The Story Rules Podcast E04: Mihir Dalal: The Writer of India’s Best Business Book – 2020 (Transcript)

Mihir Dalal
5. General

The Story Rules Podcast E04: Mihir Dalal: The Writer of India’s Best Business Book – 2020 (Transcript)

This transcript has been created using a combination of AI transcription tools and (some painstaking) human effort. Please excuse any typos, grammatical mistakes, inaccurate time stamps, or other errors. Specifically, the time stamps would not account for the intro portion of the podcast.

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Intro hook:

“So, when I would start writing every day at 10:30-11. The first, 2 hours would just be spent on rewriting, and editing the previous day’s work. So, it was not just once, I mean I would actually so, I think I would have edited my own work at least like, 12-13 times”

Welcome to the Story Rules podcast with me, Ravishankar Iyer, where we learn from some of the best storytellers in the world, find their story and unearth the secrets of their craft.

Today we speak to Mihir Dalal, a leading business journalist whose first book – ‘Big Billion Startup – The Untold Flipkart Story’ won several awards – including the Best Business Book 2020 by Gaja Capital. 

The Flipkart story must not have been an easy one to tell. I mean getting information about events that happened almost a decade ago can be challenging. This difficulty is compounded when you factor in the multiple perspectives and the need to weave the disparate threads into a coherent narrative.

Mihir took on this challenge and has absolutely nailed it. The book surges forward with the pace of a thriller – one that is laced with several jaw-dropping moments.

If you’ve not already read it, I would suggest you do so – a lot of the points we discuss would then make sense.

In this conversation, Mihir talks about his early influences, his strong grounding in business journalism and how he made his key decisions on writing, form and tone. 

Book-writing is like the Test Cricket of the writing profession – a tough, brutal and thorough examination of your skills. You might be thinking – but I don’t plan to write a book anytime soon!

That’s ok! Even if you play only Gully Cricket or T-20 as a writer (i.e., write long emails and make presentations), you can learn a ton from Mihir’s suggestions.

Let’s dive in.


Mihir, how would you introduce yourself in terms of the work that you do.

Mihir 000012

I am a business journalist I’ve been writing. I’ve been a business journalist now for more than 12 years. And I’ve been writing on internet startups, since 2014. Before that I used to cover consumer goods companies and liquor companies at the Mint and before that at Reuters. So yeah, and “Big Billion Startup’ is my first book. So yeah, that’s pretty much how I would describe myself.

Ravi 000045

So Mihir writes his first book- how many years into business journalism, Mihir?

Mihir 000051

 I took up the book project in August of 2018, which was which was just about a decade after I started (in business journalism). 

Ravi 000105

Ten years. Yeah, and for those who are listening and who don’t know Mihir’s book got a bunch of awards, including the one by Gaja Capital which is probably the biggest award for business books in India so that’s great Mihir, congratulations.

Mihir 000120

Thank you.

Ravi 000122

And so, when you started writing this book, was there any sense of saying okay you know what’s been the prior history of books written in India and you know, what am I trying to achieve with this in terms of you know being in the quality of the book and where it’s (the quality) going to be.

Mihir 000143

Once I decided that I wanted to work on Flipkart. I had started reading a lot about Indian businesses. So, already starting to read a lot about Indian businesses. But I, what I found was that there were very few books of decent quality on companies or even the Indian economy, right? There are a few of course you know there is an outstanding biography of Dhirubhai Ambani by this Australian journalist Hamish McDonald, but that is an exception.  You will just struggle to find, serious business books in India. So that is a big challenge. In terms of what I set out to do was basically to offer a comprehensive objective account of the company that I was writing about which is Flipkart, so Flipkart was this pioneering Internet startup, you know that that kind of really enabled the development of India startup ecosystem journey put India on the internet map globally, you know, because before Flipkart, there were just no large scale internet companies out of India, I mean, before that, of course there was the IT wave but in terms of there being any internet company out of India, you know, there was this, there was nothing really of any scale. So, it was this story that I set out to narrate.

Ravi 000325 5:31

So, this is fascinating Mihir, I will come to the book and you know your process about writing it, but I want to go, dial back a bit and go back in time to your childhood, and your early influences which kind of shaped who you become today. So, when you talk about (your journey), you know, you grew up in Bombay?

Mihir 000341

Yeah, I grew up in Bombay

Ravi 000343

and so, what would you read, you know, how are your early reading and writing influences

Mihir 000348

So, in school, I was not a very big reader of books I used to mostly read newspapers, but I used to read them religiously, and it’s actually difficult to believe now, but at that time, you know Times of India and a couple of other newspapers, they used to be really vibrant, you know, especially their opinion pages. They used to have a very decent range of opinion (pieces).

So, you know I used to really enjoy reading newspapers. I started reading seriously in college. I used to read a lot of Indian writers, Indian writers and English people like Pankaj Mishra, Amitav Ghosh, Rushdie

Ravi 000437

Was there a trigger for this Mihir?

Mihir 000439

just basically, you know, I felt like I just want to. So, on the one hand I was reading newspapers, getting to know you know what’s happening in India, generally

Ravi 000453

newspapers will be mostly the normal publications or the pink papers also.

Mihir 000458

Not, not too much of the pink papers. I would read the odd story here and there but mostly the general newspapers and so obviously you know that was like kind of the nonfiction side but then you I ended up reading like some books by Russian writers like Chekov. And after reading those books, you know I was just very curious to know about how people would present life in India, in a novel. So,

Ravi 000533 7:41

But hang on, I want to stop here. This is fascinating, you know, someone has not read much because most kids you know would maybe say Famous Five Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie and so on right. And then, to go from there, the line to Chekov is quite fascinating.

Mihir 000549

I mean, I actually should have mentioned that I did read a bit of, you know the Famous Five kinds of books, even Harry Potter, but what got me interested in Indian writing was basically so I had some friends, you know, who used to read I mean, none of us are like serious readers or such, they used to read you know, fiction, English fiction, and like a variety of writers. So, you know, through just talking about it with friends. I came across Chekov and a couple of other Russian writers and after reading them, you know, it was just, I mean, I don’t know how or why, but immediately, you know, I was just extremely curious about how India would be represented in a novel or life in India will be represented in a novel. And the other thing that I found striking was that even with my friends who used to read and with whom I used to talk about books, you know, none of them would read Indian writers for some reason, so I found that strange, because you know, I mean, like, you would want to read about the country that you’re growing up in. So, I mean I didn’t really you know, look at it as something I should or I shouldn’t (do) but I was just curious you know, because I mean, I grew up in Bombay and there is so much happening in Bombay, right? And life is really hard and you know so, obviously, I was just curious about wanting to read Indian fiction and that’s how I started reading people like Pankaj Mishra, Amitav Ghosh, Rajdeep, Narayanan and people like that. So, though my college I read only fiction and then yeah, and then once I started working as well for the first two years I used to ready almost every day. But again, only fiction, but then I went through the phase of, you know, three, four years where, like, I just became so obsessed with my career that I stopped reading for pleasure. So, and then again in 2015 I started reading, and this time I would read mostly nonfiction. So yeah, so that’s pretty much like how my reading habits evolved

Ravi 000825

And what about writing did you start writing early.

