Trees and Shrubs

This weekend I had a few hours to spare, and for the lack of better things to do, I decided to node graphs in Python. I imagined it'd be fun (and I wasn't all that wrong!) and have as little boring theory as practically possible. The second part wasn't all that true though.

The first couple of hours were spent searching for a data visualization library (Javascript or Python) that didn't induce a seizure with high contrast colors, and was aesthetically pleasing.

Reluctant to use industry-level visualization libraries that required writing a lot of JS, I stuck to an option that 5 year old me absolutely loved — Turtle.

To be fair, this decision was largely impacted by the fact that Turtle came preinstalled with Python 2.7 on my Macbook.

One of the first things I realized was that Turtle involved writing commands (essentially just calling functions) and that was a little too ardous for my liking. So I decided to make shortcodes, and nested sets of operations under shorter function names, like this — 

def fd(iteration, distance):
def rt(iteration, distance):
def lt(iteration, distance):
def bk(iteration, distance):

That being done, I quickly make three turtles diverge from a point. The results were pretty straightforward.

These turtles would now have to generate two more turtles at their end-points, which would recursively scale the radial node graph.

def branch_and_move(iteration, num):
    temp_pos = iteration.position()
    temp_head = iteration.heading()


    x = jarvis.Turtle()
    y = jarvis.Turtle()

    i = random.random()

    x.pencolor(random.random(), random.random(), random.random())
    y.pencolor(random.random(), random.random(), random.random())







    lt(x, num)
    rt(y, num)

    fd(x, 30)
    fd(y, 30)


    num = num/1.5

    if num > 1:
        branch_and_move(x, num)
        branch_and_move(y, num)

This function allowed me to have control over parameters like the distance each turtle travelled from the mean point of the radial node graph and even the angle, all using the "num" argument.

Thus I could go from the very ordinary looking —

All the way to the "Holy crap, that's crowded!" —

Hard Reset

My house says to me, "Do not leave me, for here dwells your past."
And the road says to me, "Come and follow me, for I am your future."
And I say to both my house and the road, "I have no past, nor have I a future. If I stay here, there is a going in my staying; and if I go there is a staying in my going. Only love and death will change all things."

— Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

I often envisage change in myself. I think about the change so vigorously, I trick myself into beleiving in its realization prematurely. After many failed attempts at changing, earlier this week I made time to question the malleability of the self.

After thinking about why these attempts failed, I quickly realized that my understanding of 'change' was flawed. I thought of change as something that would happen overnight, by just willing it. Turning a blind eye to the fact that many had died trying to bring about change, I wanted change so bad but couldn't have it — almost like a toddler wanting your car keys, with no idea what he'd do with them.

Spending most of my time for the last two weeks just thinking and dwelling deeper into not just how and why I wanted change, I also (for the first time) objectified what compromises and trade-offs I was willing to make in return.

Here are notes from what I've learnt –

Why change?

For better. I drew up a list of all the things I wanted to change about myself, and used two colored crayons (red and green) to mark the change as "required" and "desired". I further classified "desired" into "desired, but unimportant" and "desired and important".

By prioritizing what aspects of myself needed to change for better, I was able to take the process slowly without the fear of sinking in unfamiliarity and chaos.

More importantly, however, I realized that change can only happen for the sake of its own existence. You can't change for somebody, you can't change for something — you can only change when you know it's for the better and it is the right thing to do.


Defining 'change' was something I knew I had to do before I began considering it. And I did.

I think a the psychology of a person is not a rigid entity —  It's noteworthy to mention, I disagree with those who claim that a persons psyche is unchangeable, and term it as 'personality' that we inherit or develop irrevocably as we age.

According to my understanding, a person is merely a summation of his or her beliefs. Holding the wrong beliefs will end you in trouble, and the right ones will somehow 'connect the dots' for you.

One of my mentors frequently reminded me that one of the most vital traits of a leader was the ability to question his beliefs. This is the most important, yet (unfortunately) most overlooked component of change — Frequent self-retrospection.

Not to the maxima of being uncertain and lost, but also not to the minima of being stubborn and immovable. After all, life is all about moving and not being stagnant.

Functional Self

This theory is derived majorly from the teachings of my father. He compared the self to a house — I felt this was a deeper analogy than it sounded. Referring to this house, he said it had four rooms, one that accounted for a strong mentality, one for physical development, another for religious work, and one (rather surprisingly) for spiritual well-being.

