sit around and expect life to work out for you. If any of them performed a simple Google Search with the name of a few Professors, they'd realize there was a permanently running Internship Program. Of course, getting in is a whole different ball game. I know they probably won't because I'm currently working with the same team and I know they're not recruiting people as interns as of now. But at least you could apply. Not one person I knew even tried it because if they had, they'd have a whole different set of questions to ask me.

I get really annoyed when people crib about there not being enough opportunities for someone of their background, be it because their University is not recognized enough, or their marks aren't good enough, or even because they lack the skill set expected of a potential intern at their level. I know this because I've been through all the stages I just listed out. I've been talentless, I've underperformed constantly, I've lacked the skill set, and I've been disillusioned enough to want to give up on life and run away to the Himalayas to meditate. But I got over it. I worked. I studied. I learnt. I developed both, as a student and as a person to get to where I am today. Obviously I'm still nowhere of consequence but only I know that. People seem to believe I've conquered mountains. It doesn't hurt to let them believe what they want for now. Heh.

So, quit cribbing. Start looking. And never let anything stop you from getting to where you want. If I can get here, so can you. Yes, I mean you. I live by this Golden Rule that's worked out pretty great for me so far whenever I'm confused as to whether I can get in someplace be it an internship at a company or research at an institution,
"Apply karne mein kya jaata hain"
(What's the harm in applying)

Think about it. It's been pretty helpful when I'm in doubt. Goodluck!