Mihir 000829

No, not really. Because, I mean, in college. I studied in commerce and in commerce, It’s one of the most boring (fields of study). So, there’s not really much scope to write or anything like that and I was also doing, I was also pursuing chartered accountancy on the side. So, there was really no time as such. And then I decided to drop the CA course because again it was just mind numbingly boring.

Ravi 000904

How did you make that call because a lot of people do have that parental pressure and peer pressure and you just you know go through it as I am, but I can say that because I went through that. How did you manage to break that shackle?

Mihir 000919

So, Yeah, I really didn’t have a choice as such in terms of wanting to take it up because my father was a CA and he kind of, you know, pushed me into it. So, I agreed to do the course. Yeah, so I passed the first exam and then I was studying the second one, but again I just could not take it I just could not imagine my life, you know, doing or studying that, so I just decided to, you know, just in my second year of college I said this is it like I am not doing this and then, so I was saying

Ravi 000956

Did you have – Sorry Go ahead

Mihir 000959

Sorry, I was saying, then after I finished my, after I graduated, I decided to pursue a course in journalism after that

Ravi 001011

It takes a lot of, I mean, now maybe people, the youngsters now would probably find it normal. But I think, in which year did you did you graduate Mihir?

Mihir 001022


Ravi 001024

Seven. Okay so, so, it was still a time when I guess there was some parental influence. So did you have one of those Three Idiots types conversation with your dad, that you know hey, I need, you need to sit down and let’s do this

Mihir 001037

Oh yeah, so I had to really plan out you know how I would tell him because, you know he was extremely keen and enthusiastic about me pursuing CA, and especially after I passed the first exam. And I’ve gotten like decent marks in that exam.

Ravi 001059

That’s worse actually.

Mihir 001001

Yeah. So yeah, so I had to really settle down and think about you know how I’m going to have that conversation with him so for the first two weeks, you know, when I told him that I don’t want to do CA, (Chartered Accountancy) but I want to do Journalism, he was just completely against it because, while he had studied CA and he became a CA he actually never practiced, so he spent all his life as a stock market guy. First trading and then he became a fund manager. So, basically, at that time in the 90s, he used to also write for some financial publication, and you know he told me you would never get paid and they’ll never be on

Ravi 001151

Oh, yeah, oh my god, I’ll tell you why this resonates

Mihir 001155

Yeah, I’m sure. So, you know, so he just was completely against it and so first he refused to accept that, you know, I did not want to do CA, and then after a week. He said he’s okay with it, but then again. But he again tried to, you know tell me that, why don’t you think about doing IAS or law or something like that, and I mean yeah, so that’s pretty much how it went, but I just stuck to it and he was finally okay with it but I mean very grudgingly

Ravi 001226

Did you have any mentors, role models at that time who helped you or was it your own thinking that

Mihir 001231 14:29

no one really because, I mean, I just decided that I want to, that I wanted to become a journalist, A) primarily because I was, you know, reading newspapers for like for so many years and, you know, so that was

Ravi 001247

Who were some of these reporters, columnists, that you looked up to that time.

Mihir 001252

So, so for instance I would really like Pratap Bhanu Mehta. You know, I would really like some columnist in Times of India. Bachi Karkaria.

Ravi 001310

She is good, witty

Mihir 001312

Yeah. And they were yeah, and there was there a bunch of others. You know who would not say like write regularly but would have like columns and stuff like that. So yeah so it’s mostly like on the opinion pages. I didn’t really know of any or I didn’t kind of recognize any reporters as such at that time

Ravi 001335

Fascinating, because, so you know just as a small digression. I had almost the exact same trajectory because CA foundation pass, about the first or second year of commerce. Again, Mumbai all of that (is the same). and I’d been reading a little bit of fiction, a little bit of nonfiction, a lot of newspapers and even I had a bunch of these guys I looked up to. And so, I go to my dad and tell him about journalism and not do this. And so, he said, but the only thing is you know the difference is, I didn’t have that kind of conviction or that courage, and so he just, he didn’t even actually, you know, talked to me directly, he got a close relative, who was in teaching English and you know who had some connect with this profession, and he talked me out of it and it’s very similar thing you know you don’t make any money and, and that was surprisingly you know. I just feel you know I that was enough for me. I, somebody told me you won’t make money, and I just okay fine, you know, maybe it was just a whim, and I shouldn’t I don’t know, I shouldn’t go out of it so, I am glad

Mihir 001436

Yeah, yeah, all, all of that is true. Journalism is not financially rewarding profession, so ya,

Ravi 001446

I think it is much better than what it was in the 90s and yes so,

Mihir 001450
Oh yeah, yeah, in that sense it is, but it is definitely I mean, you know, it is, it makes no sense to do journalism for money because, I mean, the amount of effort and, you know, anxiety and all that, that goes on. I mean, if you spend like even like half of that in another profession you can make a lot more money, you know, like even, even something like say PR, you know you can. I mean, you can, like most senior journalists can probably like just literally double their salaries, if they decide to move to PR in a year or two

Ravi 001528

Go to the dark side.

Mihir 001529

Exactly, So, yeah, so I think whatever, like, you know your relative would have told you what whatever my father told me that is actually true. But, again, my point was that you know, I mean, I don’t really want to earn like a lot of money necessarily.

Ravi 001547

That’s amazing maturity at that age. Mihir, so All right, so then you graduate in commerce, and then you apply and you get through to Xavier’s Institute.

Mihir 001559

Yeah. So, that Xavier is one of the three four well known journalism colleges in India, I mean they offered like a course in Mass Communications and Journalism so I applied over there and I got through, and then after that is when I was placed at CNBC. After the year-long course

Ravi 001621

and so was business journalism, a natural way for you because of commerce and a little bit exposure to the stock market

Mihir 001627

Something like that, yeah, something like that, yeah, yeah

Ravi 001630

So, for you, it didn’t matter which topic, it was just you know you wanted to research and write was that it?

Mihir 001637

So, I didn’t really know what I wanted to pursue. When I decided that I want to get into journalism I, I can just assume that I’d be, you know that’d be great to work at a Times of India some general newspaper like that, but it was only towards the end of my course at Xavier’s, you know, I decided to get into business journalism because the main reason was that, that’s where the jobs were really.  Business newspapers were hiring, you know, a lot of people at that time because this is like the peak for the Indian media scene right before the Great Recession hit. Yeah, so it started in that, in the second half of 2008, and my class, graduated in May of 2008 Right. So, that time I mean yeah so like the boom was really at its peak and, you know salary like beginner salaries were at their highest they’d ever been, and stuff like that so it was. Yeah, so it was like easy decision to say that I want to become a business journalist.