Never before had I drawn thought upon the distinction between being religious and spiritual. Further, my father advised, if one didn't visit each of these rooms often, your journey would be lop-sided.

Gradual and balanced change is far better than erratic and lop-sided change.

Advise and Apologies

More specifically, what I want to change in myself is the ability to take advise and make apologies. Take all advise (good, bad, wise, bizarre, so on) and add it to your thoughts.

I don't imply that decisions must necessarily be based off this advise, but I do entertain the possibility to consider them while making said decisions.

Apologies for the wrong I've done, owing to incorrect beliefs I've held. It's just that simple.

What matters

If I was asked a few months back what was the one thing that mattered most in my life, I'd blatantly and curtly say, "my work". It seemed right at the time, when all I wanted to do was hole up in a cave and program computers. Now that I think of it, this was a dangerous state of mind.

Today, I think the most important thing in life is, to put it equally curtly, "impact". Impact of your actions on your work, on the world, and most importantly on the people you hold dear. They are the most precious treasure I'll ever have the good fortune of knowing.

Improved Work Ethic

Neural Networks, getting a dental checkup, and public workspaces — I often surprise myself with the diverse list of things I can think off in just a few minutes of free time at a local coffee shop. Sure, the view isn’t as good as I’d imagine it would be at a Starbucks in Spandau Arcaden, Berlin, but it does give you the pseudo-dramatic cozy corner where you can think at stretches with very little human intervention.

Ironically, I’ll go on yet another tangent, which serves as the true purpose of me writing this post. At a distinct point in the past, I remember asking myself one question very regularly — at almost an annoying recurrence pattern. Encased in a curt veil of words, this question sent me off into the deepest realms of thought.

Why me?

Or some equally gloom-inducing version of the same.

Recently, however, I’ve figured out a philosophical (which, trust me, is not my strong forte) answer to cushion my mind to resume work.

In the past, I’d often prepare for situations to what I then called “the best of my personal capabilities”, and then proceed to hope for things to work miraculously. This rarely worked, but when it did, it made its case.

Today, however, I’ve arrived at a new mantra — Don’t hope for things to work out miraculously because they almost never do. Work exceptionally hard, and pray for things to be normal.

The Problem and Future of Education

Almost everybody knows there is a problem with the education system, but very few can put a finger down on what that problem is. Parents, teachers, students, and even school administrators blame a fractured system for its shortcomings — but this quickly dissolves into a circular argument centered around funding and improved results.

US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, drew out a contrast between the mindset of parents in South Korea and the United States. In a few minuted of non-sugar-coated honesty, Arne pointed out a perspective that is ignored in most attempts to fix the education system — teachers and culture.

This instantly aligned with my analysis of the caveats with the system, and why even a meteoric startup culture was struggling to help. While most of the EdTech pioneers aimed to make teachers redundant, countries like South Korea and Finland focused on first choosing the best teachers, and then empowering them to drive their students to academic success.

South Korea stringently requires teachers to come from the top 5% of college programs and Finland takes this quest for qualified educators to a higher level by insisting on all teachers being Masters degree holders.

Looking back on my understanding of my student days, I can relate to the problem on a deeper level. What prevents educators and students from freely exploring their subjects and interests, is a series of holdbacks on either sides. Like all professionals, teachers too require an adequate system to work within.

On the students side, these holdbacks often come collectively under the cause of people unjustly interspersing learning and accreditation. Focusing on teaching students more in a shorter timeframe (merely to earn degrees), rather than on a holistic and curated learning experience has drastic effects, which are only amplified by the fact that technology is not, or only partly integrated within the system.

In a large system that is desperate for change, students tend to become guinea pigs — subject to the experimental changes in policy, syllabus, and course material. Not only does this cause to a polar variance in standards from one institute to another, but murders a nearly nonexistent learning experience.

After quite some thought, I can concisely put down what I believe will rescue this failing system on a global level.

Commitment from everybody concerned.

Every word of that statement is carefully chosen to represent the essence of the change I want to bring. Starting with the most important one, "Commitment".

Commitment from teachers to helping students enjoy learning, be it by spending more hours revising course material and creating engaging content. This in turn should be reciprocated by students' commitment to spend time on learning, and make efforts to excel.

