Monday, August 11, 2014

Missiles are the new Mines

Even as speculation is ripe on the WWW on whether it is the pro-Russian separatists BUK anti-aircraft missile OR the Ukrainian Air force air-to-air missile that felled it, it can't be denied for a fact that the actual on-the-ground MH17 crash investigation is getting inexplicably slower & rather covert lately.

Either which way, one has to but agree with Dr. Brahma Chellaney when he says in his recent article "To prevent another MH17, examine root causes" that the most critical aspect to be addressed in light of this tragedy is effectively barring/ preventing countries from transferring SAMs to non-state actors.

While inter-state relations, arms-control isn't generally what I write on, a specific aspect in the above article prompted me to share my opinion. It's about the US administration apparently considering building-in a remote kill-switch in the sophisticated TOW anti-tank missiles being provided to the 'moderate jihadists' in Syria with a noble intention of ensuring these missiles aren't usable in any other hands &/or for any other sinister purpose (i.e. other than fighting the Assad regime!) - this stuck me as throwing-in yet another deadly uncertainty into the already impossibly volatile cocktail of missile proliferation among non-state groups;

Below is the comment I posted against the above article;


Great insight as always Dr. Chellaney! Even if supplier states indeed wish to NOT let non-state/rogue-states use their SAMs for any deviant purpose (if there’s any other kind), the plan of ‘building obsolescence’ into missiles, while sounds sci-fi, comes across as an ill-conceived strategy since this’d create a supplier base that differentiates its offering by way of NOT building in obsolescence into its ware – any incremental risk-mitigation from the innovation would thus be negated by this newly introduced uncertainty. The trading states probably would be better off exercising precaution through consensus trade regulation than resorting to doomsday preparedness features as these.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cloudsciencing [sic]

A potential game-changer in contract research services domain & I’m talking about the latest concept that calls “Putting Science in the Cloud” in its intro of Emerald Cloud Laboratory, essentially what looks like an idle infrastructure monetization initiative of the 'stealth start-up', Emerald Therapeutics.
Pun apart, if indeed this turns out like it’s promised, a scientist in any part of the world will be able to simultaneously prescribe & iterate-on (with the robotic handlers) the experiments that she/he outsourced. This in turn will make it easy for more drug discovery start-ups to emerge (including some garage innovators too..) & pursue their dreams in a quicker, cheaper & more efficient way (~ the likes of DNAnexus claim that as scale emerges, it’s possible that a whole human genome can be sequenced for a mere $1000!)
The above scenario also implies that scale is a possibility & efficiency at scale an absolute need for any player in this emerging domain.
With only JIT availability of both laboratory & equipment consumables as a probable potential 'scale-limiting' bottleneck, I won't be surprised if the domain of cloud contract laboratory services (I wouldn’t yet call this research..) is quickly populated & dominated by the likes of Life Technologies, a process likely starting with acquisition of buyer organizations by these technology platform & consumable behemoths.
An exciting prospect surely for a scientist currently hyperventilating while awaiting the outcome of an outsourced experiment.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Take me in, dammit! - a gripe & a request

For the lack of any better term, I christen myself an inafluxer, to mean a nouveau Linkedin author who’s dying to be an influencer but loathe to admit it! (or not..)

Right from the day I have been given the privilege of publishing on LI (no email, just stumbled upon it..) & I grabbed it greedily, I’ve been trying to make sense of what exactly it takes to get the inafluxer articles ‘featured’ on relevant channels.
While I couldn't identify any rationale yet, I observed a probable trend wherein LI;
  • Identifies profiles that could be potential churners of reasonable quality posts on largely generic/ popular issues & ones that could beget a loyal following
  • Invites them to publish on LI with a personalized email; ensure their initial posts get huge viewership, build a quick following & thus compel the new writers to get regular with posts – a clever no-cost approach to develop quality content by utilizing the inherent need of smart, opinionated & communicative individuals to be heard and importantly, to be recognized.
  • Essentially, this appears to me as an "Influencer Seeding Program", assuming that a lot of the current stock of Influencers will soon encounter a writer’s block if not a cramp.
I could be dead-wrong in my hypothesis, but a chap who writes on pharma venture capital, while not even being a VC, doesn't fit the bill perhaps.


