The IKEA Syndrome

Anil & Mukesh Ambani

Over the past 5 years I’ve had several chance meetings with people from the Reliance Group (both Reliance Industries and Reliance/ADAG) and I can only laugh when these employees tell me how well connected they are to the Ambani’s.  I call this the IKEA (I Know Every Ambani) Syndrome.

The latest episode was several months ago when someone contacted me and wanted to setup a meeting.  He went on and on about his close proximity to Mukesh-bhai (MDA) and Anil-ji (ADA), almost as if he was the 3rd lost brother of the Ambani family. We started to talk details about how we could work together and then suddenly he developed a case of cold feet and said he needed to speak to his CEO. I have no issue with running a deal past a CEO but it seemed odd for this “well connected” individual…or he just wasn’t as connected as he said he was.

I think it’s admirable that many employees of the Reliance group feel a sense of family but it’s also very destructive. Throwing around names is one thing but getting business done is another. From the ones I have met they seem to have very similar traits – Middle aged and mid level managers. They use the Reliance platform to setup meetings not for the company but their “side business.” Unfortunately, most are too scared to let go of the Reliance name brand and instead throw around the Ambani name to make themselves feel special in an organization that probably has over 120,000 employees.

Now when someone from the Reliance group calls, I do my due diligence and go straight to LinkedIn to see where they stand in the organization. The IKEA Syndrome is not a deal killer as long as you are talking to the right people in the organization who are not affected by the syndrome.

MBAs vs. Non-MBAs

Someone recently asked me about MBAs vs non-MBAs in the startup world. It’s always fun when you stick 3 tech people and 3 MBA types in a room and drop that question on them. My answer was “MBAs build in Excel while non-MBAs build. In reality, I believe both are needed but at different stages of a company.

During the initial startup phase you really need people that can build the product/service. Which includes developers, sales people that can cold call and support people that can respond to customer issues. If you are a programmer and you come up with an idea you can personally develop a site, launch it and see what happens. Whereas, if you are a typical MBA with a great idea you will likely have to hire a developer to implement your vision and thus non-MBA types are required.

People like to ridicule MBA’s and use them as punching bags but as a company grows, people with MBA’s bring a couple things to the table. First, they most likely have access to a great network of people if they went to a top notch business school such as IIM-A or Harvard Business School (HBS).  Second, many have a very process driven way of looking at things whether it’s due diligence, market research or product management. Some may argue that’s the wrong way to look at markets but I would say look at Proctor and Gamble (P&G). P&G employ 100’s of MBA’s to sell very mundane things as toothpaste, shavers and detergents…and they do it successfully year after year.

However, there are startups that are founded by MBA’s. is an example, it’s an Indian personal finance site which was co-founded by Dhruv Agarwala and Kartik Varma who are both HBS alumni and was recently sold to Karvy Private Wealth Management. So, although my initial quote was a poke at MBAs I do believe there is a time and place for them.

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