Is this a valid request, though? To answer the question, "How does the amount of time spent affect performance?" I used data from one particular classroom, from one particular school, from one particular country, and tried to make sense out of it. This isn't a research, but merely a trend I've observed in all systems I've observed.

I wrote a script that visualizes some data from NCES and ECS, and plots clusters using a K-means clustering algorithm. In my sample data above, we can see two "areas". This doesn't conclusively prove anything, but hints towards a relationship between time spent by students on subjects and their observable academic success.

Commitment also comes from parents. This is often ignored, but was highlighted with clinical accuracy by Arne Duncan. In South Korea, parents pay a very important role in motivating students to give their best. This calls for parents to involve themselves in their childrens' education on a deeper level.

My vision for an ideal learning system

  1. Join school late. While this statement has no solid evidence to back its credibility, I think a minimum age limit of 6 years should be imposed on schools. Parents must be encouraged to use the years before that for creating a learning atmosphere at home, to kindle curiosity and auto-didactism.

  2. Multi-linguism or in the least bilingualism should be promoted.

  3. Expose students to technology in a supervised environment, early-on in life. This can be using interactive media, or even a controlled discussion board. Teach them internet ethics from a young age. If schools begin migrating students' learning activity from a linear textbook model to an engaging technology-centered model, using ebooks, interactive exercises, and online learning environments at this age, it will have long and short term benefits.

  4. Schools maintain records of all students' academic activity, including metrics computed by artificial intelligence to find strong and weak zones in subjects and concepts.

  5. By moving learning digital, it is easier for the student to catch up to shaky topics at home. It isn't very rare for students to face the repercussions of being poor at a subject in lower grades, in an advanced course. Teachers and parents should be made aware of these Knowledge Gaps to make better decisions on how to tackle them.

Will the classroom ever be like a conference?

Not in the near future. For the next 15 years, I see the classroom to be a place of active learning. The aura of classrooms might change — they might look more like startup workspaces, but they won't be like a place of mere discussion of ideas. Active learning is foreseeably going to be a huge part of classrooms, though the means of achieving this may shift from learning by repititon to learning by interaction.

I see classrooms shifting to a community learning model, where students experiment and learn by doing, rather than being instructed.

Will teachers be replaced?

Almost 100% not. Unless we don't come up with a new breed of artificial intelligence systems capable of resolving "blocks" contextually, which is hard let me assure you, it won't happen.

Also, if teachers are replaced, it will be simultaneously followed by extinction of schools — Honestly, why go to school if a robot can teach you at home anyways?

Teachers provide supervision, reinforced learning, and direction in all peer-driven learning systems. Teachers are curators of knowledge. I don't see teachers ever begin replaced, but I see their role shifting massively. Teachers will be data-analysts, and curators of knowledge. This is a far more important role than then currently fulfill.

What about a shift in the role of schools?

I see schools becoming more like "hubs" of concentrated educational activity. They will be far more open, than right now. This signals towards things like groups of schools sharing learning resource and data with each other, fostering collaboration between teachers to hone a learning experience.

A teacher or groups of teachers will work to perfect a learning experience for students, like an open-source project which is coded to perfection by hundreds of contributors.


I believe that the next generation of policy-makers, scientists, artists, and whatnot, deserves access to a more fair and immersive education system, to realize their full potential.

These are my thoughts and my vision for education. There might be problems with it, and there definitely be parts that require more work.

The purpose of this article is not just to express my own views on the matter, but also initiate a discussion. Join the conversation and share your views on it, in the Hacker News discussion or on Twitter.

If you want to provide me with feedback personally, write me an email.

Reinvent Being

Startups often Pivot, for better or worse. In a certain way, I respect the decision to restructure direction and realign your work with your vision.

Slowing down helps you visualize the product of your work from a whole different point-of-view. This holds true in almost all startups, but that's not what this post is about. It's about a similar exercise, but on a personal level.

Balancing work and free time better was my New Year resolution, and this post goes to discuss that thought.

While working full-time on changing the world, it is easy to lose track of time and not find time for yourself. Building a product is hard, and selling a product is even harder.

I think having space and time for yourself is essential to avoiding early-stage burn-outs. Different people have different ways for creating this space — some prefer time with family, while others would rather jump off a plane at high altitudes.

I find it important to mention that drawing the line between finding personal space and losing focus is very delicate. Overindulgence can have quite the opposite effects.