Ravi 002721 19:58

And so now let’s move to mint, and we may fast forward a bit. So, you move on to mint and you start covering a few other industries before we move on to the internet sector.

Mihir 002736

Yeah, so I joined mint in 2012. And then 2013 onwards like basically mid 2013 onwards, is when the internet sector really started to get exciting. You know so Flipkart was raising all these huge rounds of capital, Redbus was sold to Naspers, you know, Snapdeal, also was again, their sales started to pick up a big time. And you could see that, you know, whether, whether there was a bubble or not, this is going to be a very interesting area of coverage. So, I slowly started writing in fact, I didn’t want to write on internet companies but my editor, you know, like he was kind of like forced to depute me to cover to cover these companies because we didn’t have anyone writing on that sector

Ravi 002946

It was almost accidental that you entered the space.

Mihir 002949

Ya, ya, so I didn’t want to write on that space because I had too much work anyway, with, you know, Mallya and these other companies. So, I started kind of with Flipkart and Redbus so I used to it on the side, and then 2014 You know is when I decided to kind of take it up full time because it had just, you know, I mean the boom, the funding boom, had just come out of nowhere and, you know Flipkart raised a billion dollars. It bought Myntra . I mean, it was, it was like the hottest thing in Bangalore and so that’s how I started covering this full time and kind of gave up the consumer goods beat.

Ravi 003033

And in the time that you were there 2014 to let’s say 2018 When you before the book. So those four years you were pretty much focused on the internet sector companies primarily ecommerce?

Mihir 003044

Yeah, almost completely, primarily ecommerce yeah, and even within ecommerce like my focus was Flipkart. So, because obviously you know, there was, there were like many e commerce companies that come up by then. There was Snapdeal, there was Shopclues. Then there was all these like vertical players like Lenskart, Firstcry, etc. And of course, there was Amazon. But my focus was basically Flipkart and its battle with Amazon and Snapdeal.

Ravi 003119

Was that a conscious decision that you and the editorial team took or was it because Flipkart was so big that there was nobody else worth spending so much time covering.

Mihir 003129

Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, it was very clear that Flipkart is the too big to fail start-up. I mean It was not clear, immediately, but it became clear by 2015, by say the middle of 2015 because, I mean, so Flipkart raised this round of almost $700 million in the summer of 2015, and it raised around a valuation of 15 billion. Now, just to give you some context, 18 months before this round. It had been valued at some 2 Billion or something. Right, so I mean it’s 7x, yeah it’s a 7x  jump in just 18 months, so we just had never seen anything like this in India, right, like you, first of all, no one, you know really believed that India could produce like these big internet companies in 2015

Ravi 003230

And what would be for again context like what would be like the next biggest company in terms of valuation or size.

Mihir 003236

So, the next biggest company was Snapdeal. So, so when, by the time Flipkart had completed, its 15 billion round Snapdeal was valued if I remember correctly at about 6 billion or so six and a half billion. Okay.

Ravi 003252

Ah okay, okay, huge difference between the two. So basically, you’re covering for these four years and then now how does the idea and the book come out.

Mihir 003303

First, I was approached by a publisher to do a book on startups in 2015. So, because you know, thing is, these start-ups have really come out of nowhere. As far as the public was concerned, because India had kind of seen a couple of cycles before this in the internet space the first one was of course the dotcom Ya, and then there was a 2010. three cycles actually 2007-8 and then 2010-11 But the thing was as far as the media was concerned and as far as the general public was concerned the hype that, that surrounded these internet companies just never kind of materialized into reality, right, so there was just a lot of skepticism about internet companies. But then, in 2014, the sheer amount of capital that was going into these companies it just, you know, obviously compelled people to take them seriously again. And then, what helped was of course the Alibaba IPO, which was a record-breaking IPO in second half of 20

Ravi 003416

When was that?

Mihir 003418 25:34

So this is the second half of 2014 August. I think September or October that time period. And, you know, again, as far as, you know, the Indian public was concerned or the Indian media was concerned, I mean the Alibaba IPO just kind of, you know, blew you away because you just did not really know at that time that you knew there was going to be the company that whose value would actually exceed Amazon. So, as soon as Alibaba went public within, like, I think a few weeks or a few months. Its valuation of actually its market cap has actually exceeded Amazon’s and that was just

Ravi 003459

That’s crazy right, I mean the investor revenue. This is an investor finally actually making money. The investments are listed, that’s, that’s, yeah,

Mihir 003506

Exactly, I mean, of course this is before, Amazon surge happened and when it could reach a trillion and all but at that time, you know, it was just impossible to not to take it seriously, because the whole narrative was that, look, here is this giant internet company that isn’t produced by China that is produced, that has been produced out of China and India is the next China, you know, what China is right now India is going to be that in 5-10 years. So that was the narrative and, you know, if China’s producing like say, 400-500 billion company in market cap. Company’s market cap exceeds 400-500 billion in the next five or 10 years. If an Indian company even reaches, say, 10 to 20% of that. Even that is huge right and so, you know, so basically it was very clear that the internet sector is has come of age in India. You know it’s if the valuations make sense whether it’s going to live up to the hype that’s different but it’s not like it was in the past, this time-

Ravi 003622

In the past, so the past two were, this time it was different.

Mihir 003626

Exactly, it was clear that, you know, this time, even say Indian startups don’t succeed, you will still have companies like Amazon, Uber, and a bunch of other international internet companies, establishing huge operations in India, right? And also, like, you know what really helped was that, by 2014-15. Even the people who were covering these companies they had actually started using their services. So even they could tell that, you know, this time this is for real, in the past, like, you know, when I used to speak to say editors and reporters who had written on internet companies in the past, right, so they would, you know, interview these guys have these very enthusiastic discussions with them, and then you know when they place orders themselves on the sides. These orders would be bungled up right and that is what they, they themselves experience that is what they heard from their friends and acquaintances and, you know, so it was just completely different in those two cycles. Now, this time it was like ya, you can see for yourself that it’s real, you know, that’s when like, everyone started taking these companies seriously, but also with like the skepticism was still not gone because again the kind of valuations that you we’re seeing they were just I mean, how do you make sense of a company whose valuation goes from 2 billion to 15 billion in the span of 18 months. When you know there are no profits when you don’t even know what their revenues are because obviously, as you know these are private companies, you’re been kind of given metrics like GMV and which I mean, like, yeah, these seem like very very fluffy or vanity metrics.

Ravi 003816 29:30

So, you needed. I mean, someone asked to write a book on start-up in 2015 but you thought you were not ready then.