PS: yelling apart, I am all willing to be used free & fair - Try me LI, I don't tire easy :-)
DisclaimerThe inafluxer logo is of course fake & has been put together with a harmless & sole intention of enabling this funny (hopefully) rejoinder grab some eyeballs

Read this article (& comments) also on Linkedin

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The next Facebook may not be found online after all

It’s not very often one comes across an article, a cover story at that, in Newsweek on the start-up scene & VCs – So there was no which way I could have let-up an opportunity to read through, read in between the lines, postulate, extrapolate and generally make my own merry conclusions on stuff the article never intended to dwell on - Call me extreme, that’s okay – like the partners at Greylock, I don’t back down easily either :-)

It isn’t perhaps about trying to find/ fund the next Facebook at Greylock

While the title has enough oomph to grab eye-balls, it could be fundamentally misleading. A quick look at the recent investments (mentioned within the article) of Greylock partners shows it is bullish on startups that are waltzing back into the realm of real-life albeit through cyber gateways – i.e. ones that have built revenue models on O2O commerce platforms;  think Airbnb; Coupons; OneKingsLane; Shopkick (all Reid Hoffman investments..); Sprig; (Simon Rothman) – Though it’s just one subset of investments primarily by one partner, the sheer millions pumped in indicate there’s a lot of enthusiasm at Greylock on O2O commerce.

Just may be David Sze should display a real apple (besides Apple Newton & Apple iPhone) in his timeline collection of technologies – a sweet reminder that any technology’s ultimate potential lies offline

Incubate a potential acquisition? – Sounds like a nice strategy or is it?

It is perhaps a strategy/ wish to utilize the (insider) knowledge of a current investee companies that are avid deal-hunters themselves by way of incubating a few custom designed startups & facilitating (evetually) their acquisitions by the aforesaid companies – Consider the investments in Nextdoor, Path, Jelly, Medium, Pandora (all David Sze investments..) & the likelihood of these companies getting acquired by either Facebook or Linkedin at some point of time.

Startup scene in USA is raining Asoks* – and they’ve been raking in some moolah, finally

The article starts with Gagan Biyani (Sprig), dwells on Aneel Bhusri (Greylock) and mentions the likes of Nirav Tolia (Nextdoor) – not an inconsequential acknowledgement of the increasing presence of Indians in the American entrepreneurial scene.  
*’Asok’ is used in the context of any techie of Indian origin rather than just the IITians.

A final dig I can’t help – The article by Katrina Brooker is far superior to anything related I’ve come across in HBR magazine till date.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted? - a book review that isn't one

Just finished reading The Goldfinch”, a book by Donna Tartt that recently won the Pulitzer prize in fiction for 2014. While I enjoyed my journey through the at-times-agonizingly-long story, what's lingering on in my mind at the end of it all is a fascination for the painting itself, that little masterpiece by Fabritius, the theme of & inspiration behind the book.

The painting’s composition as intended by Carel Fabritius and/ or as inferred by the viewer seemingly evoked emotions of varied hues within the author and articulated through the protagonist, emotions ranging from feeling of angst, identifying with the chained but resolute bird; an overwhelming urge to free the creature from its misery and thus a symbolic effort at deliverance of a shackled self and finally a submission to the status quo, a realization that you cannot choose the being you want to be…. More than anywhere else where there's a more direct reference to the painting, I feel the text quoted below is where the author most eloquently delves into the existential angst as represented by the chained bird;

"A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don't get to choose our own hearts. We can't make ourselves want what's good for us or what's good for other people. We don't get to choose the people we are.

Because--isn't it drilled into us constantly, from childhood on, an unquestioned platitude in the culture--? From William Blake to Lady Gaga, from Rousseau to Rumi to Tosca to Mister Rogers, it's a curiously uniform message, accepted from high to low: when in doubt, what to do? How do we know what's right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney princess knows the answer: "Be yourself." "Follow your heart."

Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted--? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?...If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?” 