My vent is traveling. I love simply love the thrill of adventure — so much, that being lost excites me. When I'm not working on Pilot I try to explore the city I'm in, as much as I can. Of lately, Kashmir.

On playing with that a little, it might seem quite an interesting place to trek, and immerse yourself in, to return to work with a fresher and more energetic mind.

Here are a few moments from my experiences, just to add some visual delight.

Follow the discussion on Hacker News, and tell me about what you do to take time off work.

A Case for Version Control

Writing a lot of code is akin to exploring a forest. Especially when you're ideating things as you go along. I tend to think that planning out projects pre-hand is a good practice, but this often gets lost on its way from my mind to the keyboard.

In my defense, however, I did do some planning on my soft board.

An important lesson I'll take away from last weekend fits perfectly in the next sentence. Drawing a boundary between vision, execution, and strategy is, by far, the most vital aspect to designing a product.

I've talked a lot about the first two earlier, and touched (although never explicitly) on the third.

I decided to hold a 'one-man-hackathon', and get work done towards building something I've been thinking about for a while. I wouldn't label the outcome as a success or failure, but in my excitement I made three blunders, that I will explain (arranged in increasing order of intensity) in this post.

Know Your Enemy

My idea of building the product was to pop open an IDE and, you know, build.

I generally don't do this, but the buzz that came with this idea was borderline destabilizing. This was fine — until I ran into roadblocks that stemmed out of after thoughts.

A minor user-experience related change isn't exactly minor for the backend, in most cases. And if you haven't planned everything from end-to-end, microscopic details included, you'll quickly get bored and the idea won't sound so exciting anymore — especially when you've spent some hours debugging code.

Comfort Zone : Exit this way!

Sticking to tools and frameworks that you're experienced in is good for rapidly building products, but often requires compromises.

I quickly learnt that this was holding me back, and amended accordingly. The point of having these rapid 'build-sessions' was supposed to be learning new things, and when that isn't happening, it can turn into an arduous nightmare.

Sure, it's great to feel comfortable with your setup, but once you step out of it, it instantly becomes a more thrilling adventure of sorts. Personally, though, I made decisions based on what was best for the project — choosing strange tools just for the sake of being 'different' is a futile exercise.

Version Control

I didn't use it.

Some of you might be able to guess what happens after this.

After a day of furiously typing code, a small tweak on one module broke another part of the app. While fixing that, I broke a couple of other things. Move fast, break things, I know — but this was more like "move fast, break everything, go home."

Long story short — I had to make a new virtual environment and salvage what I could from the old one, and began anew. And this was 2 days of work, down the drain, at that point.

How Cryogenic Engines Work

I was reading a wikipedia page about diesel engines, and a few clicks later, I found myself deeply emerged in another article about a more efficient (but impractical for most means of transportation on Earth) breed of engines called Cryogenic Engines. After a few hours, I decided to figure out how to build one.

Newtons Third Law

To understand how this process helps propel rockets or spaceships at blazing speeds, we head back to the 17th century where Isaac Newton declared three postulates (called 'Newtons Laws') that govern classical physics.

The third of these is what interests us most, in this case. Newton proposed that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." This observably holds true till date. We see this law in action in day-to-day life.

Imagine yourself, standing atop a skateboard, in close proximity of a wall — and for experimental purposes, the wheels on the skateboard are aligned perpendicular to the wall. Now, if you were to exert a force on the wall, and maintained balance on the skateboard, in most cases you'd the skateboard (and yourself, consequently) would move away from the wall. This is, of course, assuming that the force you apply on the wall is greater than the frictional force between the skateboard and the ground.

Heat Engines

Conventional heat propulsion engines that you find in rockets work by expelling hot air out in one direction (action) and that causes the rocket itself to move in the opposite direction (equal and opposite reaction)

They source this hot air by burning fuels that produce most amount of energy upon combustion. Fuels play an important role here, since different fuels cause huge variations in fuel efficiency.

The general rule of thumb is to find or synthesize fuels that burn at an adequate temperature (not too low, because then it'd combust even at room temperature, nor too high, as that would increase energy costs), and produce maximum amounts of energy per unit volume.


Cryogenic engines use heat too, but in a different manner. The principle behind these engines is simple — that volume of a liquid is far less that the volume of that substance in gaseous form.

