Monday, December 30, 2013

Into 2014 and beyond!

2013 has been a great learning year at Last-Bench! We’ve had our shares of ups and downs, successes and failures, good days and bad days and busy days to extremely busy days but with all this we fought all odds and are now moving into our third year of existence – 2014.



From a team perspective, we’ve had many interns coming in and continuing on with their journey but towards the end our team size increased by 1. Though it’s just one but the importance of adding that ONE right person in your team is probably one of the best things that could’ve happened that will help us towards achieving our goals.

As we move into 2014, the LB team will focus on two major areas, which we do with passion, possess the right skills to execute and can make substantial progress from a business perspective.

  • Educational content production
  • Learning platform
Our content production projects are already rolling and we’re looking to scale it big time. We’ve already got multiple projects ranging from Kindergarten content to K-12 and corporate skill development content production in the pipeline for execution and will be scaling our team by 200% to support development activities. Overall, we’re seeing this as a big potential this year and in the future too. All I can say for now is, content production is not easy and we’ve mastered the art to bring creativity and smooth execution to the madness in this method.

On the other front, we’re very close on getting our learning platform MVP ready and are planning a soft launch sometime in Jan 2014 itself. Our JV partners and us have put a lot of thought into planning the strategy, technology, content and sales and finally in the last quarter of 2013, we began the development from all angles. We’re very excited about this learning solution and will be competing against the biggies in this space but in a very niche area. To give you’ll a gist, we’re building an expert driven skill development community for working professionals and are already seeing interest from our potential target customers.

To reach to this point today, I can proudly say that we’ve done it without external funding and are able to sustain our operations ourselves without having to put in more money after the initial capital. Like I’ve always said, it’s the team that matters and the team that can execute matters even more and at Last-Bench! we’ve got the team that can execute.

Keep a lookout on all the exciting stuff that we’re going to showcase in 2014. It’s the year where you’ll be hearing a lot about our work and us!

Lastly, would like to thank all our stakeholders for helping us to get to where we are today! We need your continued support.

Signing off from Munich! See you in 2014. Happy New Year!


-Rajeev (#LifeOfAnEntrepreneur)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

End of year celebrations at Last-Bench!

Yet another exciting, eventful and jam-packed year draws to a close and, as a tradition, it marks the return of the annual Last-Bench festivities. This year we got everyone together for a nice sit-down dinner with loads of delicious food, fun, frolic and conversation, not to forget the collective reflection on a year that has been momentous for the company. This year we didn't just welcome business growth, new team members, new strategic partnerships and new services and offerings but also two adorable babies - Hanika Chhajer and Alishka Mehra - into the Last-Bench fam-fam. As you can see, a truly encouraging year and the dawn of an even more exciting future. 

Here are some pics from the night:





Thanks to the entire team, their families, our advisors who came out to celebrate this fantastic year and to all our fans and well-wishers who were present in spirit :) Looking forward to an even better 2014!!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Emotions impacting TEAMS!

"Team player", "Team", "Teamwork" - are terms that are so so so often used in our lives whether it's at college or getting your first job and even as we progress in our careers. Everybody as an individual talks about being a team player and many of us are true team players too.


Everybody knows the traditional definition of a TEAM and what it takes to be a team-player but in this blog I'll talk about something more deeper than accomplishing a common task. I'm going to talk about the impact of EMOTIONS in accomplishing that one common task.

Let's boil down a team of 'x' members to a team with just one member - that's you. Now imagine, you're working on a project to accomplish a goal. You set a plan and start executing the plan. The good thing about this project is that there are no external dependencies so it's perfect right! You don't have to depend on anyone to move forward in your project. The first few days are super, you put in the 10-12 hours daily and everything goes well the first week. By the end of the week you're extremely motivated and plan your task for the next week. On completion of your week 1, you decide to take it easy over the weekend and go out with your friends for a drink. The party you thought would get over by early night really ended the next day morning. You're extremely tired and want to hit the sack as soon as you reach home. So now your weekend goes for a toss and you're running a bit late on your schedule but no worries still. You're motivated and tell you're self that I'll cover up in the coming week. You then begin your work motivated but then at the start of the week itself run into major technical issues and start getting worked up because you're not able to solve them. You put in another day's effort but still the issues dont get resolved. Finally, you decide to make some desperate calls and you don't find the intended solutions. You've started to get a headache and just try to get some rest. Once you're up, you think about the situations and start getting angry at the fact if you hadnt partied, you could've got 2 additional days. Everything starts turning glum and demotivation starts setting in. Your project now takes 5 weeks to complete that could've just taken 2.

