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9 Things to Learn From Elon Musk

<My recent post that was featured on CitizenKK

Recent news reports reveal that serial entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is aiming to develop supersonic electric airplanes that can take off and land vertically! The exploits of this innovator would probably give Steve Jobs an inferiority complex! He has revolutionized space travel, electric cars, online payments and is now on the quest to colonize Mars! His unconventional actions and logic defying decisions have lead to potential company shutdowns, founder wars, products almost being killed off and nearly going broke. Yet, some would argue that Elon has already surpassed Steve Jobs and is the modern avatar of Nikolas Tesla.

For the uninitiated, Elon Musk is the man behind Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Paypal, SolarCity and Hyperloop. It is really overwhelming to see a single entrepreneur reinvent multiple industries in such a short period of time. He is transforming age-old industries like finance, space and automobile with panache. The Tesla electric car has won rave reviews from thousands of customers for its futuristic appeal and pollution free benefits. Paypal has changed ecommerce dramatically. SpaceX is into space colonization, low cost rockets and had sent the first private vehicle to the International Space Station. A private company actually achieving this milestone when multiple nations have failed is truly epic! SolarCity deals with finding cost efficient alternatives using solar energy, thus ridding us of our dependence on fossil fuels.  Elon won the Heinlein Prize for space work, was a TED speaker and has been called the real life Tony Stark by the international media. His fortitude & leadership skills are testimonial to how you can face multiple failures and still create things that can change humanity within a low budget.

The more I read about this man, the more patterns I was able to discern to understand his thought process. This South African is a successful entrepreneur today due to certain traits that need to be noted, studied and applied in all of our lives. Let’s take a closer look at them!

1. Always be learning

The amazing fact about Elon is that he is self-taught inprogramming, Physics and rocket science! As a kid, he used to read encyclopedias by the dozen. Apparently he turned into a bookworm since he was bullied at school and read, voraciously, to gain knowledge and understand concepts. Obviously, these books played a major role in his decision to create companies that will have a positive effect on the world.

2. Insane work ethic

Elon is a hardcore workaholic, working 100 hour weeks, and has been doing so for many years. You might even wonder if the man has a social life! He is the hardest working employee of the company and sets standards for his colleagues to follow. The chances of burnout are lower than average since he does what he loves

3. Focus on the big picture

Elon has taken on extremely challenging problems that have been the bane of mankind for many decades. He has identified three main areas where he wants to make a difference (internet, clean energy & space), taking big risks in each field with no short term gains in sight. In the next 10 years, he wants to put a man on Mars and is committed to retiring on Mars with 80,000 other colonists! Many more entrepreneurs should follow Elon’s path of trying to fix real world problems that can change thousands of lives for the better.

4. Serial entrepreneurship

Elon also shows us how serial entrepreneurship is not a bad idea at all, if done right. Through PayPal, Elon has helped us to make payments in seconds, thus single handedly changing worldwide ecommerce. The space industry was moving at a snail’s pace, until SpaceX came along and built space ships at a fraction of the cost that NASA incurs. Tesla electric cars appealed to customers and are likely to become more cost effective in the coming years. SolarCity could potentially be the largest American electricity provider. Elon also is credited with the creation of Zip2, which was the predecessor of Google Maps. Through these various projects, Elon has demonstrated that being a serial entrepreneur can be fun and rewarding!

5. Sacrifices galore

With everything that he does, Elon really has his skin in the game. He has invested his savings in ventures that he believes in, at the risk of going broke. Elon is not afraid to make hard decisions and does not compromise on his vision. The lesson here is that you need to make sacrifices when you really like what you do.

6. The feedback loop

Elon is constantly soliciting feedback and doing self-analysis. He is constantly thinking of what he has done and how it could be done better. For example, he seeks out his critics and tries to converse with them. This habit of self-reflection at regular intervals is critical for success.

7. Hands On

Elon is a brilliant applied engineer and has the ability to think at the system level of design. He gets his hands dirty by working with the engineers on the ground. It is rare to see a “C level” person work hand in hand with the junior folks. He personally test-drives the changes to the Tesla car before it goes out to customers. He loves getting into the details. The man is less of a talker and more of a doer. His “lean startup” kind of approach makes him a “sleeves folded” kind of leader that people want to work with.

8. A crack team with clarity of thought

The man knows exactly what he wants and leads a team that is super intense. He hires the best minds on the planet, pays them stock and has no tolerance for bullshit. He is a bridge between the market requirements and what the engineers on the ground aspire to do. He seems to be a taskmaster of sorts but his attitude sets the culture of the team. His goal setting skills are legendary and he puts his heart and soul into achieving those goals!

9. Ambition

There is not doubt that Elon is extremely motivated and driven. For instance, even after 3 launch failures of the SpaceX rocket, he had the tenacity to continue and persist through the odds. He is driven to do the “right thing” and does not bother about the status quo. His determination to overcome competitor lobbyists is amazing. The man is intrinsically motivated and pushes himself real hard. His never give up attitude gives him the ability to “stick with it.”

Elon is being compared to the likes of Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Edison, Howard Hughes and James Cameron. Most companies run with the prime motive of being profitable. It is not too often that you come across a businessman who genuinely wants to change humanity. Elon is a rare business leader who is interested in mankind as a whole and wants to explore how technology can change the world we live in. Elon could be the ideal 21st century industrialist who is pushing the envelope on how business can be done. The best part about this story is that Elon has just begun!

