Dec 25, 2017

The FactorDaily Year in Review: Our best stories from 2017

BYJayadevan PK

We’re a little over 2 years old now. When we started out in 2016, the media landscape was turbid: business models were in shambles, thanks to the internet and social media. People’s trust in the press was at the lowest, due credit goes to content companies masquerading as journalism outfits and also a growing disregard for facts. Platforms and algorithms were are winning the battle for your attention– no surprises there because they spend billions of dollars researching how to make you click.
Based on our learnings from our first year, in August this year, we started doing fewer but deeper stories. In essence, it’s slow, deliberate journalism. This meant giving everything we have to those stories right from selecting and debating an idea to spending significant resources on reporting. This also meant giving up on the fleeting rush of traffic spikes that come when you win the race to churn out a story as quickly as you can.
We’ve done great profiles, broken stories much ahead of others, covered issues in depth and we like to believe that our journalism made a difference in 2017 without adding to the noise. Our readership has grown and we’ve been able to catalyze big debates about things that matter in the world of technology. We’ve maintained our reputation for truth and accuracy, made and accepted mistakes and kept up with our code of conduct and journalism standards.
This year’s news cycle was dominated by the crypto rush, artificial intelligence, data science and companies like Amazon and WhatsApp making big moves in India. We also saw Reliance Jio grabbing a big share of the market, Flipkart and Ola raising more capital than ever before and big automakers take steps to futureproof their business. The coming year, we hope to add to our coverage by going deeper in these areas and also by adding a few carefully picked topics to our list of obsessions.
We’re taking a break from publishing until January 1st, 2018 to plan our editorial calendar for 2018. This means tracking major events, identifying trends and people and also scoping out the news cycle. If you aren’t a subscriber to our daily briefs on e-mail, go ahead and sign up here. As usual, if you have suggestions for us, write to us through this form. Our WhatsApp channel is open for you to talk to us and also subscribe to instant alerts.
Now, onto our best stories from 2017.

All-time hits


These stories aren’t necessarily the biggest page view spinners. These stories are on this list because we believe they are important and in the interest of greater good. They are also deep, thought-provoking and tightly packed with insights.
The curious story of Amit Bhardwaj and how he made millionaires and fools of Bitcoin investors: This story by Anand Murali and Josey Puliyenthuruthel delves deep into the Ponzi-like scheme in the world of cryptocurrencies. In the months that transpired, Bhardwaj’s precarious, shady empire has come crashing down and investors lost money. Our readers were better informed.
Sexual misconduct in India’s startup ecosystem: Less than a week after FactorDaily ran its story on sexual misconduct allegations against Mahesh Murthy, the partner at venture capital firm Seedfund, dating back to 2003, several other women came up with their horrifying experiences that show he continued with inappropriate conduct until at least last year.
The last picture you’ll ever take: Between 2014 and 2016, 76 people died clicking selfies in India — more than half the total number of such deaths reported worldwide during the same period. In 2017, at least 11 lives have been lost in selfie-related accidents in India. What explains this disturbing trend? From survivors of a tragic selfie accident to academics researching the trend, we go deep to find out.
The making of Girish Mathrubootham: How he used lessons from his troubled childhood and early entrepreneurial failures to build Freshdesk, one of India’s fastest growing product startups. Can he make all this count? Pankaj Mishra profiles Mathrubootham.
Who is Shyam Divan, and why is he at the forefront of the Aadhaar battle?: Sunny Sen’s timely profile on Shyam Divan, the lawyer who fought one of the most important battles in the interest of privacy in India is also one of our best stories. It was also published in Mumbai Mirror’s print edition dated 25 August 2017, a day after India’s historic judgment upholding privacy as a fundamental right.

Crypto Rush

When we cover a beat, we try and report on people, trends and stories that matter. And we keep at it. Last year, we saw a cryptocurrency boom (it’s still booming). While the gold rush is underway, we wrote about the folks who make the shovels and pickaxes, the prospectors and profiteers and also the trends that shaped the world of cryptocurrencies. Here’s a look at some of our best stories.
Inside the fabulous life of bitcoin crorepati Akshay Haldipur: It’s even more fabulous now. When we wrote about him, Bitcoin was about $2500. Now it’s over $11500. Many Bitcoin owners won’t tell you how many they own. It’s like asking how much money you have in your bank. Which is what makes this story by Sriram Sharma even more interesting.
Crypto mining, the money-spinner hobby catching on in India: A look at India’s growing community of cryptocurrency miners who are investing in expensive mining rigs, all in the hopes of making money in the highly volatile cryptocurrency market.
Can you file tax returns in India for gains from Bitcoin, cryptocurrency trades? One-tenth of trades in an asset class of over $120-billion market capitalization has an India connect. This is only Bitcoins. It’s the wild west out there and if you’re one of the 10%, you want to know how to book gains from Bitcoins without being on the wrong side of the law.
Day traders log in from homes far and wide in India to ride the crypto rush: Meet the early band of day traders from India playing the cryptocurrency market. Unlike cryptocurrency mining, trading does not involve generating the coins which need brute computing force.
ICOs make a beeline for India but will they continue rocketing off the charts? Can’t talk about cryptocurrencies without talking about ICOs can you? Here’s the lowdown on what’s happening in India.


