Don’t quote me

Learn to listen, opportunity often knocks softly.” – unknown author.

Saturday (yesterday) was without doubt the strangest day ever. On the same day I met and spoke to at least 4 Bishop’s alum from the same batch as me. They all got in touch with me through different channels. Looks like the Universe has conspired to knock my door down. For those from Bishops, join bishopites at There are also two communities on dedicated to Bishop’s school Pune. The best part is, I did not meet any of them through either channel.

There is also a community dedicated to Prof. Moogat. Seriously!

Chill out Saturday

It is raining outside. Pune is very drippy. What else but Reggae for today? I thought I would share with you the works of Max Romeo. I recommend a popular track of his – “Chase The Devil“. I got here when I heard the Grand Theft Auto “San Andreas” Soundtrack. The other trippy reggae numbers on the GTA soundtrack include “Armagideon Time” – Willie Williams.

Listen close & take care man! 😉

Related Links:

We still want to believe that the consumer is King

An Indian summer: As first weeks go, my first week here has been exceptionally interesting. I am enjoying the fact that the systems here are geared towards a personalized experience. This is not to say that in the past the experience was missing. I also cannot ignore the fact that Indian bureaucracy is legendary. Getting anything done involved filling forms and travelling from desk to desk.

Re-integrating: Within the past week, I have purchased and setup various financial products, got connected with the world, assisted in the purchase of computing hardware and re-integrated myself into the day to day activities here. My bank even provides me with a personal relationship manager. Not that a personal relationship manager is anything new. For example, my father has a personal relationship with every staff member at his old time private bank. The only difference is, no one ever bothered to label that relationship, while the larger multi-national banks have.

I can hardly rival my experience re-integrating here with my experience in the US. I remember the US systems were quick and reliable. For example, the toughest part was getting to the bank branch. Opening the account was easy. As a student I could not afford a car, and if you don’t own a car then your dead in the water as far as getting around is concerned. If you hired a cab or took a bus, the time and money spent were unusually disproportionate to the distance you wanted to go. In contrast, getting around an Indian city is cheap, that is not what you have to concern yourself with. Instead, you really ought to worry about getting conned when you get on that bus or an auto-rickshaw.

The AirTel network: Back in the States, I was on a wireless service contract with a large US GSM provider. The contract had about 4 months left over on it. I never anticipated moving to India so soon when I purchased the contract. Needless to say the provider billed me an early termination fee (BIG $$) when I reneged on the contract and left me with a GSM/GPRS Nokia phone.

On the second day back here, I got ready to get reconnected with an Indian mobile number. My father suggested I could go down to the AirTel customer service store where I could purchase a no obligation, relatively cheap, pre-paid SIM card for the AirTel GSM/GPRS network and at the same time activate it. All I had to do was carry my proof of residence and a passport sized photograph. Within an hours time, an AirTel representative helped me get the right forms, buy the card, submit the documents and I was on the network with my original GSM phone. Cool! Had I decided to go with the post-paid solution, my contract would still have no obligation. Freedom!

Indian (un)reliability: The other experience was with a broadband provider in my area – Iqara. I called up their local office to schedule a connection (no 1-800 here). The person who answered the phone connected me to the individual who was responsible for a new connection. I actually had a real name and an extension number of one person who was responsible for my new connections. Within the next two hours I handed over money for a new connection to a representative (who drove down to my place) and I was promised a new connection before the end of the week.

I will not fail to mention that Iqara never delivered on their promise. I don’t have the money or the broadband connection, but I have receipts, a name and a number and I am going to call that person on Monday. Until then I have to imbibe the intensity with which my friends chase down service providers over the phone. Perhaps in the process I will also learn a little Marathi 🙂 a popular local language that can open many doors. Which reminds me, I had once upon a time promised myself I would learn Spanish.

Problems of the people: Pune wants to become the first wi-fi enabled city. M.G. road and the University of Pune are already there. That promise could be a life saver for individuals who are stuck in a routine Pune traffic jam. If you ever wanted to cover the 10 kilometer stretch between my house and the University of Pune, carry a laptop with a wireless radio. In a few months from now, you can spend the 30 minutes your stuck there e-mailing all your friends not to drive down that same road.

