Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Piracy zindabad

Its hardly few weeks since Aravind Adiga's novel 'The white tiger' won the man booker price. Starting this week I am getting emails from vendors like indiaplaza.in, Crossword etc. about the deals/discounts they are offering for the book. While I was pondering which deal to go with, got a huge shock when I went out for lunch today. The pirated version of the book is already available on roadside shops for 145 rupees (check photo below).


In countries like India, piracy spreads faster than the original version. When are we going to realize the importance buying original copies or start innovating around piracy?

Related article: Piracy = Opportunity

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tech entrepreneurship events in Bangalore

The San-Francisco bay area of the US is popularly known as ‘Silicon Valley'. Its wealth generation story is well known, where it created umpteen numbers of billionaires over the past three decades. Companies started from the valley literally rewritten the technology entrepreneurship, thereby creating history. The amount of contributions by valley based technology entrepreneurs to the bigger world is unbelievable. Starting from Hewlett-Packard to latest Google every other company has changed the world to a larger extent. These valley based world class product companies, literally created the term Multi National Company (MNC), which is a house-hold name today. It was mainly due to the valley entrepreneurs and their ability to take risk, identifying the opportunity and tapping the correct market had made all the difference. Added to that, world class universities, access to venture capital and world class minds created the ideal ecosystem for entrepreneurship.

India is in the similar growth trajectory what US was in the 1960s and 1970s. It needs more and more technologists to take become entrepreneurs. As known to all of us, the first wave of tech entrepreneurship came in the form of software service companies like Infosys, Wipro and HCL. These companies showed that there is a country called India exist in the world map and high quality, low cost software can be delivered from there. The second wave of tech entrepreneurship is been emerging in the past four years, where young technologists primarily based out of Bangalore are joining the entrepreneurial bandwagon. Many of these emerging entrepreneurial ventures are mainly focusing on Mobility, Software as a service (Saas), Social networking, Web based services and education. With having more technology professionals than Silicon Valley, Bangalore is catching up well with entrepreneurship.

However the entrepreneurial system has got a long way to go in India. To start with these ventures would be limited by the size of the local market, which happens to be a huge challenge. Added to that access to venture capital, mature mentorship and incubation facilities are still growing up in a reasonable phase. This ecosystem plays a very critical part in nurturing ecosystem for entrepreneurship. Apart from the points mentioned above, there needs to be a set of forums where entrepreneurs, investors and technology enthusiasts can meet up and exchange their thoughts. This story talks about such entrepreneurial events and forums in Bangalore

Barcamp

Inspired by the popular ‘unconference’ concept, Barcamps are very informal, vibrant and contagious. Any individual can nominate to provide a talk about his interested topic. These ideas may or may not have any business aspects associated with it. In facts typical topics in Barcamp can be starting from IEEE specifications to Kama Sutra. This forum is conveived, moderated and run by volunteers without any financials associated with it. However many big corporatations, like Yahoo, Google, sponsor the event management expenses.
This event acts as a platform to bring the geek community in a common forum. In Bangalore it typically happens over a weekend in IIM-B. These sessions are organized under multiple tracks, where an individual can choose depending on his interest. There is no cost associated with attending the event and happens across multiple cities in India. If you are interested in latest technology happenings, review the latest gizmo in the town or interested in meeting some energetic individuals, Barcamp is the place to go.

Web link: http://www.barcampbangalore.org
Group’s link: bangalore_barcamp@yahoogroups.com

Mobile Mondays (MoMo)

The Mobile Mondays are typically are knowledge sharing sessions, focused mainly on mobile industry. Majority of discussions happens around the mobile Value Added Services (VAS), which are driven by individuals running entrepreneurial ventures to big corporations. Many mobile industry leaders like Nokia sponsor the event. This typically happens once in a month in one of the IT company premises in Bangalore, which keeps changing depending on the availability. This is an ideal forum to network with mobile industry folks and keep updated with happenings in the industry. This event is volunteer driven, with participation at free of cost. In order to keep up with the name, the discussions are organized on Mondays to break Monday blues. This is a worldwide forum, happens multiple cities in India.

Web link: http://www.momobangalore.org
Group’s link: momobangalore@yahoogroups.com

Proto

This Proto is a more mature forum with more focus on business, which operates out of IIT-Madras campus. This forum is primarily aimed at creating the startup ecosystem in India by bringing in entrepreneurs and investors in a common platform. This forum organizes road-shows in multiple cities, where entrepreneurial ventures can showcase its product or service to prospective investors. In order to participate in the forum, one has to pay a nominal amount and register their organization. This forum is operating in a non-profit mode, where the membership fee is spent towards organizing the events. The audience brings in good amount of experience in the technology business. Some companies got funded by participating in the forum.

Web link: http://www.proto.in
Group’s link: prototalk@googlegroups.com

Kickstart

Kick start is initiated by the spirit of MoMo and Barcamps, by having tie-up with IIM-Bangalore’s NSRCEL. This forum typically organizes Startup saturdays, where companies need to nominate themselves to present their plan to a set of panel. Not much information is available about the list of companies that got funded thro' this platform.

Web link: http://www.kickstart.in

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE): Bangalore chapter

This is the oldest forum created to promote entrepreneurship in India, started by Indian origin entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley. In order to participate, there is a paid membership. Very senior members from the industry offer mentorship under this umbrella to prospective entrepreneurs. For members, the TiE organizes regular sessions, where stalwarts share their experiences with entrepreneurship. Unlike Barcamps and MoMo, it is more Formal forum.

Web link: http://bangalore.tie.org/


Thursday, October 16, 2008

India Layoffs

The famous dialogue "welcome to the real world!" from the Movie Matrix hit my head yesterday. I was watching all major news channels covering news about Jet Airways laying off 800 employees on a single day. Clearly the global financial crisis has hit India, starting with Aviation Industry.

Going forward I see it affecting multiple industries, which would result in major job cuts, downsizing and salary cuts. For yuppy Indians, who earned five digit salaries from day one need to face the ugly face of capitalism in coming days. No amount of crying, cribbing, protesting or complaining to political party would help during turbulent times. This is not a typical governmental setup, but the reality -- let us face it! Only who has the capability to adapt will survive during difficult times. Its high time we say Good bye to double digit salary growths and frequent job hopping.

Friday, October 10, 2008

BOOK REVIEW : Games Indians Play (Guest post by Sai Madhav)

This is a guest post by my friend Sai Madhav. I have been trying to pull him into blogging :)

Title: Games Indians Play review

Author: Raghunathan

Vocabulary of the book: Very good

I initially thought the book is about consumers–traders who try to maximize their rewards/returns in this pragmatic world. However, I realized soon, that the book is about social life in conjunction with psychology and philosophy.

Raghunathan believes that we, the Indians, need self-regulation in the fist-place rather than regulation by external factors (i.e. law/government). He proved that behavioral economics, Game theory etc are nothing but the phenomenon we encounter in our daily lives, from which we fail to grab positive results.One interesting aspect which the author highlights is, Intelligence is not about quick returns but maximizing rewards by sustaining relationships. His analogy between Gita and Game theory is commendable.

With the examples he quoted (about Indian politicians / executives / administrators / common people / legislators), one cannot deny the fact that we, ‘the Indians’ has to self-regulate and self-realize too!!

To mention few of them

- Overt lies by politicians , but people believe it every time

- Irregular Speed-breakers

- Crabs in the bucket attitude of Indians and Indian Government

- Circumventing law

- Traffic dead-lock at Railway crossings

- Ministers over-riding Judiciary (Supreme Court !!) orders


The excerpt that captivated my attention, in particular, is,

“Our corruption is so unique that we must be the only country in the world where even giving away money can involve graft!!Why else would we need to grease the palm of the officials in the land registration offices? “

The above fact is absolutely TRUE. The most intriguing part about land registration process in India is, despite multiple payments (the official and unofficial (understood!)), there is no stipulated rule that the same land WILL NOT be registered to others. Guess what!! Multiple claimants for the same land! Registration doesn’t verify Authenticity of documents!! I don’t understand the rationale behind the Registration process. One cannot rely on our Judiciary system either. It takes years together to solve a land dispute. Whom to blame!!! There are myriad instances in Bangalore, one being, 200 plots getting registered to nearly 2000 people.

