On Entrepreneurship

Some nice quotes in this Knowledge@Emory article:

“An entrepreneur has to like to take big risks, says Jim Griffin, founder of Griffin Services of Atlanta, Georgia. When I say big risks, I mean BIG risks. Im talking about losing your own stuff. Not somebody elses. Youre not risking getting fired; youre risking losing everything you ever had. How would you like to be close to middle age, have two children in private school and a big house with a mortgage on it? All of the sudden you not only have no salary, but no promise of one, and everything you own is collateralized. Can you put yourself there? Youve got to be really excited and have a great deal of self-talent. And faith. Not only in yourself, but also in everything you have faith in.

Definition of an entrepreneur: He or she who has succeeded more often than they have failed.

The biggest single fault in the creation of business plans is unrealistic expectations. But you have to think about thisone of the classic traits of an entrepreneur is optimism. Nobody wants to innovate if they think it wont work.

human capital is key to any success in business. Without good leadership, you wont get far. And dont believe that you, as the boss, are infallible. Try to hire the most expensive management team you can hire, says Matthews, emphasizing that most expensive means best value.

The most important investment you can make in any business is in human capital, he continues. What does a great leader do, especially an entrepreneurial leader? You hire people that are smarter than you. You dont want to be on this big ego trip. There is a great rule of thumb that says one person can only lead or directly manage between five and seven people.

Probably the best entrepreneurs in the world are the Chinese and Indians, says Matthews. Why? Because the family is involved. When everyone is involved then everyone feels the same pressures and the same stresses.

Whatever business you get into, it is a way of life, says Matthews. You better pick something you like. You have to live it. I never had so little time off as when I started my own company.”

More on sforce from Salesforce

Recently, WSJ had an article on a new initiative in utility computing by Salesforce.com. Now, The Economist has a story, too.

Mr Benioff’s new web-services venture, called sforce.com, indicates a deadly seriousness about reinventing the software industry. The idea is to extend his firm’s reach by popping the top off salesforce.com, and making the underlying computing infrastructure that is used to deliver its CRM service available to other software developers. They will be able to create and rent out software services of their own, at a cost of $50 per user per month. Mr Benioff hopes that these developers will sign up lots of new customers and jump-start a new market in web services. He has secured the backing of the top four sellers of web-services programming toolsMicrosoft, Sun, BEA and Borlandall of which are promoting web services as the future of software.

In short, instead of just supplying its own software service, Mr Benioff’s firm hopes to become the platform for many other such services. This was, he insists, his plan all along: salesforce.com is an example of the kind of service that can be delivered using sforce.com. We hope to spawn an industry based on a new model, he says. That is an ambitious goal. Maybe sforce.com will end up being used to extend salesforce.com’s features, or merely link it to other software, not as the basis for a new wave of software services, let alone a new industry. But if the past is any guide, Mr Benioff is probably on to something.

Says the sforce.com website: “Sforce is the first client/service application development utility, enabling enterprises to both extend salesforce.com and create new software-as-service solutions using market-leading development tools and platforms. Sforce provides a development platform with faster time to value, lower risk, and higher ROI than ever before. Sforce’s Web services framework eliminates many of the typical hardware and software requirements, allowing developers to extend salesforce.com and build new applications in a secure environment using familiar skills and tools.”

How can we apply these ideas in the context of what we are doing with our “SME Tech Utility” ideas?

What Should I Do With My Life?

This is a question asked by Po Bronson in a recent best-selling book. Says he: “For answers, I crossed the landscape of America to find people who have struggled to unearth their true calling – people of all ages, from all classes, of every profession, who have found fulfillment; those who fought with the seduction of money, intensity, and novelty, but overcame their allure; those who broke away from the chorus to learn the sound of their own voice.”