If you think about it, Pune really does have a chance of making its ambitions come true ;). In the past, other urban planners (e.g. San Francisco) usually provide mass transit first and then aim for wi-fi. Pune on the other hand can skip the entire mass transit mess and go on to providing wi-fi. In fact, I imagine that in the near future Pune-ites will simply stop commuting and work from home over free internet.

The Google Story: I am reading an insightful book by David Vise on the quickest, largest, hottest Internet, Media and technology success of our time: Google. Google succeeded in its early days because of great feedback and support from friends, well-wishers and other users of Google beta. They were first users of the system and reported with intensity on how well Google (beta) solved their own problems with searching the Internet. Larry and Sergey kept up with them because they felt the feedback was very important. No doubt, many others also had a hand in its success in their own different ways. Professors helped make connections with Sand Hill Road, Google hired key employees from their network and a friend provided the garage space when they decided to move out of Stanford. I accept as a fundamental truth, that people make technology companies.

I am confident from what I know of Pune that any startup here can make the same connections. Not only are there enough smart consumers who will let you know what they want, people here are very social and will go out of their way to assist you. For my own startup, I promise to sincerely imbibe the Google philosophy – solve the problem really well first. Keep the feedback loop short. I don’t plan on making razor sharp deadlines that will decide when the product will ship. Instead, I believe the fun and learning in a startup’s journey will come from inviting and absorbing honest feedback.

Life is very different: And so is the market. My friend calls it the “Touch Factor”. It is these two words that decide the degree of success of any business model here. It has always been here.

Related Stories: Potential and Impact of Basic Public Services – Shrikant.

The Mobile office solution to load-shedding

For the uninitiated – Pune is undergoing year round conservation of electricity. The power plants cannot keep up with the city power consumption (or so we have been told).

To get around the 8am to 10am power cut in Shivajinagar, I will be working from our office space near Senapati Bapat road. When load shedding envelopes our office space (I suspect during lunch hours), I will probably be working from home.

Bush to the rest of the world: India is worth the bargain

NYTimes: U.S. Give India Applause. NYTimes, March 5th 2006. Somini Sengupta.

George bush, the Texas businessman who ran god knows how many oil companies into the ground, has endorsed India as an economic bargain. With all due respect to the readers of this blog from Pakistan, I don’t quite enjoy his duplicity. However, the blog is to mark the realisation of the Manmohan Singh’s vision. His vision, that India will apply its economic strengths to pull itself up in the world stage – is now reality. The view on India is generally upbeat. Some of the hype may still be unfounded. Perhaps a little late, but its about time.

On the same note, I am returning to India permanently mid-April. If your in the area (Pune), or in Seattle – I’d love to meet up for a drink.

Entrepreneur: Sabeer Bhatia

Sabeer Bhatia shot to fame when was bought up by Microsoft for $400 million. The sale heralded the dot com boom, which later went bust of course. Sabeer is now launching He wants to speed up email access – he wants to be able to mirror the internet. A lot of confusion behind what he is trying to do.
A number of Internet sources incorrectly state that Sabeer studied in Bishop’s Cotton school, Pune. There was no such school in Pune. There still is the Bishop’s school Pune but I cannot remember Sabeer being an alumni of the school. Since I am myself – it would be nice to know if he did indeed study at Bishops.

In any case, Sabeer is a true entrepreneur. A few failures will not offset his desire to come up with new ideas. Wish him luck.

Promod Haque wants to invest in Indian startups which case we should give him every reason to do so. Promod is a managing partner at Norwest Ventures. They shot into the news lately when they bought a sizeable share of Persistent System’s Pvt. Ltd, Pune.

Rediff recently had published an interview with Promod Haque discussing new ventures in India and greater exploration of the technology product space. I agree with him, employers must cultivate a sense of ownership in their final products through equity and options. Creation of wealth is not nearly as important as the creation of new ideas, markets and products for our well-being and progress.

Update (6th Feb. 2006): Ram Sriram of Sherpalo wants to invest in Indian Internet Consumer Companies. [Economic Times]

Must see movies

I was glad to begin 2006 with an extended visit to India. Unfortunately, I missed out on a few movies (made in India), despite having had the necessary free time. Thanks to a last minute ditch by Sid, I also ended up missing out on the 2006 Pune International film festival.

