Working with markdown and gitbook

working with markdown and gitbook

For those of you who don’t know yet, I have shifted tracks to heading a tech team in a start-up. This firm focuses on helping first time home buyers with the largest hurdle in home buying, the down payment. HomeCapital is India’s first home down payment assistance program.

At HomeCapital, one of the immediate challenges that I had to face was to understand a myriad of requirements from speaking to the operations team, to the business analysts, to the developers, to some of the customers and even to some of our investors.

Since, the approach is that of a technology platform, it also means that the team had to start worrying about multiple systems all at once. Deciding to move away from one huge monolithic system to a micro-services based architecture was natural.

How does one manage loads of Micro-services?

A major challenge with a spread of micro-services was that the management overhead of systems went up. Different services were in different repos, in different languages and hosted in different methods. Yes, there was an API gateway on top to present a uniform access method for all, but the code management and documentation was a challenge.

Thankfully most popular versioning systems have solved the code management issue. One of the first steps I initiated with this was using the README.md to quickly jot down what the service is supposed to do, and how it functions. This was created more from the point of a new team member who wants to get started with the respective service. You need to be comfortable with Markdown for this. I’ll get to markdown in a minute, but this was a great starting point for me to understand what a developer really needs in the documentation.

As a person overseeing multiple services, it was essential for my team members to quickly pick up the bare essentials and use the documentation available. Having a small entry point in the repo is a perfect way to give access without creating too formal a structure. My choice of working with markdown was made.

What is Markdown?

In case if you do not know what this is, then you mostly haven’t edited a wiki. Markdown language is a super lightweight language that allows one to quickly convert the text into a rich formatted document (such as HTML, PDF, etc). To read more about this, head on to the Wiki on Markdown.

Try practicing using Markdown for some time and you will realize its almost as simple as using notepad or gedit to take down your notes. It also helps you to create a more complex structure and is super flexible for future use-cases.

Generating a usable README.md

For those of you who want to try this out, hop on to Make a README and see the basic placeholder sections needed to make a developer friendly file.

I had by this time quickly written these files and was happy that at least I had some formal documentation available in a system that was fast growing. A side note here – <rant> In most rapidly evolving systems, people often take decisions that they regret later on. This technical debt although is meant to be avoided, but often it just can’t be avoided. As long as you are willing to come back and clear the debt, it’s fine. You could re-think your approach and do it faster in a correct fashion – but then you need to be a lot more mature and I just don’t see that developer maturity yet. This side note will need to be expanded into a separate post of it’s own </rant>

What to do with a cart load of README.md files?

Quickly, I had many individual standalone files sparsely connected to each other. While this was sufficient for a developer to get started, this did not fully cover the breadth and width of the system.

This is where my past experience of working with the WordPress India community helped. The community is building an independent document made of such .md files using gitbook. Gitbook used to be a CLI based command that you could install on your machine and use to build a developer website. This using the very .md files that I now had.

At the time of writing this post, the gitbook CLI is available on npm, however, do note that the site now talks about a version 2, which is not a CLI based offer but is more of a SaaS product with a freemium offering. You could also look at some other alternatives to do this, but the ease of use of the gitbook CLI is to be applauded.

How to get started with gitbook?

  1. Head on to the npm page for gitbook-cli and install this first.
  2. Create a new folder and in the console hit gitbook init
  3. Answer the questions and create your first markdown file
  4. In the console hit gitbook serve and in your browser go to http://localhost:4000
  5. That’s it

Core concepts

Keep in mind the following things –

  • The SUMMARY.md maps to the sidebar on the left hand side. This can be styled and the content of this file pretty much decides the navigation of your gitbook
  • gitbook is extendable through the config file – book.json, not just in look and feel, but also using plugins. My must plugins are – ["collapsible-chapters","insert-logo","image-captions","tbfed-pagefooter","copy-code-button","ga","sitemap","mermaid-gb3"]
  • Create sub-folders for different modules/services
  • Have a list of all entry points in SUMMARY.md
  • Maintain a CHANGELOG.md to have a history of major changes made
  • When a particular module becomes more complex, divide that into more parts and put those parts into nested folders. Do not forget to update the links in the respective .md files
  • Make the respective indents in the SUMMARY.md file as well

Building your gitbook

You can even host this somewhere (such as an S3 bucket or a static hosting). Simply execute the following command –

gitbook build

This will create a new _book folder in your gitbook folder. Host this as the static site.