Mihir 003822

Correct. So, because of all this attention around internet startups, there was a lot of interest among publishers to you know have a book that could explain this space to the general public, right, so that’s why I was approached and I think a bunch of other journalists were also approached by publishers, but I did not really think that it was the right time. So, when the publisher approached me, I ended up pitching a book on Flipkart because that is what I was covering, and you know I thought it was a fantastic story but I myself wasn’t convinced because there was like no end to the Flipkart story like it was not clear what would happen to Flipkart, you know, because by then it was like locked into this, in this extremely competitive bruising war with Amazon and Snapdeal, and it wasn’t clear who would emerge as a winner. So, you know, if you were attempting a book on Flipkart in 2015, you would just not know how to like what tone to approach, you know what themes should I talk about because everything depended or depended on the outcome, and the outcome was not clear. And it was not just clear in the sense that, you know whether say Flipkart would survive or not because the question at that time was, if e commerce was a winner take all market. So, if ecommerce, ended up being a winner take all market, then there would be no Flipkart, in case Amazon won, right. So, I mean, it was like a case of extremes either Flipkart would make it and make it really big or it would just collapse. Right, so I mean, how do you when the outcome is so,

Ravi 004004

so uncertain.

Mihir 004005

And also, it’s so different, like if it’s like, it’s like one or two, there’s nothing in between. So how do you, you know, then kind of you frame your narrative, so that is the biggest challenge. So that’s why, at that time, I did not take up that project.

Ravi 004025

And then, about- when did the Walmart deal (takeover of Flipkart) happen? 

Mihir 004031

So, the Walmart deal happen in May of 2018

Ravi 004034

(20)18 and so that was a trigger for you to

Mihir 004037 31:46

Absolutely. So, by then it was clear that okay, this story is done. Flipkart’s, journey as an independent company is over now. And it was again, in so many ways, a record-breaking sale. It was the biggest ecommerce acquisition ever in the world. It was one of the I think the two or three biggest M&A’s (Mergers/Acquisitions) ever out of India. It was obviously the biggest ever deal in the Indian startup ecosystem. So, I mean, just to give you some context, the biggest exit before Flipkart, so Walmart picked up a 77% stake for $16 billion, right? Before that the biggest ever exits in the startup ecosystem was the 400 million-sale of Freecharge to Snapdeal, right? So (the jump from) 400 million 16 billion, I mean

Ravi 004131

No comparison man.

Mihir 004133

Exactly. So, I mean, it was so clear that, you know, this is now over. And so that’s, that’s when I decided to kind of take up the book project and at that time. In fact, you know, a colleague of mine and I were supposed to do the book together. This colleague, you know, so we headed the start-up team together we’d been working very closely for the past four years. And so, we had decided to do the book together at that time. But then over the next two, three months, you know, it became clear that she would not be able to devote so much time to the project so she kind of opted out. And, yeah, then I ended up doing it by myself.

Ravi 004217

And how long did the actual process take.

Mihir 004222

So, it was clear by say March or April of 2018 that this deal is going to happen. And so, I started thinking, so my colleague and I started thinking about it seriously by then, and we decided in, just like, I think, two, three weeks after the sale was done, that we’re definitely doing this. So then, you know, I approached an agent through a friend of mine who’s worked in publishing business for many years. So, he introduced me to an agent and, you know, that’s how we started talking about it and so he had my agent had a pitching format and basically that pitching process was done by about July of 2018. And then immediately after my agent started pitching the book to publishers, we got, you know, offers from five publishers so within the first week it was clear that okay it’s like at least five publishers who are very seriously interested in it. And, in fact, even after I’d signed up with my agents, a publisher had directly approached me to do a book on Flipkart. So, I didn’t really decide to kind of take it forward with them but because I had already signed up with my agent and then you know we got offers from five publishers and basically, I think we had finalized the contracts by August of 2018

Ravi 004356

Was there a lot of effort that you needed to put in the pitch or, because the numbers and the story was so big that you know it kind of sold itself.

Mihir 004405

So, I should have actually put in a lot of efforts on the pitch. Because, you know, apart from just kind of having a compelling proposition to take to publishers, it also helps to crystallize your thinking, right? But I did not end up putting so much effort in like I, I worked on my pitch, I think, maybe for a week or so, or even. I think even a shorter time period than that, like may be four or five days. But yeah, because the subject matter was so familiar. It was not so difficult. And yes, I did not spend too much time on pitch

Ravi 004443

And so now you, you got the approval so you start working some somewhere in July August 2018

Mihir 004448

Yeah, so I started working in the second week of August, like that’s when I started conducting interviews.

Ravi 004454

Were you still working with Mint at that time, or

Mihir 004457

I was, I was in fact, I had just gotten like a huge promotion, literally at the same time so it was yeah so, my workload has actually increased at Mint, and it was just terrible. So, for the first five months, I mean I was working like, you know 14 to 16 hours every day and just, yeah it was very rushed,

Ravi 004521

and then you decide to take some time off your day job to focus on the book.


Mihir 004525 36:37

Yeah So, initially, the thing is, I like when I had made, like when I had written the pitch, I wasn’t really clear as to, you know how ambitious I wanted to be with the book. I mean because, like when I had decided to do the book around May or June of 2018 between that and time of my pitch after I finished writing my pitch, something completely different was kind of shaping up in my mind because, you know, one time I started to kind of look at Flipkart outside the news cycle right because that’s what you have to do if you want to do a book. I started to kind of, you know, think that this is actually a great parable, not just of the Indian Internet ecosystem but off the post liberalization era in India, because, you know, a lot of things that had happened post liberalization were actually seen those thematic things were seen at Flipkart I mean, the whole narrative about liberalization is that, you know, India’s economy had been shackled, because the socialist policies of the first four decades and then you know liberalization really unleashed this kind of wave of entrepreneurship and, you know, a bunch of other things and India saw like some crazy growth post liberalization but then by 2012-13, you know, again, the whole narrative was that now, there needs to be another kind of state of reforms, because, because the economy is fizzling out etc. And a lot of those things were said to be, you know the fault of the policymakers rather than something inherent, you know, in the economy. So, the, it was thought that, like India had done really well so far, but it had fallen far short of its potential. And the reason it had fallen far sort of its potential was the policymakers and politicians, so it was their own failings their own kind of, you know complacence, their own kind of arrogance that had led to the kind of slowdown in the economy. And another big thing was that, you know, in the late 90s, early 2000, there’s a very strong belief among elite Indians that India is going to be like the superpower of the century alongside China. So, you know it’s like the last century was America’s century this century is going to be India and China’s century right now. So, if you look at Flipkart, again you will see similar things because Flipkart was supposed to be India’s answer to, Alibaba and Amazon. As you know, giant internet champion out of India. And you know the first kind of, say, seven to eight years of Flipkart’s journey, it just exceeded anyone’s expectations right it was just, like a like a I mean it was just like one milestone after the other, after the other and then again, you know the tough times that Flipkart saw post 2015 where, again, said to be like Flipkart own missteps because it had become too arrogant and it had become too sure of itself and it had just become too complacent and thinking that you know success was basically guaranteed. So, a lot of things that have happened, you know, in the post liberalization era, I thought Flipkart was a was a fantastic representative of that. So, I wanted to, then narrate the story, not just of an internet startup, but also of, you know what it means to be an extremely ambitious Indian technology company in the 21st century. So, I started thinking about this, by the time I finished writing my pitch and then slowly over the next three to four months, is when you I became really ambitious with what I wanted to achieve with.