What I want to highlight with this story is that with a 1-member team and no external dependencies things can go for a toss due to the impact of emotions. In this example, it started with high motivation, happiness, sense of accomplishment, relaxation then turned into extreme stress, anger and demotivation.

Now imagine a bigger team. Everyone in the team when working towards a common goal bring a wide range of emotions towards the work. Some of the members may be very highly motivated and think about the organizations success, some may be highly motivated but may think only about their success in the goal, some members may just be doing the tasks for the sake of doing them and instead prove to be a hindrance in other's work too and some may bring their outside emotion to work maybe like a fight in the family, a sudden loss, failure or success and even internal/external competition.

The bigger task is for the leader who needs to manage everybody's emotions and also his/her own emotions while working on achieving targets.

So for the leaders out there: achieving your goals with your team is one thing but managing your team members emotions while achieving goals is a whole new story!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Halfway through the 'Startup Leadership Program': Thoughts & Learnings

It was a couple months back when I heard about the Startup Leadership Program (http://www.startupleadership.com). I read about it, found it interesting and started reading more about how I could enroll. To my surprise, there was a selection process. This in a way was a roadblock because I was in no mood to write essays. Anyway, I thought about it deeper and somewhere I felt like this program would help me take my startup to a very different level so I took a stab at the essays and the admission form. With the daily grind, somewhere I forgot that I had applied. Finally, out of the blue I got a call and coordinator told me I got selected! Yippiee!! :-) I was really excited about this community!

As I write this blog, I'm somewhere in the middle of the entire 6 month program. The program has been very enlightening, eye-opening and a great learning experience. I've met some amazing and enthusiastic budding entrepreneurs, successful entrepreneurs and investors. Every session has so much to take away. We've covered topics on business plans, pitches, financial modeling, customer development, valuations, products, investments, lean methods, sales, customer development and many more exciting topics to come as we move ahead.

I got to meet with some very exciting entrepreneurs, Nischal from JustUnfollow, Sampad from Instamojo, Pravin from Wishberg, Kunal from Freecharge, Vikram from MyDentist, Mohit from Carwale, Sameer from CouponDunia, Vikram from yavvy.com and Bijaei from Loyalty Rewardz.

But I'd like to share my learnings till date and how I have implemented it within Last-Bench! One of our biggest strengths as a startup is that we have a strong, dependable and multi-talented team. It might not be large but it is a team whose strengths are diverse and individually each member, using their unique talent,  contributes to the business goals in a unified manner. One of our biggest weaknesses is the constant pivoting and loss of focus when trying to experiment with too many things.

As part of our lean method, the first thing we did was clearly identify the areas (product and services) we want to work on. We chose 1 product and 1 service that we wanted to focus on. This is helping us to be more focused and also allowing us to channel our energies in the right direction. Second, we've decided that each one manages his own time but wherever dependencies, that person is responsible to coordinate with the other people so that a bigger weekly goal is achieved. Third, we've started weekly targets that sum up to the bigger targets and everyone needs to report whether it is completed or not. There is no room to say that it is partially completed or 50-60% completed. If remaining, simply means it is not done. Fourth, we kept clear goals in terms of revenue and product development. Fifth, experimentation is key to find out whether a feature or a sales method will work for us or not. Sixth, there is no room for assumptions. Seventh and the most important, keep having fun while working!

Before and after every session I share the learnings with my team and everybody is excited to learn more. I personally think, a program like this, is definitely good for entrepreneurs who are in the 1st two years or to-be entrepreneurs. The biggest advantage that this program brings is the discipline!

Here are some pics from the sessions:








I will write more on this once the program ends and share my learning on each topic as we progress.