Why greetings cards rock!

Remember the good old nostalgic days when we engaged in sociable non-Facebook banter with our friends and had extensive conversations until the wee hours of the night? Remember when we had phones that were answered by live humans, when mail was personal and more importantly hand written? How many months or years has it been since you got a hand written greeting card? The habit of hand written notes seems to be an almost forgotten thing of the past.

We live in a digital world that is getting overloaded with data faster than we can consume. Every friend or contact is just a click away and the effort of reaching out to someone has reduced considerably. Having said that, there is nothing like receiving an actual card in the mail. You kind of realize that someone took the time to search for and select that particular card for you! That someone also wrote you a customized message rather than just an Outlook mail merge greeting message! We humans love the sense of touch and a greeting card plays on that sense very well.

In my experience, one of the best ways to reach out to people is by sending personal greeting cards. If you are a person who saves particular things, greeting cards can be found years later in a box of old memories.

As is with all things on the planet, there are bound to be critics. What the detractors have to say about greeting cards amount to one thing primarily, which is the wastage of paper. I agree that overuse is really detrimental for the environmental. Hence being prudent while using greeting cards is essential. You don’t need to send out hundreds of cards. Be real picky about whom you send cards to.  

Greeting cards are amazing tools in business scenarios. If any of your team members need a confidence boost, a card could do the trick by providing them instant recognition for their work! Sending a greeting card to a customer or a prospect would surely make you stand out from the competition. In the fast paced work environment, your customer is likely to spend at least 20 seconds looking at the card. An email on the other hand would promptly be moved to his trash box within seconds. The greeting card is something that your prospect might preserve in a scrapbook or have filed for posterity.

Most of us welcome technologies that ease the chores of daily life. Nonetheless e-mail can't replace the old-fashioned human touch. Why I strongly suggest using greeting cards for your marketing campaigns is because they have a 99% open rate. Never underestimate the power of a personalized greeting card since it can literally make the day for your customer. Also your brand will stick to the consumer’s mind space a little longer than usual. 

Greeting cards can also be used to teach children about the art of writing and poetry. They can help to teach kids about the importance of giving a personal touch to whatever they do and not let technology overtake every aspect of their life.  

The sustained popularity of SMS, Facebook Messenger and Whatzapp is a colossal danger to the greeting card industry. Statistics reveal that, more than billions of text messages are exchanged among mobile phone users between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Most people these days prefer SMS forwards than taking the trouble of searching for and posting greeting cards. Also, hikes in postage rates have made SMS more financially viable. To wrap up, if you want to send a memorable message every once in a while, try out the greeting card trick. Be cognizant of the amount of paper being used and try to pick cards that are made out of recycled paper. Send out a few hand-written greeting cards to your peeps and watch the magic happen. Trust me; nothing works like a hand written personal greeting card. 

Mumbai Terror Attacks

<Had written this piece post the 26/11 terror attacks at Mumbai> 

I am extremely disturbed, flustered and disgusted with the brand of terrorism that was displayed in Mumbai over the past week. This was not a normal terror attack that we have become accustomed to hear about, but it was real warfare. The only question I had on my mind was “Where is Batman when you need him?”. After seeing the ineffective way the government handled the problem, it dawned on me that what we need is a new radical approach from India. What we need is a vigilante approach from Mr. Manmohan Singh & Co, something on the lines of “V for Vendetta”.

We all know that Mumbai is very resilient and will bounce back to normalcy in a few days. But this spate of attacks on the common man has to stop. I wonder how long it will be until the common man cant take it anymore and starts rioting. Angered by the lack of speed with which the government is investigating the act, many people are looking at taking justice in their hands. Looking at the way the Indian government has historically reacted to such situations, one can be sure that the real perpetrators will not be brought to justice. The only people who deserve some credit in this episode are the army and NSG commandos who saved the day for us. Politicians as always, used this incident for vote bank based politics.

Wake up to the truth India! We live in dangerous times, and there are some places conventional Indian law enforcement just won’t go. We need to shine the bright light of righteousness into the dark scum-infested corners of our community. They may have guns and money, but the India can root out terrorism with some gutsy violent tactics.

The pacifists will say that violence can never be satiated with violence. They will preach that violence is not the answer! They will speak to you with clichéd quotes such as “an eye for an eye will only leave the world blind.” The problem is that these terrorists are like a cancer, leave them and they will spread the violence. Pacifism is not a good answer to this type of violence, it only leads to more. Appeasement is a policy that never works, as we have learnt from World War II. We need protection, not pacifism. And we need to hold the specific culprits responsible. We have tried having dialogues & talks a million times. Now its time for some extreme measures from India.

What is Vigilante Justice?

Wikipedia defines a vigilante as a person or a group who ignores due process of law and enacts their own form of justice in response to a perception of insufficient response by the authorities. Several groups and individuals have been labeled as vigilantes by various historians and media. Vigilantes have been central to several creative fictional works and are often depicted as being heroes and retaliatory against wrongdoers. Vigilantism is generally frowned upon by governments (who would otherwise encourage vigilance on the part of citizens), especially when it gives way to criminal behavior on the part of the vigilante. Often seen in rapidly growing towns, citizens sometimes choose vigilantism, capturing suspected criminals and punishing them without a trial.