As India goes digital, cyber threats are growing. We tracked some of the major developments in the business of information security. Here are some of our best stories from 2017.
Move over darknet, WhatsApp is where India’s new digital black market is at: Unknown to most of us, WhatsApp black market groups facilitating illegal trading in one-time passwords, carding scams and other dodgy activities are proliferating in India, giving rise to the social media parallel of the darknet. These are the early days of WhatsApp black markets and very few people, including security experts, know about them
How data brokers track your digital footprint, and profit from it: Your data is for sale. E-mail IDs, phone numbers, addresses, everything is available at a price. In this story, Sriram Sharma reaches out to data brokers who will sell you information for very little: The selling price for details on 10,000 HNIs from Bengaluru was Rs 2,000. One lakh contacts would cost about Rs 7,000.
Anand Prakash, India’s bug bounty champ, wants to create a HackerOne rival: He just turned 24, and he is already way richer than most people in his cohort. One of India’s highest-paid bug bounty hunters and a gig economy hero, Prakash’s life revolves around getting payouts from tech companies for responsibly disclosing exploits and vulnerabilities on their websites and/or software products.

Intelligently yours

Artificial intelligence is upon us. This is not the first time we’ve been told that. But this time around, an abundance of data and computing power has made it easier for machines to mimic humans in many ways. So much so that scientists fear that many jobs will be wiped out because of artificial intelligence and automation. We’ve been chronicling India’s tryst with this new technology, sometimes equated with electricity, through our stories. Here goes.
Here’s why India is likely to lose the AI race: Grammarly, a Valley-based spell check tool raised more dollars than all of India’s AI startups put together in the past three and a half years. There’s an arms race of sorts going on in the space with China, United States and many countries investing seriously into AI. Is India anywhere close? We took a look.
Indian task force wants to ease AI into its society, not disrupt its people: Soon after our story on India lagging the AI race, the government set up a task force to study and make recommendations on AI can impact India. We spoke to the members of the task force to get a sense of what it is going to be like.
This AI pathologist could be a life-saver for India’s ailing diagnostics sector:  Kūrma is the brainchild of Sigtuple, an artificial intelligence (AI) startup looking to solve problems of medical diagnosis and treatments in India. Kurma is named after an avatar of Vishnu in Hindu mythology who supported a mountain on his back as gods and demons churned an ocean looking for the nectar of immortality.
A Market map of India’s AI startups: We collated all the top-funded startups from the country that are harnessing AI in their respective verticals from enterprise to consumer-focused startups, from robotics to computer vision, from speech to predictive analytics, and other sectors.
You have a destiny and AI knows it: “Alexa, what am I doing tomorrow?” Tinder, jumping in: There’s someone down the street you might be attracted to. She’s also attracted to you. You both like the same band, and it’s playing — would you like me to buy you tickets? If Tinder’s CEO is to be believed, that’s love in five years. Looks like artificial intelligence (AI) will soon have our future by the balls — quite literally.

Let’s get down to business

We dedicated a lot of our time last year tracking technology companies that impact Indians. That includes big platforms like Facebook, Google and Amazon and a handful of startups at the cutting edge of technology. Our corporate coverage, a mix of features and newsbreaks, are slowly becoming the staple for the intelligent business readers looking to stay ahead of the curve. Here’s a selection of our best stories from 2017.
Unified Payments Interface: This new set of APIs launched by the Indian government took off in 2017, drawing interest from startups and big companies like Amazon, Google, WhatsApp and others. In November, over 100 million transactions worth over $1.5 billion were carried out over the UPI. Talk about hockey stick growth. We wrote about how WhatsApp in-chat payments feature is bad news for digital wallets, payment companies in India and also how Uber is bullish about UPI 2.0; WhatsApp, Google, Amazon and others are doubling down on it, too.
How Google is priming its Next Billion ambition in India — and the backstory of why the search giant is in such a tough place: Large tech companies from Silicon Valley often suffer from acute tunnel vision – seeing the world’s problems in a narrow, unidimensional way. Google has had its own challenges in India, too. With Pichai, who was born in Madurai and earned his spurs in Kharagpur, at the helm of the search giant and co-slide maker Sengupta heading up Google’s Next Billion Users Initiative, will Google be able to deliver blockbuster products this time?
Free to profits: How Jio, Mukesh Ambani’s $30bn startup, will make returns :2017 was also the year Reliance Jio launched it’s free (well almost), feature (well almost smart) phone in India. It was also the year incumbent telecom operators fought back. Sunny Sen takes a close look at the Jio empire being built by India’s richest man.
Death of a Unicorn: Inside the fall of Snapdeal, once a $6.5 bn startup :Question: How did Snapdeal, once among India’s top two contenders to ecommerce dominance, flame out so spectacularly over less than 12 months?
The backstory of Alexa’s Indian makeover: desi, agnostic, politically independent and… work in progress: Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant and India was the fourth country where it was launched. The e-commerce company has ambitions to put Alexa into everything. Into your phones. Into your cars. Throughout your home. And even into hotels and offices.