When I look at the painting, my first impulse is to agonize over its chained status, it's limited boundaries & it's still stoical disposition in such a dismal state. The subsequent thought is if whether the bird even if unchained would challenge its boundaries, having never ever experienced a free life & but then a sliver of hope emerges that a free-will can never be chained. Do I associate myself with any, all of these… probably yes, probably no… I guess the given context; the prevailing mental-state determines the feelings and association with self.

Look long & hard enough; this living bird could enliven your brain.

And yes, get the book! It’s for keeps.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

An open letter to the Indian Prime Minister-designate

Dear Mr. Modi,

Heartiest congratulations on receiving a clear and emphatic mandate from the people across India!

I always believed great leadership is what India needs at the current juncture and in your relatively successful demonstration of a development based governance model in Gujarat and in your super-effective execution of the poll blitzkrieg unleashed by BJP, I see a definite promise of this leadership need getting fulfilled.

Cynicism however being the hallmark of an oft-let-down individual/ population, I am a tad cynical despite nurturing a predominant hope of seeing a promise materialize. Upon introspection, I realize that my current bout of cynicism has been triggered by what I repeatedly hear about this verdict of Indian population being a mandate against corruption; a mandate for a long overdue Indian-spring, no less & finally a mandate for development.

Mandate for development? Probably yes. But is it against corruption & pro-clean governance too? The cynic in me doesn’t agree….

I’m cynical largely since a small but a startling fact I’ve stumbled upon pretty much trashes the claim of this election being a mandate against corruption; the fact being that AAP that contested on a national scale on an anti-corruption platform manages a mere 2% vote share and trails behind the 2.5% of an upstart regional party that symbolizes everything corrupt in Indian polity.

Even if I discount this as owing to the tell-tale impact of an escapist-legacy that AAP couldn’t shrug-off, this for sure underscores the fact that corruption wasn’t the top-of-the-mind issue for the average Indian citizen headed for the polling booth & there was every sign out there to say that money flowed like water in this general election and a significant proportion of the voting junta had had a field time letting one party out-bid the other.

I am cynical also because in the revamped scheme of things within your party, the past blemished have sauntered back right-in and have been duly resurrected and reinstated honourably, all in the larger context of coming to power and providing an alternative to the chronically fatigued dynasty that grappled with corruption at all levels.

Finally, I am cynical because there is this improvised practical theory gaining ground among the Indian citizens that corruption isn’t a big issue as long as development happens & within the narrower realm of visible development.

I absolutely loved it Narendra bhai, when during the victory speech at Vadodara, you reiterated the importance of inclusiveness in development. Unlike many liberals who raised an eyebrow on what you didn’t state explicitly, I indeed understand you meant to include all segments of population in the development process without malice towards any one in particular. I know for sure anyone who has come to power on such a unique mandate, much less you, would waste such an opportunity by indulging in antics that result in polarization & marginalization of a specific segment. Only, I’m worried that all this inferred disengagement between development & corruption in the Indian psyche shouldn’t end up making inclusion merely a term to denote equitable sharing of spoils among a corrupt polity and a corruptible populace, irrespective of region, community or caste.

Notwithstanding the oft-employed reproach that Indian growth rate over the past few years has been way above the rate of most advanced countries’, I know you understand well that we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples here & in reality India lags behind these nations in infrastructure and civic amenities by a decade at the least. I trust that you fully realize that development at this scale isn’t possible merely by launching or going after symbolic, disjointed developmental initiatives that neither impact the quality of life nor help improve the perception of an ever-doubting international community on India’s capability to operate as a transparent & corruption-free business nation.

Cynicism apart, I am thrilled by the fact that the clear mandate will help you avoid the oh-so-typical arm-twisting, blackmailing politics of the coalition/ alliance governments and this in-turn will allow you to focus on executing your vision that much more smoothly and without hindrance. Given this and given your own leadership potential this is the closest, I suspect, India would ever get to an Indian spring.

I’m positive Mr. Prime Minister-Designate that you’ll seize this moment to redefine the paradigm & give me a reason or a score to feel more proud of being an Indian wherever I go.

I wish you, your cabinet and all Indian citizens the very best in the days to come!

Acchey din…, bas ab aane hee chaahiye!!