The fact of the matter is that criminal punishment is insufficient for the evil criminals responsible for the chaos  and mayhem in Mumbai. Since the red-tapism makes it hard to enforce the law, India needs to fulfill the like-minded wishes of the common man through aggressive and radical means.  Public officials, newscasters, and those in law enforcement seriously tell us "there is no room in this country for vigilante justice." Instead, we must wait for the "justice system" to work, and if it doesn’t, well, that is simply a price we pay for having a free society.

Those who wronged us in Mumbai have to be relentlessly decimated by aggressive warfare. India can’t afford to react meekly now. We don’t have time for the paperwork and scheduling hassles of Cabinet meetings. We can’t afford to have bi-lateral talks and legislate policies or setup a new Act in Parliament. We don’t have time to coordinate the ISI chief’s visit to India. It’s high time that India sends out a strong message to the terrorists.

Perhaps the most important motivation for this radical approach should be revenge. The old saying goes that revenge, is a dish best served cold. Its high time India stops acting as a sitting duck and takes the winds out of these terrorists and their masters. Maybe if a few important politicians or film stars had been taken as hostages, then the government would have reacted faster. The best tribute we can give to Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Gajendra Singh & ATS chief Hemant Karkare is bringing the masters of these terrorists to justice. Enough is enough. India can’t afford to have more blood of innocents being spilt. Lets see if Mr. Manmohan Singh has the spine to take some tough decisions. 

Being demanding but empathetic

A demanding manager exercises tough love with his/her team members. He/she is tough on the team but in a well-intentioned way. He/she is not overbearing and does not badger people into submission. Hence working with such a boss in not a traumatic experience and you end up riding a steep learning curve.

An unreasonable manager on the other hand can be an employee's worst nightmare. As they say, a drop of poison ruins a pot of milk. An unreasonable manager in a team can be a source of misery to all team members involved and such behavior should be repudiated.  Working with the unreasonable manager can be extremely detrimental to the morale of any employee. I have known people quitting jobs without having another job at hand, just because the manager was unbearable to work with.

One of my previous bosses told me the secret to having a rocking career. He called it the “Zen Of Work” which comprised three aspects – Izzat (respect), Matlab (meaning) & Masti (fun). Now Izzat (respect) is the most critical part of working in a team, and when that is lost the team dynamics goes for a complete toss.

triangle.jpg

 Tips on how you can be a ‘demanding but empathetic’ manager

  • Let your subordinates know that you have the best intentions in mind and want them to grow with you.
  • Give your subordinates a free hand to execute on the plans that have been laid out. Do not micro manage.
  • Feedback is the breakfast of champions! Ensure that you regularly seek feedback from the team that you are working with.
  • Respect his or her individuality and acknowledge that everyone operates with a different world lens view.
  • You can’t sit on a camel and drive sheep! You need to be on the ground and work hand in hand with your team members in order for your team to succeed!

Many people would say that Steve Jobs was a pretty tough boss to work with at Apple. Infact, He was probably one of the most intimidating bosses to work for in the Silicon Valley. Yet he managed to gather an ardent fan following and many people wanted to work with him. He cracked the algorithm of mentoring people to follow his vision and get the entire world sing paeans in his praise!

Showing tough love to your subordinates can have a force multiplier effect in terms of the productivity and growth. Also remember that no one needs to put up with the grief that you provide him or her. So respect the individual and be firm but not forceful while being demanding.

Companies need to invest significant energies in training the management team with regards to the softer aspects of people management. Having a tough manager at the work place does in some way prepare you to handle bigger conflicts in life. So essentially, you can think of a demanding manager as your teacher when your graduate out of the “School of Hard Knocks”.  

Thailand Travelogue

The trip to Thailand early last year was absolutely fantastic. Some of the lingering memories are

* The Thai floating markets.

* Our stay at A1 (www.a-onehotel.com) at Pattaya. Highly recommended.

* Adventure sports such as para gliding, water skiing at Coral Island.

* Traveling on the Thai tuk tuk was fun!

* Our stay at the superb Amari Atrium hotel at Bangkok.

* The mind blowing Alcazar & Tiffany's show.

* Siam Ocean World, the "Ocean Walker" experience & the 4D movie called "Pirate Story".

* The visit to Mini Siam & the awesome Thai ethnic show at Alangkarn Theatre.

* The great views of Bangkok by night on the Royal Chaophraya Princess Cruise.

* World gems collection & the Grand Palace.

* The crazy madhouse called Walking Street.

* The temple of the Emerald Buddha.

* The awesome duty free shopping at Suvarna Bhumi airport.

* Safari World rocks. Bought a really nice catapult there.

* Buying shorts featuring South Park, Family Guy & Calvin & Hobbes!

* The nice cuisine of Thai airways & the polite personnel.

* Shopping at Mangpong, MBK Mall and buying Nestle's Quality Street chocolates!

* The amazing focus that Thais give to tourism. There are currency exchanges everywhere you go!

* Our visit to Noong Nooch village where we saw elephants cycling!