To conclude, after reading this book, I cannot claim I am morally cleansed and enlightened, but definitely there is a paradigm shift in my thinking process!! I started self-regulating!! I hope this persists.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

iPhone - Not India phone?

It’s been a month since Apple's much hyped iPhone launched in India. In midst of huge expectations the product hit the market on Aug 22, with Airtel and Vodafone taking up the distributorship in India. In order to boost up the initial sales, both service provides kept their shop open throughout the night. More importantly India's 'tech' city Bangalore was all geared up to welcome this popular Gizmo, where many technologists lined up in the showroom to pickup their phone before their friends. The next day's local newspapers flashed pictures of proud iPhone owners from the city. The first say sales numbers were pretty good and everybody believed iPhone will take off in India in a big day, given its one billion population. Much against the expectations and media hype, the iPhone sales started taking nosedive in subsequent weeks and it has not even crossed 1500 handsets throughout India. It clearly proves that iPhone is a big failure out here.

According to Geoffrey Moore's technology adaptation life cycle model, every technology product takes its own cycle to create significant business proposition. To start with, the ‘Early adaptors’ (technology enthusiasts) would start evangelizing the product who contribute to 13.5% of the total customer base. In order to create a successful business, a technology product should capture the next major chunk called ‘Early majorities’, who constitute to 34% of the customers. Even though iPhone was able to initially attract certain technology enthusiasts (especially in a city like Bangalore), it has clearly not impressed Early Majorities. Given the fact that India is one of the hottest markets for mobile operators and handset manufactures, Apple clearly missed a huge opportunity by not understanding the psychology of Indian customers. This exclusive story talks about some of the major reasons for iPhone not able to take off in India.

Cost, Cost and Cost

The first shock for Indian customers came in the form of cost. Apple priced their 8 GB model for 31,000 rupees and 16 GB model for 36,100. Every Indian customer felt getting ripped off by hearing such an atrocious price, given competitive handset prices. Added to that, there are no well designed offerings around the product. It’s a well known fact that India is a land of EMIs and installments, where people even buy clothes on installment basis. Even for a city like Bangalore, which consists of knowledge workers having good amount of surplus income, the 31,000 pricing has made the phone simple unaffordable. Apple should have worked on innovative offering methods, where it could have planned on recovering the cost over a period, after catching the initial sales volume.

In developed countries like US, Apple has done proper home-work by offering the iPhone at $199 (works out around 8000 rupees) by tying up with telecom service providers. On the other hand, Per capita income of US is 10 times more than India, which demands much smarter pricing strategy. This clearly shows that there needs to similar but much better pricing strategy should have been planned for Indian markets. The cost factor is been a major factor for iPhone not taking off in India.

The 3G infrastructure

The second point is about the mobile infrastructure in India. One of the major attractions of iPhone is its ability to provide mobile broadband connectivity using 3G technology. Unfortunately in India the 3G spectrum is still under negotiation and none of the service providers are offering 3G services to the customers. The applications in iPhone (known as "Apps") become unusable with the existing low speed GPRS connectivity. Also every new iPhone has to have a brand new connection and number. For well networked professionals, it becomes very difficult to change their existing mobile numbers just to get the iPhone.

Mobile ecosystem in India

The third major point is the mobile ecosystem in India. The iPhone can be purchased only for post-paid connections, whereas more than 85% of the subscribers in India opt for pre-paid schemes. Even though about 9 million new mobile connections are added every month in India, still majority of them come under the pre-paid umbrella. Added to that, using mobile value added services has not yet caught up in India yet. Only now the mCommerce services are catching momentum and other "cool" iPhone apps would take a long-long time to catch up in India. The mobile phone is primarily seen as a device to communicate rather than accessing emails, playing network games or social networking.

Media hype

Before even the phone was launched, the India media had given too much hype for the iPhone. Many tech shows, pod casts, blogs and websites compared the $199 pricing in the US and believed that it would be offered for 8000-9000 rupee range in India. The Indian media failed to understand the mature mobile ecosystem in the US, where the service providers can afford to subsidize the handset to a larger extent and recover the cost over a period of time. In case of Indian service providers, their margins are very thin and they only make their profits due to the sheer volume of connections. They can't afford to subsidize the handset, which will eventually start eating their pockets. The whole pre-launch analysis set "too-much" of expectations from iPhone, which it clearly didn't live up to.

The lukewarm response for iPhone shows "How not to sell products in India?”. No matter how great a product or service is, it needs to be wrapped with innovative business model, especially for emerging countries like India. As per C.K.Prahlad's "Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" argument, the innovation needs to be even more profound for emerging geographies, in order to really leapfrog in terms of business proposition.

Consistently inconsistent - Auto rickshaw meters in Bangalore

Inside Bangalore city, autos were supposed to be the best mode of transport in a cost-effective way. Compared to other metros like Chennai, Bangalore had a well regulated meter system in place, which was hassle free. Especially for IT employees, autos used to be used to be viable alternative to commute to workplace, back and forth. There were numerous folks who use autos to commute on a daily basis without any worries. In fact many of them preferred auto journeys, given the city traffic conditions. Added to that auto drivers were friendly and co-operative, thereby making the journey comfortable. Unfortunately over the past three to five years auto rickshaw journey has gone from pleasure to pain, and getting worse day by day. After traveling in an auto, individuals end up having head-ache, tension apart from emptying their pockets.

Based on our recent study, many of the city residents experienced set of different problems with auto-rickshaws. First problem is about getting an auto to reach the destination. Majority of the auto drivers are not ready to take in any passenger even though they run empty autos. Upon asking the place to reach, many of these drivers behave very rudely by not even responding back in a proper manner. Nowadays in order to get into an auto, one needs to spend at least 20 minutes, after asking for at least 4-5 autos that are not ready to picking them up. The reason these drivers will give for not taking in a passenger is very simple: "We will not get proper savari from the point we leave you". Given Bangalore's volume of working population and city's recent growth, its hard to believe that, these drivers will have any problems with getting passengers. However, this is the uniform response one gets by talking to any of the drivers on the way. Also one need to be happy if the driver responds properly even though he is not interested in picking up the passenger. Turning face on the other direction, murmuring in Kannada or giving a vague look are some of the behaviors exhibited by these auto-drivers, which makes an individual feel "Who is the customer? Who is going to pay whom?”

The problem gets even worse after boarding the auto. Majority of these autos don’t have proper meters and they jump like crazy. According to the latest official chart, seven rupees is charged per kilometer with minimum charge being fourteen rupees for first two kilometers. But one has to be lucky if the meter functions properly. Based on our observations for 11 kms, fare ranged anywhere between 80 to 120 rupees, whereas it is supposed to be 77 rupees. Even though meters are installed on autos they are not properly maintained. Some of them still have very old meter ,which just show up the fare information. Some show up kilometers traveled and fare and some are electronic. The latest electronic meters were supposed to be more reliable, but eventually end up showing incorrect numbers. To put in simple terms these meters behave consistently inconsistent. When auto drivers were asked more questions for the malfunctioning of the meter the response could be anything. Some accept it with a vague smile, some respond rudely, some even don't respond. Eventually the customer's heart beats faster every time they see the meter jumping in a disproportionate manner.

Here is another point that makes it even worse -- extra charges. Asking for extra charges over and above the tampered meters has become the norm these days. Some years back drivers used to ask for 50% extra, only after 10:00 PM in the night, which is no longer true. During peak hours, like 9:00 AM to 10:30 AM, asking extra has become a day-today affair. On rainy days it becomes hits the peak, where these drivers straightaway asking for an atrocious flat charge without even thinking twice. Also if the passenger is not aware of the route or new to the city, these drivers take the longer route instead of proper one. For busy working professionals finding auto, paying extra charge and reaching their workplace adds stress to their mind. Many solutions, like booking autos thro' SMS or phone were proposed, but nothing seems to work practically over a long period of time.

