Book Review - Are You Ready to Succeed? by Prof. Srikumar Rao

The book, Are You Ready to Succeed? by Prof. Srikumar Rao was introduced during one of the personal development electives at IIM Bangalore. However I got the chance to read it completely only now. This is a light as well as a heavy read depending on what your intentions are. Professor has included lot of exercises;more like self reflections in each chapter. So if you are doing every exercise seriously, the book is a heavy one requiring your sincere efforts and time.

I would consider the book to be a self mastery book focusing both on personal and professional lives. The author has taken lot of ideas, and examples from eastern philosophy. Two key ideas that I took from this book are mental models and mental chatters.



Mental Models - Put it simply, its nothing but how you formulate realities. For example, your may have built a mental model that unless you are in the US, no one will consider you successful; so even if you are in a good job, happy life and have all the possession one can imagine, you will still consider yourselves a failure. What the author argues is that - this is just one of the realities that you have accepted; there could be other realities as well, for example being able to follow your passion also means being successful. Professor Rao urges the readers to try and find out alternate realities that helps to succeed instead of following a downward spiral path.

Mental Chatters - Mental chatter is the continuous self talk that you may have. Its built and continued based on the mental model you have built. For example, let's continue the example of above mental model; your mental chatter may be - oh, Tom went to the US for his higher studies; he wasn't even close to my caliber at school; yet he has gone. I am un lucky; I am of no use...I wont succeed etc. Professor Rao argues that mental chatters are real and it strengthens the mental model you are following.

The book revolves mainly around these two concepts and dives deep into how to build a better life, relationship in personal, professional and societal lives. Few of Professor Rao's lectures are available in the net and these discusses about the ideas mentioned in his book.

TED Talk : Plug into your hard-wired happiness




Google Talks (Leading@Google)




Powerful Lessons from Great Masters - How to Build a Life, and Not Just a Career


Overall a good book and powerful concepts!

Learning MBA Courses for Free! Part I

Irrespective of whether you are an MBA or a B School student or a B School aspirant or someone interested in learning more about business/management, there are a plenty of resources available on the web. For a person who likes to listen rather than read through, there are many video courses/lectures as well. In the next few posts, I will try to put together an MBA curriculum completely based on free video courses (either MOOC or pre-recorded) covering both core courses and electives. Today, let's start with core courses (MBA first year curriculum). An outline can be pulled from any B School website. In this post, I will specifically concentrate on Finance and accounting courses. 



Financial Accounting


Financial Accounting is a core course required for all the MBA students in their first year irrespective of the Business School they study in. Financial Accounting can be considered one of the foundation stones of any Finance course you take later. This is also one of the 'most feared' courses :) There are many free online courses or MOOCs on this topic. Here are three of them --

Introduction to Financial Accounting from Wharton is an introductory course offered within the Coursera platform. Overall, a great introductory course with a case based approach. I would consider this to be a crash course giving the high level ideas in Financial Accounting. If you are more interested in the topic, Wharton also offers a course on advanced topics as well as another course specifically on accounting analytics

Introduction to Accounting - I from IIM Bangalore is an introductory course offered in EDX platform and a favorite of mine since he was a Professor during my stint at IIMB  :) I would consider this to be slightly theoretical in nature. But if you are interested in accounting from an Indian/Asian perspective; this is a great course. It is expected that IIMB will be rolling out second part of the course later in the year. I am sure, it will take the route of advanced courses from Wharton.

Introduction to Financial Accounting from Brigham Young University -- I haven't taken this course. But this seems to be a good one too with a complete coverage of topics in Financial Accounting.

Management Accounting


Management Accounting or Managerial Accounting is the other side of accounting coin. Very important for manufacturing industry, this aims to provide better information for managers in implementing an organization's objectives in the most cost effective way. This provides an insider's view; while financial accounting is meant for an outsider's view.

Management & Cost Accounting Modules - The YouTube play list from Rutgers Accounting Web is a great resource to start with. It is a collection of over 400 short videos on this topic by Prof. Noel Cooperburg. He takes a strategic approach to managerial accounting rather than an accounting/numeric based approach.