* The only thing we probably missed was the "Sanctuary of Truth".

Random Amusements

3 lessons on leadership

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Recently I was involved in organizing a couple of events and got the chance to observe practical leadership at close quarters. Here are 3 key takeaways that I thought was essential to share with a larger audience.

 1. Being in the fore front & leading by example

Having grown real weary of "leaders" who hide behind curtains and shy away from the limelight, it was refreshing to observe a leader actually being in the fore front and leading by example. He had put his own brand name/reputation out in the open with the freedom for anyone in the audience to ask him a Googly question and put him on the spot. Any heckler in the crowd could have posed uncomfortable questions, but a real leader is not afraid of facing tough questions in full public view. So the lesson here is that, the leader is the guy who really is out there on the ground, rather than the guy who sits at the ivory tower and watches the proceedings unfold. Wouldn't the movie 300 be boring if King Leonidas was just barking orders and the actual war fighting was done by his Spartan men?

2. Servant leadership

Post the event, a few of us were hanging around and the leader walked in and started picking up trash/waste that were lying around in the auditorium floor. We were all taken aback and instantly started doing what he was doing. This was a classic display of servant leadership where the intent was to "serve" and not to "dominate". This task could have been something that he could have been easily delegated but he rather chose to do it himself. What does it take for such a senior person to caste aside his ego or pride and do this in front of others? The sole reason for this is the philosophy of "servant leadership" where the intention is the well-being of the people and the community at large. This approach creates a culture of trust within the team, which is a hard to come by commodity these days.

3. Recognition of the team  at play

Post the event, we had a lunch meet with the volunteers of the event who were 18-22 year olds. This luncheon could have been easily side stepped by the leader, since it was a Saturday and that too on the eve of a major festival. Yet he made the effort and the time to interact with the team that put in the efforts to bring the event together. This was a classic case of the leader recognizing the efforts put in by team members and making the team feeling that they belonged to something special. Look closely at Maslow's needs hierarchy pyramid, where he states that the psychological need for most people is the need to be recognized for their efforts. A good leader understands this and provides that recognition. At the end of the day, it would not matter if you were earning a few thousands more but had a boss from hell who would not recognize your efforts. 

 

10 reasons why SAP Hana is brilliant!

SAP has invested a lot of it's energies into a database called Hana. A major chunk of the SAP workforce is said to be working on Hana related projects. After having interacted with the SAP Hana team in a facilitated workshop, I was able to appreciate what SAP Hana got to the table. Some important points to consider ...   

* Hana is all about in memory computing which means that you get immediate real time results. This is because the data resides in the RAM. This feature is a great benefit for those who want super fast results.

* Hana has many advantages such as mass data, agility, total cost of ownership, any data type processing etc.

* Hana empowers the business user as opposed to the developer. Now the CEO will be seeing more value and won't need the CTO to convince him about technology decisions.

* Apparently the Hana database speed is approx 3600 times faster compared to traditional databases. In other words, it can compute 50 terabytes of data in 0.04 seconds!!!

* What SAP has essentially done is put the entire ERP into Hana. This is revolutionary to say the least.

* Hana has a multi core massively parallel platform and also integrates with databases like Hadoop.

* Hana is available on the cloud and also has a mobility platform. So SAP retains the advantage of working on bleeding edge technology! 

* Hana helps a lot in predictive analysis and also has an analytical library which has more than 4,000 native algorithms. Surely sounds like fun for those with the scientific bent of mind.

* iPad apps that are built on the HTML5 platform can connect directly to Hana. This is an example of how Hana encourages talking with different technologies.

* Hana is available as a physical box. Hence this makes you feel secure that you have all your data under your control. 

A lonely digital world

<This article was published by The Hindu on September 11, 2007>

If you look at the traffic on MG Road on any given evening, it seems that all of us are in a rush to get somewhere. But where are we running? What do we hope to find at the end of this journey called life? I still haven’t figured it out, but mo st software engineers in Bangalore seem to have and I have to congratulate them for it!

We live in the “Silicon Valley of India” and anyone who lives here must live fast to survive. There are thousands of software geeks in the city who have not the least idea why they are in a hurry all day long . The software world seems pitiless in its exhortation to work. Software engineers are driven like horses until they drop. Many lives are ruined by the break neck pace but there are always more people willing to take their place. In fact, many marriages are also broken, due to lack of time from either partner.

I find that most of my software engineer friends these days are so much in the pursuit of money that they crib about having no time for anything else. No time for family, no time for loved ones, and no time even for themselves. They say, “If we don’t earn now, when will we? Look at so and so, and look at me.”

But I ask them, what is this money for? Who is this money for? If it is only for yourself to enjoy, good enough. But if it is for you to enjoy with those you want to enjoy it with, are you sure they will still be around when you have all those things? Isn’t every moment that you can have and share with your dear ones, worth having?In this project deadline-driven world, we never give the people we love enough of our time and attention, when they are there with us.

We never realize that at the end of the day, it is “our” people who matter. It is they who bring moments of joy and happiness in our lives. It is they who pull us up when we have lost all hope.

It’s all about priorities and choices and the decisions are ours to make.

When we have no time for loved ones, for friends, or for self renewal, we are making a choice about our priorities. If work takes all of our time, it is only because we choose to let it do so.