Ravi 004942

Now let’s come to the actual research process that you went through Right. Was it primarily through interviews or did you also get any written material?

Mihir 004953 41:11

So, I had access to, like, emails (of leads), because of my sources. Then I went through like, you know, hundreds of may be 1000s of documents in terms of the company filings on the MCA. Then some filings in from Singapore where Flipkart was incorporated. So, it was like, I would say the documents were helpful, of course, but they were not really like, you know the main kind of source for me because, like I did not want to make the book about numbers, you know, in the sense that I wanted to explain the numbers, through the human drama through the decisions that were taken, and stuff like that so obviously for that the kind of source of information was people, so it was basically my source network that I kind of banked on most. But apart from this, I also prepared by reading up a lot on technology companies. So, I read books on, you know, the Chinese internet scene, read a lot about the American internet space, a lot of company biographies, and this is, this is not something that I have been, that I did just, you know for my book I’ve been doing that, pretty much since 2017. So, you know I read a lot about technology. And the way, like say for instance, you know books like The Shallows, which talks about how the Internet, what kind of impact does the internet have on our brains and you know how they can rewire our brains etc., right? So, books like that. And then there’s a superb writer called Evgeny Morozov, you know, he’s, he’s written a lot about basically, you know, how do you see through the PR and the kind of stories that, you know, people in the internet space, want to tell about themselves. And yeah, so, he talks a lot about like the interaction of these internet companies with democracy, and you know how it’s misleading to think that technology has a mind of its own, because that’s what a lot of tech writers say and believe that, basically, you know, there’s, he talks a lot about tech, like how technological determinism is totally misguided, you know, basically the impact that technology has on society, or on the economy has a lot to do with factors outside of technology itself. So, technology itself cannot say that I will do this, and then just achieve it, because how technology is like how technology impacts society and the economy is actually determined by preexisting factors in that particular society, right, so it talks a lot about these kinds of things so I’ve anyway been doing a lot of reading of that sort. And reading, you know biographies of companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.

So, I had a pretty good idea about like what typically happens at an internet company because many of the storylines are similar, right? Like, you know these like extremely arrogant founders. (I knew) the kind of company culture that you know they (the founders) fostered. So, these, these are like pretty much similar across many internet companies, so yeah

Ravi 005405

I think your research would have really helped in having a meaningful conversation, so the interviews should have been the heart of your, of your book, right?

Mihir 005413


Ravi 005415

How many interviews, would you have done during the whole process?

Mihir 005419

So, I did more than 250 interviews, just between August 2018 and July of 2019, like this is not even like the hundreds of interviews that I’ve done, you know, in the four years before, so I just for my book in that 10–11-month period I did more than 250 interviews,

Ravi 005442

Interviewing is an art, right? And not an easy one, especially if you’re talking to people.
A) about things it may have happened a few years, many years back.
B) about things they may have an agenda about and
C) they may not be very open sharing also.
So, how do you try and you know, get them to be open, get them to trust you and then actually share

Mihir 005511

So, what obviously helped was that I already had a preexisting source network, because I’d been writing

Ravi 005517

You had relationships with many of these folks (in business)

Mihir 005519

Absolutely, so that was actually far less difficult than what I thought it would be because
A) I already had that source network in place and
B) even many of the people that I approached for the first time for the book were extremely eager to talk about.

Ravi 005538

Wow, so that was not an issue at all.

Mihir 005541

It was not an issue at all.

Ravi 005541

Nobody was caged (not open to talk)

Mihir 005543

 I wouldn’t say nobody (was caged) but I would say far fewer people ended up, you know, not wanting to talk than I had thought because  there were a lot of controversial things that had happened at Flipkart so when I started working on the book I thought that apart from the people that I already know, and they find it difficult to get others to talk you know because they talking about controversial things, but that did not end up being the case, I mean, far fewer people than what I thought, ended up not talking so that that was superb and, I mean, a lot of interesting things came up through these interviews because, like what I realized was that you know Flipkart has done this extremely smart thing, which was that even like say mid level and junior employees, at Flipkart right. Like so many of them, you know, told me that they had done the best work of their careers at Flipkart and like talking to them, you know, like the clear sense that I got was that every one of them believed that Flipkart would not have existed without their efforts. So, all of them thought that their contributions were absolutely central to Flipkart success, and so after I like after I like noticed this 5-6-7 times, like I was, I was like wow, I mean you know if you want to establish a successful company, I mean this is what you have to do, you have to make people believe right and this is something that Flipkart did almost universally so this is one of the reasons that they were so eager to talk about their experiences, because you know they wanted to make sure that it was known that you know their contributions were so central

Ravi 005733

And how would you validate some of the claims or the statement that you were making.

Mihir 005738

So, that again was a very interesting process because you know there are opinions. There are facts. And then there is something in between because, you know, a fact can be kind of

Ravi 005752

Perceived differently

Mihir 005753

Yeah, like it was (the fact) put in a different context, then it can just look completely different right so I kind of followed the same rules that I did at Mint. So, Mint has this code of conduct, it’s, it’s very rigorous. Basically, you know, most of the sensitive information that I had in the book was sourced from people who were directly involved in it. So, and I would have at least two people who were directly involved in those events, independently tell me those things

Ravi 005830

That means they were in the meeting, or (involved somehow)

Mihir 005833

Absolutely. Yeah, they were either directly say involved in person, about what I’m writing or say virtually like through phone or whatever so, but they were a key part of the decision-making process. So that’s how so those are the some of the things that I adhered to ensure that, like, I have (verifiable truths)

Ravi 005857

And you would have had to probably take out some things which could not be corroborated.

Mihir 005903

Or yeah, I did. And also, not just because they like I could not corroborate them but also because they did not necessarily fit into the story that I was writing, right? So, after like the first three, four months of reporting you know the themes were kind of becoming clearer. So, stuff that did not, you know directly connect with what I was writing I decided to exclude even though a lot of that stuff is very interesting from a human drama of prospective

Ravi 005951

So much drama in these pages it’s fascinating. And so one is, you know you’re gathering all these interesting incidents and thoughts and opinions and facts. There’s also the, you know, you have to also come up with the overall theme and then try and figure that out, how, what was your process to do that if you have like a reflection process did you actually take time out to actually think about it. How would you do that?