You can follow Rajeev on Twitter or connect with him via LinkedIn

Monday, December 2, 2013

Leader in focus: Warren Buffet

What really separates average leaders from the great ones? To get to a leadership position and, more importantly, to stay in one you not only require determination, courage and vision but also some very important skills to help you accomplish the work you are entrusted to complete. In business, it is equally important that you must be flexible and adaptive to constantly changing climates and demands. So is it possible to zero in on what is common between all great leaders? Can we learn from the way they plan, execute and achieve?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Sojourner's Tale

“My mind is in a state of constant rebellion. I believe that will always be so.” 
– George Leigh Mallory
The first question that any armed forced personnel asks a civilian at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) training camp is, ‘Why have you opted for this course?’ (It seems like the Basic/Advance Mountaineering course is more like a mini-vacation (with full respect) for them, after what they go through in the high altitude mountain ranges where they patrol for hours, day and night) And of course, us trying to show off, go saying, ‘Passion, love for the mountains, adventure, and all the good stuff!’ They don’t understand why one would go through so much of physical and mental stress for the sake of fun. And it’s true; mountaineering is not meant for everyone. It is demanding physically as well as mentally and a not to forget, requires a lot of luck!

HMI Entrance

HMI Campus Atrium





I had opted for the Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC 298 Batch) at The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling after a friend recommended the course. This was fueled by a lot of books and literature on mountaineering and expedition tales. The course was scheduled from 17th October 2013 to 16th November 2013. You require a lot of physical body conditioning prior to the training. Training would involve running at least 5 kms a day, walking flight of stairs for hours, trekking with at least 10-15 kgs in your rucksack. Coming from Mumbai, this still doesn’t prepare you for the actual stuff in the mountains. 

The first day of the course there were around 50+ students from all over India with various backgrounds (students, professionals, entrepreneurs, armed force personnel, etc). Students still kept pouring in till the 4th day at the institute and the final tally at the HMI base in Darjeeling was 64. Day 1, we were all divided in multiple groups or in mountain terminology ‘Ropes’, with one student being the rope leader and an instructor in charge. The instructors had varied backgrounds, some being from the armed forces and some local to Darjeeling. They were very well experienced, and some had even conquered the mighty Mt. Everest. The Course Director was Mr Lakpa Sherpa who’s reputation preceded him (An Everester as well as an accomplished climber for years). The first week consisted of early morning physical training and classroom sessions throughout the day. For a week we were not allowed to leave the institute for any reason. During the week we were allocated our mountain gear, consisting of cold weather gear and technical equipment. Fully loaded the rucksack weighed around 15+ kgs. Around day 6, they took us for an 11km (one way) hike to a place called ‘Tiger Hill’ (8600ft). You get a panoramic view of the Sikkim Himalayas including Everest and Makalu, but the weather didn’t work in our favor. The trek is supposed to be a prequel to what we would endure on our journey to the HMI basecamp in Sikkim. The trek also acts as a filter to exclude those who can’t make it this time from the main trip to the basecamp. And that’s what exactly happened, few students dropped out due to injury and/or personal reasons.

Personally, I started facing ligament issues in my knees (a past running injury) right at the beginning of the course. The downhill runs in Darjeeling simply aggravated the injury. In my head I thought my journey would end right before it started. But, after I mentioned this to one of the instructors, he asked me to take it easy for the next few days especially during the physical training. That did work for me, and I was able to complete the Tiger Hill trek successfully. But, the injury wasn’t the only setback to happen on the entire trip. There were more to follow. One of the days at the institute we had our medical tests done. Turned out that my blood pressure and my pulse rate were higher than usual. I was on a watch henceforth. I would go to medical office everyday and test my blood pressure and pulse rate. There were some other students with me who also face high blood pressure issues. Luckily my blood pressure had dropped to normal, but my pulse was still flying high. But, the doctor said it might be a one off case and let me continue the course. The others were not as lucky and were given the pink slip.

View from Tiger Hill (ref: Das Studio - Darjeeling)

On 26th October we left for our conquest. After a long drive and 3 days of hiking through the Kanchenjunga National Park we finally reached the HMI Basecamp alternatively known as Chowrikhang situated at an altitude of 4380m. I must admit the final stretch to the basecamp was never ending. It’s as if you can see your final goal, but it keeps evading you. In the mountains it’s really tough to estimate distance from one point to another. We reached the basecamp at around 3pm with the advance batch students waiting to receive us. Many advance students were kind enough to help students from our batch with their rucksacks. For the next 2 weeks other than your batch mates and your instructors these are the only faces you will see in the mountains (And ofcourse the guys working in the mess and helping with logistics).