Managerial Accounting - IIT Bombay is an NPTEL course from IIT Bombay taught by Prof. Varadraj Bapat. Slightly theoretical, it gives a good introduction to accounting as well a deeper view into cost aspects.

Finally, there is a set of two courses in Coursera from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I haven't gone through this and is yet to start. First one, Cost Behaviors, Systems, and Analysis is expected to provide the introduction and Tools for Facilitating and Guiding Business Decisions deals with advanced topics.

Corporate Finance


Corporate Finance is the next foundation stone of all Finance related topic an MBA student might take up. Often a good learning of corporate finance is a must to even start with advanced topics. If you look for a Professor in Corporate Finance, the most famous one in the web is Prof. Aswath Damodaran of Stern School of Business. All his corporate finance courses in video format is available for free and this is perhaps the best source for learning Corporate Finance (http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/)

Corporate Finance @ Coursera -- Two courses are available in Coursera - one from Wharton School of Business (Introduction to Corporate Finance) and another from IESE Business School (Corporate Finance Essentials)

Financial Markets and Institutions


In some MBA curriculum, I have seen a core course on Financial Markets. It overlaps with Corporate Finance in some instances. In my case, it was an elective offered. Though 5 years old, I think Financial Markets by Prof. Robert J. Shiller of Yale University is still the most comprehensive course on this subject. A Coursera offering is also available which I believe may be a shortened version. Another personal choice is the course on Introduction to Banking & Financial Markets by Prof. PC Narayan of IIM Bangalore. I was fortunate enough to attend his classes while at IIMB. Finally there is a course by Prof. Andrew Lo (Financial Theory I ; an old, but good one)

In the following posts, I will cover other core courses and electives in a typical MBA curriculum.

Five TED Talks for all MBAs and MBA aspirants!

TED has been a great platform to listen to some of the greatest minds and ideas. TED is so vast today that its literally impossible to watch all the videos from TED and TEDx. I thought to share with you five TED talks every B School aspirant, or MBA student must watch. As said, these are the ones I picked from the talks I watched during B School, before and after. I am sure there are many more that you can share with the readers. 


How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek 

MBA is all about leadership these days. Every curiculum and Business school try to impart on its students theories of leadership, and groom leaders. In this talk, Simon Sinek discusses about inspiring employees or followers to take action.Contrary to explain what we do - how we do and why why do (in that order), Simon argues that it should be always in the reverse order; and that's what makes an organization different. Making understand the employees, and customers the purpose of the firm makes the difference. He makes his points taking examples of Apple, comparing Wright Brothers with Samuel Pierpont Langley, TiVO and more.
 

How I harnessed the wind by William Kamkwamba

There are many entrepreneurship and inspiration related talks in TED. But this is one of my favorites. This shows how an idea and passion can really change people's lives. This a talk which will make you think how small ideas, the learning from your education can give back to society. Its a short talk in which he explains how he made a windmill for his village from scrap items and reading from a public library. Another talk that will poke you is How I started a sanitary napkin revolution! By Arunachalam Muruganantham.


Lead like the great conductors by Itay Talgam

It's a talk by leadership; its a talk about having a process. It's a talk about how to motivate and give a sense of ownership to employees instead of micro management. He talks the approach of showing sub videos of various orchestra conductors, their styles and what leadership learning we can take. I really liked this video because of then engaging factor and the topics/ideas he subtly put forth.


How to pitch to a VC by David S. Rose

A typical MBA type talk; discussing about Venture Capitalist presentation.He talks about what to say, how to say, how to create the presentation. Also he goes into depth of what VCs expect in these presentations.

How data will transform business by Philip Evans

If you are an MBA aspirant, this talk gives a feel of how the lectures on Economis and Strategy will be - with all the jargons, frameworks and high level pictures. In this talk, Philip Evans, a consultant at BCG put forth the idea of how data is transforming the thinking of business strategy. He touches on how fall in transaction costs, technology/internet reduces or kills intermediaries. It asks some great poking questions about how technology is forcing business models to evolve.