Mihir 006006

Oh yeah, absolutely. So, basically, you know from August to December, those, like, three, four months, I was working on the book alongside the Mint job but then in December I decided I can’t do this and you know I thought the book was just turning out to be so much more interesting than my work it’s meant that, you know,  I decided to resign, and I’d even told my editor that resigning but he, you know, was like pretty generous, and he just allowed moved to this completely different role, and I also ended up then taking like a three months sabbatical so from, I think, mid-December onwards, I was working on the book full time for almost like seven months. So, in that time period, you know, I was pretty much only working on the book but like say 12-14-15 hours a day, and a lot of the kind of thinking part or the, the, kind of, you know the, like, the narrative was crystallized in those initial months of Jan, Feb, March,

Ravi 006116

Did you have like a routine that you do in the morning, do you do it at night?  For the reflection part

Mihir 006122

Yeah, so, basically, in December, when I quit, I actually needed like two, three weeks just to recover from the last (few weeks). So, I could not write I mean you know I had actually. I was falling far behind my schedule so by December-end I was actually supposed to finish at least two three chapters but I had not written like, you know more than a few words. So, I needed like two three weeks to recover from that. And then I started writing properly at the end of December. And then I kind of developed this routine where I would start writing at around 10:30-11 In the morning, write till 6:30-7 in the evening. Then take a break for like a couple of hours and then I would read, not stuff related to Flipkart or to internet businesses or whatever, but just read at night till about 12:30-1. But, again, I was just like, even though I was reading other stuff, I was just constantly like say

Ravi 006226

Your mind is constantly

Mihir 006228

Yeah, and you even stuff that I was reading, although it was like, in no way connected to Flipkart like stuff that I would read then, you know, prompt me to think about

Ravi 006237

You would find connections, yeah

Mihir 006238

yeah, so that’s, that was the process (of writing)

Ravi 006242

But that’s fascinating right if reading something else it’s not that you’re taking a break from work, you’re actually finding connections which might actually help you, So it’s,

Mihir 006253

yeah, it’s actually impossible to avoid because you’re just so deep in the book, you’re just so deep in the material that you cannot get out of it.

Ravi 006302

So, but this interesting when you’re saying that you had all the material. Do you directly pretty much start on the keyboard or do you know, I’m somewhere imagining that you have like a big whiteboard with the timeline marker finger saying that no, this happened in 2007 this happened in 2009 or something like that, did you have something written on paper or whiteboard.

Mihir 006322

So, I was actually told by people that you know that would be helpful and I bought the whiteboard as well but did not end up using it at all. Yeah, because I just, I prefer to write things down.

Ravi 006337

You directly dive into it like okay let me let me start chapter one and let me recollect or pull out everything that was happening in around that time.

Mihir 006345

Yeah, absolutely.

Ravi 006346

Very interesting. And of course, you know chronology, was the, was a thread that you use and makes, makes a ton of sense but was that the obvious choice or did you consider other options to structure your narrative.

Mihir 006358

I did briefly consider other options but I did not. I just thought that, you know, I don’t want to complicate things because if I had considered a thematic approach that would have not really that would have unnecessarily complicated things, because I wanted this to be, like, a very accessible narrative, and a thematic approach, you know, kind of takes away from the accessibility so I briefly considered it but then I quickly abandoned and decided to just do it chronologically.

Ravi 006431

And now, even before starting writing even the first chapter, did you have thoughts on the tone that you’re going to take because you know when I was, marveling at how there is a balance between being completely cold and distant from it at the same time, you don’t want to appear seem a biased towards any, you know, theme or anything. So you have a point of view, you need to tell a point of view, but you should not have a biased point of view. So, how did you manage that?

Mihir 006504

So, this whole thing about the tone only develops gradually once you start writing. So, I was very clear that, you know I wanted this to be like I wanted to have, humor in the book, because you know it was. Yeah, like, it really was quite comical right for an outsider so I was sure that I wanted to have humor in the book, I was sure that you know I did not want to kind of say that this person was evil or that person was, you know, good and whatever right so I decided to really focus on the characters, especially after the first two three chapters, and but all this thing about the tone about the characters, etc., though, these are all like smaller things. The main thing that I realized after I started writing was that absolutely crucial to get right is the form. So, what I mean by that is that basically like say when you’re writing news, or even when you’re writing long form stories, you’re writing it as a journalistic account, you know, so you’re writing he said she said, this is what happened, etc. But, in the case of narrative nonfiction what, like the form that you have to adopt is actually that of partly that of fiction, which is that you tell the story, as it’s happening. So, you do not say stuff like, Flipkart raised $1 billion in July of 2014 at a valuation of 7 billion, and then follow that up with an analyst quote from 2019, you know, because what you do not want, is that you do not want the reader to leave that world. So, any departures from that world that you’re describing, are problematic, are, you know, break the flow, break the readers, kind of immersion in that world. So, you just, so instead of like so say for instance the interviews that I was doing when I started writing, I wrote it as I would write a long form story at Mint. So, you know, so I would describe what happened, and then I would have this like long quote by, by one of the people that I had interviewed, saying, you know, like relevant stuff, but in quote form, and that doesn’t work so I realize after writing the first six chapters. And after discussing with my editor that this doesn’t work. So, what you instead need to do is that you need to use quotes in terms of like what people are telling each other. So, for instance, if I’m describing a meeting, I will describe what happened in the meeting, and I will follow that up, usually if I’m saying, the way I was writing in the first six chapters, I would follow that up with a quote by one person saying whatever he thought about the meeting that is actually doesn’t work at all. So, what you instead need to do is you instead need to describe what happened in the meeting in terms of what person A was telling person B. So instead of having a quote by person, A, what I would do is I would say that person said this in the meeting person B said this in the meeting, so I use dialogues.

Ravi 006852


Mihir 006852

What that (using dialogues) does is it keeps the reader in the narrative, in that world

Ravi 006859

it’s almost like you’re taking them on time machine.

Mihir 006903

Yeah, so what you do by that, the effect that you achieve by that is that the reader stays with the events, reader doesn’t, you know there’s a jarring thing that I’m reading about this, but then suddenly I’m reading a quote by a guy so obviously this journalist is quoting a guy, so he must have met this guy and then he has quoted him from his interview etc., right? I mean, it’s just a subliminal process where like the reader, then you know the flow ends up being broken up. So, what you do, you don’t do that, what you do is, you use quotes. You know, saying that say, Sachin said this to Binny, Binny said this to Sachin; so that’s how you just keep the reader hooked so I realized that getting that form was absolutely crucial. And it was also extremely painful because I had written the first six chapters, and then I had to almost completely rewrite

Ravi 007006

Rewrite? Wow!