Cryogenic engines use super-cooled substances, in their liquid forms, as fuels. Most common substances are liquid hydrogen (LH2), liquid nitrogen and liquid helium.

Liquid Oxygen, though, is not used as a cryogenic fuel. It is used merely as an oxidizer.

Heat is supplied to these fuels, which instantly turns them into their respective gaseous forms. This gas has a much larger volume than its liquid counterpart, and hence when released produces a huge force which is used as thrust in rockets (or could even be used to turn turbines to convert it into other forms of energy)

In a liquid nitrogen powered cryogenic engine, the liquid nitrogen, stored at -320 degrees Fahrenheit, is vaporized by the a device called a heat exchanger. Nitrogen gas formed in the heat exchanger expands to about 700 times the volume of its liquid form. This highly pressurized gas is then fed to the expander, where the force of the nitrogen gas is used as thrust.

In a different case, hydrogen can be vaporized as the fuel and ignited by the oxidizer of oxygen to generate standard hot rocket thrust.

Heat supplied to the fuel can be sourced from air moving around the spaceship or rocket, or externally supplied. The obvious downsides I see to this is insulation (which is the cost of maintaining cryogenic fuels at such a low temperature, prior to use.)

Cryogenic rockets produce the highest specific impulse (i.e; change in momentum, per unit fuel consumed) in all rocket engines. With a 440 specific impulse a rocket could achieve a velocity of 15,840 kilometers per hour, which is enough to keep it in an orbit around Earth.

The VOX Kashmir

Today, I stumbled upon a news network, while checking in on the weather in Srinagar. After a couple of hours of detour from my workflow, I had envisioned a radical reimagination of that networks approach to news.

That being said, the work below is not a representation of plans or thoughts of The VOX Kashmir.

In my opinion, a news network must be minimal and timeless. The last work of the previous sentence plays an important role in the ideation process.

Vincent Van Goghs work, 'The Starry Night' is timeless. It represents an idea that never phases out. There would be plausibility in stating that the beauty of stars and most peoples appreciation for them is ephemeral. Van Gogh's night sky is a field of roiling energy. In contrast, the village below is serene (and asleep for most parts of it.)

Having set a foundation, it's time to carry forward this vision in a solid visual brand.

This is a work in progress, and requires a lot of iteration. This view tells us only a part of the story. A text-input system (inspired by Medium) and comment management system is required too. Further, a sign-up mechanism that takes no more than 20 seconds to get through will play a key role in encouraging users (who are aliens to the concept of participating in news so actively) to join.

But those are just thoughts.

Solve the Unimaginable

This post is based on a personal observation and preference, which might not hold try for everybody.

I made the swift and (almost) overnight transition from Adobe Photoshop to Sketch, over 7 months ago. Recently, I happened to accidentally double-click on a .PSD file on my computer, and while staring at the Adobe splash-screen, which by now looked like a long lost buddy, I came to appreciate the difference between a good product, and a great product.

While some may say that Sketch and its familiar UI complicates things, I think that on the contrary, on getting used to Sketch, it makes even complex designs seem easier. It's packed with some really powerful features — though might have some glitches here and there.

In my Photoshop days, I spent more time figuring out the metrics for a good gradient, and other technicalities. Good "design" often got lost in the technicalities, because after I'd made something, it'd have taken me so much time and effort that even if the output looked absolutely hideous, I'd be hesitant to delete it and start over again. Simple because I'm lazy, or in other words, because it was time-consuming and I didn't want to have to do it all over again.

With Sketch, not only does it take less effort and time, owing to the clean and functional UI, but it also consequently gives me the ability to be able to review my work with no bias against redoing it from scratch, because now, if I'd notice something off, I'd think to myself, "Hey, that element looks off. But it'd take me only a few minutes to redesign, so why not?"

This is the right direction for any product. Solve the obvious, but also the unimaginable.

Lean Startup

Stumbled onto this during one of my early morning casual reading sessions:

"Startups often accidentally build something nobody wants, it doesn’t matter much if they do it on time and on budget. The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build - the thing customers want and will pay for - as quickly as possible."

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries

It effectively summarizes this post I'd written a few weeks ago.

A Symposium Within

I believe in the power of ideas, questions, and the curious minds that dare to ask them. I've always trusted that this composes the fuel that drags the human race forward.

