| Log in

Book Review: Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

22 October, 2008

Book title: Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

Author: Rashmi Bansal

Publisher: CIIE

Price: Rs 125

Writing books in India is a mug’s game. The economics of publishing is stacked up so heavily against the writers that hardly one in ten makes any money. The advance and royalty receipts often barely cover travel and logistics expenses if it is a work of non-fiction. Nevertheless, people with intellectual pretensions and journalists in particular, with literary ambitions are drawn to book writing like moth to fire.

Broadly, four categories of books seem to stand the best chance of monetary success in India today. An exceptional, and widely acclaimed work of fiction such as Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things; Shobha De’s soft porn (she marches on despite Literotica.com, Asstr.org and a million other virtual avenues of orgasm, but we digress); “inclusive” fiction of the Chetan Bhagat variety (Five Point Some One and A Night at A Call Center) that is nothing but a puerile and pedestrian potboilers.

Its sells because the plots revolve around, and reach out to the new Indian army of jocks who are trained to write complex computer codes better than a simple, grammatically correct sentence; and the fourth of course is corporate hagiographies.

The Mumbai-based media entrepreneur and journalist Rashmi Bansal, it appears, has cracked the formula. Her recent book Stay Hungry Stay Foolish is the story of 25 graduates of India’s Harvard, IIM Ahmedabad (IIM-A), who chose to become entrepreneurs, shunning the more conventional and comfortable option of high-paying corporate jobs.

Now, IIM-A is Bansal’s alma mater as well, and that explains several things—not just her business acumen. In writing this book, she is clearly inspired by Chetan Bhagat who incidentally went to IIM-A as well. Bansal wants to be the Bhagat of business writing. Imitation is the best form of flattery, but she could surely have included Bhagat in her personal pantheon of 25.

What we get in this book are 25 egregious hagiographic personality profiles. They are so poorly researched and written that some of the book’s protagonists who happen to be voracious readers, more than competent writers and have a feel for the written word, might feel a bit funny reading the book.

Bansal’s maiden effort is published by the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship, that is part of IIM-A and funded by the Government of Gujarat, Government of India’s Department of Science and Technology and a clutch of other private donors. That means even taxpayers’ money could have gone into this showcasing of mediocrity.

Within five exasperating minutes of reading the book, you wonder what Bansal was trying to achieve. Is this an alumni diary, or an end-of-college scrapbook where you write nostalgic non-sense about all your classmates? The book is replete with acronyms and jargons that you can’t figure out if you haven’t attended IIM-A. Sanjiv Bhikchandani, the founder of Naukri.com describing his IIM-A days says, “I took a few courses like LEM and PPID.” Crack the CAT, go to an IIM and figure it out for yourself, dear sorry reader.    

All profiles in the book read the same. Nearly 20 of the 25 IIM-grads written about have similar stories to tell. “Parents were bureaucrats. I drifted in to IIM-A. Hated the prospect of a cosy life as an MNC exec; stumbled on great idea (it was some form of market research for almost everybody), and here I am as an owner of multi million dollar business.”

You read one, you’ve read all. All her 25 characters are so poorly fleshed making you wonder if this book is a result of a pre-formatted market research questionnaire. She has made very little effort to speak to family members, friends or even venture capitalists who funded these entrepreneurs for an insight into their success.

The chapter eulogizing Deep Kalra, the founder of the online travel portal Makemytrip starts thus: “Deep Kalra is your average Delhi Dude. Deep grew up in a typical private sector home; very comfortable. But it was very clear from the beginning – agar kuch banana hai to khud he banana hai.” Since the book is primarily a regurgitation of quotes, and plain transcript of interview tapes, it makes these IIM-A grads, and highly successful businessmen sound extremely inarticulate, nave and inelegant.

And Bansal it appears was a little confused about the choice of language for her book. After every second sentence written in English she feels compelled to break into Hindi. Sample this entrepreneurship mantra: Find something you want to do, that you are passionate about and paisa to koi na koi dega. Unless it’s a stupid idea!