Book Review - Lateral Leadership by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp

Lateral Leadership - Getting it done when you are not the boss is a leadership book written by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp. To be honest, it was not a pleasant read because of the writing style of authors. This is in spite of the fact that it's a short book and Viva Books printed it in good quality paper even if it was a low priced edition :) I expected the book to be something catering to professionals in roles without having the authority ( like a Product Manager or Business Analyst). But the book tries to be lot of things.


 The authors take a two fold approach - first on improving the personal skills and later on to use them to improve collaboration and lead teams. At certain points, I felt it's more a personal skills training book than one on team building or leadership; may be it is due to the fact that it's all interlinked. The book is written in the three parts. First one introduces the topic of lateral leadership and what the authors mean by the term. The second part dives deep into the components of lateral leadership - how to first develop the personal skills required and then to pass on them to your team. Last part is a conclusive discussion on how to keep improving yourself with these learning.

The crux of the book is that we should understand the the real purpose of why we are doing something , make the team understand and own it; once this is achieved, cultivate a culture in yourselves and within the team to come up with thoughts, actions and ownership in achieving the goals. The authors also cautions about 'paralysis with analysis' often seen in discussions and also how to keep the team members engaged. Finally, there is a decent discussion on how to give and receive feedback as well.

Five things you will learn from reading this book are -

1.    How to develop and create a purpose - be it for yourselves, organization or a team undertaking
2.    How to set goals effectively
3.    How to harness collaboration and engagement in a team
4.    How to provide and receive feed backs
5.    Few frameworks, thought process aids guiding your journey in becoming a better leader and team player

Two things I wish the authors did a better job are

1.    A better writing style
2.    Cut short on unnecessary theory since it's meant more for a professional audience than academia. 

Overall, just a decent book to read.

Understanding Native Advertising

We hear a lot about natives, particularly native advertising. In this blog post, let's try to noodle about native advertising, native commerce and native apps. The topic of native advertising has picked up heat early this year after the publication of FTC guidance on native advertising.

What is Native Advertising?


Native advertising is nothing but a mode of showing advertisements matching with the mode and form of underlying platform. For example - promoted tweets that you see in Twitter or suggested products in Amazon or suggested posts in a news website. IAB has defined six standard ad units under the purview of native advertising. They are -

In-feed units 

- these are what I consider the real native ads. They almost look like normal content in the platform; but are actually sponsored ones. For example - twitter promoted tweets.


Paid Search units 

- One of the earliest native ad formats (perhaps even before the term was coined :)). So nothing new here; just that Google or Bing highlights it as 'Sponsored'




Promoted Listings

- Most commonly used in eCommerce sites like Amazon. It is mainly used to showcase related products based on user purchase and browsing behavior.


Recommendation Widgets

- These are similar to promoted listing ad types; but an advertising medium linking text links to external articles/sites. Actually there a set of content marketing/display vendors who play in this domain. Examples include Outbrain, Taboola etc.



In-Ad with native element units

- these are similar to display banner units; but gels well with the content/platform. Once again content marketing/promotion platforms play in this; for example - OneSpot

What makes this domain interesting is how much we can keep the creativity intact. For example, an in-feed ad unit can be designed according to the platform, the publisher site or the app. This brings to the last type - custom ones. For example, the ads shown in Flipboard.

Now that we discussed about what native advertising is and various native ad types; let's shift our focus to one of the important reasons of this topic's uptick -- mobile. We all know content consumption in mobile devices is increasing; and research shows that consumers don’t like traditional display advertising mimicked in mobile (in fact most find it obtrusive). Native mobile ads help in improving the engagement and acceptability of ads in mobile devices.


What are native mobile ads?


Native advertising takes it true format when it comes to mobile. Native mobile ads are those which looks alike in form and format similar to the app or site in which the ad is shown. Since mobile apps provide a variety of capabilities in terms of format,look & feel and access to mobile hardware, native ad formats largely fall in custom one - it can be in-feed, in-game or in-maps etc. - all that matters is creatively include the ad units aligning with your app. Platforms like mopub, inmobi or mobfox are used to develop and show these ads.



