Innovation During Recession

What do these companies have in common?

Zendesk, OneDrive, Dropbox, ThemeForest, Asana, KhanAcademy, AirBnB, Okta, Uber, WhatsApp, Udemy, Stripe and Square.

These companies have helped radically improve the way we collaborate and learn, and almost all of these leveraged technology to innovate and solve a dire problem of that time, but interestingly, another common thread amongst all these companies is that they were formed around the last recession. The word “recession” has its roots in the latin word “recess” which means a period of time where proceedings or activities are temporarily suspended. While we’re in the midst of a situation where people are more concerned about the oncoming days, these innovative companies are a reminder of the array of opportunities that await us.

Innovation during recession

Zendesk (2007), OneDrive (2007), Dropbox (2007), ThemeForest (Aug 2008), Asana (2008), KhanAcademy (2008), Airbnb (Aug 2008), Okta (Jan 2009), Uber (Mar 2009), Udemy (2009), WhatsApp (2009), Quora (June 2009), Stripe (2009), Square (2009), Pinterest (Dec 2009), Instagram (Oct 2010), Snapchat (Sep 2011), Zoom (2011), Coursera (2011).

Of Conspiracy Theories

With the Coronavirus spread and the entire world struggling to face this challenge, I have a few conjectures around how this virus started and why this has become one of the fiercest epidemic we have faced in a long time. There are four theories I’m thinking could have been a reason for this –

Theory 1: This is politically motivated, and man-made fiasco prepared in a lab with the purpose to let China down in the global race towards becoming the world leader.

As it is, China is the world’s factory. Most of the things most of the people use and buy are coming from China, even when the companies producing them are not really based out of China. This has given the country a lot of technological excellence and created a big dependency on their production. Moreover, whilst the world’s dependency on China has increased, China’s dependency on the world for its own consumption has shrinked as illustrated in this McKinsey research below:

All along, another interesting development has been the rapid progress of Chinese Supercomputers in the Quantum computing race, where 219 of the fastest 500 supercomputers are Chinese. Also, amongst the top 5, there are 2 Chinese supercomputers closely following US’s lead in this race. The conventional computers are based on bits that can process 0 or 1, hence, binary, but quantum computers are based on qubits and have the power to process 0 & 1 at the same time, thus giving them much more computing power to do advanced calculations at a much faster pace. Now, these quantum computers can theoretically help banks do better and faster risk management, solve the biggest warehousing and inventory management problems, or help tech companies ensure their code is bug-free, or even help government espionage by cracking cryptographic codes, which mandates significant number crunching.

This has deep implications for the success of an economy in this new age, where information and access to information has become the key to attaining that status. Clearly, the leaders in this race would have the power to access a lot of classified information as well, eventually giving them an uneven advantage over others.

Yet another interesting angle to this theory has been the rise of 5G and its impact on how things are done. Whilst the increases in expected speed are prodigious at an estimated 50Mbit/s to over 2Gbit/s at the start and expected to grow to even 100Gbit/s (100x faster than 4G), there are big concerns around surveillance through potential espionage by Chinese equipment vendors, primarily Huawei. Even a report published by the European Commission and European Agency for Cybersecurity warns against using a single supplier for a carrier’s 5G infrastructure.

Advancement in technology boosting fast-paced progress in supercomputers, quantum computing, 5G infrastructure are inevitable, and China’s lead in these areas could be a possible reason for concern for some of the other developed economies.

Theory 2: This is politically motivated, and man-made fiasco prepared in a lab with the purpose to reduce the global aging population (hence, the old age benefit) to help contain the ever increasing health expenditure of countries, especially the developed ones.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly two billion people across the world are expected to be over 60 years old by 2050, a figure that’s more than triple what it was in 2000. Because of such increases in their aging populations, some of the world’s largest economies have started facing subsequent increases in their health-care costs, higher pension costs, and a decreasing proportion of their respective citizenries active in the workforce.

Haider, Faraz 2017, Countries With The Largest Aging Population In The World, WorldAtlas, viewed 23 March 2020,

Clearly, with a diminishing fertility rate, and advancement in health technologies leading to longer average lifespans mean the global population is moving towards a higher proportion of their people above the working age. Understandable a lot is changing in terms of extension of retirement age, change in pension benefits and overall increase in the world GDP as well, but there’s a significant financial burden attached with this aging population.

A small portion of the population accounts for a large share of health care spending in a year. Although we tend to focus on averages, few people actually have spending around the average, since individual health care needs vary over the life course. Some portion of the population (the elderly and those with serious or chronic illnesses) require more and higher-cost health services than those who are younger or otherwise typically in need of fewer and less costly services.

This is not something that has started to show up all of a sudden, global aging population has been a phenomenon we’ve known about. It has been accepted as a fact of life for the most part, and people have largely come to expect it to be that way. “In the developed world, people live longer with very intense disease — and costly treatment,” says Vegard Skirbekk, professor at Columbia University’s Aging Center.