I ask myself this question often. My horizon is not very long-term, but more intermediate. Maybe the next 5 years or so. The ideas and related actions do keep changing, but broadly I am doing the following with my life currently (it is all work):

SME Tech Utility: creating affordable software solutions for small and medium enterprises in emerging markets. These can now be categorised into: Messaging and Security (MailServ), desktop computing (Emergic Freedom), information management (Emergic Topsight, including Traction, Digital Dashboard, Info Aggregator and Events Horizon) and business apps (CRM+Accounting+materials management+reporting). Make all the software available for USD 200 (Rs 10,000) per person, or USD 6 per month. Combine with hardware like thin clients and thick servers to offer a full computing solution – hardware and software – for USD 500 (Rs 25,000) per person, or USD 15 per month. This is the “Emergic” vision that I put together some time ago, and which I can now see happening. The big challenge ahead of us will now move from engineering to selling.

Affordable Computing Solutions for other markets: Schools, Colleges, Homes, Government – the same low-cost computing ideas can be applied to markets beyond SMEs. For example, how can we offer hardware, software and connectivity for home users for under Rs 1,000 (USD 20) per month.

Transforming Rural India: The aim here is simple – implement Atanu Dey’s ideas of RISC (Rural Infrastricture and Services Commons) and bring about a revolution to touch 70% of India. Atanu has been thinking about this for the past many years. I have to work on operationalising this.

Constructing the Memex: It is what I have been writing as part of the Tech Talk series for the past few weeks. The first step in the form of BlogStreet is there. But its a baby step. We have to do more and faster.

Linux Development and Support: I want us to play a more pro-active more in the Linux ecosystem – both in terms of supporting users for apps like OpenOffice, as well as contributing back to the community in terms of innovative software development. Software and Services are India’s strengths and open-source software is one of the biggest trends globally – how can we combine the two.

Microcontent: I have had a couple ideas for some time – a network of blogs like Corante focused on India or other niche topics, and comics like Amar Chitra Katha. I learnt a lot through ACK when i was growing up. It is a pity they stopped publishing new titles many years ago.

R&D: I get a lot of ideas. I need a group who can quickly try out these ideas or variations. Perhaps, a better approach may be to work some labs.

Investing: I have not done this yet (investing in other companies) because I have always wanted to play a pro-active role in what I do, and for long, haven’t been sure how things will evolve. I don’t see this happening soon, but it is just a thought.

Out of all these, the two themes which I see as key drivers for all that I want to do with my life are (i) building a software factory in India (ii) transforming rural India. I think it will take me 5+ years to do both of these well.

Venture Capital

Joel Spolsky has a long discussion on what is wrong with venture capital and how to fix it. He speaks as one who has not taken VC money. I too am in a similar boat (though I had tried many times and failed during the IndiaWorld days). But I don’t think one can be as harsh on the VC approach as Joel is.

I think VCs plan a very important role in the innovation ecosystem. Not all entrepreneurs have capital to start with and neither are many of the companies they create profitable from day one. So, there is a “credit constraint”. This is where VCs come in with risk capital. Of course, entrepreneurs can choose not to take the cash (and the strings that come with it). At that point, though, the entrepreneur is keen to make the idea fly. Complete ownership of an idea is not as important as making it a reality. Its only when the idea is successful (perhaps, thanks to the capital infusion and the assistance received from VCs) that maybe the equity was given away too cheap! This is part of life!

In India, it is now on the other extreme: VCs have become too cautious (almost like bankers). The result: it is rare to see a new company get funding. (Well, this situation is probably true globally.) The irony is that it does not take a lot of money to get good ideas off the ground. The domestic market in India (and by extrapolation, other emerging markets) need affordable and innovation solutions. Where are the entrepreneurs and the VCs?

Walmart’s boost for RFID

Line56 reports on Walmart’s decision to direct its top 100 retailers to have all their cases and pallets “chipped” by January 1, 2005.

Wal-Mart’s mandate, along with the adoption of an RFID standard led by EAN-UCC, means the mainstreaming of RFID. “The top 100 Wal-Mart suppliers will use something like 8 billion tags a year,” Pete Abell of AMR Research says, indirectly highlighting the vendor opportunity. Indeed, two vendors — Manhattan Associates, a supply chain execution (SCE) specialist and Alien Technologies, best known for its deal with Gillette — have already decided to announce a packaged RFID solution targeted at Wal-Mart suppliers, among others.