Which are the factors has made auto journey a pain? Is it increasing IT employees in the city? Is it increasing demand makes these drivers feel that they can demand any amount? Is the difference between haves and have-nots is increasing, which is making auto-drivers to find some way to make money from wealthy IT employees? What is the government is doing about it? There is definitely an optimization problem, waiting to be solved. At one end there is a huge need for autos and vast amount of people ready to pay proper fare. But where is the solution?

Book review: A search in secret India

Author: Paul Brunton

Price: 450 INR

Understanding spiritual history of India is not all that easy. It traces back more than 3500 years in time and most of the contemporary interpretations exist in deteriorated form. The current state of affair is so pathetic -- sometimes makes one feel spirituality is worthless. At the same time, developing deeper connection with spirituality is very critical in order to achieve harmony within. Especially in the current materialistic environment, human beings have become more cynical, thereby closing all doors of self realization. In the current setup spirituality needs to be approached from a western, critical perspective where it can be learnt by applying logic. The book 'A search in secret India' is one such spiritual account written by a westerner with an analytical approach. For present day Indians it provides a simple, logical but very insightful journey into spirituality.

The book starts with the author Paul Brunton, a British embarks on a journey to India in 1930s. His interest was kindled by his Indian friend living in England, who provides him certain insights into simple living by embracing spirituality as a way of life. Upon driven by this spiritual quest he reaches Mumbai. This book covers his experiences and memoirs about India and his search for spiritual Guru. Even though this book comes under non-fiction category, Brunton's story telling style might make certain chapters boring. After landing in Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay), he first meets an magician from Egypt near the lodge he was put-up. The magician plays certain tricks thereby demonstrating his ability to make certain things vanish and come back again. This leaves Brunton with some amusement but he was not able to understand or feel anything spiritual about it.

Followed by Mumbai he continues to travel towards South. On his way he meets many holy men, some genuine and some are fake. He also sees people who can perform actions that can't be explained by physics, like turning a seed into a plant in a minute and people who are not affected by poison. Of the former he discovers to be a mere magical trick while the later remains unexplained, attributed to Yogic power. In Adayar, Chennai (erstwhile Madras state) he meets up with a young yogi, who was able to provide certain analytical perspective of Yoga. The ‘anchorite of the Adayar river’, what Brunton calls this young Yogi performs certain breathing practices, thereby he could demonstrate Brunton the ability to control heart beat, bring down the pulse, remain in solace for hours together. Then he goes on explaining the inner workings of Yoga, which starts from understanding inner meaning of breath. According to this Yogi, the life of human beings is not controlled by the years they live but the number of breaths one takes. Upon learning certain breathing techniques, explained in ancient Yogic texts, one can reduce the number of breaths compared with time, thereby increasing lifespan. Many of the mystic Yogis living in Himalayas are able to master this technique and live for many hundred years. The Yogi goes on saying that how important it is for human beings to repose and take control of their breath.

There is been quite some amount of research happening about certain species living in extremely cold continents like Antarctica and how they are able survive and live longer. The study showed that the fishes in Antarctica activate a seasonal switch in ecological strategy – going from one that maximizes feeding and growth in summer to another that minimizes the energetic cost of living during the long, Antarctic winter. The research demonstrates that at least some fish species can enter a dormant state, similar to hibernation that is not temperature driven and presumably provides seasonal energetic benefits. Scientists already know that Antarctic fish have very low metabolic rates and blood ‘antifreeze’ proteins that allow them to live in near-freezing waters. This study demonstrates that Antarctic fish - which already live in the ‘slow lane’ with extremely low rates of growth, metabolism and swimming activity - can in fact further depress these metabolic processes in winter. The Yogic methods place human beings into a similar hibernation state by controlling their breath.

With the help of Adayar yogi, Brunton comes across another sage near Chennai who never speaks. By locking himself into a small room the sage remains in 'Samadhi' (the ultimate state where a human being in completely connected with the bigger universe outside) for days together with hardly eating anything. His eyes remain frozen for hours together without even blinking, which leave Brunton with strange experience. After waiting for hours together, the sage comes to normal stage and communicates with others by writing. Followed by Chennai, Brunton travel further south and gets an opportunity to meet the spiritual guru Shankaracharya. Based on his instruction, he further goes to Thiruvannamalai, where he meets Ramana Maharishi. Initially the Maharishi hardly gives him an opportunity to meet and never talks. After many attempts he was able to interact with him. The Maharishi urges him to start connecting with the spiritual plane by asking the question "Who am I?" to himself. This leaves Brunton with surprise, happiness and fulfillment. In the later chapters he explains about some other magicians and prophets he had met in Southern India.

This book is a very good read for anybody, who wants to start understanding India in a deeper sense. It also helps the reader to start thinking about spirituality in a step by step manner.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Presentation on High performance entrepreneurship

Got the link for this presentation from one of the blogs. Summarizes important aspects of entrepreneurship.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Landmark Forum - Part III

Please read my previous posts about Landmark Forum (Part I and Part II) before reading this one.

In the past few weeks, I have been getting multiple comments for my posts about Landmark forum. Here is the summary of those comments:
  1. The landmark forum provides spiritual dimension to an individual. It helps the attendees to lead a peaceful life with full of self-expression. Why are you commenting on it?
  2. Today's world is filled with misery, where people are selling anything and everything. If we can tolerate a phone-call from a credit card salesperson, why not a spiritual/self development course like Landmark forum, Art-of-living etc?
I think the commentors didn't completely understand the point I was trying to convey. It is not my intention to criticize these organizations or courses and say they are of no use. My take is to learn, understand and internalize them and practice in real life. Also understand that 'transformation' is a journey, rather than an instant capsule to fix every other problem in life. Many problems in life are caused when individuals are not equipped with proper thought process to handle them. No doubt! These courses provide excellent tools but what is the use if an individual it not using them, but end up preaching it by becoming a salesperson? Here are the two classic examples I have recently come across.

Case 1: An ISKCON devotee

Recently I met a fresher, who just got into the IT industry after finishing his post graduation. Upon talking with him I learned that he is a devotee of ISKCON. We discussed many things about purpose of life, origin of birth and death, religion, philosophy, spirituality, spiritual practices, yoga and Indian way of living. We exchanged wonderful thoughts for close to two hours before the discussion took a different turn. This 23 year old all of a sudden started saying 'Krishna is the ultimate god and nothing is more superior to him'. He went on criticizing other Yogic methods and spiritual gurus by saying they have not come in a proper generation (in his words -- 'guru parampara') and don't have rights to teach spiritual practices to anyone. Followed by that, he started pitching about ISKCON and compelling me to come for weekly meetings etc.

Case 2: An Art of living devotee

In another occasion, I met colleague of mine in one of the company meetings. Some time back I got introduced to him in one of the art-of-living classes. He immediately started of saying ‘so-and-so’ new course is happening, which can transform my life completely. In spite of me not showing interest, he went on saying the glory of the course, how good the teacher is, how quickly one can bring change in his life etc.

This is exactly what I mean by salesman mentality. First of all I don't see how an individual organization is the superior than others. As mentioned in my previous post, I respect them for the reasons they are created. That doesn't mean that every other thing in the world is shit. Second, I am not sure how the so called 'transformation' can happen in few days or hours of attending a course, satsang or a bhajans. Every other spiritual method, ideology, socio-political movement has taken years to bring in changes.

Gandhi might have got his 'call' when he was thrown out of the train in Pietermaritzburg, but it took 22 years of belief, hard work, commitment, visionary leadership to make the civil rights movement in South Africa as a success. He never told his ideology is the best and started selling/forcing on others. Paramahamsa Yogananda, one of the great spiritual gurus took 17 years to attain transformation in his spiritual journey by meeting his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. It took 35 years for Varghese Kurien to envision, think and build 'Amul -- the taste of India'. It took years for these great people to transform themselves and people around them.