Clearly, no one at IIM-A taught Bansal how to “expand the franchise”.  She doesn’t want you if you live south of the Vindhyas. The best thing about the book however is its very affordable price. Bansal has also resisted the temptation of packing the book with tech entrepreneurs, as over the last decade or so, they have been the most lionized.

The selection is a nice mix of the old and the sunrise businesses. There’s a hotelier, a water tank maker, a drug maker, a sugar baron, and even social sector entrepreneurs alongside the better-know IT and internet guys. If you are a B-school students, willing to mine deep, and of a tolerant disposition towards poor turns of phrase, you could possibly find some case study worthy material in the book.

The idea of writing a book on successful products of an iconic higher educational institution is not an original one. Bansal would have done well to read Teresa Esser’s book Venture Café that was published sometime in 2000. Esser, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate herself, tells the story high-tech entrepreneurs whose journey started at the Muddy Charles pub located inside the MIT campus. Its easy narrative, rigourous reporting and research not only made Venture Café an engrossing read, it was a primer for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Closer home, there was Sandipan Deb’s excellent book The IITians a few years back that tried to explain what made IITians such outstanding achievers across the globe. (Disclosure: Deb is the editor of the publication I work for.)

The English department at San Jose State University sponsors the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. If it chose to include non-fiction, and consider an entire book instead of just the opening sentence for the silverware, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish would be an entry incredibly hard to beat.

TR Vivek is the business editor of Talk, a news weekly soon to be launched by the RPG Group. You can write to him at trvivek@gmail.com.


View Comments
BookAdda acquires K12-focused books e-tailer KoolSkool

BookAdda acquires K12-focused books e-tailer KoolSkool

Sainul K Abudheen 4 years ago
Bangalore-based Ishita Technologies Pvt Ltd, the company behind BookAdda, an...
Learning from the Gurus of Chaos

Learning from the Gurus of Chaos

Saurabh Mukherjea 3 years ago
Ananth Padmanabhan named CEO of HarperCollins India

Ananth Padmanabhan named CEO of HarperCollins India

PTI 2 years ago
Publishers HarperCollins India today named Ananth Padmanabhan from Penguin...
25 Comments
Anuradha . 6 years ago

Thanks for a honest view, unlike most people who think you are allowed to say only positives.

Nilanjan . 6 years ago

There was an interesting study about Harvard Business School graduates – tracking their career progression over 25 years. The study was made into a book. I remember a core finding was that folks who worked in smaller companies had a far higher net worth and job satisfaction compared to their Fortune 500 counterparts.

Perhaps this book was inspired by that original study.

These studies/ books would be more interesting if the human factor is laid bare – e.g. by also covering their personal lives. Else a lot can be ‘PR speak’.

A . 6 years ago

Really appreciate someone lambasting the book. Such a golden opportunity of capturing the lives and travails of 25 great businessmen has been laid waste.

Rather than just writing what the interviewee said, it would have been great if she had made an effort to flesh out the story from various different perspectives. The other issue is the varying lengths of the the write-up of the interviewees – the more gregarious ones command longer write-ups as opposed to the more taciturn ones.

Hopefully someone will do this better!

Akshay . 6 years ago

My dear friend, please do your background research befroe writing. Stay hungry, stay foolish is what Steve Jobs had said in his address to the graduation ceremony of an Ivy League college. What he meant was that one shouldn’t let success get to your head.

“If it chose to include non-fiction, and consider an entire book instead of just the opening sentence for the silverware, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish would be an entry incredibly hard to beat”

It would be a great title for a book that was well written, and I suspect that this review would then eulogize the title.

Srinivas . 6 years ago

I not only like your thoughts on the book but also the breadth of analysis you have provided that touches upon what could have been done better while citing other meaningful references and examples. Great job!

k s manojkumar . 6 years ago

You are completely of the mark when you say that Rashmi is inspired by Chetan Bhagat. She will be fuming with anger when she reads this. Anybody who has read Chidanand Rajghatta’s The Horse That Flew way back in 2001. [ Harper Collins India, ] will know how much Rashmi liked his book. Compared to Stay hungry, Chidanand has churned out a tomb, and covers each entrepreneur in great detail, and thankfully he hasn’t limited himself to IITs and IIMs grads. In fact there are some B coms as well who have been mentioned. The title, you would appreciate is quit imaginative. No one, including Dewang Mehta knew how much the IT sector would rein in for India, when they walked up to lobby to Venkat, the then secretary for electronics for some tax rebates. He quoted a fantastic figure, imagining who knows what would happen – the horse would actually fly – and it did we now know.

