I'm a Social Media Entrepreneur, Professor of Digital Marketing, Author of 5 books, Podcaster and an Organic Farmer.


Kiruba Shankar

The Joy of Connecting People

Yesterday, I rediscovered the joy of connecting people. CK Ashok Kumar, the co-founder of the sachet revolution (of Chik shampoo fame) invited me to meet up with some very exciting friends of his. Here’s a few. Gowrishankar, Senior Director of Malaysian Blue Ocean Strategy Institute, Dr.Xavier Raj, Director of C.K.Prahalad Centre for Emerging India at Loyola College and Venky Rajendran, CEO of SellerGro. 

Fascinating discussion over a cuppa. I felt so motivated listening to the various projects they are working on. We were all strangers to each other but bonded so well over the meeting. 

Reminded me so much of ‘Cerebrate’, an event where I would bring interesting achievers together for two days of ideas pollination.

The Birth of Cerebrate

It’s just one day to go for the 3rd edition of Cerebrate, an event that aims to bring together achievers from different fields.

A lot of people ask me how did the idea of Cerebrate come about and what is its purpose. I figured it makes good sense to open my mind on this subject.

There are two bouts of inspiration that convinved me that hosting Cerebrate will be a life long fascination for me.

The first inspiration for Cerebrate came from Tim O’Reilly’s FooCamp. Every year he and his core team would selectively hand pick 300 achievers and thinkers from the field of technology and invite them for three days of camping and brainstorming. You just have to look at the photos of the event to realize how cool the event is. I loved the fact that people camp out on lawns and discussions happen in makeshift tents.

I also knew that I would never get invited to a FooCamp, no matter how much I really wanted to. Instead of brooding, I decided that the best alternative was to organize a similar event. Coincidentally, that was also the time when FooCamp spurned the idea of BarCamps and me and my friends went on to host BarCampChennai and a series of very successful niche Unconferences.

I became a huge fan of Wisdom of the Crowds and the organized chaos that an unconference brings. I loved the fact that anyone interested could attend and the ensuring high levels of active participation was brilliant.

However, no matter how much I loved unconferences, there were three areas that I felt wanting in them.

1) Because unconferences allow anyone to attend and talk, the signal to noise ratio can be high.

2) As unconferences became popular, the turnout would easily cross 200 people every time. This meant the time spent conversing with people would get diluted.

3) Niche unconferences like WikiCamps, BarCamps tend to attract people from the same field which meant there was no diversity.

While I will continue to be a big fan of Unconference and organize many new ones, I wanted to also explore the other end of the spectrum, which borders on eclectic elitism.

Can we not have fewer people, who are hand-picked for their brilliance? Can we not have people from diverse backgrounds?

That was how Cerebrate was born.

Now, we needed a good venue and could not have gotten a better partner than Club Mahindra. Ramesh Ramanathan, Managing Director, Aniruddha Haldar, Head of Marketing at Club Mahindra loved the concept. Arun Nair who is Sr.Manager of Online Marketing played a crucial role in conceptualizing and planning for the event.

The second inspiration, which reaffirmed my faith in Cerebrate, came in the form of TED. Ever since I saw the videos at TED.com, I was inspired. Much before I had the good fortune of being invited to TEDindia at Mysore and TEDActive at Palm Springs, I was convinced that bringing great minds from different fields is really the way to go. Organizing TEDxChennai was a fabulous experience and I realize the experience was great only because we started on a big hunt for great speakers and also achievers who would come in as Stars. ( the equivalent of TED Fellows). It gave this amazing opportunity to meet with people who are passionate about what they did, people who were extremely driven to excel and people who chose to walk on untrodden grounds.

I also realized that many of these people were not celebrities or people who the newspapers covered. Many of the passionate folks were relatively unknown and some even publicity shy. It was the process of unearthing such achievers and passionate folks that I quite enjoyed.

There are a few principles of Cerebrate that add aura to the event.

  • Every participant will be from an unique field. No two people will be from the same profession.
  • The event will always be a residential program, preferably at a venue that is away from cities.
  • There will be no audience.  The only people who will be in the event are the achievers. There won’t be ‘talks’ but conversations.
  • Participants are highly encouraged to leave their laptops, blackberrys behind. There won’t be newspapers or TV either. The focus is highly on people interaction.

We’ve had two editions so far and the third one is just around the corner.  The 2008 edition took place in Varca Beach resort of Club Mahindra in Goa. The 2009 edition took us to a fabulous location in Kumbalgarh, Rajasthan, again graciously hosted by Club Mahindra.   