According to me transformation is a journey when an individual embarks with a great vision. It is neither one-minute-magic nor selling an ideology. It is about understanding self, becoming a magnet and making others becoming followers. It is always good to take up a self-development course (like Landmark) or getting associated with an organization (Art-of-living, ISKCON etc...) but don't make is as a sales pitch or think only their ideology/organization is the best in the world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cinema and Politics in South India

The association of cinema and politics has got a long history in Southern India. The political landscape of southern states (especially Tamilnadu and Andra Pradesh) has been significantly altered by actors turned politicians. The Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi joined the league yesterday by launching his political party 'Praja Rajyam' from Thirupathi. Almost all the major news channels covered the party launch. He literally swept the media by storm with attractive statements about various issues faced by people of Andra Pradesh. Nothing new -- yet another film star joining the party!

Cut to 1970s! The Tamilnadu state was primarily governed by Congress party, which was systematically toppled by the Dravidian moment. It was a significant change for the people of Tamil Nadu, which provided a platform for film stars enter into main stream politics. Primarily the Dravidian moment was launched by Periyar in 1925 to restore 'self respect' among lower caste, which formed the lower portion of the society. A powerful yet simple medium was required to reach these uneducated, rural and poor people to proliferate the Dravidian ideology. Initially it was people like Karunanithi, who fueled the Dravidian ideology by writing revolutionary thoughts in form of movie dialogues. Even today nobody can forget movies like 'parasakti' (first movie of the legend Sivaji Ganesan) which planted these thoughts among common people. However these dialogues always acted as a 'back-end' and needed a powerful front end to mobilize the mass.

That front-end came in the form of M G Ramachandran, who was popularly known as “MGR”. These “three letters" literally became a chanting mantra of every poor in Tamilnadu. After becoming a popular hero, he became the primary vehicle to promote Dravidian ideologies. It was sent to a common man in multiple forms including dialogues, songs, jokes packed with his own “MGR” style. He was the first person successfully tied the cinema with politics in a very significant way. In almost all movies he played role of "savior-of-poor", who helped them to fight against a Zameendhar for their basic rights, thereby raising their self esteem and self respect of the poor. During pre-independence times multiple forms of dramas (puppet-shows, street plays etc...) were used as a medium to communicate the need of independence. It was very critical because not everybody understood the deep ideologies of Gandhi and his Satyagraha. An illiterate farmer living in a village can connect to these dramas much better rather than listening to radio or reading a newspaper, which was too “high-fi" for these folks. They needed a very a simple form, which they can connect with and internalize the message.I call it as “version 1.0" of media playing significant role in altering the political landscape the country. Then the "version 2.0" came in form of the movies, to communicate the self-respect Dravidian ideology, mentioned above. Whatever may be the future, one cannot rule out the impact of these movies among people of Tamilnadu. It has caused such a deep impact that the Dravidian parties are ruling the state for the past 40 years. It was a well planned act by Dravidian politicians to reach out the people.

On the other side, not everybody really understood the real ideology behind the dialogues delivered by the hero (read it is MGR). They started seeing MGR as their "savior" who will lift them from the miserable life they was leading. He was admired as an undisputed super-hero. This image gave him the much required popularity, to mobilize the people, attract them and make them vote for his party. He was so powerful that, in spite of splitting from his parent party DMK, people voted for him just because it was “MGR's party”. He remained in power for 10 years (from 1977-1987) till he died. I can draw similar lines with N T Rama Rao (NTR), who was the popular "Krishna" among the people of Andra Pradesh. Upon moved by the question “Sir, we have treated you like a God but what have you done for us?" by one of the audience, he started his Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Similar to MGR, NTR was seen as their savior. The lord Krishna image gave him a huge leverage.

Now, why am I talking about MGR and NTR in 2008? The reason is simple -- Even today uneducated, rural, poor people see movie stars as their "saviors". It’s nothing but "version 3.0" of the South Indian cinema! If it was MGR and NTR in '70s and '80s it is Rajinikath, Vijayakanth, Chiranjeevi in 2008. Nothing else changed except time. The educated, urban, middle-class gets ruled out in this whole saga mainly because they won't vote. No amount of globalization, urbanization, economic policies, media, and Internet has changed the basic psyche.

If Rajinikath can become rich by selling milk in the movie ‘Annamalai’ people still believe that he can do the same in real life; If Vijayakanth fights and kills many militants in Kashmir (that’s what he does in most of his movies) people believe that he can provide solution to the long-debated Kashmir issue; If Chiranjeevi can play the role of a professor, who fights against corruption in the movie 'Tagore', people still believe that he can cleanup the whole political system; Even today people believe that cinema and real life are same. They are living in their own world, which is far different from what the media projects as "modern India".

I have high regard for Version 2.0 politicians of Tamilnadu, because they had a strong ideology behind them. Their moment was very powerful, mainly fight against societal backwardness. They played significant roles in various Dravidian parties apart from cinema. What do these 3.0 actors, turned politicians have done? Nothing! What ideology, policy or societal ground work they have done? Nothing! All they have done is very simple -- played modern day super hero roles and created a fan following.

The launch of 'Praja Rajyam' by Chiranjeevi and the support he received shows that the vote bank has not changed in the past 62 years of independence. Instead of taking individual responsibilities, everybody wants their "super-hero" to come the save their lives like he does in the movies. And the system we have built up is having such a fundamental flaw that it has still not provided the basic knowledge and education to an average citizen. Generations have changed, years have gone by -- but many of us still live in a "dream" world not even knowing the basic difference between cinema and reality. All we have is big dreams, but no actions!


Saturday, August 23, 2008

BOOK REVIEW : Go Kiss the World

Author : Subroto Bagchi

Price: 399 INR

Related posts:

Book review: High performance Entrepreneur

Book release: Go Kiss the world

The first book of Subroto 'The high performance entrepreneur' primarily depicted various aspects of Entrepreneurship. If the first book is all about 'work' the second one 'Go kiss the world' is all about 'life', thus completing the 'work-life' hemispheres. In the year 2006,Subroto delivered his famous speech to the students of IIM-Bangalore on the same title, where he shared some of his life lessons with management graduates. This book is an extension of that speech covering many aspects of his personal and professional life. This book has couldn't come at a better time where India is going through a huge transformation. Thanks to economic policies and availability of talent pool, the number of jobs for young professionals is growing at an exponential phase. Well paid global jobs are getting poured into the country in every industry including -- IT, ITES, Finance, Law, Services and Manufacturing. Its really amazing to see professionals walking with six figure monthly salaries, buying houses in their early twenties and getting global exposure. At the same time these young professionals (which includes me) need to learn and understand the importance of values and critical real life lessons. In this context, Bagchi shared some of his life lessons in the book, which turns out to be very for a young professionals who are ready to take on the world.

Initial chapters of the book talks about Subroto's family members and his early life. As his father's job had many transfers, he ends up spending time in many of the semi-urban/rural places of Orissa. He vividly shares about tiny but beautiful anecdotes of his early life and some of the lessons he learned from his parents and elder brother. As a town brought up, I was able to connect much better with them. After completing his graduation in political science, he started his career as a lower division clerk in the state government. He fondly recollects his first boss Khuntia babu, from whom he learned how to open a file. Upon not knowing where to go and what to do (typical issue faced by any person from town), he starts looking for a better job. After multiple rounds of interview he gets a job as a management trainee in DCM, which was a premium job during those days. After facing some adversities and internal politics, he quits the job and takes up an entry-level sales job with HCL by taking 40% pay cut. It was totally a different industry and job where the sales job teaches him hard realities of life. However HCL played a significant role in Subroto's life by providing an entry into 'less-known' IT industry.

After working for a few IT companies in sales and marketing function, he takes early plunge into entrepreneurship along with few few friends by starting up a company called Project.21 in early 1985. The objective of the company was to provide computer training to working professionals from many companies. Even though the company was able to generate cash in the initial days, it gets into problems from multiple angles. In fact this is what happens to many entrepreneurs when they don't have holistic understanding about building a business. After three years there, the company comes to a grinding halt after which he decides to get onto some job where he can expect some stability and a decent growth. The main turning point comes in the form of his job with Wipro, where he served for 10 years. As his initial job provided him shop-floor level experience, Subroto was able to clean up the sales function of Wipro and quickly raise in the corporate ladder. He explains some of the exceptional persons he met in Wipro and learnings from each one of them. The subsequent assignments in Wipro takes him to the US, where he builds an 'on-demand' R & D lab from the scratch.In pinacle of his career with Wipro, driven by internal "call" Subroto starts Mindtree along with his like-minded individuals. The subsequent chapters talks about how he and his team went on building Mindtree, providing leadership during adverse situations (during 2000/2001 downturn) and taking up the role of 'Gardener', inspired by servant-leadership.

