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.