Ideas are often associated with a bright bulb and exclamation marks. A sudden surge of inspiration, the frustration on facing the brunt of "UX-scarcity".

At odd times of the morning, or during late evening walks, thinking — not about ideas, work, or anything serious, but random snippets from my life — That's where my ideas are born, and so along with it questions. How? Why? The regular suspects.

Ideas are like the little turtles you hear about on National Geographic. Many ideas die very soon after they're conceived. In the immortal words of Jonathan Ive, "Ideas are fragile". But the ones that make it are worth the long hard walk — right from where they hatch, to where their fate ends them up.

But beyond all the beautiful walks on sun-washed roads at dawn, and late-evening coffee at Starbucks, there lies the biggest hurdle an idea will ever face — Reality.

Thinking, talking, or even questioning an idea is good, but not good enough to turn it to reality. Ideas are important, but they aren't worth much until you've worked on them. Picture yourself strolling with a friend, after weeks of thinking hard (to a point that it's obsessive), and are almost convinced that what you have can potentially "change" the world. Your friend is probably chewing gum, oblivious to the cares of the world, when you tell him about it and after twitching his eyes around casually he mutters "I'm not sure it'd work!" or "You mean like those guys?" Boom. That is what your idea is worth by itself.

Work isn't all about dark circles and over dosing on expresso shots. Work is about getting things done, quite simple. It's when you mark a milestone, or check something off a list. Like physicists would say — when force is applied and the object undergoes displacement, work is done. No displacement? Then it isn't "work". Zero vaporware.

Taking a step back from the individual tools, and looking at the larger picture — the "workshop", a curious mind. Ideas, and even work, flows around like a river, often changing its course because a smart question came up. A question can fix a broken idea, or kill a seemingly perfect one. A question is audacious enough to kill an idea.

A curious mind, the asker of questions, is kind, but ferociously honest.

Ideas start off humbly, but steadily turn into giants if nurtured, and equally quickly sickle and die if not cared for. Ideas are not for oneself, but for humanity and the entire human race.

Our ideas define us as individuals, and unite us as masses.

Blue Blackberry

There's this thing about antibiotics, that resonates with what's happening to Blackberry Ltd.

The way most bacteria work is by producing substances that damage certain parts of our body. On taking antibiotics, we selectively "poison" bacterial cells, but not the cells of our body. Antibiotics don't directly eliminate the bacterial cells, but do so by inhibiting any of the processes necessary for the survival of the bacterial cell. For example, a certain antibiotic might inhibit the formation of a cell wall in bacterial cells, and that might in effect lead to the cells dying a natural death, owing to our immune system. A very neat process, indeed.

In 1944, however, the first mutant strains of bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics were found. What was observed here, was that upon taking an incomplete course of antibiotics, or leaving prescribed medications earlier than recommended, the bacterial cells "learnt" the action of the antibiotics and developed resistance against it. So you'd either have to take the antibiotic through the course of illness, or not take it at all. An incomplete course would lead to complicated problems in the long run.

Once valued at $83 Billion dollars, Blackberry Ltd. recently stated it almost reached an agreement for a $4.7 billion buyout by a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd, its biggest shareholder. While this deal collapsed just hours before the deadline, and the company announced that CEO Thorsten Heins will be replaced, on an interim basis, by John S. Chen, and that they were looking to raise $1 bn in investments instead. Fairfax will purchase $250 million of the convertible debentures.

The demand for Blackberry phones is plummeting, as they reported a net loss of $85 million for the previous quarter. At the end of the second quarter, total cash, cash equivalents and investments is estimated to be approximately $2.6 billion. The company has no debt, but is losing users and cash reserves at a very fast rate. Some say, it'd take Blackberry only 6 more quarters to burn down the reserves, at its current rate.

But everything isn't as grim as you'd imagine. Blackberry made a surprise profit on its Z10 devices, and in the three months (up to the start of March this year), BlackBerry made a profit of £65 million. This, added to the fact that they have no debt.

To quote Robert Baillieul from The Motley Fool :

"But once you dig beneath the headline, the company's financials are surprisingly good.

First, the fact that the company is still relatively near profitability shows how successful management was at cutting costs. Through its CORE program, the company slashed over $1 billion in operating expenses.