One of the 4 majestic bridges in Kanchenjunga National Park

Enroute to Bakhim

Enroute to Dzongri

Mighty Mountains

The next 10 days at the basecamp consisted of various activities, which included technical training in snow/ice, rock climbing techniques, rescue techniques, etc. We were taken onto the Rathong glacier to implement the techniques we learnt during the open classroom sessions. I think personally, my favorite part of the glacier training was ice climbing. It was a dream come true after whatever I read about it in various mountaineering books. We got a chance to climb walls of sheer blue ice. During the training week at basecamp many students left voluntarily, while some left due to injuries. The final tally was now 48.


Tarn (Mountain Lake)

Headed towards Rathong glacier

Glacier training

Jumaaring

Doodh Pokhri Lake (HMI Advance Basecamp)

Selfie at 16000 ft

Gazing into oblivion

Infinite Knot (Buddhist Symbol)

In the mountains you start missing a lot of small things you take for granted in your day to day life. But eventually nothing matters. It's the final goal you need to work towards. There were days when I would question myself, as to 'Why am I doing this?' But deep down, you know you have the will to go through it. In the end it's just a mental battle. On the 10th day at the basecamp our Course Director decided that BMC 298 would attempt the B.C.Roy peak, which is around 17800ft. It was great news for us since this would the first attempt after 4 years. The weather conditions had turned out in favor of the climb. On 11th we head out towards the summit. It was a tiring journey but fruitful. Out of the remaining 48 students, 31 summited the peak that day. 


Summit of B.C.Roy peak - appx. 18000 ft

One the 13th we departed from the basecamp at Chowrikhang and were on our way back to Darjeeling. Two days of hiking included a trip through Dzongri and then Bakhim and finally to Yuksom. There onwards it was a bus ride to the institute. (The return journey was the most challenging for me, since my knees started bothering me and I had to complete the journey in the stipulated time. In times like these painkillers are a blessing.) The final few days at the institute in Darjeeling consisted of outings, competitions and the graduation ceremony.

'By learning to discover and value our ordinariness, we nurture a friendliness toward ourselves and the world that is the essence of a healthy soul.' 
 - Thomas Moore

This journey that started out as an adventure for me, a mere adrenalin rush, soon turned into a wake up call about the reality of life, as I was enveloped by the endless mountains. The opportunity to venture into nature and be separated from social structures (as we know it) was exceptional for me. To be able to gaze into the vast nothingness, introspect and ponder about life in general was truly medicine for my soul. Living in the mountains helps one realize how ordinary and insignificant man is, against mighty nature. You realize the worth of every single breath of air, every small drop of water, of human relationships and respect to all life beings. Life suddenly is in perspective and gradually with time it strikes you realize that whatever our actions may be, whatever our choices may be the truth is that Nature may very well remain without man but Man simply cannot exist without Nature. This understanding is the first step to embracing change, of the mind, body and soul. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Leading Today's Business Organizations



The current business environment is extraordinarily challenging, competitive and dynamic. Companies need young professionals who can make an immediate impact on their organizations and also individually grow as the company is growing. Business knowledge, management & leadership skills are critical assets for success in almost any career. 

A lot of students entering the workforce or people already in the workforce are from non-business backgrounds such as engineering, science, medicine, arts or the finance streams and now find themselves on career tracks where they need to understand and “speak” the language of business fluently. Others are entrepreneurs who need to stay ahead of the curve in order for their business to succeed and grow. In any case, you need the business, management & leadership skills to advance your career to the next level.

In the past, when organizations followed a more pyramid-type structure, leaders were invested with far more formal authority. These leaders could issue directives, which would be funneled down through the various organizational ranks.  As such, the edicts issued by the leadership carried an enormous amount of organizational weight. Today’s organizations, however, are flatter. The degree of formal authority invested with leaders is much lower than before, and, given the modern-day organizational structure, many leaders do not particularly this authority particularly useful. Instead, they have learned to rely more on their own mastery of certain skills, and focus on learning and developing the same.