This seems to be a sensitive issue, as countries are supposed to be working towards the welfare of their own citizens and increasing life expectancy leading to an aging population is something to be proud of in many ways, but it does mean a higher health care spend – given this disease does not give much of a second chance to an older segment of the population, it does mean even when we’ve got this pandemic under control, most of the lives lost would be elderly people.

Theory 3: This is politically motivated, and man-made fiasco prepared in a lab with the purpose to initiate an economic crises, leading to unbelievably good asset prices for fresh entry – hence, ensuring the status-quo prevails and the few wealthy continue to dominate and control the finance (hence the world) for another few decades, or more

The argument here is that the global wealth divide is sharply skewed with most of the wealth falling within few hands. It is easier to explain this through a visual depiction of how lop-sided the wealth equation currently is:

Although this is a state of affairs in general, over the past few decades and specially with the rise of the internet, telecommunication and new technologies, the composition of the few at the top has changed. This includes all the adults who became billionaires in the past decade or so. Thus, in order to keep the status-quo and keep the wealth within the selected few, this crises was needed. The thought behind this is that a crises of this proportion creates a massive shock for the economy leading to most of the assets becoming mispriced due to the confusion and negativity. This creates an entry point for extremely wealthy to take new positions at very low prices, thus ensuring that when things get back to normal, they retain their status in terms of accumulated wealth.

Theory 4: This is politically motivated, and man-made fiasco prepared in a lab with the purpose to move the global economy, thereby creating an opportunity to exert global power and influence to ensure access to the global superpower club

The thought behind this theory is that this crises would take the world by surprise and create a widespread panic (which it has already). This kind of situation would lead to fundamental changes in the way the world operates. In this situation, the ones who are able to control the healthcare access through top-notch facilities and vaccine development for instance would also be the ones which would control global capital flow. This would mean their global power and influence would increase.

Moreover, the impacts of this created situation would be asymmetrical – so even with the spread of this disease to 195 countries (as I write this), the negative impact would be varying. Now, of course the countries that have the most number of cases or where the virus is spreading fast would be hurt, but many countries from the developing world also would be hurt worse when the virus penetrates and spreads there, because they would be less equipped to deal with it due to fewer medical facilities, ventilators, testing kits, tracing challenges, fewer quarantine centers, relatively lesser doctors/nurses and medical staffs and higher density of the population. Many of these developing countries boast a growing population, but with the aftermath of this medical emergency, these states would be in terrible straits which would spiral into fewer opportunities for the skilled and educated, leading to brain drain to those countries who are competing to get the lead in the global superpower race.

In conclusion, these all are just some theories about the possibilities of how and why this virus has spread. Regardless of whatever the motivations behind this were, I sincerely hope it is contained soon, and the world doesn’t have to pay a big price for this in terms of loss of lives or a lasting disease for many.


Living through the Pandemic – II

Knowing that there’s going to be continued restrictions on movement for some time, and people are going to be staying at home a lot more than usual, I wanted to write about how we can make the most of this situation and talk about the pluses that will emerge out of this extended stay-at-home. In this post, I’d focus on the three areas we can possibly focus on while we’re going through this.

In terms of the things to do to make the most of this situation, I find we can leverage this time to enhance our connections, learn things and reflect on our lives.

Enhancing connections can be done by being able to spend more time with family, and be able to give some quality time to them to improve the value of the relationships. It also means connecting back with old friends through a call, or a video chat maybe. This time when things have been made to slow down, we can explore our relationships and invest in them to improve our well-being.

Learning things can come in a variety of ways, you can focus on learning a particular skill, read books, work on your art, or generally take up a hobby. You can probably leverage many available online courses in your areas of interest to expedite the learning process. This could even be related to learning things you’re passionate about, be it in your industry or something completely different.

Thinking back and reflecting on our lives could open up insights into the things we are doing right or the ones that need more work. We can utilize this time to reassess our lives with its different facets. Now, there could be a ton of different ways to go about this, but I find one effective way is to create categories (such as Physical, Spiritual, etc.) and write them on paper – then under each of these categories, start writing what your ideal life is and how you want it. Once you’re done laying it all out and committing it to paper, then it would be time to write how things actually are in all these different quadrants. Having a fair assessment of life is an important aspect in an effort to improve it, and we usually don’t find enough time to take stock here, so let’s utilize this time in this.

If you feel there could be some better ways to spend this time, please share with me as well.

The 3 most important areas you can choose to work on now are: Building and enhancing Connections, Learning things, and Reflecting on life.

Living through the Pandemic

We’re passing through a tough time, where the extent of impact of this COVID-19 pandemic is far-reaching, global and devastating for many. Different governments are responding to this emergency in different ways, but all are focused on keeping their citizens safe and healthy.

Looking at the rate at which this is spreading and knowing we’re without a sure-shot solution to this (yet), the debate is focused on flattening the curve. What it essentially means is that we take care and exercise the necessary precautions in our individual capacities to ensure ours and others’ safety and contain the spread of this disease. It’s our moral and ethical responsibility, yes and it is in our own interest as well to do so.

Please keep washing your hands with soap and water, stay indoors as much as possible and help flatten the curve. This fight is beyond any one country’s borders, and as global citizens we are all in it together, so let’s put our fair share and make things count.