The beauty of the book is not about knowing Subroto's life and his career growth. As mentioned in the prologue of the book, he used his life as a canvas to share his significant learnings with external world. As a young professionals many of us think that a job from a company X or salary of Y or position of Z will take where we want to go. In reality the success or happiness is not all about a job, position or money but the amount of learning and value system an individual carries along with him. That way the biggest reward in life is the journey itself. Without understanding this, many of us crib, worry and complain about many things in their jobs. How many of us in the IT industry even think that the salary we draw is at least 10 times more than what our parents earned even during as their last month salary before retirement? How many of us thank the veterans who built the IT industry in early 90s where the western world didn't even know where India existed in the world map? How many of us are able to see the difference between job and career? What is the amount of learning happens at the workplace, on a daily basis? How many days did we spend not complaining about our bosses, company or a colleague? It takes a big heart and humility to enjoy, learn and make a difference to the world we live in. As young professionals we need to learn a lot from veterans like Subroto and live a complete life.

In a way this book plays a significant role in planting thought process mentioned above.Instead preaching (which the young professionals hate anyway), Subroto used his life as an example and shared many things. In many places I felt a chord hitting my head heavily, thereby opening up many avenues to think. I would like to take a moment and thank Subroto for sharing his life lessons openly with the bigger world. I am sure it will make a difference to many people. I can proudly say I am one among them!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Live Green

One of my colleagues prepared this slide set about Global warming. Any thoughts?
Live Green
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: environment green)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hey Ram

On Independence Day, one of the TV channels aired Kamal Haasan's ‘Hey Ram'. I have a long, transformational and emotional journey with that movie. Way back in 2000 I watched it during my college days along with one of my friends, upon his compulsion. I felt it was a total junk, where I commented that Kamal put together multiple documentaries to form of a movie. I hardly understood the movie and cursed my friend for wasting my time and money. After all, spending 14 rupees for a movie ticket along with 6 rupees for the transportation (share-auto) was a big deal in 2000.

Cut to Bangalore. It was the year 2005 (Oct 2nd, Gandhi Jayanthi to be precise) and the same movie was shown in Sony channel. I was alone at my home as my room-mate had gone to office to fix a customer facing issue. As no other movie was aired during the same time, I started watching the movie with more concentration. By 2005 I was mature enough to understand the world better and read few chapters from Gandhi's 'My experiments with truth'. I was able to connect to the movie much better this time and watched each and every scene with full attention. By the end it, the message of the movie hit me very hardly. I am not a very sentimental person, but tears started rolling out of my eyes without even me realizing it. Vow! What a wonderful movie about a great person.

For people who are not aware about Hey Ram here is a brief about the movie. It is basically a fictional story made by Kamal Hassan which revolves around India-Pakistan partition, violence that shook the country during partition, plot behind Gandhi’s assassination and raise of Hindutva ideology promoted by Veer Savarkar. Kamal plays the role of an Archeologist (Saket Ram Iyengar) who's Bengali wife Aparna (Rani Mukerjee) was raped and killed by their Muslim servant. Upon disappointment and anger, Saket starts killing every other Muslim in the neighborhood. In the bloody, violence hit Calcutta streets; he meets a Hindutva activitist Shriram Abhayankar (Atul Kulkarni) who plants Hindu fanatical thoughts in Saket's mind. Abhyankar also tells that Gandhi is the whole reason for Muslims getting undue advantage in a country, where Hindus form 85% of the population. Then the movie takes multiple turns where Abyankar and Saket were chosen to kill Gandhi. Due to an unexpected accident, Abyankar becomes bed ridden and Saket moves to Delhi to do the job. The main turning point happens in Delhi, where Saket meets his old Muslim friend Amjad Ali Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) in a communally tensed area. The series of incidents and Khan's death transforms Saket and confronts that blood-for-blood is an incorrect ideology. There on Saket becomes a Gandhi follower and lives reminder of his life by following Gandhi's principles. The last 45 minutes of the movie (transformation of Saket) is really a wonderful piece to watch.

Even after 62 years, many Indians feel that Gandhi's ideology and non-violent way of getting independence to India is incorrect. Many still believe that he played significant role in making Indians as cowards, by not making them fight against the British face to face. They also believe martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekar Azad did the correct thing by killing some British folks. Especially after 'Rang De Basanti' these martyrs have become superstars among young Indians. While I am not discounting the sacrifice made by these great martyrs, I feel Gandhian way is the most appropriate way to get independence for India. Here are the some of the reasons.

First, India is the most diverse country in the world. There are multiple languages, customs, religions and rituals are followed in various parts of the country. It’s impossible to unite them in the name of language or religion (which was in case in other revolutions happened in the world) other than Nationality and non-violence. If not for that method, Gandhi would have failed to unite the whole country. Taking the rebellious path and shooting somebody would have resulted in short term benefits but it would not have resulted in a democratic India. Every other country which got independence with the help of the gun couldn't sustain them beyond certain point.

Second, India was ruled by a lot of kings in the past. The country was divided into many pieces during different rulers. The colonial approach of the British once again kept the country under their rule for more than 200 years. From there India matured into a powerful, vibrant, constitution based democracy today. According to me, this change is really huge which required a properly planned transition. If not for non-violent approach, it would not have been possible. During the same time, Pakistan took the dictatorship approach and everyone knows the pathetic political situation even today. Even a country based on Muslim religion couldn't sustain itself with dictatorship, let alone diversified country India. It would have been torn into pieces, which would have resulted in a civil war. Gandhi's non-violence sowed seeds for a mature approach.

Third, Gandhi's approach was inclusive. It included women, who were not accepted in the society for centuries together. By making them participate into nation's independent movement Gandhi, made them realize their self worth and esteem. Apart from women, he also brought the downtrodden Harijans, who were treated like animals by denying basic rights for thousands of years. If not for this inclusive approach, we would have still not given basic voting rights to women and continue ill-treating Harijans even today. I am not saying all the problems against women and Harijans are addressed, but Gandhi's thought process set stage for reforms and changes to be brought to address every other sectors of the society.

For me understanding Gandhi is a continuous journey. From debunking Hey Ram in 2000 to adoring the same in 2008, I have come a long way. Looking him and his ideologies at periphery might not make sense but deep thoughts do clear many things about him. It is his leadership and non-violent movement made India what it is today. Movies like Hey Ram play a significant role to pass on the message of Gandhi to future generations.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Infosys and TOI

Not sure why every other news about Infosys covered by TOI. Some samples:

MTR won't cater to Infosys, Wipro anymore

Hardware, Software and Parenting

The first one talks about MTR pulling out of providing catering services at Infosys and Wipro. And I clearly remember another news in TOI (not able to get the link) when MTR was given the contract in Infosys. My question is simple -- whats the big deal? There are many other companies in Bangalore, where cateres change every now and then for many reasons. Does it worth publishing it? These things are not necessarily unique about Infosys.The second one is even funny. It talks about a intranet portal launched at Infosys for providing parental guidance to their employees. This also just another gimmick from TOI. Many of the MNCs operating in India have much advanced counseling and networking platforms regarding many life issues like stress management, maintaining work-life balance, parental issues etc. In fact my organization has appointed 1 to 1 help for providing such services.

I have high regard and respect for Infosys and Narayana Murthy for the work they have done so far. Every middle class educated Indian is proud of the achievements by Infosys. That doesn't mean that anything and everything they do should be glorified. What difference it is going to make if I get to know that MTR is not serving in their employee centeen? More than Infosys, it shows the cheap news that TOI is publishing to fill-up their business column by using tags like "Infosys, NRN".

In future I wont't be surprised if TOI has a news titled "Infosys provides computers to every employee" :-(

Long live TOI and their excellence in journalism.