To conclude, my two cents worth to all software engineers who are slogging for their companies: Do pursue your dream. Do succeed. Earn so much recognition and wealth that your loved ones are proud of you, but don’t run so fast that you do not have the time to catch your breath and tell the people who mean something to you, that you’re still with them.

Republic Holiday

<This article was published by Deccan Chronicle on Jan 26, 2009>

A friend of mine was thanking God profusely the other day. He was celebrating the fact that this year’s Republic Day was on a Monday and not on the weekend!! I then asked him if he really knew what the day stood for or was it just another beer swilling three day weekend holiday for him. He was stumped! Am sure there are many who don’t appreciate our freedom and take it for granted.

It’s been 60 years, and slowly but surely the meaning of Republic Day has been eroded. Some people think of it as a lethargic holiday and have got used to the “formality” of government celebration. Republic Day probably has become so corrupted with the commercial nature it has come to take on and its not valued for what it is. Ask any living freedom fighter today to tell us what this day really means and the significance it still bears today.

Incidentally, the SMS count on a “Valentines Day” or a “Friendship Day” is much more than the number of SMS messages on Republic Day. Quite ironic, isn’t it?

The adoption of the Indian Constitution and the transition of India from a British Dominion to a republic, is a turning point in our collective lifetimes. I do wish that I was there at the grand parade held at New Delhi.  As the parade starts from  Raisina Hill near the Rashtrapati Bhavan, goes along the Rajpath, past India Gate and on to the historic Red Fort one cant help but thank Gandhi & Co.

In my opinion, Republic Day is not just a holiday of convenience. It is the ideal day for us to remember our strong, brave, hardworking NSG commandos and army soldiers who are having sleepless nights, so that we can celebrate this day! It’s the ideal day to think about what our ancestors had to endure to bring all of us the freedoms we now enjoy. As you salute the flag and sing the national anthem, it’s the perfect time to think about if your work & your life is helping India become a better country. Jai ho!

Why free software is the key to freedom

<This post was featured on Silicon India Magazine in the month of May 2009.>

A few weeks ago I was at a talk addressed by Richard Stallman and his thoughts had a profound impact on my thinking. I would like to share here some learnings and thoughts from his talk, regarding the free software movement and how vital it is for our society. 

There are so many examples of thousands of proprietary tools that are backdoors for large corporate houses to gain control over our lives. Consider the Apple iPhone for instance. A developer from Apple can change anything he wants in the iPhone and the user doesn't have to always agree. Hence, a user is placed at the mercy of the developer of that product. This proprietary software system has unjust power over individuals. By using these proprietary tools we grant more power to the proprietary software owners, which is not a good thing. The people who have unjust power seek to get total power. We need to learn to live in freedom and use software that respect our freedom.

4 Freedoms that are Key, as Outlined by Richard Stallman

* Freedom 0 is one that allows you to run software as you wish.

* Freedom 1 is where you have the right to study the source code & change it.

* Freedom 2 is where you can help your neighbor make copies and distribute them.

* Freedom 3 is where the software contributes to community, and copies of modified versions of the software are available for use.

As a user you deserve these freedoms and the right to reject proprietary software. The free software movement has been a long journey and it will be a long time before we reach a point where there will be no proprietary software. Though it seems a hard decision to make, it really is not a tough decision to make. You don't need to accept programs that take away your four freedoms.

The People's Movement

In 1983 Richard Stallman & Co came out with a free UNIX like operating system. The GNU operating system can be used for free and millions of people all over the world use it. They use it with freedom and have total control over it. There, of course, has been an occasional sacrifice, but one should be willing to suffer an inconvenience as long as it benefits the society at large. With free software the user is able to do new things. We don't want to encourage the colonial powers of large corporate houses that want to practice what we call "digital colonization". Our motive is to weaken these powers as we make more progress in spreading the free software movement.

Need of the Hour

What's vital now is that we need to get politically active. Social institutions like schools and colleges are a great way to start with. Schools can either teach students about free software or direct students to be digital colonial subjects. Students have to learn and appreciate the fact that sharing knowledge is good. This is what education is all about anyway. It is the moral duty of a school to teach free software. 

We need to get organized and say to the NGOs, government, and the media that we need to stop teaching students dependency on proprietary products. These products are used to exploit customers and users. Usage of free software is real "development". Usage of proprietary software is "dependence". Why should a company have control over some secret knowledge, which the customer has no clue about?

Sharing and Caring

Freedom number 2 is important. When your neighbor asks you for something, you are in the danger of falling into a moral dilemma. You have to choose between two evils. Option one is to violate the license and give it to your friend. Option two is to deny your friend something that he needs. I would choose option one any day. What some companies are trying to do is to break the social solidarity of our community. We need to reject proprietary software on the grounds of moral conscience. Any piece of code has to be delivered under a license that respects a client's freedom to change it, if need be.

Why don't you recommend to everyone you meet the use of free platforms? This is how you can escape from the unjust powers of proprietary software developers. When we talk about free software, the word "free" refers to freedom and does not mean "gratis". "Free" means that you can make copies of that software and sell them. The user is allowed to make changes to the software as per his or her convenience. 

