Ram Shriram’s Pointers

SiliconBeat writes about the takeaways from a talk given by Ram Shriram, the angel investor who counseled Googles founders during the earliest days:

–Success is pretty much a crap-shoot; there are too many unknown facts in a companys early life to make all the right decisions. But good, quick judgment calls on multiple fronts helps multiply the chances of beating the odds.

–Not even the wise man can see it coming: I had no premonition of the things to come, Shiram said, about meeting the founders in 1998 for the first time at the office of Stanford professor Jeff Ullman, when he firsted tested their search engine. For two months, he didnt think anything more about it, until they called him.

–Its the people, stupid. Shriram helped co-founders Larry Page and Serge Brin in the Menlo Park garage by consulting his Rams Book of Mistakes, which he said he started eight or nine years ago to help remind him of all the bad decisions hed made. Bad hiring decisions are the most fatal.

— Its all in the grooming. Shriram set out to made sure Page & Brin hired only the very best, or A people. He cited the well-known Silicon Valley tenet: Hire only A people, and theyll hire other A people. If you hire the B person, theyll hire C or D people. Someone asked a good question: How did Shriram decide who are a so-called A people? Grooming is a part of it. I try to find out who their mothers are, he said. If they are raised well, theyre more likely to make good citizens, employees and entrepreneurs.

–The trick is small engineering teams. Bite-sized engineering projects, as Shriram calls them, where you can know and measure each persons output on a project. That allows you to remain innovative and to launch and scrap projects quickly.

Bill Gates on Software’s Future

Information Week has a column by Bill Gates:

We’re only beginning to realize computing’s potential. I believe that we’re entering an era when software will fundamentally transform almost everything we do. The continued growth of processing power, storage, networking, and graphics is making it possible to create almost any device imaginable. But it’s the magic of software that will connect these devices into a seamless whole, making them an indispensable part of our everyday lives.

In the workplace, we’re already moving from personally focused software, such as word processors and spreadsheets, to truly collaborative tools that bring teams together and drive a quantum leap in business productivity. Today’s productivity software does a good job helping people collaborate, with shared workspaces and management software that helps teams and projects work efficiently. But a coming generation of software will take collaboration a step further, capturing the knowledge and experience of an entire organization, enabling individuals and teams to draw on that information to make better, more strategic decisions.

In the back office, software standards are driving a more model-based approach to developing applications. With the growth of XML and Web services, we’re getting closer to being able to visualize any kind of business process and quickly develop software that can adapt to companies’ changing needs. For example, today when a firm makes an acquisition or changes a key business process, the IT department often must embark on the time-consuming and expensive task of rewriting and testing the underlying software. But as we move toward a world of rich Web services and development tools that instinctively understand business processes, businesses can simply make the changes they want and the code will take care of itself.

Phone and TV

Ramesh Jain writes about the implications of an announcement by Texas Instruments that it has developed a chip that will allow TV on mobile phones:

The implications of this for Video-on-Demand are quite interesting.

It will be very surprising if people watched their PhoneTVs as regular TVs. There is a trend worldwide to go for bigger and bigger TVs with very high quality HDTV pictures. Since people will be used to this, they are not going to really enjoy watching TV on a small screen. Another important factor will be a business model. How will this TV will get to phone screens? Most probably, people will have to pay for getting this TV signal in some way. Thus, we are talking about low quality TV for which people will have to pay.

But this definitely does not mean that PhoneTV will not be popular. What it really means is that it will be used differently. Clearly people may not watch a movie on PhoneTV, but people may watch important news events (show me any events related to San Diego), sports events (such as connect me to the game when Patriots get in the red zone), or personalized highlights of these events so that only important things of the event can be enjoyed while not wasting money on routine parts. This will give rise to two different types of technologies: techniques to automatically track events and generate so people are notified of important events and to prepare highlights and present them based on personal preferences. Both these are what will make Video-on-Demand based on what is happening within a program not just based on what the program is. The first technology to track events in an event will require combination of technology for modeling domain events and for continuous queries. This may also require technology to build a live data base of events happening anywhere so based on users preferences and desires, they can be notified of appropriate events and could be connected when such events are happening in real time. This will be a very challenging technology. The second technology to create highlights of events and showing them to people is simpler than the first, but is still something that will be quite challenging.