If you are interested in seeing live examples from some of the publishers/platforms showing native ads; visit Sharetrough's Native Ad Generator (http://native-generator.sharethrough.com/)

What is Native commerce?


Finally, let's touch on an adjacent topic to native advertising - native commerce as well. The idea is linking eCommerce and content together seamlessly. Similar to in-feed ad units, eCommerce buy links are included in a format aligning with the parent app. So for example, a blog about travel and tourism may show some of the travel packages as ads. This is the marriage of content marketing and eCommerce.

Understanding Data Management Platforms (DMP) aka Data Brokers

Data Management Platforms (DMP) are a set of SaaS offering in the digital advertising ecosystem that have been living for may be around five years now. DMPs have been gaining market noise and Forrester Wave recently published a wave report also.  It's easy to get confused with Tag ManagementSystems that we discussed previously. I believe this post will give a basic understanding of what DMPs are and how they differ from TMS. A DMP's function is three fold - first to  aggregate various data sources, then to integrate them to provide analytics and segmentation capabilities; and finally to deploy actionable insights for various vendors - be it advertising or user experience. 



Let's try to dig a bit deeper into each of these capabilities --

Aggregate data sources


Aggregation of various data sources is the first step that any DMP starts with. Data sources include both online - be it site side analytics, ad serving or optimization and offline - be it transactional data or call center data. These days, all leading DMPs allow collection of data from literally all possible online sources and custom offline integrations.

Integration of data sources


This is the core offering of any DMP. Once the various data sources are integrated, DMPs try to draw conclusions about the profiles of data captured and also provide opportunities to integrate with 3rd party audience segmentation sources like Nielsen. This integration allows Data Management Platforms to provide normalization and segmentation information based on the data accrued. Analysis is done on two fold - based on the first party data that the publisher accrue and then getting input from wider third party data. Let's see a simple example of how this is done.

  1. You make a purchase from a leading e-commerce website. To make purchase, you have given some basic personal information to the company
  1. You visit the brick and mortar store of the company to make a further purchase or return something. Now the company can stitch between your online and offline identities
  1. Based on the information we have, you may be classified into a profile like Male between age group 25 and 35, residing in Kerala state interested in value for money smart phones
  1. You see a display ad showcasing various offers for the smart phone model's accessories; but you didn't click it. However DMP captures the impression
  1. You see a 10% discount ad on an accessory and clicks it, but didn't make the purchase. DMP captures the profile as Male between age group 25 and 35, residing in Kerala state interested in value for money smart phones interested in headsets
  1. Since DMPs create individual profiles, an integration with DSP enables the company to display targeted customized sequential ads for you
  1. You are shown an irresistible offer on the headset, you click and make a purchase
  1. Based on these individual engagement tracking and probabilistic modeling, DMPs create further audience segments
  1. This analysis is fed back into the system for enhancing the segmentation algorithm

Don't believe  this will  all work? Check Bluekai Registry to see under which all segments you belong and who all are tracking you. Of course Personally Identifiable Information(PII) may not be shared by the publisher.

Deployment of actionable insights


Once audience profiles and other insights are developed, DMPs allow it to be directly passed on to a DSP or other online channels. Independent DMPs allow buying actions to be linked to multiple DSPs. It's not just limited to media buying; one can integrate with other marketing channels, for example like  Kenshoo for Paid Search.

DMPs can be pure-play vendors like Bluekai (Oracle) or Lotame; they can part of solution, for example Turn which DMP/DSP integrated or part of a wider marketing cloud like Adobe; or it can be in-house built. DMPs  make sense to those organizations which has built first party data over time. Using the first party data collected as the foundation, DMPs allow accurate customer identities across platforms/devices and optimize media.

Understanding Google RankBrain

A discussion on Google algorithms never get to and end :) We have been discussing about Google and search engine algorithms in general now in a series of posts. While Accelerated Mobile Pages got traction in the last few months; there was also another interesting update from Google on another algorithm component called RankBrain. RankBrain is not an algorithm update in itself; its more a component of a wider algorithm that we discussed earlier - Understanding Google Hummingbird.