While different leaders follow different styles of leadership, there are certain common traits that every leader must possess. These include:
  • Communication skills: To speak and write persuasively
  • Interpersonal skills: To listen and hear what people are saying and react in constructive ways (active listening)
  • Conflict-resolution skills: To handle friction and inevitable tensions
  • Negotiation skills: To bring different groups together in order to reach mutually agreeable goals
  • Motivational skills: To align people who may not report to you toward a goal'
  • Decision-making skills: To take decisions in case of deadlock situations or move towards the larger goal
One of the biggest reasons why most people are so intimidated by the prospect of being a great leader is that only a few truly dare to lead. Indeed, taking up the mantle of leading a team of individuals, many of whom are talented, capable and opinionated, may seem like a daunting task for someone with little or no leadership experience. However, it is this willingness to take on a role and responsibility that others shy away from that sets the stage for a effective, powerful and admirable leader.

Most organizations today are desperately seeking such leaders who will not be afraid to act as pathfinders, visionaries and motivators, creating new avenues for growth for themselves, their teams and their organizations. More than ever, the need for good leaders is large and the opportunity great. To capitalize on this opportunity, however, you must first embrace the fact that leadership comprises multiple dimensions. It is a combination of personal characteristics and transformational behaviors that influence positive action in others. 


If you have any questions, comments or would like to learn more about any of the tools or techniques to improve your soft skills please write to us at chalktalk@last-bench.com

For more information on our skill development programs please click here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The growing need for Employability Skills in India

Recently I attended a webinar co-hosted by the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) and National Skill Development Corporation of India (NSDC) discussing the opportunities in skill development for businesses in India over the next few years. In the one hour presentation they spoke about initiatives, programs and competitions undertaken by the NSDC and how businesses must focus on skill development for a country which will soon have the largest working population in the world. Though the opportunity is great and the platform might seem perfect to tap the commercial potential, the information and numbers raise a bigger issue (and one that was left unanswered in the webinar) that what are the skills that an emerging India needs?

Academic skills and technical skills have often been the core focus of the government and the result has been fairly limited, with minimal increase in opportunity or empowerment. Of late, there has been an gradual shift towards vocational skills, which is definitely a breath of fresh air, for both job-seekers and employers alike. In fact Corporate India, with each passing year, renders the current crop of graduates more and more unemployable. For a country where the working age population will very soon be far in excess of those dependent on them and will continue to do so till 2040, this is a very disturbing statistic. (source: World Bank).  Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, in my opinion, hit the nail on the head when he said 'India does not have problem of unemployment but that of unemployability'. Hence the focus must undoubtedly be on developing skills that transcend technical or academic capability and help create professionals who are not only ready to face the challenges of a dynamic and competitive business world but also have the flexibility, intelligence and practical skills to sufficiently excel in their respective roles within an organization.

According to the survey, carried out by a number of agencies (and endorsed by the PM’s National Council on Skill Development and the NSDC), the top three most important general skills identified were motivation, reliability and teamwork, while the top three most important specific skills are entrepreneurship, effective communication and use of modern tools and technologies. This is some very important information coming directly from the corporate world and should almost become the tenets of basic skill-based training in India. The importance of the survey results and the focus on developing these skills (both general and specific) cannot be emphasized more, because they have a three pronged effect. 

First, they provide individuals seeking employment with a first hand account of what skills they must possess and, if necessary, develop in order to catch the eye of a potential employer. Of course, recognizing skills and developing them are only primary steps, putting them to practice and creating a habit of learning new skills is the ultimate goal. The onus to do this is not just on the job seeker but also training organizations and businesses to identify innovative methods of developing and teaching these skills. In todays digital age, the use of technology is imperative for educational and vocational institutes to attract the youth and make the learning as enjoyable as possible. Learning happens best when the learner is so engrossed and engaged that he does not realize he is learning. 

Next, by developing these skills individuals are not just molded to excel in corporate or government positions but also develop a sense of innovativeness and creativity. There in lies the hope that we are not just empowering job seekers to achieve career goals but also create a section of individuals that will take the entrepreneurial path, at some point in their careers, and will eventually become job creators. 

Last, through the development of these skills job seekers will find it mush easier to accentuate their core academic and technical skills and employers will find that (a) hiring candidates becomes much easier (b) their investment in training new employees and in turn, attrition rate is lower and, (c) productivity is greatly increased because now corporations can focus less on teaching people how to do work and more on actually assigning them to more complex, diverse projects. Hence, to summarize, the development of these skills greatly improves the chances of (a) getting hired then, (b) staying hired and finally, (c) personal and professional success. Could there be more valuable advice for new graduates and young professionals? I think not.