On Patenting

Patents on software are not a good idea. If software patents were allowed then all ideas would be patented. Every time you try to invent something new, you will be facing hundreds of lawsuits. This is not an ideal environment for any innovator to work in. We need to work together to lobby against unjust software patents. 

Pharmaceutical Patents

India wanted to encourage research in the pharma industry. The Indian government policy was not to allow patents on the drug but to put patents on the processes. This worked well. It encouraged research in new processes to manufacture the same medicine. Thus the Indian pharmaceutical companies were able to invent cheaper ways to produce the same drugs. This policy was designed in such a way to serve public interest, which it did. The patents on drugs by some pharmaceutical companies are a total hogwash. They pretend they have spent all money on research. The truth of the matter is that most of the money is spent on advertising that corrupts doctors into buying their products. Their strategy is very simple. They manufacture medicines that people in rich countries want to take often. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to give you a medicine that you want to take everyday. 

Free Software for All

As a software developer, you can't make all users pay you. It would be wrong. You can even make money without subjugating all users to pay money. There are plenty of examples of people who have done this. Proprietary software is a kind of parasite that afflicts the society. If a dacoit says that robbery helps him feed his family that does not justify his act.

Software as a service is one thing that people must never use. If the user cannot have control over the computing that's a major problem. If you run a program on someone else's machine, he has control over the process and not you. You are computing your data, and hence you deserve to have control. So don't do your computing on someone else's server. Google, for instance, is famous for their tagline "don't be evil", but the bad thing is that their definition of evil is a narrow one. 

Popularity of the Movement

There are many countries and governments, which support the free software movement. India is one of them. In Kerala, they are trying to move the public schools to usage of free software. This is a good initiative that needs to spread all over India. The free software movement has had tremendous support from the governments of Spain, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Paraguay.

Conclusion

The ideal world is where software is free and developed by volunteers. This may not seem like a plausible idea but there are many workable business models in free software. There are also many examples of companies that pay people to develop free software. One key point to note is that in free software, you are not obligated to publish every change you write in the code. People often ask Richard Stallman what will happen to the free software movement after he is dead. He tells them the KFC story where after the original founder Colonel Sanders passed away KFC represents him with a cartoon character. Similarly one day Stallman hopes someone will make a cartoon character out of him and his ideas will live on forever.

Rooting for Sachin Tendulkar

<This post was featured on www.unboxedwriters.com on April 2, 2011. This was just before India played the final of the Cricket World Cup>

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has waited for today for more than two decades and more. So have we. Here is probably the last chance that he has at cracking this one. As soon as the semi-finals clash with Pakistan was over, the whole stadium  lit up with Sachin’s smile. He was truly and genuinely happy at that instant. We all know that this means a lot to him and here are a few of my thoughts on why today could be THE day for arguably India’s greatest sportsman ever. And why I think he deserves to be a world champion today.

1. At the semi-finals we saw the angry Sachin, when one of his throws almost became an overthrow; since no one backed it up. That shows how much and how badly he wants it. This “hunger for success” is something worth learning from.

2. He walked. In a World Cup! Ricky Ponting didn’t, inspite of a huge nick. Sachin’s actions often remind us that it is still a “Gentleman’s Game”!

3. The way he has fielded in this World Cup is excellent motivation for the youngsters on the side. Sachin rarely drops a catch. He fields even on days when he has hit a century in the first innings of an ODI.

4. He doesn’t have ego issues and is not insecure about Dhoni being the captain and taking the major decisions. He sticks to his role and does what is expected of him without meddling with Dhoni’s mind.

5. He is happy to let Sehwag hog the limelight, while he slowly paces his innings. What a brilliant strategy of symbiosis and collaboration. It is a great case study of how aggression combined with strategy can take you places.

6. A century of centuries is a great achievement. And will probably never be beaten anytime! You can argue that Bradman was better, but he played in an era where LBW did not exist and he played primarily against England, India, South Africa and West Indies. Sachin has played against a dozen!

7. He is a brand ambassador for Boost and not a liquor brand. The latter would have paid him more money, but he took a stand.

8. Sure, the cynics say that cricket is a game for the escapists, is a waste of time and money. But tell me who other than Tendulkar can get people from all religions/castes/creeds and across all stratas of society to come and pray together for a shared dream?

9. Facing intense media scrutiny for two decades can drive anyone nuts. But the man has managed it so well without getting dragged into controversies or politics.

10. Finally Tendulkar (the bowler) has more than 150 ODI wickets to his credit, which is more than decent and adds value to the team.

So the big day for the man has arrived. One just hopes that India’s favorite son gets the one thing that he has desired most. The World Cup deserves Sachin.

Your 101 guide to the Singapore market

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Singapore in order to explore the market. Singapore is a really vibrant city, which surely deserves the title "entrepreneurial capital of the world". Major corporates (like Unilever and P&G) have moved their APAC HQ to Singapore since they got very attractive tax breaks. Essentially you can look at Singapore as the capital city of Asia.

The SE Asia region

Malaysia’s “Iskandar Corridor”, is soon becoming the Silicon Valley of the East. Philippines has some great software talent but red tape is paramount. Grapevine has it that Filipinos are the most hard working lot and probably the best hires in the market. In Hong Kong it would be best to hire a Cantonese speaking local to handle the complicated business rules. Off late, the Indonesian market is generating a lot of buzz and people are even going to classes to learn the Indonesian language! In the midst of all these economies, the little red dot known as Singapore serves as a hub for all these regions.