2010 will see mulitple edition of Cerebrate and will also see it go international.  The 3rd edition will take place at the very picturesque Marg Tapovan, midway between Chennai and Pondicherry.   The 4th edition will move to Gangtok, Sikkim in April and the 5th edition will cross the oceans to Mount Madonna, a beautiful hill retreat in California, US.

Like I said, Cerebrate is a life-long journey to unearth and meet up with great people. Let me know if you would like to join in and help out in this awesome journey.

Cerebrate, the Event.

How do you encapsulate a dream close to your heart? How do you put three months of planning and preparations into words? How do you convey the three wonderful days you spent with some really bright folks? It’s always been a challenge. Words never seem to do justice describing things that I’m absolutely passionate about.

One such incident is Cerebrate. Almost a month after the event is over, here I am putting some of my thoughts together.

Cerebrate has been an idea two years in the making. Ever since I learnt about FooCamp and the fantastic people who gather together every year, I have always earned for such an event. Then I come across this fantastic event called TED, and my grouse and longing only grew bigger.

There’s no way I would either be invited to such an event as FooCamp or would I be able to afford the exorbitant fees of a TED. I also wondered why don’t such events ever happen in India. That’s when I decided that instead of waiting and wishing that someone does it, let’s roll up our sleeves and get it done ourselves. That’s how the event came to be.

So, what is Cerebrate? In simple terms, it’s getting the very best minds from different fields together for three days of togetherness, ideating and sharing knowledge. These are folks from Law, Movies, Technology, Theatre, Sports, Management, Photography, Medicine, Journalism, Music…. The only connecting factor amongst the lot is the excellence. These are folks who are driven and have achieved in their own chosen fields.

I’d like to encourage you guys to take a look at the key people who we invited for the first edition of Cerebrate. The event took place at the beautiful Club Mahindra Resort on Varca Beach. Club Mahindra have bought into the idea and have been generously helpful in supporting the event for the long term.

Here’s a quick picture log of the event.

The cap

Cerebrate in progress.

Eliciting a point.

The main essence has been the sharing of experiences and learning from one another.

Everyone engrossed in Sudhir’s bazooka of a camera. Learning the tricks of wildlife photography.

More togetherness.

Casual hallway conversations.

The outdoors ideation session.

That’s the view from one of the rooms. Fabulous pool.

One of the rooms.

Panoramic view of the ground

The Dune Shack on the Beach where we had our dinner.

View of the reception

Group snap before departure

Meeting Ray Ozzie and a Dream Team of Tech CEOs

Tomorrow, the Diya hall at Hotel Leela Palace, Bangalore will have the highest concentration of Intelligence and wealth per square inch. Thankfully, the Law of Averages in the form of my presence, will ensure that it’s brought down by half!

A select panel of 10 CEOs have been invited by NASSCOM for an exclusive round table with Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect. Or better known as the man who took Bill Gates’ place when he retired.

The invitees are:

1. Sharad Sharma, CEO Yahoo! R&D who is also the Session Chair & Moderator.

2. Ramalinga Raju, Founder & Chairman, Satyam Computers

3. Biren Ghosh, CEO Kahani World Inc.

4. Ashish Gupta, CoFounder and Managing Partner, Helion VC

5. Rajiv Mody, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Sasken Communications

6. Anand Deshpande, Founder Chairman and Managing Director, Persistent Technologies

7. Kiruba Shankar, Blogger, Columnist, CEO, Business Blogging, Founder, F5ive Tech.

8. Mohan C M, Chief Scientist, IBM India

9. Ravi Venkatesan, Chairman and Managing Director, Microsoft India

10. Ram Narayanan, Vice President, Yahoo! R & D

The discussion is going to be on the topic, ‘Is the Rise of SaaS an Opportunity for India?’ To me, the coincidence couldn’t have been any higher. Exactly the day before I got the invite (which was two weeks ago), I had scheduled ‘SaaS’ as the subject for my column in Business Standard for next week. I’ll just advance it now. I shouldn’t have any problem getting the best quotes!

Being a blogger, I’m the natural choice for being the guy who documents the meeting discussion. With such brilliant minds around, I’m going to be one busy ‘note taker’.

The round-table with Ray brings up my memories of a similar meeting with Kevin Turner, the COO of Microsoft. It took place almost exactly one year ago.

One of the big reason why I’m eagerly looking forward to the meeting is because I’ll get to meet 8 of the 10 people for the first time. The only people who I’ve met before are Sharad and Ravi Venkatesan. It’s always interesting connecing up with new people who have accomplished a lot in their life. (which has been the motivating factor for me to start Cerebrate.)