Exploring Serendipity

Google defines serendipity as “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: ‘a fortunate stroke of serendipity'”. The definition implies a sense of ‘chance’ or that which is not directly in our control.

Wikipedia has this to say – “Serendipity means a ‘happy accident’ or ‘pleasant surprise’; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.” Interesting that they would use the words while not specifically searching for it.

Going by gut, I’ve found Serendipity to be one part belief and one part effort. They’re both dependent on each other and work together to,
* give you the freedom to persistently continue your effort, to improve it,
* hold off despair through self-encouragement and,
* when the opportunity finally opens up – ensure that you are ready for it.

For instance, Roby John walked the Pune Open Coffee Club through how his startup June managed to unlock the serendipity of the Silicon Valley. Roby has made it a constant effort to focus on building his product and maintaining some presence in San Francisco through the better part of 2011 and 2012. In the middle of 2011, his startup were selected to attend office hours with Paul Graham. Later June applied to YCombinator and were accepted, thus becoming the first truly native Pune Startup to have earned that distinction. This is by no measure a trivial achievement. YCombinator are the institution of repute of Startup Incubation. In hindsight, would you still be surprised? And yet, I don’t think Roby knew all along that this was a certainty. That might be a question I want to ask him, but for now I’ll accept that mystery. In order for serendipity to work for you, you will need to keep rising up again, ‘n again, ‘n again.

There are important areas in our lives where we look forward to serendipity of this kind. I guess it is important to remember both belief and effort are necessary ingredients. Take time to list them out and strengthen both.

A day later.

Happy to see all the action on POCC!

When I started the Pune Open Coffee Club in March 2008 on the suggestion of a friend, Vijay Anand (Founder, Proto.in), little did I know that in a short span of three months, the Club would attract over 200 members.

Anjali and I used to brainstorm ways of marketing POCC, and one of the ideas that really helped was coinciding our first major POCC meeting with the VC Circle conference in Pune in April. Since the conference was filled with investment bankers, the VCs who wanted to meet entrepreneurs came to the POCC event 🙂

It’s exciting for us to see new members joining the Club every week, especially with all the action they’re bringing with them.

Here are some of highlights of June and July in case you’ve missed something.

Continue reading Happy to see all the action on POCC!

Nurturing the Pune Startup Eco-System through Open Communities

I’ve been helping the Pune OpenCoffee Club bootstrap itself here in Pune. The community is designed to help Tech. Startup Enthusiasts, Entrepreneurs, Developers, Advisors, Investors and everyone else.

Continue reading Nurturing the Pune Startup Eco-System through Open Communities

Rapid product development at Google

Google Gets Ready To Rumble With Microsoft – N.Y. Time, Steve Lohr and Miguel Helft.

Google maintains that pace courtesy of the cloud. With a vast majority of its products Web-based, it doesn’t wait to ship discs or load programs onto personal computers. Inside the company, late stages of product development are sometimes punctuated by 24-to-48-hour marathon programming sessions known as “hack-a-thons.” The company sometimes invites outside engineers to these sessions to encourage independent software developers to use Google technologies as platforms for their own products.

New features and improvements are made and tested on Google’s computers and constantly sprinkled into the services users tap into online. In the last two months alone, eight new features or improvements have been added to Google’s e-mail system, Gmail, including a tweak to improve the processing speed and code to simplify the handling of e-mail on mobile phones. A similar number of enhancements have been made in the last two months to Google’s online spreadsheet, word processing and presentation software.

Early this month, Google released new cellphone software, with the code-name Grand Prix. A project that took just six weeks to complete, Grand Prix allows for fast and easy access to Google services like search, Gmail and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser. (For now, it is tailored for iPhone browsers, but the plan is to make it work on other mobile browsers as well.) Continue reading Rapid product development at Google

SysInclude == Remarkable

I’m trying to keep only the best Startups from India in focus here. In order to get listed, a product has to be Remarkable, early stage, in sync with our times, and address a significant need which many people have.

SysInclude is a social network dedicated to IT professionals in India (and elsewhere) who work with the top IT shops.

Why does the idea rock? In our turbulent and confusing times, when everyone is vying to be a Facebook, SysInclude is a refreshing idea. They are focused on identifying and solving the needs of a large (enough) niche. They have wisely selected an audience with growing requirements.

They have restricted their registration to folks with a working e-mail address from a recognized IT shop. All other registrations are blocked. Their aim is to keep their resources and targets focused on their target audience.