Respectfully yours,
A fellow Indian

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Being a CVC - A perspective on Novartis Venture Fund's investment (& exit) strategy

If anything, the recent news of Novartis agreeing to sell its vaccine & veterinary businesses while simultaneously acquiring oncology assets from GSK consolidates my earlier view/ observation that the investment philosophy of a corporate’s venture arm seldom reflects the strategic goals pursued by the corporation itself - effectively meaning that there’s hardly any difference between a CVC and a VC as far as the ‘intention behind the investment’ goes – the intent in this context being a tangible ROI.

There is albeit a definitive difference between a CVC & VC as far as the ‘intelligence behind the investment’ goes – the intelligence in this context being the insider-edge the CVC enjoys when it comes to identifying, qualifying and investing in a promising enterprise, an edge seemingly acknowledged by the VC & angel community given the sheer number of fundraising rounds led by the likes of Google, Intel & Novartis compared to than those led by non-CVC brave-hearts – This propensity of the investing junta to look up to the CVCs to take lead is demonstrated once again by the quantum of followers the likes of Kevin Rose (Google Ventures) & Jerry Yang (Yahoo) command on AngelList, the new age pit-stop of investors & enterprises alike.

I realize though that compared to the regular VC, an average CVC can afford to be lot more adventurous/ less-conservative since the LP, which is the corporate itself, has a far less looming presence given the non-financial nature of the corporation.  This context of less-intense LP scrutiny thus affords a CVC greater liberty & hence their investment strategy may not be that de-risked after all & this isn’t saying anything.

With no prejudice whatsoever on the relative merits of a CVC vis-à-vis a VC & going merely by the data, I think Novartis Venture Funds (NVF) is what one could refer as the ‘Google Ventures of pharmaceutical innovation’, a yard-stick, if not a bench-mark other VCs could use within the pharmaceutical domain. With this premise, I went about analyzing the NVF’s investments data, of both current & exited portfolio, the key takeaways of which I have discussed below;


A quick comparison of NVF investment focus & Novartis business focus;



When it comes to making small molecule therapeutics work both as a business strategy & investment focus, few seem to be able to bend it like Novartis. Despite Small molecule therapeutics being a mere 20% of the total invested value, this segment is a star performer at 63% when it comes to exits. This performance is consistent in both the major exit types of IPO (69%) and Acquisition (59%) – the relatively higher contribution of IPO as an exit also seems to suggest that the chances of an IPO are higher for an enterprise developing small molecules & that going public isn’t an easy game for a company developing biologicals.

No wonder then that the current portfolio of NVF once again is dominated by enterprises pursuing small molecule therapeutic dreams (53%). However the marginally higher percentage share of biologic therapeutics in the current investments indicates NVF is cautiously optimistic about these living herbs!  


The NVF investment spread across therapeutics is nothing counter intuitive & is expectedly skewed towards oncology. What’s interesting is the sentiment/ attitude driving these investments in different disease segments.

Looking at the interplay of number v/s value of investments, NVF’s investor attitude can be summarised as follows for a few key segments;

Oncology           -->          Casting the net far & wide
Hematology      -->          Betting high
Cardiology         -->          Upping the stakes
Allergy               -->          Risking it big
Infection            -->          Seeding a promise


With companies having FIC assets making up 60% of the total current investments & since FIC assets are typically more attractive acquisition targets, it can be surmised that NVF is not counting on IPO as the primary exit path.


Perhaps this is more of an alert to enterprises seeking venture funding than other VCs – the date clearly shows NVFs reluctance to risk its green-backs on the very volatile PIII assets – this once again underscores the primal premise that for NVF’s vision is limited to supporting viable clinical assets and NOT in seeing them through to the market.

The message hence for the biotech is - knock at the doors of NVF after your IND is filed & count on their support till end of Phase II & showcase the potential of your clinical asset to get acquired even as it is still in PI or PII.


VC is more a patient fund than earlier & NVF seemingly realizes that – that’s what the numbers say at least

Despite the now apparent & clear segregation of objectives of a corporate & of its venture fund, a CVC seemingly still employs the insider-edge in making its investment & exit decisions.

Meray Chaaraaney.