Broadcast TV will definitely be part of PhoneTV, but will it be the only thing? I think there will be many interesting applications that will emerge because it is going to be available on Phone. Connecting to home or to some other specific places where a particule event takes place, using security or event cameras. Once again, there may be event detection that will result in connecting to a specific phone and streaming video. But this will be different than the broadcast TV.

What is going to happen soon is that your phones may be used more for video (that includes audio) than just plain old-fashioned audio.

WSJ writes on the TI announcement:

The chip shrinks what had been separate TV tuner, demodulator and channel decoder chips into a single device. Rivals such as Xceive Corp. and Dibcom supply just tuners or demodulators. But with TI’s single chip, phones and personal-digital assistants could display as many as 30 frames a second — twice the rate that the best phones today show video clips. TI supplies cellphone makers Nokia, Sony Ericsson and dozens of private-label cellphone makers, but it hasn’t divulged any TV-handset partners. Nokia has shown demonstration models of TV-equipped cell phones.

Unlike household TVs, hand-held sets require a new digital broadcast signal that can be picked up while the cellphone or PDA is moving. The chips will support European and Japanese standards for mobile TV, known as digital video broadcasting-hand-held and integrated services digital broadcasting-terrestrial, respectively. In the U.S., the DVB-H standard has already undergone trials in Pittsburgh using existing wireless transmission towers.

Under Gmail’s Hood

Jon Udell writes: “Im ready to join the chorus singing the praises of GMails user-interface technology. Its combination of HTML, JavaScript, and the DOM makes the browser do some remarkable tricks.”

here are two important points to take away. First, as Ive often said, intelligent use of browser-based technology can accomplish more than most people realize. You cant do everything not by a long shot but for many of the things that information workers routinely do, even ordinary Web UI is good enough. And now Gmail is proving that we dont have to settle for ordinary.

Second, Gmails architecture is not limited to Web UI. Because it is protocol-driven, developers can create new tools that speak to the DataPack format. Many have done so already. My favorite spam filter, SpamBayes, isnt yet implemented for Gmail, but if that happens, Ill be sorely tempted to switch to Gmail full time.

So is Gmail a rich Internet application? Sure. Although that label most often applies to Java, .Net, and Flash clients, Gmail shows that Web clients can join the club too. But crucially, Gmails architecture is open to other kinds of rich clients, too. It doesnt have to be a zero-sum game.

TECH TALK: My Life as an Entrepreneur: Part 4

What is the hardest part about running a small business?

I think the hardest part about running a small business is the need for constant watchfulness and alertness. In a small business, even a small mistake can prove fatal. So, even as when has to consider many aspects of the situation when making a decision, there is a realisation that not everything can be controlled. As in every business, the entrepreneur has to manage both the short-term and the long-term, and at times making the switch can be difficult.

I currently manage a team of 50 in Netcore. While we are past the early start-up phase, the challenge for us is execution. For me, the hard part now is understanding that I have to work with others to ensure that we can make the dream of Emergic of reality. In IndiaWorld, I was very much hands-on with my wife, since we were a very small team (less than twenty people). But now, to make Emergic happen, it will be a much larger team. Already, this is the biggest group that I am managing in my career and it will only get bigger!

So, for me, there is a need to shift focus from vision to execution. I like the strategy and envisioning part, but the need of the hour now is to get the priorities right, get the right people in the right process, and ensure that we can manage the operations right. It is very different from what I have done before. I want to lay the foundation of an organization that is built to last. Managing operations and people is not something I have done a lot of in the past. This is going to have to change. And for this, I will have to personally change. So, at this point of time, perhaps the hardest thing for me in my business is the realisation that in order to build the dream business, I will have to transform myself from the manager of a small business to thinking like a CEO of an organisation that is going to transform computing.

Personal Change is perhaps the hardest I can think of at least twice in my life that I have gone through it. In 1984, when I went to IIT, I underwent a change from a very academically oriented person to one who actively participated in a broad range of cultural activities. Ten years later in 1994, I had to put the failure of my initial venture behind me, and think ahead building a business by envisioning and placing a bet on what tomorrow would be. Now, I have to go past the vision thing, and put in place people, systems and processes to ensure we can execute on our vision. In 1994, I had to prove that I could be a success. Now, in 2004, I have to prove not to the world but to myself that I can build a great organisation and make a deep impact on the world around.

Tomorrow: Part 5

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