Related link: In search of a good newspaper

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Its not the critic who counts

Came across this wonderful quote from Andy's blog. Its so true in Indian context, where there are more talkers (critic) than doers!
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

"Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Monday, August 04, 2008

On IRCTC

Last week I was watching 'Innovation at work' program in CNBC-TV18, which covered some case studies done in India on the field of innovation. It was interesting to see IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd) as one of the cases, which showed how they built the online reservation system (http://irctc.co.in) as 'incremental' basis. Started off in the year 2000 with mailing the printed tickets (i-tickets) to customers, IRCTC has come a long way by offering multiple services like e-ticketing,package tours,budget cab booking and season tickets. Check out some their list of achievements here.

Yesterday I was traveling back from my native place to Bangalore in a newly introduced train. In order to confirm train timings I called 139,which turned out to be pleasant experience. There was a well designed IVR system and the support staff was providing a professional quality service in the local language. Upon digging more I learned that IRCTC has outsourced support functionality to a private firm.

Public sector firms have a long way to go, but it was nice to see professional service provided by them.

Related post: Indian Railways : The sleeping 'Giant' ?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

IT returns filing

This year's IT return filing process went like a breeze. The IT department has put up wonderful online FREE filing system, which worked perfectly. Promptly received ITR-V by email, in form of read only PDF document. In order to get it stamped, they opened up additional counters in Institute of Engineers building (opposite to Indian express, near Shivaji Nagar) exclusively for private companies (check the picture below). Ample amount of space,volunteers and guidance was available to help people, who are filing returns using printed forms. Within 5 minutes I was able to get the acknowledgment from the counter allocated for my organization.


In case you have done it yet (BTW, today is the last day for filing) here are the steps to file it online:
  • Open the site https://incometaxindiaefiling.gov.in.
  • Register for user (give the user id also as a PAN number).
  • You will receive the registration mail.
  • Login to the site with the credentials provided in the mail.
  • Go to downloads menu.
  • Download ITR1 from Downloads.
  • Fill out all the details in the ITR form.
  • Validate each page General1, General2, TDS (fill either 21 or 23)
  • Click on Generate XML
  • Check the summary and click on 'Save XML'(which will save in the same location where the excel was there).
  • Open the site, click 'Submit return'
  • Upload the file and click on Upload. (Don't select the check box here, as it requires the Java run time updated)
  • You will see a message that it is successfully submitted.. if not error then go to (g).
  • Go to my profile menu -> my returns.
  • Select '2008-2009' and click 'Submit'
  • Click on the link 'Click here' to get the submitted ITR form or they would have already sent the copy to you.

On private security agencies

Following serial bomb blasts in Bangalore, security has become top concern for all IT companies. While its true that the blasts are not targeted on them, companies are not taking any chances. However all IT companies have private security agencies (on contract) to take care of the facility for 24 hours. I have my own questions about these agencies.

Who are they?

When many of the IT companies (especially MNCs) started their operations in India, they wanted to ensure their global security policy to be followed here as well. Sniffing this as an opportunity to make a business out of it, many people started jumping into security contract without having proper background information. Most of these agencies hire ex-army men (read it as retired army men) as their chief security personal and started providing services to companies. In order to meet a contract requirement of a company, they need to provide X number of people, which they were falling well short of. So these folks in turn go to rural or semi-urban areas (For example: places like Hosur, Dharmapuri etc.) of India and started bringing people who don't have any idea about what security profession is all about. These 'new hires' are provided a crash course (about their job), two uniforms, one pair of shoes and paid 3000 rupees are salary. They get food from the IT company they work for (left overs in the canteen) and get a chance to 'enjoy' amenities like mineral water, telephone, 24x7 supply of coffee/tea, air condition which they would have never imagined before. As this is primarily a labour market, attrition rates are very high. For example, in my apartment complex we have hired 3 contract security people I get to see a new face every month. Every time I need to use different language (Kannada/Tamil/Telugu/Hindi) for communication as they are from different states. In a way the security agency setup is similar to the way Indian IT services companies operate. Hire one high-caliber technical guy (ex-army men mentioned above),surround them with 10 freshers from any private engineering college and bill for 11 headcount to the client. Get money in dollars and pay peanuts to employees. Vow! As the nature of law goes, you get what you give to your customers.


Billing rates

Let me come to the billing now!

As mentioned in one of my posts, I am a member of apartment association,primarily handling the planning and budgeting. As of today we pay 24 rupees per hour as a contract amount to the security agency. Here is the simple math:

Billing amount per day/person = 576 (24 x 24)
Total billing amount/month = 17280 (576 x 30)
For 3 security people = 51840 (17280 x 3)

I am sure you will be surprised the amount of money spent on these agencies. They also have a separate billing rates for corporates which depends on the level, where ex-armymen will be billed at higher amount. The 17280 rupees per month is very high by any standards. Probably it is more than what an entry/fresher level software engineer takes home in many of the software service companies.

Is it really worth it?

The real problem is not with billing the amount, but the value they bring in. In fact, its true for any services business (be it with servant maids, car washing or writing quality software program). In my opinion -- its just not worth paying such a huge amount for these security people. Let me give some examples.

  • The office building (where I work from) it quite old and there was a fire breakout about 6 months back. It was caused due to the malfunctioning of transformer, which created smoke throughout the building. Power went off and electric circuits started burning in a few minutes. The fire alarm didn't blow and we all started running out of the building to save ourselves. Fortunately nothing happened to any employees. But the interesting site was to observe these security person's actions during the fire breakout. None of these junior security people know exactly knew how to operate the fire extinguisher (it took about 15 minutes) and they forgot to switch off the main power connection. Fire spread quite fast, damaging few equipments inside the building.
  • Sometimes I go to office very early (say 6:30 AM) after dropping my family members in railway station. Every time I see the security people sleeping peacefully in the sofa kept in the entrance of the building. The one who is sitting in the reception also almost in sleep with barely keeping his eyes opened. Without showing the ID card, I have entered the building without any issue.
  • In spite of keeping 3 security people and paying them 51840 rupees to the agency, my helmet was stolen. I forgot to lock as it was broken and left it on the bike seat itself. When I complained about this incident to their agency owner he promised of a reimbursement (in a casual manner), which has not reached me till today. Will he reimburse a life if it is lost due to their carelessness?
If they are not able to protect a helmet or put off a fire on time, how can we expect them to save lives? We cannot blame these guys because they are just making a living out of the job without knowing the real importance of their job. The real culprits are the agencies, who make tons of money by contracting them to IT companies, apartment complexes and shopping malls.

Verdict

I remember a quote my mother used to tell me when I was growing up -- "When you have anything in abundance you don't realize importance of it". Its so true with India. It has a billion population and we don't realize the importance of people's lives. Counteless number of people die every day, and nobody gives a damn about it. With recent bomb blasts in the country, every city needs even more strict vigillance and security intelligence. Unfortunately we can't expect it to be provided by these security agencies in the current situation. It is high time for corporates to wake up and cleanup the entire mess.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Piracy = Opportunity

We all know how omnipresent piracy has become in India. For example, I came across the following advertisement (check out the picture below) board in Chennai for refilling inkjet cartridges and laserjet toners.


Even though refilling is not legally approved by printer manufactures, its an organized industry in India. Check out their website for more details and check out their interesting caption "Almighty gives only one life, but ASHCOM gives 6 lives", thereby saying that they can smartly refill the cartridge 6 times before getting rid of it forever. In a country where regulations doesn't exist or taken for granted, its impossible to expect people to buy cartridges/toners every time they run out of ink. The piracy is not restricted to cartridges alone. In Bangalore, everybody would have seen roadside bookshops having pirated copies of "best selling" books (recent addition: Go kiss the word by Bagchi) for 50-100 rupees.

And I don't need to talk about software. Almost all the people I have come across use pirated version of Windows Vista or XP, just after it gets released. No matter how much amount of Microsoft applies, Indians override it with even smarter ideas. Last week I was talking to one of my close acquaintances, who said his Windows XP was throwing up a warning message saying it is a pirated copy and asked him to install a original version. Many of his friends faced similar problems and they found a hack for fixing it.By pulling out a install file from original XP and placing it in a particular directory, the warning message can be put off. My close acquaintance sincerely got that file from one of his friends (note the point: when it comes to breaking the rules Indians help each other, not other way) and made XP as a 'original version'. Kudos to great Indian thinking!