That’s all there is to it. A simple and easy way to manage an evolving set of markdown files using gitbook.

Ego

Disclaimer: This is a personal post, and you may want to skip this if you are here for technical or functional posts.

I was right. I was certain that I was. The other person had made a couple of good points, and was adamant on a couple of them. However, I knew in my heart that I was on the path of the righteous.

There was no way I would step back or give in when I was correct. In fact I deserved an apology and that made me the aggrieved. That gave me more drive to fight back and ask for what is mine.

Like a crusader who has no regrets, I trod on this path. Bludgeoning any and everyone who stood before me. Until, I hit a wall. This wall was another person … just as correct as I was, just as bull headed as I was.

What happens when a force that cannot be stopped hits an object that cannot be moved?

Popular pulp fiction :)

A clash of egos

Now, I am no stranger to being firm and having my way … and I love a good debate. Hence, it was pretty easy to get into this big fight.

At the end, both the sides were injured, feeling dejected and had wasted a good time and resources. That was when it struck me.

A clash of egos is always a pyrrhic victory. You end up resenting. Period.

What’s another alternative?

As ridiculous it may sound, empathy is a great alternative. Put yourself in the shoes of the other and see the world.

If there is a solution, try to come up with one using this perspective. If there truly is no other alternatives and it indeed is a conflict of interests, perhaps it might make sense to keep egos aside and see what can be a win-win engagement.

Data, Reporting and doing what’s right

Data is being used to showcase that vaue has been generated. In order to do this, the most beautiful reports have to be eeked out. Now if you are a follower of Avinash Kaushik and don’t like data pukes, then you would be aghast at some of the reports that agencies in India tend to dish out.

I was, and 13 Llama Interactive was born out of that need to do better at both data driven marketing and reporting with transparency.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

If you’ve been providing paid marketing services to clients for any extended period of time, you know that every person you work with has a different level of online marketing knowledge. Some people might be experienced account managers, others might know basics, while others still might not know the industry at all. It can be easy…

via 5 Agency Reporting Tips to Prove Your Value to Clients — WordStream RSS Feed

Apparently “agency reporting” is a thing. This is where every week or every month, the agency that is handling the brand account (or the performance account if you may) sends across reams of PDFs (or excel sheets) that’s meant to prove that whatever hair brained plan that they had cooked up the last period has worked.

The most common method to justify existence is to keep throwing boatloads of data reports from all tools and then talk about worthless metrics. Each of these tools mentioned in the article that I have shared helps agencies do this at scale, effortlessly.

Is too much data a bad thing?

It can be. If all that data is leading to Analysis Paralysis … or if it leads to falling in love with data analysis itself and forgetting real business outcomes (the reason why you got money for funding the collection of all that data).

If no one is using this mountain of data for solving problems, then it’s better that the data not be collected at all.

Yes, you are letting go of possibilities, but so be it. The damage to the business by wasting resources on gathering more liabilities instead of assets is much worse.

That’s what creates a paradox. Should we or shouldn’t we collect data?

Here’s a great video from Superweek that makes the case pretty well.

Data the new Oil

Any analysis team would work day and night to justify the reason for their being. There are enough articles being shared on the internet on arriving at a Return on Investment for Analytics (RoIA). However, the main service that any of these teams did was to crunch business data into A-has. This hasn’t changed over the years, and a lot of analysts derive job satisfaction through this very hunt for the A-ha! from their audiences.