Second, the company generated $630 million in cash flow from operations increasing its cash balance to $3.1 billion. Given that the stock now has only a $5.5 billion market capitalization, the cash should put a floor underneath that stock price assuming you give it no value for the company's patents, its remaining service business, or any possible success of BB10.

But those are only two raisins in a giant loaf of bread."

— The Motley Fool

The biggest holdback, however, is their stale-hearted approach to innovation, and outdated product lines, closely related to the incomplete-antibiotic analogy I proposed earlier. This is the behemoth problem for Blackberry.

The Behemoth

Almost everyone interested in news knows that something is wrong with Blackberry. But most can't put their finger down on exactly what is wrong. To better understand where Blackberry went blue, I've analyzed the numbers and broken them down into quantifiable problems.

Volume Decrease

I often use market volume graphs as an index to visualize the problem with any financial system. It's not always accurate, but it works most of the times. The graphic below, upon inference, tells us that Blackberrys most "dynamic days" were around early 2007.

In his interview with the guardian in March 2007, then CEO Mike Lazaridis confidently dismissed Apples Presence in the market. And why wouldn't he? It's always a smoother ride when you're atop profit margins of more than 30% of revenues.

It was around that time that Blackberry had moulded its brand into one that reflected security and the corporate lifestyle. But this wasn't an enterprise company only about email. It included things like custom apps that would transmit user data securely over the internet, messages, and of course email too. It would fit over existing companies' requirements like a charm.

Brand value

Blackberry fell off Interbrand’s trusted annual ranking of the most valuable consumer brands. This is a PR disaster. People don't relate with the brand like they used to in the past, or don't enitrely trust it.

This has severe implications, and aftermath.

Customer loyality is a direct product of the amount of trust users put into a brand. Brand value is often scarred by major disruptions in service (PSN outage, for example) or trust (E.g: Adobe password breach)

Why Blackberry Fumbled

There isn't one reason for this apparent fumble. The situation Blackberry has gotten into is an aggregate of multiple overlapping incidents. There will obviously be a lot more reasons that contributed in this direction, but I've listed out four major reasons. This fumble has cost Blackberry, not just a decrease in its baseline, but also things like customer trust, momentum, and to a certain extent, its "mojo" factor.

1. Failure to Innovate

Coming back to my antibiotic analogy, Blackberry has failed to provide a complete solution. Ever since its ideation, Blackberry module devices were meant to complement the corporate lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, blackberry devices were aimed at "solving the paradox of modern life" (in the words of its founder, Mike Lazaridis) where they would serve the requirements of an office, but would also fit into a more casual environment, like a lounge or a party. In fact, Mike often compared his products to a Porsche that people would drive around town, even though it was a sports car. Unfortunately, in practice, this never happened for Blackberry. Their products never dwelled beyond meeting office requirements. Features such as a better camera, music player, and even touchscreen devices etc.. never stole the limelight. Every Blackberry release emphasized more or less the same thing.

And by making a product that didn't serve a "complete" solution to the "paradox", just like an incomplete course of antibiotics, their consumers deflected. Blackberry was now branded as a "slow" brand that didn't evolve quite as well. This led to problems for them, when their consumer base drastically shrank. Unlike rivals Apple Inc, they didn't think providing an end-to-end solution was worthwhile, judging by the fact that they never pursued this dogma.

This can be interpreted as their failure to evolve with the market. (Nokia is guilty of the same, but we'll save that for another day)

2. Security breaches

Blackberry has always been known for being obsessed with privacy and security of its users. The global surveillance state has shattered the perception of secure mobile communications, one of BlackBerry's core selling points to customers. Saudi Arabia, UAE, and India threatened to ban Blackberry products on the grounds that they hindered "surveillance".

In August 2010, just before Saudi Telecom almost blocked Blackberry phones, Research In Motion agreed to place three servers in Saudi Arabia, effectively resolving the issue. Al Jazeera later reported that RIM agreed to share a unique PIN and code for each BlackBerry registered in Saudi Arabia, allowing authorities to read encrypted messages.

In UAE too, a ban was prevented in October 2010 because Blackberry services (just out-of-the-blue) became "compatible" with UAE's TRA guidelines.

Earlier this year, Times of India reported that law enforcement would be able to track emails, encrypted BBM messages, and track web-browsing on the devices, sent over Blackberry devices in realtime, hence solving Indian governments' dispute with the phone manufacturer. And while a Blackberry spokesperson claims that this access doesn't extend to Blackberry Enterprise Servers, consumers were left with no reason to trust them.