Here is an info graphic that Last-Bench created almost a year back highlighting the importance of soft skills for job applicants. In fact the development of these skills must become a compulsory module in a lll colleges and universities to ensure graduates receive complete education.


If you have any questions, comments or would like to learn more about any of the tools or techniques to improve your soft skills please write to us at chalktalk@last-bench.com

For more information on our skill development programs please click here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What makes a great leader?

"Leadership" is a topic that is talked about so much nowadays, it would be safe to say that it's 'in vogue!' Everything you try to do or are doing, you either question yourself or get questioned about whether you're a leader in the particular activity or not. But what really makes a great leader? What separates the 'also rans' from the 'inspiring greats'? What traits or behaviors do great leaders have in common? Can YOU 'learn' how to be a great leader? 

Today, I'm not going to define or explain what  leadership is because there are so many great gurus who have already done so and so many of them who have shown the world by exercising it. Instead, I'll share an experience from my previous job who I thought was a great leader amongst the common folks.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Agile Critical Thinking Webinar on Decision-Making

The Center for Agile Thinking  and iPleaders jointly organized a webinar on 'The Skills You Need to Make Better Decisions in a Complex, Competitive and Dynamic Workplace' conducted by Prof. Anne P. Kreitzberg, Co-founder and Principal at The Center for Agile Thinking. Here is a brief overview and a few stills from the well-received event...


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Last-Bench!: The journey so far and what lies ahead...

Every couple months I ask myself questions like - "How have we been doing as a startup? What is our progress? Are we focussing on the same vision or have we deviated? What should we be doing as we power into the future?". This is when I call for the "SPECIAL" meeting outside work with my partners in crime - Sajid and Venkat, just to discuss these things and ideate with them.

Very recently, instead of me asking this time, someone from the VC community asked me this question and I confidently replied:
"We've been executing projects in the skill development and educational content design areas which has helped us get in revenue and also allowed us to do research towards our larger goal of delivering personalized skill development online."
Having said that, I'm very proud to announce that we've come into an exclusive joint venture with Cognetics Corporation. Both Congetics and Last-Bench! share a common vision and launched The Center for Agile Thinking in India too. The mission is to help businesses achieve their goals by raising the level and quality of decision-making within their organizations. As a team, we hold great experience, subject matter expertise, technology expertise and a network to tap into. We've taken a first stab at our online platform and have began our development activities.


I do believe we're going in the right direction and with the help of my super team and great advisors we are getting closer to our larger goal!

Will keep ya'll updated! 

-Rajeev (@rajeevchhajer)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Last-Bench featured on CNBC Awaaz

In late september, when we signed up for an online 30 minute personal mentoring session with Gozoop's Ahmed Naqvi to help us align our Social Media strategy, little did we imagine we'd end up getting a WHOLE lot more. In fact we were geared up to just listen to what Ahmed had to say and try  and get as many of our questions answered within the duration of the hangout. Hence when we got a call from Ankita Gaba (of Social Samosa, who organized this amazing event) asking if we were willing to have our mentoring session covered by CNBC Awaaz, our response (quite understandably) was a resounding YES! It's not everyday that you (a) get picked by CNBC Awaaz as the startup they want to cover for a entrepreneurial feature (b) welcome the immensely knowledgable Ms. Gaba to your office (c) get your strategy fixed by Mr. Naqvi. A one-of-a-kind triple whammy! :D 

Of course our joy soon translated into a massive bout of nervousness by D-Day morning and it was a rush against time to ensure we got our message perfected for the viewing audience. But more than the TV feature, it was important that we didn't lose focus from the objective of this exercise - to learn, get ideas and tips from Ahmed himself and understand how we can leverage the massive opportunity that Social Media provides small companies like ours. A few cups of coffee, lots of notes and brainstorming were enough for us to feel confident about getting past this exciting yet important day.

In retrospect, the could not have gone any better. We really accomplished all the we had intended to. Ms. Gaba too was kind enough to build on Ahmed's invaluable, precise and thought-provoking advice and help us get some expert tips to start doing the right things to gain momentum on Social Media. The interview with CNBC, as expected, gave us much needed mileage and the opportunity to be discovered not just from a local, but from a national perspective as well. We've heard some great feedback and inputs from friends and family who saw us on TV (one even refusing to believe he was seeing us on TV and had to change the channel and go back to ensure it wasn't a 'lack-of-sleep induced hallucination' :D) and also happened to generate a lot of interest from students, professors and educational institutions curious as to how we can help them achieve their goals. 