The switch to being a core business

Data and business analysis was until now a support function, which needed business data in order to thrive and be effective. Aside from very few models (those that sold business critical data such as ratings, organizational data, etc), the data was never used as the primary product.

There was always a pre-activity and an analysis activity for that data to be useful. However, over the years I am seeing that has changed. Data is now being presented and sold as the main product.

Data as the product

Those of you who know Bloomberg, Hoovers, S&P or CRISIL, would know that data as a product business model works. Now that you know the pattern, let’s take a look at how this business model works.

Data collection as a ancilliary service

There is one function of the business which works with the entire industry it is catering to, to collect data. This more often than not is made available as a freemium or free service.

Some examples of this would be – Alexa Certified metrics, Google Analytics, Walnut app, Swaggerhub, etc.

You get the general idea here. If a good product or service is offering you a free plan, more often than not the data you are entering on that platform would be mused for multiple usecases. Not just for your primary use case.

Data aggregation and visualization

This is akin to the marketing function, and most probably gets a lot of early adopters talking good things about the product.

E.g a blogger singing paeans about Google Analytics, an industry benchmark visualization being shared, data report about a competitor, etc.

This way, the inherent value in the data is presented.

Data access and pricing plans

This is how the business is monetizing the data. By selling access to it. Often on a pay per use basis, or a per data point basis. Note, there might be multiple reports given to the user, however the user has to do the analysis on their own.

E.g SEMRush, SimilarWeb, Alexa, etc.

Wait, these are all old products

Yes. They have been around for quite some time. However, I am seeing that other industry are also copying this model. I recently spoke to someone in the pharma industry who was selling aggregated prescription data to pharma companies.

The credit industry has already been doing this for so many years. TransUnion is a perfect example. In India, most working professionals are familiary with their CIBIL scores. What few people realize that CIBIL is a TransUnion company. Similarily, CRIF score (which is an alternative bureau) belongs to Experian.

What gets my goat in this scenario, is that the firm which is collecting data is based out of another country! This firm now claims to own and know the data of citizens belonging to another country.

Shut up and take my data

Let’s go back 300 years or so. The British killed the Indian textile industry by mutilating the weavers who used to make cloth. Then they bought the cotton and other crops at throwaway prices, that cotton is similar to the data that is being collected. The industry grade cotton which was then imported back in India is similar to the data aggregation and reports that are being sold.

The only difference is that 300 years back, we were scared of the East India Company. This time around, we are welcoming the data traders with open arms. Should we not be a bit more aware of who and how our data is being used?

The reason why EU is taking such a harsh stance with GDPR is a bit more clear. Where is the call for privacy and better data sharing protocols?

A fortress of regulations

For the past 6 months or so, I have been involved in building up a fintech based business. You might have seen me post about real estate and how the young Indian workforce needs help to own a house. This organization is HomeCapital which provides home down payment assistance for first time home buyers. In fact, it’s India’s first home down payment program.

The product itself is pretty unique and involves a bit of financial engineering. It’s an unsecured personal loan made available to the home buyer at 0% interest. To know more feel free to drop by our office for a chat and a cuppa!

Business traction and growth

The business is doing well and therefore it has quickly attracted a good set of investors. As we are gearing up for a Series A run, one of the question that I am increasingly seeing in conversations is this –

What technology barriers to entry does your business have?

The first time I heard this question, I was stumped. It’s not as if the core product was a technology driven product. Given enough time and money, any competent person should be able to build any of the following systems –

  • Loan origination
  • Application management
  • Loan management
  • Customer Relationship Management

These are business support systems, and they will never be a technology differentiator. The simple reason being that there are too many service providers and SaaS products out there which provide alternatives for them.

Yes, I could always claim a better UX, a robust and secure system. However, these are fast becoming hygiene factors and thanks to cloud based solutions fast becoming a commodity.

How does this impact a relatively new industry?