Monetization should not be very hard for SysInclude. IT professionals are obvious targets for advertisers who wants to reach out to a high-spend, technology-savvy class of youth making anything from Rs. 5 lakhs p.a to the insane. Advertisers and sponsors will definitely include companies that recruit for IT, Startups looking for talent and advertisers from the retail, travel, automobile and real estate sectors.

The devil is definitely in the details. The team at SysInclude is geared to execute the idea with passion and perfection. They will need to work hard and innovate features that stretch beyond the ordinary. I am yet to see how they intend to make the idea compelling enough to draw in the audience through word of mouth. One possibility is to focus on answering the many questions that IT pros have including housing, services, work conditions, local information and networking.

What can they do better? I’d suggest that they open up a little to include professionals who aspire to either work in IT and are currently placed abroad (and have been invited to join by a friend). I get a number of requests from returning Indians every year with questions about jobs and companies.

I have not been able to gain access to screenshots of features for Sukshma. You can get a peek at a few shots on WebYantra here.

To Vakow or not to Vakow!

This is my recount covering the events of the Barcamp Mumbai 2, October 14th. Unfortunately, the post remained a draft for a while as more urgent concerns took over.

A recommendation to all organizers of future Barcamps – if you ever think of possible venues, give highest priority to an academic venue. IIT Powai lent an almost incredibly romantic and truly academic atmosphere to the Barcamp.

The web idea of the day goes to Vakow.com! They have taken an incredibly simple concept and built it for the web. If you love SMS forwards, you know the ones that go “neeche mat dekh, upar dekh” etc. you will love Vakow. Vakow is the single largest database for all types of SMS forwards. Yes, they will even preserve your white space.

What I really enjoyed was the attitude the founder members displayed when demonstrating their product. They are totally committed to having fun all the way and are unfazed by the idea of someone bigger than them invading their space.

Vakow had an exclusive in store for the campers, they are all set to launch an absolutely killer feature for their users soon. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to discuss the feature. Visit their site to check if they have an update.

Other startups that get an honorable mention,

  • Novix.in – Video compression algorithms for streaming jerk-free Video on 2.5G Networks. They had an interesting demonstration and it appears the strategy they have adopted is to go through wireless carriers for monetization.
  • WatConsult – Rajiv Dingra walked campers through the basics of corporate blogging. He really ought to have covered corporate blogging a little deeper for those who have already been at it.

UPDATE I – Vakow was also featured on Economic Times “Advertising the most popular revenue model for Internet Biz“.

Humble Beginnings

This week has been an incredible roller coaster ride for me.

When you start out, everything looks tiny and detailed. It is almost as if your staring hard at one piece of a 1,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle and your wondering “Wth am I building?“. Here are some pieces from other puzzles that went down into history.

Google hardware circa 1999.

The first Google production server.

Google’s corporate history (official).

When we make a sale without having to pitch – there is a sense of elation and relief. “He snapped it up without batting a eyelid!” I found myself thinking.

We are also trying hard to not miss the gorilla in the mist. We see strange behavior and feedback all the time and think to ourselves – “Why do they do that?“.

The number one advice I can give to a salesman on the ground is to simply “Have a conversation with your customer first“. This is what I have learned over the last week by watching other good ambassadors of our service. The conversation ensures that your customer will remember your product or service and look it up later. It does not ensure a sale.

Here is some advice on Sales that I can promise will help you chart your course.

The Art of Rainmaking – Guy Kawasaki.

Finally, you can only plan to cover about 99.99% of everything that can go wrong. We are still learning and occasionally find ourselves dousing a few fires.

Here is the story behind Riya’s launch – Munjal Shah.

TeamOn.com

Some time this year, the plug was finally pulled on the web service TeamOn.com. The service was backed by web startup TeamOn systems and a competitive, fast-paced team in its peak years 1999 – 2002. I joined them fresh out of college as a software developer with an overseas, outsourced team. TeamOn was acquired by RIM in August 2002, on the downside of the dot com blow out.

Do forgive the sentiment, this post is in remembrance. TeamOn was my first taste of startup life, business, and technology.

TeamOn had an e-mail aggregator way back in 2000 – users could aggregate their hotmail, AOL, MSN, CS2000, RPA, POP3, IMAP e-mail all in one teamon account. GMail has that feature in place now under “Get mail from other accounts”.

TeamOn had a hosted e-mail solution in place. You could have teamOn receive, store and send all e-mail for a domain you owned.

TeamOn also had virtual folders, conversations, document store and a bunch of other pretty cool features.

Here is a screenshot of a pretty old version.