We'd like to end by saying a big than you to Ankita Gaba for providing us with all the help, support and the opportunity, Ahmed Naqvi for his great insights, advice and incredible patience and CNBC Awaaz for choosing us amongst the many other startups to be featured on their show. Needless to say, we're over the moon :)

Here is the CNBC awaaz video and pics from the event:



Click here for pictures of the mentoring session & CNBC Awaaz

For all of our friends outside of India:
If you wish to view the CNBC video, kindly send us an email on chalktalk@last-bench.com with the subject as "CNBC VIDEO LINK" and we'll be glad to share with you the link for the video (with english subtitles).

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last-Bench visits Pune...

At Last-Bench, whenever we see a window of opportunity we strive to make the most of it and, more often than not, push ourselves to the limit - both, as a group and as individuals. It's probably the will to succeed or the passion we possess for our work or maybe it's just a 'startup thing'. Either ways, it ensures satisfaction and pleasure in our results and achievements :) Thus far, we've limited this drive to our 'work' mainly because we've never had the opportunity to extend it to 'play' as well! Hence, when a client meeting was scheduled in Pune we decided to capitalize on this chance and decided to make it into a company outing enthused with learning, adventure and, true to our ethos, lots of fun!

The day began rather early (even by startup terms!) at 6 am. Three quarters of the traveling troupe (Rajeev, Samir and Venkat) were being driven to Pune from Mumbai, with one member (Abhishek) already in Pune the previous day. [For all those concerned, we did not abandon Moushmi and Sajid :P They're currently taking some, much needed, time off :)]. The drive out of Mumbai and into Pune was fantastic. Such pleasure to encounter virtually no traffic as you cut through the city! Perks of early morning travel, we assume :) Then driving through the picturesque ghats on the expressway and stopping for the customary 'chai' couldn't have been a better way to start off, what would prove to be, a very important day for the company. 

The journey itself wasn't limited to refreshments and sightseeing, the objective was to use the travel time to discuss important issues like marketing strategy and plan, in the short term. This also was the cue for 'Mr. Creative' Samir to take a quick nap and dream about his next video masterpiece :D At this juncture, our focus is on social media and how we can leverage it to expand our reach, interact with potential customers, generate leads and eventually drive sales and revenue through it. We spent a good part of our journey reflecting on the learnings of our recently concluded Social Media mentoring session (look out for the blog post discussing it; coming soon!) and identifying areas of focus, goals, objectives and mediums. What remains is formulating a strategy (focused on identifying content areas, creating the content bank and defining roles & responsibilities) and, of course, actually executing the plan! 

We got into Pune around 10.30 am and straight away headed to our client's office for the meeting. After a set of preliminary talks in Mumbai, the purpose of this meeting in Pune was to finalize and, in principle, kick off the partner project. To sum up the discussion in a sentence (though we cannot to justice to the efforts put in from both sides), it was perfect! We were able to understand each others' strengths and how each one of us can contribute (and complement each other) to ensure overall success. Nothing like an association that is mutually beneficial! In retrospect, we feel that we (Last-Bench) got a little extra. We were able to observe, analyze and understand how a larger, education-focused company operates. We got good insights into their content creation and delivery standards, how they approach the entire process, where they separate their functions, where they intervene and collaborate, and how to really drive your product from being an idea to the complete, finished article. All this, while ensuring you never waver from the ultimate goal- solving the problem your customer faces and providing the best possible solution. 

It felt that we'd hit an experiential goldmine! We had come to Pune with the goal to leverage the opportunity in front of us and we did just that AND MORE. It would probably be safe to say we came, we LEARNT, we conquered! :)

Hey, but all work and no play is against the Last-Bench philosophy! So, we wrapped up our meeting and headed for a nice 'lunch + bonding session' at a popular eatery, called Tareef,  recommended to us by a local.  The food at the restaurant was absolutely wonderful and the ambience extraordinary. The calm soothing music allowed us to reflect on an excellent day and the delectable spread that was laid out provided us with the much-needed energy to discuss all things not related to work :D  The sumptuous meal and jovial conversation was followed up with a major highlight (and surprise)- a course of sweet paan [Betel leaf with coconut, fruit preserves, rose petal preserves and various spices]. Quite the perfect way to end an amazing experience in Pune.