Suresh . 6 years ago

I liked the book a lot for capturing in a nutshell the expriences of so many entrepreneurs from such diverse industries and backgrounds. One good insight that I could draw was : IIM-A has some of the best and most intelligent people around but they could manage to set up only 25 (or may be max 100-200) small firms. So, intelligence and academic record don’t seem to have great correlation with entrepreneurship.

Abhi . 6 years ago

“Its sells because the plots revolve around, and reach out to the new Indian army of jocks who are trained to write complex computer codes better than a simple, grammatically correct sentence; and the fourth of course is corporate hagiographies.”

And yet there are THREE glaring errors of grammar in this sentence. “Its sells”, “computer codes” (‘code’ is the plural in the computing context pls!) and “is corporate hagiographies” instead of ‘are’ or ‘hagiography’

Well, considering this is the guy who lambasted bloggers in ‘Outlook’ magazine for lack of journalistic accuracy and then went on to get CBS News’ Dan Rather’s name wrong in the SAME article, I’m not surprised.

Viraj thakkar . 6 years ago

I really liked the book and it is definately not a time waste..Rashmi perhaps wanted to write a small affordable inspirational book and not the big Business Geeta consisting of 100s of case studies in detail..And within just around 300 pages book how much more information you think Rashmi could provide us!And even the price matters,which should be reasonable enough that all youngsters whome the book targets and who are always short of money can buy it without any hesitation..And the book definately inspires you and clearly transmits its core message which is the most important thing..

Viraj Thakkar . 6 years ago

I really liked the book and it is definately not a time waste..Rashmi perhaps wanted to write a small affordable inspirational book and not the big Business Geeta consisting of 100s of case studies in detail..And within just around 300 pages book how much more information you think Rashmi could provide us!And even the price matters,which should be reasonable enough that all youngsters whome the book targets and who are always short of money can buy it without any hesitation..And the book definately inspires you and clearly transmits its core message which is the most important thing..

IRC . 6 years ago

I am a student of one of India’s top 4 B-Schools…and entrepreneurship is something that is being heavily stressed here in our school..hence i took up this book and thought that this would provide me with the necessary impetus to jump into the entreprener bandwagon..but after reading a few chapters I wondered what was in Rashmi’s mind…was it to aggrandize IIM-A brand or to earn some quick bucks..as the author of this post points out the stories have no heart in them..the stories are just plain-jane narratives without any punch whatsoever..i would have rather preferred 2 or 3 stories with a greater effort..if someone really wants to pick this book to get an insider’s view of 1st generation entrepreneurs I would sincerely suggest him to get of Infosys’ story..A BIG THUMBS DOWN for this book

Sudeep . 6 years ago

I really liked the book as it provided information about the people who took the road less travelled and were able to realize their dreams.The book could have presented the views of the people who were in some respect connected with these entrepeuners but overall the book is a good read.

Srinivasa Rao . 6 years ago

It was an interesting subject and good effort on the subject of “going own”.It also obviously shows the prepardness of all the students at IIM A to take up new ventures.It majorly discussed about the macro picture of these individual journeys.It would be good if a series of non IIMA’s who made thier Big business organisations which is a entirely different platform..

Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish..

Anish . 6 years ago

This book is by far the worst book I have read the whole year. I cant’t even believe she want to IIM A; the Harvard of India. Reading her book you would wonder how she even managed to pass out of the institute. Prob the SC/ST Quota?