Why setup in Singapore?

Singapore offers proximity to markets like HK, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. These ASEAN countries tend to think as a group and encourage businesses vigorously. India is not part of ASEAN (since it is a part of South Asia) and hence India based companies are currently not looked upon as local players. There is a lot more recognition in the ASEAN region if your company is based out of Singapore. Some studies say that you need to look at Singapore as more of a “middle man” to the other economies. Businesses in SE Asia want to near shore to companies in the region rather than really off shore to a far away place.

The Government

The government is very proactive and public servants are the cream of the crop. It is said that the top 1% of talented people work with the government. The government holds stake in major companies like Temasec Holdings and have heads known as GCIOs. You can get a list of government projects from Gebiz (http://www.gebiz.gov.sg). Note that some government projects come with “liabilities damages clauses” where some vendors have paid huge penalties for not delivering on time. As do you business, you are likely to bump into government agencies including IRAS, MAS, NCS, WDA, IDG, EDB, NEA, HPB and Spring. It would also be worthwhile to get acquainted with various government schemes such as Ace Startups, SPRING Seeds, iJAM and NRF TIS.

Early Tech Adaptors

People in South East Asia have a very good appetite for the latest technologies. South Korea for instance has the fastest Internet speeds in the world! This kind of speed opens up a huge market for web applications and mobile. In Singapore, mobility is really big since everyone is really hooked onto cellphones all the time. 

Business Insights

  • The market is extremely networking and events driven. Traditional sales methods like cold calling do not work. You need to network.
  • A client reference is mandatory. That’s probably the first thing that all potential clients ask for.
  • The market prefers fixed bid projects. T&M seems to be more of an American concept and 95% of all projects here work on a fixed bid mode.
  • Singapore’s business outlook is very hierarchical in many ways. So the designations of people are given a lot of weightage.
  • If the accommodation is covered by the company, then the average per diem is around 80$. Else you can budget around 150$ per employee.
  • Learn retail marketing from Singaporeans! The way that items are displayed on storefronts is truly remarkable!
  • While working on proposals, ensure that you don’t end up as column fodder for many of the RFP proposals that come your way.   
  • If you want to work as a vendor for large banks you need to go through an empanelment process and get certifications such as CMM/ISO etc.     
  • In the social media space, sentiment analysis seems to be a big thing since customers understand relevance of Consumer Generated Media.
  • There is a huge Tamilian influence in the market so ensure that you brush up on your Tamil skills when speaking to Singapore Indians.
  • China is known for its IP related challenges. Hence IP is something that you need to guarantee potential Singaporean clients about.

Pointers for setting up an office at Singapore

  • As per the Singapore Company Act, you need to appoint 2 people to run the business.
  • You need to incorporate the company with the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority (www.acra.gov.sg/)
  • The best way to register a company is through a consultant like Janus Corporate Solutions (http://www.guidemesingapore.com/)
  • While setting up shop in Singapore try to partner with a local business.
  • Sign up for a SingPass, which is a common password that allows us to transact with different government agencies online (www.singpass.gov.sg)
  • If you are the founder of the company, you should consider applying for an “entrepreneur      pass” since it would open a lot of doors in the market.
  • To make some new contacts, ensure that you drop by at Block 71, which houses multiple startup accelerators.
  • To get an idea of the startup community, drop by at Hub Singapore.    
  • Look up the NICF website, which defines what the competencies for various roles are (www.nicf.sg)
  • You need to get a certified auditor to look into your account within the first 90 days of starting operations here.
  • All you smart Charlies need to know that Singaporean tax laws are very strict. The government offers 100K SGD to anyone who proves that any company is evading tax!
  • If you are an Indian company setting up shop in Singapore, then it might be worthwhile connecting with the folks at TIE Singapore.
  • For socializing and meeting people in the same boat, look up expat forums like www.entersingapore.info
  • Visit the International Enterprise Singapore (www.iesingapore.gov.sg) office, since this is a government agency that encourages Singaporean companies to expand in other regions. You might bump into potential business partners who are looking to expand in India.

Singapore Events

Singapore is also known as the MICE capital of the world. There are numerous events such as the World Entrepreneurship Forum, Mobile Asia Expo, Communicasia and my personal favorite the World Malayalee Conference! There are regular events at the Marina Bay Sands, Suntec City, Raffles Place and the Singapore Expo. There are also smaller events such as Urban Prototyping, the Singapore Walkabout, Mobile Mondays and Web Wednesdays. You should also try to keep track of the multiple events organized by many local organizations such as Action Community for Entrepreneurship, SG Entrepreneurs, Indian High Commission, LISHA, SICCI, SCS, SMBA and SINDA. Ensure that you install the EventBrite mobile application to get updates on your phone. The IIT IIM alumni network of Singapore is really well connected. Some angel investors you could interact with include Angels’ Den, Bansea, Jungle Ventures and C-Cube Angels.