Abell explains how the mandate will impact the operations of Wal-Mart suppliers. “If I’m Smucker’s and I put 16 jars of jam into a case, I have to have a reader-writer that writes to the tag, saying it’s Smucker’s, and adds a serial number. I have to integrate that into my software and material handling.” Another aspect of the RFID initiative — tags for cases — will largely be taken care of “By corrugated guys like Georgia-Pacific and Weyerhauser,” Abell says.

Abell adds that Wal-Mart is already working with several suppliers in the context of the Auto-ID Center, and that this will make the transition easier. He concludes that Wal-Mart is deeply committed to the initiative. “They’re doing this the way they did barcodes.”

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TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Mirror Worlds (Part 2)

Jon Udell wrote about Mirror Worlds on his blog a few months ago:

I found a copy of David Gelernter’s book, Mirror Worlds. Written in 1991, it resonates powerfully a dozen years later. I couldn’t stop grabbing quotes. Here’s a keeper:

At the same time as we develop vast complex software worlds, the simple machines of information structure are also just being invented. The wheel, the ramp, the wedge, the screw, the lever.

From Gelernter’s 1991 perspective, it wasn’t clear what those simple machines would be. It’s a bit clearer now: HTTP, HTML, XML, RSS. We’ll use these wheels and levers to make structures that rival the most magnificent monuments:

New software Saint Marks’ [cathedral] will rise. They will monopolize the energy and attention of thousands in the building, will broadcast an aesthetic and a world-view to millions, will mold behavior and epitomize the age.

In 1991, Yahoo!, Napster, and Google were right around the corner. What’s right around the corner now? Predictions are always dicey. For example, here’s what Gelernter imagined:

To use a Mirror World program, you sit down at your computer, which has a large color screen and a connection to the local fiberoptic utility cable…Or — if you’re willing to put up with a smaller picture and it’s a nice day — you pick up your laptop, tune in Data Radio, and head for the hammock.

It’s always fascinating to compare prediction to reality. In 1991 I’d have been more surprised by the Data Radio in my hammock than by the fiberoptic utility cable. Well, the fiber isn’t here yet, but if it were a nice day, I’d be typing these words from my hammock.

So, what is a Mirror World? A vast, detailed representation of a company or a city, or of parts of these structures, or even of the larger economic and political structures to which they belong. What’s it good for? To monitor and debug the things that are represented.

Lets look at how David Gelernter himself envisioned his Mirror Worlds (written in 1991):

A Mirror World is an ocean of information, fed by many data streams. Some streams slowly represent hand-entry of data at computer terminals; they flow slowly. Others are fed by automatic data-gathering in and monitoring equipment, like the machinery in a hospitals intensive care unit, or weather-monitoring unit, or traffic-volume sensors installed in roadways. These streams may be so fast-rushing that they threaten to overwhelm the main programs with information tidal waves. The solution is to connect Mirror Worlds to fast-rushing data streams via a sort of software hydroelectric plant. Such programs are designed to sift through complex floods of data looking for trends and patterns as they emerge. They are constructed as layered networks. Data values are drawn in at the bottom and passed upwards through a series of data-refineries, which attempt to convert them into increasingly general and comprehensive chunks of information. As low-level data flows in at the bottom, the big picture comes into focus at the topA Mirror World is a two-faced duality. You can look it as a datapool, as a detailed historical archive; or you can look it as a datafilter, capturing and synopsizing the current state of a complicated system right now.

Read the passage closely. Gelernters Mirror World seems to describe the blogosphere of today! There is an ocean of information out there, with the RSS streams representing the data streams. The filters are the actions of bloggers. The layers are made up by the circle of bloggers think of them as concentric circles of bloggers with the radius determined by their degree of separation from us. So, on the one hand we can access the vast pool of information through search engines like Google and directories like Yahoo, or we can use the work of bloggers as information filters.

Next Week: Constructing the Memex (continued)

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