Mihir 007008

I had to almost completely, not almost completely but to rewrite your substantial parts of them (the first six chapters).

Ravi 007012

Significantly, yeah

Mihir 007014

Yeah, but then I realized that oh my god like this is so much better, and I had to be persuaded about this by my editor at Pan Macmillan. So, you know she was insistent that I adopt this form that is use narrative nonfiction rather than write it as a journalistic account.

Ravi 007034

Long form piece. Yeah I can see that as a reader, it really benefits because for me, I was marveling as you know, how is Mihir, having like a time machine camera and is able to see all of these meetings happening and then this happens and you have also use that sense of, you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen and suddenly and then they got funding so it’s as you rightly said it’s not in a journalistic piece, we’ll start with the key point that they got funding and then describe how and why they got funding here it’s unfolding in front of you and which is very cool.

Mihir 007010

Exactly, exactly, exactly. So that form is absolutely essential to get right, and then once you get the form right, then you know, you can focus on stuff like the characters, the tone, like whatever, you know the combination that you want to use of humour and seriousness and stuff like that but once you get the form right, then you know, that’s the most difficult part


Yeah, so, that form point is I think very powerful. Coming to the personalities, you mentioned them right and there are some colorful personalities there are some interesting character traits that you come across. Did you ever get into these thoughts in your mind that hey I really like this guy. I’m not so fond of this guy and did that start impacting how you’re writing about them and how do you guard against that.

Mihir 007257

Oh yeah so that definitely happens I mean because it’s impossible to, you know, kind of get to know so much about so many people and not form opinions about them. But I think the way to kind of, you know guard against that, in the sense that, you don’t want your biases, however to have a disproportionate impact on the narrative on the events, right? So, I don’t know how to put it but you just ensure that you know you’re not being too judgmental, in terms of like, say, like say if I come across like in my interviews, if I come across someone describing bad behavior by person A or person B, that, that may be bad behavior. But does that really have an impact on what I’m writing. So that’s a question that you have to ask, but you also do not want to disregard you know these things so what you do is you just kind of develop a sense of like how this person is, through interviews, and when you use that knowledge about how this person was seen by his colleagues, and then use that knowledge to say get things right like the tone in terms of how you’re writing about that person. But what you do not do is that, simply because you know you may have found this person of obnoxious or this person’s behavior is obnoxious at a certain point in time, you do not let that color the truth of what you’re writing. So, like for instance, you know, if say person A really kind of screwed over a colleague and in order to win a promotion. You know you do not (pass judgements), at the same time, if that business was not doing really well. You do not say that oh this person was such a, you know, asshole and yeah, it was basically you know, this guy deserved it right, stuff like that, I mean I’m just giving a very simplistic example.  So you don’t do stuff like that. But then, you know, you use the knowledge that okay this person is extremely ambitious he’s ruthless and he pretty much do anything to get his way. So, in future when you’re writing anything about something that is involved that involves this person then you, you know, go out of your way to, like, get to the truth in terms of, like, you know, how, how did this person orchestrate his next promotion. How did that have an impact on what was happening at the company and stuff like that

Ravi 007559

That helps, now coming to the editing, from your own side, of course there is the editorial team in the publisher, but would you yourself, you know, write, and then sleep over it and then rewrite. How would you do that?

Mihir 007636

Oh yeah, absolutely. So, when I would start writing every day at 10:30-11. The first, 2 hours would just be spent on rewriting, and editing the previous day’s work. So it was not just once, I mean I would actually so, I think I would have edited my own work at least like, 12-13 times.

Ravi 007701


Mihir 007703

Yeah. So, because I mean for me, the form

Ravi 007706

To a point you would have get almost tired of that, no?

Mihir 007709

Oh yeah you get exhausted because, I mean you know, every time you take a, say take a fresh look at what you have written you want to make changes. Yeah, so I mean on several days you know I’ve reached this point where like it will be like I would have started writing at 10.30 and it would be five o’clock and I just been reworking the previous stuff and then I had to kind of decide that okay, you know I can’t do too much of this because, I’m not gonna end up finishing so I just kind of set a word target, like a daily word target.

Ravi 007748

How much was that? (I’m) curious

Mihir 007751

Oh, So, anywhere between 500 to 900 words, depending on the day. So, yeah, so some most days it’d be like 500-600 (words)

Ravi 007759

And would you be too critical they talk about you know shitty first draft right, would you be too critical of those, the first draft or would you just like, let me bring it out and then I’ll correct it and rewrite it

Mihir 007809

So, it was a mix of the two. On some days, I would just dwell too much over it, but on many days, I would just say like, I’m just gonna write it. But after you’ve been writing for the first three, four months, it becomes easier but for the first three-four months it’s a constant battle like you just have to, you know, you have to keep going over it again and again and again. I mean it’s like dirty work and it’s just tedious but you just have to do it, there is no way around.

Ravi 007841

Fascinating. Looking back at this whole process right so of course you know post that it would have been the final edit. And was there any other big learning or challenge. Once you had completed the manuscript.

Mihir 007855

You mean like after completing the manuscript or while writing?

Ravi 007901

So, when I mean, you would submit it to the publisher and then or would you kind of keep giving drafts and chapters to the publisher and then they will keep coming back to you.

Mihir 007910

So that’s what I did so I would send like say, you know, five to six chapters, every two, three months. And my editor would then do like the first round of edits over there, but it was, I mean, you know, while she would edit them. The bulk of the editing happened after the first draft was submitted. So, for instance, you know she would send back like say I would send to her the first six chapters, she would send back the first six chapters with a bunch of edits and a bunch of suggestions, then I would decide whether I want to kind of accept those suggestions, or just keep my stuff. And so, then I didn’t send it back to her I basically so after she did the first round of edits in this way, everything was done after the first draft.

Ravi 008004

It does help for third person to look at it right or somebody who’s not been so closely involved

Mihir 008011

It does but I actually decided that because my agent and my editor both were not kind of connected to the story and not from the (business) space, I had a good enough this thing, feedback mechanism, you know, because of them, so I did not actually get anyone else to read it. Yeah, and in fact, one of the reasons that I had gone with Pan Macmillan was that, you know, I felt that the editor there was the best suited for this book because I did not want someone from the business space to be editing this book, I wanted an outsider who could, you know bring like some very strong editing skills and experience of having edited novels and narrative non-fiction.

Ravi 007959

Oh, so she came from the fiction space.