Employment Pass & PR

Off late, the government has been clamping down on issuing PR. To get an Employment Pass, you need to have a minimum salary as specified by the Ministry of Manpower.  Do remember that you won’t be able to do billable work if you don’t have an Employment Pass. There also seems to be an undercurrent against too many foreigners coming to Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower pulls you up if you have too many foreigners working in your company. A lot of EP applications are also getting rejected since companies don’t have enough locals being hired.

Hiring Talent

The best schools are SMU, Nanyang and NUS. Freshers can be hired on an average base salary of 4000 SGD. This market has more of diploma holders and very few graduate degree holders. Also the salary hikes every year is almost non-existent, since the inflation is very low.  

Last but not the least; don’t forget the famed “kiasu” approach that is prevalent in Singapore. People have really busy schedules and business is seriously competitive. One thing is for sure; the Singapore market will teach you a lot about how business is done. There is no doubt that Singapore will surely push your brand onto a global platform. Wish you all the best for your Singaporean endeavors!

Why clients should attend standups!

As a client, you might be periodically visiting your offshore development center in order to check on project progress and discuss updates with your vendor. Your days might be packed with back to back meetings with the management team of your vendors and other relevant stakeholders of the project. Do ensure that you spend some time attending the daily standup meetings of your Agile team. There are multiple benefits if you do this. Here are the top 3 benefits of attending the daily standup of your offshore team.

1. A quick summary 

As a C level executive, your hectic schedule may not permit you to attend a traditional 3 hour project update meetings which go into the minutest details of the work being done. In such a scenario, a 15 minute "standup" meeting would give you a bird's view of the various tasks that are going into making the project a success. You will be able to understand the details of how a day looks like for your team of developers, analysts and project managers. You will also get to empathize with the challenges that your team maybe currently facing. 

2. Get insights into team dynamics

Attending the team standup will give you a chance to get a feel of how the team members interact with each other. Face to face communication beats other communication alternatives such as Skype and video conferencing. You would be able to observe the body language of the team members and get to understand if the team is working as a cohesive unit to achieve the project goals that you have specified. You will also be able to pick up the tone of the standup and pickup signals on how the team is faring. Attending the standup also helps you to build relationships with the team members and you get to know them a little more personally.    

3. Give instant feedback to the Agile team

Once you are a part of the standup with the development team, this gives you an excellent opportunity to address the team from your point of view. You will be able to go through the user stories discussed in that particular standup and explain to the development team, what it looks like from the client side of things. This helps the Agile team to understand things from a client's point of view and they will be able to place themselves in your shoes all the more. This also gives the team confidence that the client has trust in their capabilities.

So there you have it! Next time, you visit your offshore development center, ensure that you put in a specific request to attend the team's standup meeting. It would be pleasant surprise for the development team and will give you lots of insights that you otherwise might not have access to. All the best!

The case for Native Apps

Off late, I have been talking to multiple clients and prospects with regards to their mobile requirements. Often the discussion veers to the topic of whether they should opt for a native app or mobile app. This is a debate that has been on going for years now and both sides seem to have reasonable arguments. From my experience, I'd like to highlight some of the advantages of opting for a native mobile app over a mobile web application. 

1. A native app offers stronger engagement since it will have higher user adoption, usage volume and user engagement. It has been proven across thousands of apps that native apps deliver a higher click-through rate (CTR). As a creator, the idea behind creating the app is to anyway get lots of users to use it and native apps provide for that sort of visibility.

2. Native apps enjoy an architectural advantage in terms of security. You dont have to login to native app since it resides on your phone. For a mobile app you might need to constantly login all the time.

3. Offline access is one of the key advantages that native apps provide. This means that the app can be used in the absence of the Internet (on a plane, when there is no range, power cut time etc.).

4. Native apps offer an overall better user experience. On any device, the user would be expecting certain behaviors and a native app ensures that the experience remains consistent. For instance, an Android user would be more accustomed to using buttons whereas a Blackberry user may not be that used to buttons.

5. With a native app you can configure it to synchronize with background data sources. This will help you to reduce data costs. This is critical when you are travelling and are on roaming. Native apps also provide you with quick access to photos and contacts which are residing locally within the phone.

6. Native apps use “push technology" to ensure that there are push notifications that go out to the user. These are available on mobiles and ensure that the application is automatically updated. This will reduce the dependency on the users to log into and make updates.

7. The application speed is much more faster when it comes to native apps. The reason for this is that the app appears in the cache of the mobile device. Also do remember that the attention span of users is notoriously small. Users can get super frustrated if apps take more time to load up.

8. Another huge advantage of native apps is that they can be easily searched for in the App Store. You can infact look at the App Store or Google play as a marketing engine for you app. If your app gets featured in any of the Editor's Picks it would be a huge boost to your app. The downside is that Apple gets a 30% cut on the revenue earnt from your app!

The key advantages of mobile web apps is that they dont need to be downloaded or installed onto a device thus saving device space. Another positive is that you dont need your app to be approved by the App Store. Marketing for a mobile web app would be harder. You also need to work within the limitations of mobile web browsers.   

At the end of the day, the project's business objectives and budget would determine whether the app would be a native or not. From a marketing point of view, you can do a lot more for a native app since it would be a great customer touchpoint. As an app creator you would also want your brand icon to be placed on the user’s home screen. This piece of real estate is priceless and can be only achieved using a native app. Keeping all these factors in mind, a native app beats a mobile web app hands down!