Encouraging Entrepreneurs in India

I ought to be watching the NASSCOM newsline page more closely. India has it’s own set of incentives for entrepreneurs in IT. While I cannot think of a reason why the incentives would change in the near future, I would still watch it closely.

No prior permission of Government of India is required to set up IT/ Software units in India. Moreover, to encourage units in this sector, Government of India has announced many schemes:

* Domestic Tariff Area: When the primary focus is to sell in the domestic market in India. This unit can be set up anywhere in India. All normal laws apply. No concession is available on import duties. Exports are permitted. A special Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) scheme of Ministry of Commerce can be availed. This scheme allows import of capital goods against export obligations at a concessional duty rate of 5 percent.
* Special Economic Zones (SEZs): SEZs are areas where export production can take place free from plethora of rules and regulations governing imports and exports. Units operating in these zones have full flexibility of operations and can import duty free capital goods and raw material. The movement of goods to and fro between ports and SEZ are unrestricted. The units in SEZ have to export the entire production. The first two SEZs are being set up at Positra in Gujarat and Nangunery in Tamil Nadu. At the same time, Santacruz Electronic Export Promotion Zone, Kandla Export Promotion Zone, Vizag Export Promotion Zone and Cochin Export Promotion Zones have been converted to SEZs.
* 100 Percent Export Oriented Unit (EOU): This is similar to SEZ scheme. But in this scheme, there is no need to be physically located at SEZ. All other incentives are same as provided to SEZ units.
* Software Technology Park (STP): This is a very special scheme under the Ministry of Information Technology. STPs are located at Noida, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, Jaipur, Mohali and Thiruvanathapuram. This scheme offers zero import duty on import of all capital goods, special 10 years income tax rebate, availability of infrastructure facilities like high-speed data communication links, etc.

I do wish the government would identify software for Indian markets for special incentives. The outlook for software development for the Indian market is upbeat as this story suggests [“The Indian Software Products Sector: a Slow, Yet Steady Rise To Prominence”].

From the story, according to Professor Madanmohan’s study, there are at least 346 indigenous companies involved with product development. While I am unable to locate the study itself, the article optimistically suggests that the market potential is around US $7bn. Phew! The article goes on to identify key challenges to indigenous product development and what incentives would be nice to have. I am just going to paste that down here.

Facing The Challenges
While the product software segment in India is currently constrained by multiple factors and challenges, it is the young start-ups within the industry that face the toughest hurdles. For these companies, internationalisation and developing new revenue streams are the biggest roadblocks. Funding and access to capital is the other constraint these young organisations face, reflecting the fragile nature of their cash flows and nascent stage of venture capital. Being small in size and not so well known, these companies also had problems in attracting key personnel (especially developers with product orientation).

For software product firms in their expansion phase, the key challenging is managing growth and retaining leadership.

Organisations operating within the product domain are also challenged by the lack of industry-institution linkages, the absence of a consortium approach to R&D and the paucity of global-class talent.

Some of the other challenges facing product companies include the following:

* Access to capital and key technologies
* Lack of a domestic market to experiment and develop product capabilities
* An acute shortage of equity (risk) capital, to support the development of the industry (both large and small) and infrastructure outside of the government
* High entry barriers, including relatively larger investment and resources, a gestation period, technological complexity and endmarket and marketing knowledge
* Lack of resources for brand building

Providing The Growth Drivers
Clearly, the industry and the government have to work closely to provide a fillip to the product software segment.

A host of initiatives can be jointly undertaken to catalyse the growth of this emerging industry. These include the following:

* Improve the level of seed funding and encourage networking between the
* seekers and givers
* Increase the talent pool of target areas and initiate higher degree programmes at the IITs, IISc and institutions of higher learning
* Increase the access to test and development facilities at Defense and other national scientific organisations
* Increase tax and other incentives to develop and market ‘Made in India’ software products and standards
* Introduce policies that foster a balance between innovation and facilitate technology diffusion
* Encourage innovation to ensure global competitiveness
* Make investments in frontier technologies such as nanotechnology, SOA, Seamless mobility, bio-informatics and others.

Clearly, a lot can be done to place the Indian product software companies on the global map. By overcoming challenges related to funding, brand building and talent availability, the government and industry can ensure that the software product business become a viable growth opportunity for Indian companies.