Mihir 008103

So, she edits, both fiction and nonfiction, but, like, she does a lot of literary work as well, so. I wanted someone

Ravi 008110

Oh that’s fascinating

Mihir 008113

Ya, so we chose Pan Macmillan because of primarily because of this because we were getting higher offers from other publishers, but we went with this because, you know, I wanted a certain type of editor than a business person

Ravi 008126

Oh, that’s a that’s a very interesting call Mihir because then you’re saying that you know that person can really look at it from a lay readers point of view and you know, look for the readability.

Mihir 008137

Yeah, read the readability, and the just, kind of, you know, improve the, the writing aspect right like, I mean, I think a lot of business, editors have this very different approach, right? Like you don’t have a lot of narrative nonfiction in business in India at all. So, you know, so if you want to do a book like this, then you ideally want someone who knows how to bring out a narrative nonfiction book.

Ravi 008213

Looking back at the whole process (of writing and editing the book) Mihir, would you do anything differently?

Mihir 008219

Yeah, so one thing that I would definitely do differently is that I would take more time over it. So, yeah, because you know I like it was totally exhausting like the first five months were just like, they took like a huge toll on my health, to the extent that I just could not do anything for two, three weeks in December. So I would definitely take more time. I finished the book in about a year, so, started working in August of 2018, sometime in the second week, and we finished in the last week of July of 2019. So, it was just about a year. I would take, maybe three, four months more. And yeah, so another thing that I would do differently is that, in the second half of the book, I would have just maybe like slightly more stuff on say the business aspects or the financial aspects than I did. Because, like, some business readers, I mean, a lot of general readers, you know, really kind of love the second half of the book, but some of the people who are say from the business or the financial space, they, you know, said that they would have really liked it to like to have less human drama and the second half of the book and there was more of say, business and financial analysis. But you know we like my editor and I, we really discussed this extensively when we were working on the book, and we decided that, you know, basically I mean business and financial aspects had really kind of become a secondary importance by the because it was really all about the human drama like you know like say in the first seven to eight years of Flipkart’s journey. I mean, the ecommerce business was just extremely dynamic it was changing so much. you know, So one business decision could like, really have a huge impact on the company’s fate, but that was really not the case after 2017.  You know like, basically 2017 onwards, it had become more or less a very stable business, in the sense that they were not very large scale changes in terms of like say the market share between Flipkart and Amazon or in terms of the category mates or in terms of like what’s even Flipkart was doing, say launching new categories, so there was really not much of this happening so the business itself was like very stable you know stable

Ravi 008458

Stabilized, yeah

Mihir 008458

Relatively stable compared. Yeah. So, there was really nothing interesting to write about that. So that’s why we decided not to focus so much on the business as such because, like what was happening in the business was anyway being driven to a large extent by the key characters in the Flipkart story so you know-

Ravi 012519

I think because of the way you’ve written it, it retains that pace of almost a thriller throughout, so it never gets never loses pace I think so that’s great.

Mihir 012531

Yeah, yeah so that was of course one of the key considerations that we did not want to slow down the pace of the book, but the main consideration was again that, you know, I mean what was happening at Flipkart, why was that happening, right? So for us, the why and how was far more important to bring out than say, you know like, like, basic analyses of mobile phones had like a 1% net margin or 2% net margin compared with fashion which are 10% I mean, all these things, you know, did not change so we really didn’t see the case for focusing too much on these aspects.

Ravi 012616

Fascinating stuff, Mihir. Who, what kind of people, books, podcasts, are some of your big influences, who do you look up to?

Mihir 012624

So, I read a lot of politics. I read a lot about politics and religion. And so, I love- some of my favorite writers are Ashis Nandy, Faisal Devji… I mean, these are, I mean, so Faisal Devji, he is a historian, Ashis Nandy is

Ravi 012650


Mihir 012651

So, (Ashis Nandy) He’s a sociologist, and a political psychologist, but he writes in a profound way about religion and politics. So, yeah, so I, these are two of my favorite writers. Then, in fiction I love, like my favorite writer is Naipaul. And, yeah, I read some other writers I’d really are Coetze, Ian McEwan. Yeah, so, I read a lot of postcolonial fiction as well so that was something and yeah, that actually helped me with one of the devices that I’ve used in the book which is this use of Hindi. So, one of the things that I was clear about after the first two-three months of interviews was that I have to bring out just how important Hindi was in the Flipkart story, like the usage of Hindi as a language. Because, you know, unless you knew Hindi well you could not be a top guy at Flipkart you could not break into that, you know, gang at Flipkart so I wanted to bring out, I wanted to bring that out, and it really helped me, like, find the like the right way to bring it out, because I’ve read a lot of post-colonial fiction where you’ll see the device being used, because, obviously, these guys are writing about societies where English is not the main language right so how do they bring out, like, the local flavours. That’s like that helped me kind of you know bring out the usage of Hindi, in the book.

Ravi 012837

I loved some of the dialogues that you had, you know, brought out so the one that stood out for me was is one way I think all these top guys are there and Sachin Bansal is talking about some of his ideas and he has a fair confidence about his own instinct, but tends to shoot down when other people come up with their ideas and Sujeet comes up with this brilliant line ki “Tumhara gut gut hai or humara gut gutter hai” and you actually I think you wrote that in English but I can see that line coming in a movie.

Mihir 012912

Yeah yeah

Ravi 012913

So this this line will be there in a ‘Big Billion Startup’ movie, is that on the work, By the way, I’m just,

Mihir 012917

Yeah, so one of the you know, leading production houses in Bollywood has bought the film rights to it

Ravi 012925

Oh, that’s brilliant

Mihir 012925

So they’re making a web series (on the book).

Ravi 01292

Oh this is so so great for a web series it will be a brilliant web series.

Mihir 012934

Yeah, yeah, I was very happy that they decided to make a series rather than a film

Ravi 012939

Ya, it’s very difficult to justice in a in a two-hour, three-hour movie, yeah

Mihir 012944

Yeah, absolutely.

Ravi 012945

Do you have any folks in mind to play Sachin or Binny

Mihir 012950

No, not really

Ravi 012951

This is great, hey thank you so much Mihir for this, it’s been illuminating and I have learnt a lot in terms of how you have approached this gargantuan project and actually when you think about it, I look back at it, I think what you achieved in, in, not even a year of work because you know five months of those were actually you were doing double duty is staggering.

Mihir 013015

Yeah, thanks it was great doing this chat

And that was Mihir Dalal – bestselling author and chronicler of the Indian startup scene.

A few things which stayed with me:

  1. The concept of ‘form’ in writing and the ease of reading a narrative style writeup
  2. How reading good fiction can help you write non-fiction better 
  3. The critical importance of editing and re-writing your work

If you find this content valuable, please rate and review this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to them. It’ll help others like you discover these insights!

This podcast was hosted by me, Ravishankar Iyer. Audio editing by Kartik Rajan. Transcript editing by Sanket Aalegaonkar and Prahlad Viswanathan.

Until next time, may the force of good stories be with you

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