Our journey back was more sombre and reflective. We imbibed all the learnings and thought about how we could benefit from all that we had discussed, seen and experienced. It was late evening by the time we headed back to our respective homes but all of us, individually and as a group, suddenly stood taller and more confident from the experience. And what could be better than the fact that we ourselves learned via the exact same methods we employ while teaching - Practicality and Fun! Touché!






Monday, October 28, 2013

Super Saturday at Bombay Scottish School (Powai)

Saturday mornings, for the majority, are generally reserved for fun and would scarcely be associated with any sort of learning. Hence, when we were approached to conduct a leadership and goal setting session for the students of Bombay Scottish School in Powai, Mumbai on a saturday morning at 9 am, we were a little skeptical. Then we heard there would be kids from grade 6-10 and it got us quite worried. 

Don't get us wrong. We love having sessions with students of all ages, they ask some of the best questions and often think at a level that would put top intellectuals to shame! But, saturday mornings are really when they want to just curl up in bed and look forward to a gigantic brunch comprising pancakes, syrup and tons of chocolate! And here we wanted them to sit through 2 hours of interaction, discussion and brain picking. Uh oh!

Now, in retrospect, we cannot reiterate how wrong we were! Of course, all our sessions are fun-filled, practical and full of activities but this one turned out to be something special. From the offset we realized that we were dealing with smart, enthusiastic and ambitious students. They almost certainly are going to end up right at the top in any career of their choice. Their questions were detailed, thoughtful and insightful. Their comments were crisp, accurate and thought provoking. Their enthusiasm and energy unparalleled. 

Our initial concern was waved off and their confident and pin point reply to our skepticism resonated around the room- 'What Saturday morning blues? We're always ready to learn!'  And then it struck us- these kids have two things which we, individually and as a society, really need - (a) Curiosity and, (b) the Will to Succeed. You almost certainly cannot teach that! It almost felt that by the end of the session we learnt as much, if not more, than this bunch of exemplary, future leaders!

Thank you to all the students who were present for an absolutely wonderful time and an even bigger thanks to the management, principal, teachers and staff of Bombay Scottish School (Powai) for giving us this opportunity. Can't think of a better way to spend a saturday morning :D

Here are some pics:








Saturday, August 24, 2013

Behind the scenes @ LAST-BENCH! : Website revamp


Behind the scenes is an 'inside look' into what is cooking at Last-Bench! Here you'll get to read about our current activity, future prospects, ‘under construction’ projects, brainstorming sessions, coffee breaks, 'whiteboard' drawings and lots more. Most importantly this is the perfect place to connect with our team and ask us about anything under the sun. It's almost as if you're right here with us! Feel free to comment, have a laugh and give us some useful feedback :)...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Abode, Amiable Abode!

Please forgive us if the title sounds a little fancy. It simply means: Home, Sweet Home. And before you judge us for being condescending, ostentatious, arrogant or pompous, let us explain. We have this ailment called 'Vocabititis'. (Symptoms include: bouts of using fancy words, being the go-to dictionary in your friend circle and suddenly being able to read Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor minus the constant word searches on Google). Simply put, since the inception of Easy Vocab, our vocabulary has become ... err... supercalifragilisticexpialidocious(Darn, again!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Improve Your Presentation Skills


“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”
-       Dale Carnegie

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Interview Prep Help: Tips to land THE job!

Great! You’ve just received an invitation for an interview. On paper, you’re the ideal fit for the vacant position at the organization. Brilliant! You’ve beaten 80% of applicants to get to this advanced stage and the podium (read: the coveted cubicle) is in sight. Wow! 

Well, we hate to break this to you; all that were the easy parts and the toughest task lies ahead. Yes you read right; the job is only half done. So what do you do next, right? Lets start with: continue reading…


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Corporate Training Video (demo): 'Giving Effective Feedback'

Check out our brand new corporate training video - 'Giving Effective Feedback'. 

(This video is a demo and we appreciate your feedback and comments. Look out for more such videos. Soon!)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Last-Bench! turns ONE...


Message from Rajeev:
I am truly excited as our startup turns one. I’d like to use this opportunity to quickly let you know what has transpired over the last one year and what you can expect from us in the future...