All this came before the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, revealed that British and American security services had access to encrypted data on Blackberry servers. Der Spiegel also cited a leaked slide, titled "BES collection," showing an email "from a Mexican government agency."

3. Infighting at executive level

Blackberry failed to move beyond its own legacy. Clicky keys were good, in the past. But it was time to move beyond that to what people wanted, or even better — "show people what they wanted". They did neither.

At the senior executive level, Blackberry lacked a uniform direction. A cross platform strategy for BBM would have benefited Blackberry greatly, but Jim Balsillie (co-CEO, back in the day) ran into fierce opposition from senior executives.

As a result, Balsillie resigned. He confirmed:

"My reason for leaving the RIM board in March, 2012, was due to the company's decision to cancel the BBM cross-platform strategy."

— The Globe and Mail

4. Ignoring wake-up calls

Blackberry received many wake-up calls. The introduction of the iPhone (and Samsung so vigorously ripping them off) was one such wake up call that the canadian phone manufacturer chose to ignore. iPhone users enjoyed almost the same features as Blackberry users, but had better designed hardware, more apps, and more or less "the best of both worlds" when it came to the corporate-versus-casual feel.

Unlike Blackberry, their competitors sought innovation and developed more capable and aesthetic software and powerful hardware, while not compromising on features that were common between them and Blackberry.

The iPhone was different from the BlackBerry phones of the time. Research in Motion was catered towards the industry professional only and dismissed and denied Apple Incs presence in the market.

Mike Lazaridis went as far as to call Apples presence "vanishingly small". Six years later, Apple reports to have sold 800 million units of its latest product, the iPhone 5S, whereas Blackberry is raising a debt offering to investors.


Blackberry fell due to its own mismanagement and complacency. They refused to evolve and innovate, and provide their users with what they wanted. Neither did they undertake responsibility to deliver what they once promised their users and proudly boasted off.

They remained dormant while their customers deflected to their competitors who offered them exactly what Blackberry was struggling to, and a lot more. Building a product is like taking an antibiotic to curb a illness. You either do it completely well, or fail in the long run.

I haven't counted them out just as yet, though. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they made a surprise recovery. Under their new CEO Josh S. Chen, and their "C.O.R.E" program to regain momentum in the market, there is still a lot of hope for Blackberry. I personally expect some radical restructuring, followed by cleaning up the product line and introduction of some new products.

Theres a lot Blackberry could've done differently to have avoided this, though. But those are just sour grapes. Or sour Blackberries. Wait. What?

Think, Build, Repeat

Slowing down is often a learning experience. This applies to everything, even (and especially) startups during their ideation stage. Slowing down makes it possible to analyze everything one does, understand its impact, and decide if it really is what one wants to do. Sure, there are exceptional cases where impulse led to a billion-dollar company, but those are extremely rare.

Most founders fall victim to the misconception (often the result of an incorrect comprehension of the phrase "Move fast, break things") that anything that sounds right at 0300 hrs will remain "right" after 3 months of intense coding, designing, and signing cheques. This, too, rarely happens.

In the real world, I've observed that when people come across an idea, it's almost an involuntary reflex action to label it as a "great" or "million-dollar" idea. Seldom do people use foresight or self-retrospection to figure out where this might go wrong, or more importantly, whether this is actually a problem worth solving.

I think the best way to "build" is through a combination of the two. A perfect balance between questioning ones own approach and actually "approaching". In alternating sessions of ideation (thinking about the impact of a particular feature, whether or not the outcome of a technical decision will change how users use the product, etc.) and actually building (coding, designing, etc), it is easier to refine the direction of the building process.

You don't want to be building intensely for a long time, only to realize (after months of work) that you were trying to solve a trivial problem. Nor do you want to keep thinking, and rethinking so often that it turns into vaporware. Slowing down makes it possible to perfect execution.

This is important, because founders often tend to lose capital, time, and most importantly focus, when execution fails. While solving problems that require crossing technological barriers, it is not unusual for founders to lose sight of users' criteria for product success — usability, UX, interface etc..

This is a shorter post. It simple communicates this one thought I had in my mind — Don't lose track of your vision while you're caught up building. Slow down, and look back every once in a while to check on your direction.