For quite some time, I have been thinking of why we Indians are not giving due importance to original versions?. Is it because the way we are wired? Should the regulatory systems need to be blamed? Are we bad people? Not necessarily. The answer is simple -- we are not ready to pay for anything upfront if it is costing more than what an individual can afford. In a country with per capitia income is about 35,000 rupees, how can we expect anyone to pay 10% of it for purchasing original version of Windows XP or 1% for original version of a book? At the same time we cannot ask the educated knowledge workers to buy original version just because they have more disposable income. They constitute only 2% population, who also tend to go with the trend. Even if they buy original versions, it cannot be a viable business proportion for companies.

According to me, piracy is an opportunity. More piracy means people want a particular product desparetely. As they are not able to afford it, they take the piracy route. In order to address the problem we don't need better products but innovative business models. The focus should be given on how to make things easily affordable by taking the "micro-consumers --> micro-payments" model. For example, take Indian telecom service provides. They have pre-paid plans for as low as 30 rupees (micro-payment), which is working out very well for customers (micro-consumers). With the sheer scale in sales, service provides are getting their profits. In fact India is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. If the rate plans are in thousands, it would not have been successful.

A similar approach should be taken for other businesses (book publishing, selling software etc..) to make it sustainable. Piracy should be seen as an opportunity rather than a curse. I am sure there is a huge opportunity, yet to be tapped in many areas.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bottom of the pyramid : Aravind eye clinic

I was watching some videos about 'Bottom of the pyramid' idea by C.K.Prahlad. One of their case studies was about Aravind eye clinic, which was amazing. Check out the video to get a 'eye opening' business model.

Embedding 'word of mouth' marketing inside products

One of my friends just got back from US and gave me a pack of stride chewing gum, which he bought there. More than the gum, their cover design fascinated me, because it embedded excellent word of mouth marketing messages (check out the pictures below).

Here are some of the interesting things I have learnt:
  • They have smartly used caption -- "The ridiculously long lasting gum",by mentioning "Good for you, bad for us".
  • Excellent sense of humor in their messages (even the cover cuttings include smile), while conveying the marketing message indirectly.
  • Asking customers to participate in conversation by logging new ideas into their website
  • Overall its a very interesting design, thus provides a reason for people to talk (crux of word-of-mouth marketing).
  • They have not spent anything extra to spread marketing message.
Embedding marketing messages along with a product is a great idea. Next time you buy a product (be it a chewing rum or gadget) watch out for its cover design, manuals, stickers and additional information they provide. It might convey a whole lot of marketing messages.

Check out this link to see more humorous stuff!

Serial blasts in Bangalore

After finishing a casual phone call with my mother at 2:15 PM, I opened up NDTV's website to catch-up with afternoon news. I couldn't believe my eyes to see big,bold,black letters which read "FLASH : SERIAL BOMB BLASTS IN BANGALORE". By the time I informed my family about my safe state, panic has set inside the office. Almost everybody was on phone finding about their friends, spouce, children, parents and informing that they are safe. Upon reading the news further, I leant that all of them were low intensity blasts, primarily aimed to threaten people. Started off from office early (at 3:30) to avoid traffic jams caused due to panic. The traffic was normal and the city is very much functioning except the affected areas.

I have been living in this city for the past 7 years and it always provided me 'home-away-from-home' feeling. Without any question, I have developed a emotional bonding with this place and it feels really bad when terror has struck the city. Its not as bad as Mumbai blasts, but it had left panic in the mind of Bangaloreans for sure.

The 'Garden city' will no longer be the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Art of listening

Times of India do publish some good articles once in a while. I came across one this morning. Check out the article titled 'The Art of listening'.

This article couldn't have come in a better time as I am learning this wonderful and powerful skill in a slow but steady phase. Even though the article has used terms like 'manager' and 'leader' in multiple places, I feel its very important for every individual to to listen to others to have a better understanding about with their spouce, children, boss, business partners, investors, customers and perspective employee/employer. In fact, many problems in life can be easily solved by developing this skill. For the past few weeks I am applying this in my personal and professinal life. Trust me -- it has yielded excellent results so far. Don't think listening is 'just another management fad' and rule it out.

Here is another related article by Bala:

You heard me but can you listen?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Marketing : According to Dilbert

Came across this interesting picture which reflects my current thinking.

May be Dilbert put is too bluntly calling Marketing as a 'fraud'. In reality (based my real time experience) it doesn't matter how great a particular product/service is. It is all about how well it can be marketed and sold to customers. Business/Entrepreneurship happens when the customer signs a cheque and nothing else is more important than that.

My dear idly Vada

My better half is out of station and I am back to bachelor life for few days. Its been quite a while since I had breakfast in roadside Darshinis. This morning I stopped by one such Darshini to have idly-vada combo. Got a shock when the shopkeeper returned 3 rupee change in return for my 20 rupee. Man! A plate of idly vada costs 17 rupees, that too in a roadside Darshini?

I am still better off as the 2-3 rupee raise doesn't pinch my pocket much. But what about a daily wager who is earning 50-100 rupee a day? 12% inflation means he may end up eventually skipping a meal? Added to global oil price raise, the local inflation is hitting Indians big time. What happened to UPA's 'Aam Admi' promise?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In search of a good news paper

I have been living in Bangalore for the past 7 years but not able to find a good daily newspaper of my taste. During my school and college days I used to read Hindu, because I had much more time with me even though Hindu's political viewpoints doens't match mine. After coming to Bangalore I was not able to continue with Hindu, mainly because it was looking as if I am reading Chennai edition. Their business section was totally hopeless -- primarily focussing on manufacturing/auto industries, which I don't have any idea. Added to that almost all the job ads,events and happenings were Tamilnadu and Chennai centric and very less about Karnataka and Bangalore.

In order to feel more connected I had to choose TOI, which turned out to be a total crap. Other than some of their supplimentaries (Times Wellness, Ascent and Education times) and Sunday columns by Sashi Taroor, I don't see anything useful about it. Their daily supplimentary 'Bangalore Times' carrys semi-nude pictures almost every day and other Bangalore specific initiatives (Bang-on-bangalore, Times-of-voice etc..) didn't create even a small change to the City. Nowadays I hardly spend 5 minutes just to browse thro front page and business sections.

Not sure about Deccan Herald and Vijay Times though!

Book release : New Age Of Innovation

Last Friday there was a book release function held in Crossword Bangalore. Famous strategist and professor C.K.Prahlad and his colleague M.S.Krishnan launched the book and spoke about what new age of innovation is all about. For more details check out their website.

As businesses are growing globally, it becomes critical to provide a great 'experience' to each of their consumers. Every consumer is unique with their own choice and providing great experience comes with having proper offerings. This is what they call 'N = 1', where N denotes the unique customer experience. In order to provide a great experience, companies end up sourcing resources from multiple sources, which they call 'R = G'. Prof.CK quoted the famous example of Apple iTunes business model, built around their revolutionary product iPod. Every user of iPod has their own choice of music (Classical, Rock, Pop etc..) which is unique to him/her (N=1). In order to provide N = 1,Apple sources music contents (R) from many sources(G). The R = G phenomenon, is caused by connected global networks like integrated supply chain, social networking and on-demand applications.

After the brief introduction mentioned above, authors answered some of the questions asked by audience about US recession, cost effectiveness of Indian firms, innovation etc. Overall it was a well planned session (spanned for 45 minutes) with about 50 focused audience. (check out the picture below) I learned that there was a separate business session hosted in the evening, which I couldn't attend.

Got a copy of the book signed by the authors. Will read and post the review later. Anyways, many book review blog posts are pending, which includes:
  1. Search in secret India by Paul Brunton
  2. Satyagraha in South Africa by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
  3. Political history of Pakistan by Pa Raghavan (Tamil)
  4. Go kiss the word by Subroto Bagchi
  5. Business at the speed of light by Bill Gates
  6. Astronaut Sunita Williams by Aadadhika Shama and S.Seshadri

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Give me a missed call

Found a very interesting sponsored 'no parking' board this afternoon.