Read on. It’s a good case of how the mayor of Paris has decided to take matters in her hands in order to stop an overcrowding of a young industry.

There are a dozen electric scooter companies operating in Paris right now. There are so many that the Mayor just announced that she will reduce that number to three with new rules for electric scooters in Paris.

via Low (No) Barriers To Entry — AVC

Artificial barriers are being constructed in order for three of the businesses to be sustainable. The young electric scooter industry is being protected in this case by Paris.

Very similar to this, the FinTech industry in India is relatively young, and the Government of India has taken an active interest in this. One of the instances where the banking and lending industry in India was protected was where RBI drastically changed the P2P startup landscape by limiting individual investors to 10 Lakh INR.

Most developing countries are taking this approach for multiple industries. A wait and watch approach with a beady eye on the innovations and changes ensures that most policies that are being passed are in situ with the economic environment.

Protecting lush markets

What the mayor has beautifully done is protect the largest european market of electric scooters. One reason for more than a dozen startups to spring up in this market was that it was fairly easy for someone to join a business, learn the ropes and then start on their own. However, what will happen if one of these fly by night operations were to suddenly go down under? Suddenly the entire market starts stumbling. Would you as a governing body allow this to happen?

No. I would rather have 3-4 stable operators providing this service as opposed to 12-15 firms. It’s regulation, yes. It’s against the natural laws of economy, yes. However, it is being done to protect the market. Over a period of time this triopoly will try creating a seller’s economy, however the regulation will ensure that no one player can generate super normal profits. This creates a pretty strong barrier. An impregnable fortress of regulations that cannot be overcome.

India and FinTech

If you now look at the FinTech industry in India, then there are many regulations. This is not so much a concern as much as the fact that these regulations keep evolving as the industry evolves.

Take the fact that since September 2018 the Aadhar based KYC norms have come to a standstill. It is only last week that the RBI has allowed for e-KYC to be re-initiated. Now through in a recent trend such as DeepFake in their, and now you have regulators in a dizzy. What the major players in banking and lending are doing is looking up to the regulator to take decisions … these decisons are being taken over a long period of time (approximately 6 months in the case of e-KYC).

That’s two business cycles. Enough time for an upstart to start-up. India is a lare country and we haven’t really started making fintech products for the 66% of the non-english speaking Indians. There is hope of growth there, and hence the regulation barriers will be slowly built in that area.

Is a barrier needed?

A barrier to entry is needed when the market becomes small and the players have to compete for transactions. However, what is unique about billion people economies such as India and China is that the sheer volume of users is so high that there is always room for more.

Even in such a space where every month there is a new lender or two cropping up, the Indian real estate and lending space still remains under utilized. Housing for all still remains a distinct dream, and until then, instead of building barriers, perhaps we might want to think about building bridges.

Why Working Class Indians Still Struggle to Buy a Home & What Can One Do?

Working class

There’s room at the top they’re telling you still

But first, you must learn how to smile as you kill

If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working-class hero is something to be

John Lennon

When you think about it, a working-class hero with a dream to build a home is something to be, especially in the dubious world of rising property rates. You are either of the two – the one who had booked a flat years ago and have lost the hope of waiting for the builder to deliver, and have decided to say goodbye to the dream home that never came to be. Or the one struggling with finances to actually buy a home.

Imagine if you may, a middle-class worker plagued with the thoughts of home loan EMI, house rent till he gets the possession, kids’ school fees, and household expenses – all to be managed in his meagre salary; a seemingly endless loop of payables even before the salary gets credited. Not to mention the big question – how to secure finance to pay off the chunk of the home down payment. Sounds familiar? Perhaps a struggle you yourself might be facing!

With RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) in place, there is some relief to the home buyers when it comes to putting their trust in developers. That resolves the first issue of untrustworthy developers. However, the problem of securing finance still remains the biggest concern.

