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

Friday, June 27, 2008

A great customer experience

The reason behind any successful company is very simple : customer satisfaction.

With global competition increasing day-by-day, companies are going beyond just satisfying customers. Companies are focusing to provide nice 'experience' to their customers by taking care of very small things. Recently I came across one such experience.

I have been using Airtel's mobile connection for the past five years. This Tuesday (24th June) marked one more year of my existence in the earth. I had some a query regarding this month's mobile bill and dialed 121 (Airtel's customer support) for clarifying it.Upon choosing the basic option "Information regarding your account", an automated message promptly said "Airtel family wishes you a very warm and happy birthday". It was a pleasant shock for me to hear that message just by choosing the basic option. Within seconds, the automated software could recognize my number, match with my date of birth and play appropriate voice message.

Such small things won't cost much but it left an ever lasting experience in me. Man! this company cares for their customers.

Do you have any such experiences?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Book release : 'Go kiss the world' by Subroto Bagchi

Followed by his famous book 'The high performance Entrepreneur', Mindtree chief gardener Subroto Bagchi has released his second book titled 'Go kiss the world' yesterday. The book release function was held in Crossword book store in Brigade road and I was present there. Subroto formally released the book by handing over the first set of copies to Sudha Murthy, Girish Karnad and VG Siddhartha (see photographs below). Followed by the release, he read some chapters for the audience followed by a Q & A session.





The phrase 'Go kiss the world' was told to Subroto by his mother when she was in her deathbed. These simple yet powerful words have become the mantra for Subroto's life who has become a successful Entrepreneur, coming from a very humble background. In this book he has used his personal life as a canvas to provide some of the most imporant life lessons to budding young professionals. I have bought a copy for myself and skimmed thro' the first chapter yesterday. Found is pretty interesting. Will write the review once finish reading it. Followed by the book reading, Subroto answered some of the questions from audience. The questions ranged from attrition in IT company to building emotional infrastructure in organizations.

It was really a useful evening,worth spending time with such great people.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Reflections on Indian Premier League (IPL)

I was supposed to post this entry last week. As I was not well, it got delayed by a week. Hope it is not too late to write about IPL.

The first edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) concluded last week with Rajastan Royals emerging as champions. The Royals played excellent cricket in each department as a team with very few super starts. Of course one cannot rule out the great leadership provided by Shane Warne to these young lads. In spite of having many of hard-hitting players like Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Shahid Afridi, Herschell Gibbs the Hyderabad Deccan chargers finished last in the tally. This once again proves my belief that I don't need a team with super heroes to do great things. All I require is a committed set of young players, who can perform well as a team.

Ever since IPL was announced, it paved way for lot of media coverage and controversies around it. Many called it as a total money spinner with cricket given a backset and auctioning players was considered as if the player is selling himself to the sponsor. As many of the league teams were owned by Bollywood film stars and corporate tycoons, the initial hype was phenomenal. Given the concerns above, one should agree that IPL has been a very successful league ever conducted in Indian sporting history. I also strongly believe that IPL has brought some unique advantages to cricket and India. Here are some of the positives IPL has brought:

No state or region based teams

This is FIRST and BIGGEST shackle that IPL has broken. Even though teams were formed in on city basis, players came literally from anywhere and everywhere. For example: MS Dhoni from Bihar played for Chennai, Sreesanth from Kerala played for Punjab kings XI, Rohit Sharma from Mumbai played for Deccan Chargers Hyderabad. Of course one may argue that these players were taken in auction by respective league owners, but the diversified mix it created among players and states was really wonderful to see. For India it’s very critical to look at things beyond state. In my opinion IPL has played a significant role in breaking the state oriented mindset. People watched cricket with true spirit for the game forgetting state/regional feelings.

Entertainment and sports (Not sentiments and emotions)

For years together, Indians were getting too emotional behind two things: Cricket and Cinema. Stones were thrown; Effigies were burnt whenever a player didn't do well in a particular match or series. On the other hand players were given superior status when they played well and their form was good. Added to that, tensions used to run high whenever India Vs Pakistan matches were held (especially in Sharjah) with media quoting them as ‘Its more than cricket’. People were taking cricket far more seriously than it really deserves.

The maturity of an average Indian cricket fan is pretty low. I spent years thinking why Indians are not able to think cricket as a game and consider it as an entertainment. IPL has taken the first step towards installing maturing among cricket fanatics. Every team had players from various countries and states, which made people, push their sentiments down. In my opinion, it is a significant breakthrough to make Indians think cricket is just a game.

Shorter time duration

As cricket gained undue importance among Indians, they started wasting lot of time watching cricket matches. This might make cricket fans angry, but that’s reality. I have seen many instances where people bunked classes, stopped studying, took leave and sat in front of TV for days together to watch cricket matches. If I think practically, it has wasted a lot of productive hours of the whole country. The T20 matches and the IPL match timings (after 8 PM in the evening) made things much easier. People can catch up with matches after their work/class hours mainly during dinner time.

I have had similar experiences watching some of the NBA matches when I traveled abroad -- come back from work, watch a match and go to sleep. At the same time every match used to be extremely thrilling, which made them worth watching. I got the same experience with IPL matches as well.

New players, more options

The IPL has opened up a new channel for lot of young players to prove their talent. This tournament brought players like Swapnil Asnodkar, Yusuf Pathan, S Badrinath and Shaun Marsh into limelight thereby increasing their chance of getting selected in the national team. Apart from that, IPL also helped some of the out-of-form players like Suresh Raina, L Balaji, Shane Watson and Mohammed Kaif to prove their class once again to their selectors.

Even if a player is not making into the national team, he can play for IPL and make a living out of it. This might altogether change the way sports is perceived as a career in India. Many middle class parents might start allowing their sons to make cricket as a career.

Overall, IPL experience was really great!

Related article: Four cheers for IPL by Shashi Tharoor

Monday, June 02, 2008

The letter from Akhil Chandra Sen

Check out my post on Toilets in Indian trains before reading this.

Yesterday I was in Bangalore railway station to receive my parents. As I was wandering in the waiting room, found the photograph (see the pic below) of the letter written by Akil Chandra Sen. Small initiative, big difference!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bilingual Way

This morning I was reading June edition of 'Business world' and found an interesting article titled 'Bilingual Way'.

The article talks about a survey conducted by National University of Education Planning and Administration. The survey shows that 74% increase in the number of enrollments from 5.47 million students in 2003-2004 to 9.51 million in 2005-2006 -- in upper-primary sections of English medium schools across India.

The article goes on saying that the results has come at the cost of regional languages like Marathi, Telugu and Kannada and suggests that its time we moved away from the 'either or' debate and lookat bilingualism as a real alternative for education.

The BW article has given statistical evidence, which is in sync my previous blog post.