It reads: 'just give a MISSED CALL to xxxxx and get information about Bangalore (picture below)' In their website the caption is mentioned as 'A new gateway to Bangalore just a missed call away' :)
This is a really cool marketing technique, which generates instant word-of-mouth.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The corporate lingo

I live in a apartment complex, where most of them are working in the IT industry. We have formed a committee to take care of various aspects like resident grievances,moderating accounts, maintaining equipments, planning budgets and organizing events etc. We also appointed a operations manager to execute these activities in a planned manner. The committee has various positions (President, Vice-president, Secretary etc..) which in most of the cases held by folks who are in entry/middle level management positions in IT industry. These folks use 'corporate lingo' in every other opportunity they get. Recently I came across couple of interesting scenes.

Scene 1: Operations manager's resignation

Last Sunday Mr.President of the association called for an 'urgent' meeting to announce the resignation of the operations manager. Here is what he has to say:

"This is to inform you that our operations manager X has resigned from his current position. He got such a lucrative offer that its impossible for us to match it. Looking from his career prospective it is a good decision and he will grow well in his career by taking this decision. I have accepted his resignation and asked Jayakumar (me), Gupta and Krisha to work on the transition. The last working day of X will be July 5th 2008. Let us wish him all the best!"

I was stunned to hear such speech and thought "Am I sitting in company meeting or apartment
association meeting?". I know X (operation manager) personally and he is a 55 year old ex-central government employee. He opted voluntary retirement, took up the current operations job just to keep him occupied and make some decent money. What career aspirations or growth he can have at this age? Who can offer a high-growth career for him for looking after mundane things?

Scene 2: Discussions regarding rain water harvesting

Couple of months back we had another meeting to discuss the possibility of installing rain water harvesting system in the complex. During the same time we were purchasing water from tankers as our borewell levels has gone down significantly. Here is what Mr. Vice president has to say:
"How much we will be spending for installing the system? By installing this how many meters the ground water will come up? How much amount we can save by stopping external tankers? Can you provide me the overall Return-On-Investment (ROI)?"
This was a bumper to me! It was exactly sounding the way my project manager asks questions to engineers by keeping the commonsense in a corner. Doesn't he know that rain water harvesting is a community initiative? Even if he don't know can't he ask for more details? Why should he ask typical "manager" questions and quickly jump into ROI?

According to me 95% of things in life and work is all about applying commonsense. One need to understand 'what-to-apply-where' and 'one-size-doesn't fit-eveyone'.As I mentioned above Mr.President and Mr.Vice presidents are a mid level manager IT managers primarily doing people management. They got used to asking same set of questions in their workplace, which got
carried away to apartment association meetings as well. If at all they would have applied basic commonsense,those questions would not have come. As time progressed, the 'corporate lingo' got into their blood.

Will they ever learn the importance of commonsense?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bill gates : End of an era

Microsoft's chairman and founder Bill Gates retired from the company yesterday. The 52 year old will Gates spend major portion of his time for philanthropy along with his wife on their Melinda Gates foundation. With his major stake in Microsoft, Gates will serve as a non-executive chairman with one day a week spent for Microsoft. According to me this truly marks end of a great era with great achievements and contributions. As a Harvard dropout, Gates wore multiple hats as an Entrepreneur, Technologist, Strategist and a great business thinker. He also set a great example for thousands of young entrepreneurs throughout the world that an individual with his dream can significantly change the world around. Hats off to this great person!

My memory travels back to my hostel room, where we used to have intense debate about Microsoft and Bill Gates. Many of my friends used to argue that Gates has stolen the idea of Windows (from Apple), built software with loads of bugs, monopolized the software market etc. While those arguments cannot be completely ruled out, I like Bill Gates mainly because he is a great business man. Here are some of the reasons why I like him a lot.

To start with he spotted a great opportunity of PC revolution. He was able to envision the computing shifting from mainframes to personal computers. With the invention of micro-processors, Intel and Microsoft still continue to rule the PC market, what Andy Grove calls as 'Wintel' (Windows + Intel) phenomenon in his famous book 'Only the paranoid survive'. He was able to see what others were not able to in an era which was dominated by big players like IBM. Second, he built a great business model around the Windows operating system. By positioning Windows as a platform, he empowered many application developers to run their software on Windows platform. This literally made Windows as a "de-facto" standard in the application world. As engineers, we often think that a great technical idea is what it takes to build a great company. However in reality it is good business model wrapped with aggressive marketing strategies is what makes a successful company. Microsoft just did that! I personally know many of the startups failed mainly due to their inability to market and sell their products not because of their engineering ability to build great product. Third, he has set example that young passionate entrepreneurs can indeed make a difference to the world around. He continues to be a role model for many of the entrepreneurs across countries and industries. He build a 44 Billion dollar business from the scratch without any Venture funding or pre-defined ecosystem for PC. In fact Microsoft has build an ecosystem around its products.

However the future ride for Microsoft (minus Gates) will not be all that easy. It is facing multi faceted competition from Linux (in the enterprise server space), Google (in the internet and applications apace) and Apple (in the entertainment space) apart from other big players like IBM, Novell and Sun micro systems. According to 'Built to last' (more on this book later) authors visionary companies are all about having the adaptability to change and win the test of time. For example, Sony's first product was a wooden rice cooker but today they are into consumer electronics. Hewlett-Packard was an electronic instrument company but today they sell printers, PCs and servers. Only time will tell if Microsoft will be such a visionary company with next generation of products and leaders.

I remember watching the NDTV's Pranoy Roy interviewing Bill Gates (along with Narayana Murthy) in 2005. Here is an interesting question and Gate's answer to that:

Pranoy Roy: To get back to ESOPs and motivation. But before we get to ESOPs, you have achieved so much, you have changed the world. you have changed your life, how do you keep yourself motivated to work on and on and on?

Gates: I think there are several things. First of all is I love my work, i get to work with smart people, it is a field that constantly changing, every couple of years people say, you know, some new company is gonna put you out of business, and we get to show people "No, not this time".
How long they will be able to say "No,not this time" ?

BOOK REVIEW : The three mistakes of my life

This is the third book by Chetan Bhagat.

I have never read fiction ever since the reading habit caught into me. Chetan's Five point someone (FPS) changed my habit by taking me back to my good old college days. With similar expectations I bought this book and I would say I am fairly happy with the book. The most interesting point about Chetan is the canvas he uses to paint the whole story. He used business, cricket and religion as a background in this book (similar to IIT in FPS).

The story starts with three friends Omi, Ishan and Govind belonging to lower middle class family in Ahmadabad. These folks are perceived as not-so-smart kind among the neighbourhood. With his passion towards building business Govind pulls in his buddies to start a shop, selling cricket accesories inside the temple's shopping complex owned by Omi's uncle. Ishaan (the local cricket buff) offers free coaching tips to customers, thereby creating a good reason for people to visit their shop. As the business grows they face multiple problems in form of Gujarat earth quake, Godra riots and local politics. Added to that author adds more spice by introducing the love story between Govind and Vidya (Ishaan's sister). As I am passionate about business, I just can't stop appreciating the Govind character. As every step he thinks like a typical businessman with a dream of building a big business. To start with, he "leverages" Ishaan's cricket expertise and Omi's contacts to setup the shop. Followed by that he creates a growth plan for the company by booking posh shop in forthcoming mall. In order to bring in more revenue he thinks of multiple product offerings thereby bringing in maths coaching and stationary selling into his shop.

The story then takes multiple turns with many events and characters. These folks find a 13 year old boy named Ali who is a naturally gifted cricket player. Ishan gives coaching for Ali to make him a national player. Luckily they get an opportunity to visit Australia and take part in cricket coaching camps for a week. Somehow the chapter about Australian visit doesn't fit well with the overall story and I found it boring to read thro' those chapters. Finally the story reaches the climax with post Godra riots, which affects these folks pretty badly. I don't want to write much details about it as it is not fair on my part.

Overall it is a pretty decent book for timepass.

Related post: Book review : Five point someone