Himanshu Sheth . 6 years ago

There is a lot of hype around IIM(s) and IIT(s). Rather than reading this book, Entrepreneur Journey’s by Sramana Mitra is a very good read. Rest all is hype since she is also from IIM and IIM(ers) are interviewed in the book…Time to switch to the next book guys 🙂

-Himanshu Sheth

neeraj . 6 years ago

Like an econmist has no economy to run and a critic has no audience. While I was browsing through the post which seems to be very high on the search results(Stay Hungr..), it appears that this critic has made up his mind, and really has got lost in his own prose. Thankfully I am not making up my mind on the sunject of this book basis just a few blog posts. I did read up this week’s India Today that mentioned this has become one of the largest sellers! Like I said an econmist has no economy to run and a critic has no audience. Anyway if it is so terrible I must read it!

Roshu . 6 years ago

I really liked the title of the book- very different and good.

I truely admit with the critic as the topic which the author has chosen is good but she is not able to convince the audience that all 25 stories are different.The reasearch for this book was not done to the level of writing a book. It is more like front page of newspaper article where word limit is a contraint and you just have to convery a brief idea and not a story to the readers.

Mayank . 6 years ago

no way the book is an insoiration for young readers and has many flaws:

1)almost every story is the same.

2)almost every entrepreneur mentioned in it bachelored from stephen’s, hindu, iit-d,k,… etc.so its hard for the aspirants who are from relatively less known colleges to get inspired from it.on the contrary it could pull their spirit down.

3)there could have been more publically known faces like harsha bhogle,chetan bhagat,etc from different fields.

Rajendra . 6 years ago

Nice book for the first timers to read on to get started. Irrespective of the language, depth or any thing the book conveys the ideas crisply in few pages and that’s the essence of the book.

I liked reading all the 25 stories, which were all equally interesting to make a hit movie out of them.

Ashish Abrol . 6 years ago

I haven’t read the book but I’m glad I read your review. I trust the Rs.125 could be better spent on a serving of dosa with extra sambhar than a book that seemingly celebrates mediocrity.

I hope India’s tryst with destiny had coincided with its quest for excellence. As a people, we seem to embrace mediocrity as if it were a destination in itself. Another disturbing example of it is that a leading VC (probably from IIM-A) has written an article on “Jugaad” on this website. Instead of writing an obituary for Jugaad, he is infact eulogizing it. The point I wanted to make is that Bansal’s indifference to research, quality and old fashioned respect for the consumer (readers in the case of Bansal) that you have so beautifully captured in your review is not limited to the publishing world. It is an epidemic that seems to have seeped deep into our DNA. It is about time that our 5000 year old culture realized that the pursuit of banality cannot be the crowning jewel of any culture.

Ashish Abrol

avi . 6 years ago

i enjoyed reading this book. more for the reason i knew exactly what it contained and what my expectation were from the book. it has a very informal writing to it and at no point it tries to be something it is not. and people who were expecting to get some insight into how to become an entrepreneur after reading this book – you are already a looser for even having such a stupid thought. by reading the autobiography of warren buffet you will never get an iota close to him. so get over it. the book has chosen its protagonist very carefully and the best part of the book is its reasserts the notion that its never too late to give it a shot at being an entrepreneur. so if u thinking of A Roy or Salman Rushdie like writing’s and get disappointed after reading it; its your fault because this book never tried to be one.

Nikhil . 6 years ago

To Anish,

Whatever about the book but dude you have by way no right to talk about any QUATA…..next time mind your language please !

Bhim . 6 years ago

I have read this book and throughly enjoyed all the stories. its very enspiring and encouraging for first time enterprenuers.

Thanks

Bhim

Rijo . 6 years ago

The book is written in Indianese, the language in Chetan Bhagat also writes. We Indians love mediocrity. Lazy research is our hallmark.

Col Ramesh Pathak ( Retd ) . 6 years ago

I liked the book and it’s easy, racy conversational style. The true stories are a ‘ must read ‘ for inspiration to any budding entrepreneurs.

There are quite a few who could, perhaps be included, in the next edition or in the ” Second Helping.” Arun Wakhlu, who has stretched the envelope in the Management Training space to create a niche, through ” Pragati Leadership Institute ( Pvt ) Ltd,” and ” Pragati Foundation ” may be included along with many more.

Book Review: Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

Powered by WordPress.com VIP