Today, with subvention plans or no-EMI-till-possession plans buyers are more hopeful. Under such schemes, home buyers are asked to pay some percent (in between 10 to 30 percent) of the amount as the down payment. The rest is paid by a bank to the developer as a loan. While the project is under development, the developer pays the interest on the loan to the bank. The buyer’s EMIs begin only after he gets possession. A great deal, isn’t it? But like all good things, this too comes with a catch. Home buyers need to understand the nitty-gritty of the schemes before venturing into a deal. After all, knowledge is power!

Coming back to the current situation, while no-EMI-till-possession plans resolve 70 to 80% of the problem, the massive 20-30% upfront down payment remains a hurdle equivalent to a massive chunk of an iceberg submerged underwater. Here is where HomeCapital comes to the rescue with it’s Home Down Payment Assistance Program. What this program does is it facilitates interest-free loan equal to the contribution towards down payment which will be provided by the partner-lending institutions in participating projects. The interest is borne by HomeCapital and the principal amount is divided by the number of months to arrive at monthly payments. The program increases your home loan eligibility and makes your home buying faster and simpler. Sounds too good to be true? But it is true. Tried and tested, the program addresses the challenge of the down payment for home buyers, particularly first time buyers from working-class with dreams to have a home sweet home.

To sum up, in the ever-changing real estate market, one thing that never changes is the challenges faced by the home buyers. However, with more strict regulations in place and evolving home finance sector addressing a few of the big problems, owning your dream home doesn’t seem like a far fetched idea anymore. All you need to do is make a smart move to move into your dream home today, rather than five to ten years down the line.

Helping GenZ find their place

When do backpackers settle?

A few decades back, the only time a fresh out of college fledgling would consider buying their own house was when they contemplated marrying and even then within a joint family system they saw buying property as investment.

Over time, with escalating rents and increased self independence, the robust Gen Z is showing an inclination to own homes by the time they turn 27. The Homebuyer Insight Report shows a majority of prospective home buyers between 18 and 23 who want to buy a house in the next 5 years (this is in the developed countries). About 52% of the above numbers have already started saving for their own property.

But what about the developing nations?

The story in developing nations is completely different. With a majority of individuals going through lengthier schooling periods, and taking more time to find their way through their careers and eventual independence, the average Indian Gen Z has all the aspirations of the Gen Z, but also has all the legacies to manage.

I say aspiration because the typical Gen Z in India first rushes headlong into a job to ensure financial independence. Over time as the bare necessities are funded, then the Gen Z aspires to travel … the generation is also called as backpackers because of the affinity of unstructured experiences which are valued by this generation. For example instead of a Kesari tour (meh!), this person would want to backpack their way on a beaten down path.

So when do Gen Z finally settle?

The research done points to a couple of reasons.

When starting a Family

Starting a family is the largest motivator for settling down and buying a home. Even if that means taking a loan or financial aid for buying the home.

One of the major challenges that Indian Gen Zs face is that the down payment required for real estate is so high that it’s difficult to buy this house early. What that means, that an entire generation starts becoming more career focused so that they can finally afford their homes.

To solve this problem, HomeCapital has launched India’s First Home Down Payment Assistance Program. Wait … what?

Yes, it is a mouthful, but it’s worth it. What this program addresses, is the challenge that most first time home buyers in India face. The down payment.

Started by a team of professionals from varied fields, the program will provide up to half of your down payment requirements. The program lets you to double your down payment capability and widens your reach in terms of home affordability. It increases your home loan eligibility and makes your home buying faster and simpler.

The cool part

The best part is that this program is engineered in such a manner that the user is not charged interest for the unsecured personal loan that the user gets on this form of assistance. That’s as good as a 0% interest for the user!

Yes, you got that right. If you want a home and you are buying a home on any of HomeCapital’s listed properties, then the HomeCapital team will help you with an unsecured personal loan to pay the down payment, the stamp duty and the registration fees. At zero interest.

So, if you haven’t been thinking of buying a home because of the insanely high prices, now think again.