What is RankBrain?

We know that Hummingbird algorithm aims to change Google from a search query/result engine to a knowledge engine. Rank Brain could be considered as the major part of the algorithm that helps Google to achieve its goal. Rank Brain is the machine learning/artificial intelligence component embedded to capture the semantics better and further perhaps ingest information into features like Google Knowledge Graph. I think this is one component, which SEOs won't be able to go behind directly (except utilizing things like schemas and mark ups)


RankBrain - One of the most important ranking signal

RankBrain is considered to be among the top three ranking signals Google use. There are supposed to be more than 200 ranking signals used by Google. Rank Brain's machine learning code is expected to connect between ambiguous and vaguely connected queries to provide meaningful results/answers. Over-time it is expected to build a memory of its learning within the algorithm. Thus it is expected to understand the intend behind a search query.

Examples of RankBrain

While a clear and evident example of how RankBrain is impacting search queries; its believed is addressing vague long tail queries. One evident way to see the benefit of this is in usage of various semantic combinations of words in a query. See below for an example -


So essentially Rank Brain is just another factor to make searches and search results smarter! If you would like to get a more in-depth understanding of what rank brain is and what it isn't; do check out Moz's article here.

Here are the other blog posts in which we have discussed search engine ranking algorithms and updates -

Understanding Accelerated Mobile Pages

We have been discussing about mobile friendliness & how it affects search results and app indexing in earlier posts. February marked yet another important time period for mobile search and SEO. It was the release of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in Google mobile search results. In this post, let's try to briefly understand what AMP is all about.

What is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)?

AMP is an open source initiative announced by a group of industry players including big names like Google, Twitter and WordPress to make browsing in mobile devices faster. AMP has gained traction with its increasing number of supporters (like comScore, Analytics vendors, AdTech vendors and so on). The basic problem this project tries to address is a loss of a visitor because of slow page loads. This is a lose-lose situation for all -- the visitor is not able to read what she wants, publisher is losing a potential reader or a customer, advertising revenues; advertisers in the page loose secondary traffic. Google claims that AMP relies on a new open framework built using existing web technologies, enabling publishers to build light-weight webpages.

Components of AMP Framework

 The framework consist of three components - a customized HTML, restricted JavaScript library and a Content Delivery Network (CDN) support from Google.


The customized HTML components restricts some of the tags used as well as add few new tags specific to AMP pages. This makes it a requirement to have two copies of your HTML pages - one, the regular one catering to normal desktop browsers and high speed networks; another one catering to slow networks/mobile devices. Of course, this is only required. When it comes to AMP JS, it's an open JavaScript library with a limited set of capabilities. What this means is your own JavaScript is not allowed :). The core of this is the mandate of async attribute. The final component is the CDN or Cache. The cache from Google is dedicated to fetch, cache and deliver valid AMP pages.

Benefits of AMP

One clear benefit out evident from recent Google updates is the showcase of AMP pages in mobile search carousel. If your web pages are AMP customized, there is a higher probability of it being shown in SERP. The whole idea of AMP project is to make mobile browsing faster and actionable. So if you are AMP adherent, there is a brighter chance of increasing the traffic. It's even speculated in the industry that AMP may become one of the search signals as well!
From an user experience point of view; AMP JS component assess the webpage structure before it actually loads. With this, the skeleton of the page is loaded even before loading assets in it. This improves the view-ability of the page compared to a half loaded ill-structure.

Is AMP important for you?

I think we have to wait and see. As you might have judged from reading so far; the change is clearly visible to many big publishers only as of today. However since WordPress is also a contributor; there is already a plugin to create AMP versions of posts. So if you are a WordPress user, it's easier to get started.

How to get started with AMP?

As you might have guessed, there is a good documentation from Google (visit www.ampproject.org) on how to create an AMP webpage. While it's not complex; it does require a decent understanding of HTML and JavaScript. This website contains everything from what, why and how of AMP; how to validate AMP pages and more. This is a good video on the technical details of AMP pages.


Gosh! I guess Digital Marketing is becoming more and more technical !