The Weekenders

New Worlds Weekly

Our weekend science fiction column, The New Worlds Weekly, has been running successfully for over a year now. It is not so much a critical look at sci-fi as a literary genre as it is a place where we introduce readers to the world of science fiction. This is essential reading for today’s technologists and businessmen looking far into the future. Here are the top 3 from New Worlds Weekly.
‘Dear Ravana, You May Keep Seetha’: The story of Satyajit Ray’s unmade sci-fi classic, The Alien: Oftentimes, the best stories (read, the really interesting, spicy ones) are not the ones that are told within the pages of a book or on the screen. This is one of them.
The Three-Body Problem deserves to be at the top of your to-read list: It’s not often – in fact, this is probably a first – that a translated novel, let alone a Chinese sci-fi novel, has won the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel. It has also been a nominee/finalist for other big SF/F awards like the Nebula, Prometheus, Locus, and John W. Campbell Award. And yes, the inevitable ‘movie based on’ is in the works in China. So it is really worth all this fuss and your time?
The Girl With All The Gifts: A modern zombie classic: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” If the line sounds familiar, it is because it is from the classic Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. The timeless opening line of this classic regency romance, now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem, just plays up to our modern conception of zombies as un-dead ‘people’ (creatures?) lusting after brains (and living human flesh). Blood reserved for vampires.


The idea was to bring great conversations with Outliers to the Indian audience through podcasts. The format allows us to go deep into a subject and keep things fluid. With nearly 50 episodes under his belt, Pankaj Mishra continues his streak of meeting outliers and gleaning insights from conversations with them. The top 3 episodes are listed here. For a full list, go here.
Naval Ravikant – A monk in the Valley, tells us he’s ruthless about time: In this episode of Outliers, Naval Ravikant of AngelList talks about philosophical life lessons based on his own entrepreneurial journey and his observation of several founders and investors over the years.
Why Sridhar Vembu shunned VC money for Zoho: Sridhar Vembu of Zoho tells Pankaj Mishra why he shunned VC money, and why he respects speed limits in growing his company.
Wingify’s Paras Chopra on bootstrapping his startup from zero to $18m revenue: There’s something fascinating about the entrepreneurs who stay away from the VC funding frenzy and quietly build their startups one baby step at a time.

News Fix

News can be tricky. Some stories develop fast and come true. Sometimes, they don’t pan out the way you write it. Last year we had the inside scoop on some of the biggest companies and stories. For instance, we said that Flipkart was going to acquire eBay India and raise $2 billion in funding. That came true. We also said that Amazon is launching its AI-powered Echo in India by Diwali. That came true as well. We reported on Reliance Jio’s big move away from Kai OS and a possible partnership with Google along with other stories on Jio, which is disrupting India’s telecom market.


India’s big data hunt for cures to its mental, aging-related diseases:The 300 million Indians older than 60 years by 2050 will owe it big time to a team of scientists, psychiatrists, and local health professionals in Kolar today. It is prospecting for gold of a different kind: data on how Indians grow old.
Google’s Internet Missionaries: Some 35,000 ‘internet saathis’ have brought 11.5 million Indian women online. The catch: the wards are taught only use of Google products.
Monster warehouses and hyperlocal logistics: How Amazon is doubling down on delivery in India: Amazon’s FCs are not like regular godowns of yesteryear India. They are the 21st-century creation that depicts size, scale and technology of the self-acclaimed most customer-centric company of the world, which since its inception in 1994 has been based on three tenets: selection and pricing, fast and reliable delivery, and a trusted shopping experience.
Big Billion Grin: How Flipkart, under CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy, sailed through its Big Billion Days 2017 sale and looks stronger on technology, selection and affordability.
Hana Mohan: Prateek Dayal used to be an angry man, a struggling entrepreneur, confused husband and fervent technologist. Till one day, he finally said “fuck you” to the system. He was sick of listening to the system and living by its rules. Here’s his her story.
The CAT whisperer: So what is it about Byju’s that attracts some of the world’s most discerning investors? Is Byju’s the next startup unicorn — a company valued over $1 billion? How is Byju’s a disruptor in a market which has been dominated by offline players for decades?


Indian space research lost a top scientist this year. Udupi Ramachandra Rao passed away in July. In perhaps what was his last interview to the press, he expressed his wishes that India should go on a manned mission to Mars someday. Here’s the full interview.
Two of our other stories we loved writing was how IISc Bangalore scientists are experimenting with drone seed-bombing, and hope to plant a forest and also the efforts at IIT, Madras to build an indigenous processor.
That’s it from us for now. We hope to bring you better stories in 2018.

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Jayadevan PK is a writer of FactorDaily.