One thing we’re particularly proud of at The Ken is the diversity of our writers—as Rohin once pointed out, apart from veteran journalists, MBAs and chartered accountants, we have not one but two biochemistry grads. And it shows, we hope, in the range of our coverage. So in the first of our year-end wraps, we thought we’d take a look at five of our writers, and their varied approaches from ideation to storytelling.
First up, meet Vandana Vats—based in Delhi, she covers tech companies of all shades as well as government policy (and sometimes the intersection of the two).
With about a decade of experience as a business journalist across a newspaper, a magazine and (very briefly) a TV channel, Vandana’s had an interesting journey. From hardcore equity market coverage to private equity and corporate news, and from there to covering business and economy from the average Joe’s perspective. She’s been with us for just about three months now, but she already has an excellent set of stories. A good place to start is her breakdown of Apple’s long struggle with the Indian market—a struggle that isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Read here.
All Vandana’s stories are worth a mention here (like this thorough examination of UrbanClap’s business, or this story on Paytm Money and digital mutual funds). But of particular note is a piece at the other end of the spectrum—on the disappointment that is India’s ambitious BharatNet project.
However, seven years after the program was conceived, things haven’t quite panned out as intended. Instead, BharatNet has become an example of how government processes and bureaucratic structures can destroy a well-intentioned project.
Click here to read the full story.
Sidhartha Shukla (who goes by “Sid”), on the other hand, is very much immersed in finance and business, always has been. Meet him in person and words like soft-spoken and mild-mannered jump to mind. But if you just look at his stories, he seems to have a penchant for diving into a company’s finances and digging up its most troublesome problems.
He also once set his sights on none other than the bloated Life Insurance Corporation of India, the state-owned insurer that’s turned into the government’s piggy bank. It’s something everyone’s already said, but Sid (along with Pooja Sarkar) went a little deeper - take a look at the comments for the story.
Sumanth Raghavendra, one of our co-founders, really needs no introduction. Having spent nearly two decades as an entrepreneur, his pieces are a treasure trove of insights into startups, venture capital, e-commerce and more.
If there’s anyone who doesn’t pull punches, it’s Sumanth. Unlike most of our writers, he focuses mostly on commentary, making use of his vast and varied experience to put out razor sharp analyses of companies, sectors and deals.
The best example, perhaps, is his latest piece, in which he talks about hotel-booking unicorn OYO (one of his bugbears) a “Trojan pig”, force-fed capital by Japanese investor SoftBank (another bugbear) till it’s almost bursting.
Also, one thing that sets Sumanth apart from most opinion writers is his use of data. Reams and reams of it.
That’s from a story on a modestly sized SaaS startup called Mettl. Sold for $40 million. Not a big deal, you say? Sumanth, in his inimitable fashion, begs to differ. Click here to read why.
Which brings us to Harveen Ahluwalia, one of the youngest on the team (but also by far the bossiest). She addresses another facet of our coverage, focusing on the media and entertainment business, retail and consumer brands. From the government’s broadcast policies to the changing consumption patterns of content in India to, interestingly enough, beer.
That eye-catching illustration (by Shreya Pranit) is from a story titled “India is having a few beers too many”. About the profusion of “craft” beer brands (Bira, White Rhino, Witlinger and many more) in the country, and a brand called Simba with roots in small-town Chhattisgarh.
Competition is fierce, and the market is tough. This paragraph from the story nicely puts the key challenge in focus: “Everyone wants a piece of the pie but, as Singh puts it, not everyone understands the complexity of the Indian liquor market. For one thing, liquor is one of the most regulated sectors in retail, ruled by state laws—29 states, 29 different liquor policies.”
Click here to read the whole piece.
Drinks aside, Harveen’s focus first and foremost is on the media and entertainment industry, which she’s covered extensively at The Ken
One topic she’s looked at in particular is the TV business, which is in the middle of a number of seismic shifts. From the threat of streaming services to declining viewership (especially for English channels, and even more so for English news channels) to looming regulatory changes that could redefine the distribution landscape.
Take a look and read—put together, these stories give a deep, multi-perspective view of the state of the media business.
And finally, we have Roshni Nair, who works in a completely different fashion. With a solid background in feature writing across DNA, the Hindustan Times and Reuters, here she writes primarily for The Ken on Weekends (or as we call it, TKOW)—our space for experimentation beyond the topics and styles we explore in our core, weekday stories.
Being less restricted in scope, just how does she come up with ideas? For one, she reads, and reads, and reads. Long-form, short-form, stories saved on Pocket on her daily commute in the Mumbai locals. Anything that might lead to a story, any angle that everyone else has missed.
And a big part of her story process is interviews, anecdotes, people. All of this comes together when she sits down to transcribe hours of recordings—the bit she describes as the “most disgusting, most painful” step in her process, but one that gives her some of the best insights into what will really make a story work. Sample this quote from her story on the terrible state of security in India’s museums.
“If I go wrong, I' be treated badly. I respect my job, but I'm also afraid of it.”
Rajesh Purohit, Director, Indian Museum
Click here to read the story.
Occasionally, though, she does go into the world of The Ken on weekdays. Say, to point out that in today’s India, air purifiers are poised to become the next water purifiers—once a luxury, now a need. But regulators are far behind.
Debatable scope, unverifiable claims, perceived luxury. These may be the seeming hallmarks of the Indian air purifier sector in 2018 – and few call them out like the CEO of Breathe Easy Barun Aggarwal does. Breathe Easy is a start-up offering custom filtration solutions for home and corporate users, meaning Aggarwal has tested 28 portable air purifiers across 15 criteria. On the anvil now is a request from UK-based Dyson to test its device for the Indian market.
Aggarwal is disinclined.
Click here to read the story.
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