The Extinct Indian Entrepreneur

Shrikant Patil writes: “Red Herring released a list of 20 entrepreneurs under the age of 35. There was one Indian Anurag Dikshit but not a single Indian from India. My take on this issue is the explosion in the job market with Multi-nationals and Indian companies on a hiring spree. You have to be in some sense a radical to ignore the comfort of getting a job and jump into starting a company. Another personal observation, even though there are a lot of VCs in India there is an acute shortage of angel investors in India. VCs pretend to be angel investors and waste the precious time of many budding entrepreneurs asking questions and documentation to be provided that is actually required in the first round of fund raising. Many who pursue a business in India are the ones who get funded by family or informal channels. Many of the businesses are just filling up for infrastructure bottlenecks rather than building new products or services. Banks also provide loans only if you can provide collateral, so the ones that can borrow money are ones that have some property or have money. So our nationalized and private banks will only lend money to those that have money not innovative ideas. I really call upon high networth individuals with good management experience to allocate some money to pure angel investing and mentoring young entrepreneurs. Instead of putting all their money in fixed deposits or pushing up the valuation of established businesses in the stock market or fuelling the irrational real estate boom. In Pune lot of the social discussions are around real estate just like Silicon Valley was abuzz with tech stacks in 97-99 boom. So if you are young, with a good idea, no high networth relative, no personal collateral you might as well take up a job and make the Indian entrepreneur a rare species possibly extinct.”

Gladwell’s Cellular Church

John Hagel discusses a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell:

What do the Communist Party, Alcoholics Anonymous, evangelical Christians and al-Qaeda all have in common? They adopted and refined the technique of organizing in small cells to achieve change. This is the fascinating theme of Malcolm Gladwells new article, The Cellular Church (alas, not available online), in the September 12, 2005 issue of The New Yorker (actually, I added al-Qaeda to the list based on a posting that I will mention later).

Gladwell uses the story of Rick Warrens Saddleback Church in Orange County, California to make this theme come alive. For those of you not familiar with Rick Warren, he is the author of The Purpose-Driven Life (23 million copies sold so far and it is just getting started) and founder of the Saddleback Church, an evangelical Christian church with 20,000 members in its congregation and the hub of a global network of 1,100 other evangelical Christian churches.

Gladwell focuses on a core challenge confronting any voluntary organization how to make it scalable. On the one hand, many voluntary organizations want to grow so they need to have low barriers to entry. But if they grow too fast or too big, they begin to lose the sense of community and identity that is necessary to retain members. He notes that historically, churches have sacrificed size for community but that this changed back in the 1970s and 1980s when the evangelical movement began to build megachurches. It turns out the cellular model has been key to the success of megachurches cells helped them to solve the scalability challenge.

Network Computing

Dana Gardner writes that now’s the time for the network computer.

I don’t care about the hardware, as long as it’s x86 and wirelessly networked. I’d like to see it come standard with 60BG of disk space, and 2GB of memory, and lots of USB 2 slots. Operating system can be Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, I don’t care as long as it runs a speedy JVM and has some stock reader applications for accessing and playing most document and media formats. I’m thinking of the Apple Mini or equivalent in about a year, that sort of thing. Under $500 loaded. Maybe $900 for the notebook version.

But what I’d really like to see as soon as possible is the next-generation thin-client, catch-all software application to run on this hardware, and Oracle is just the company to produce it. Yep, Oracle. After all, Larry Ellison was a driving force behind the network computer concept going on eight years ago (or more). And now that Oracle is number two in business apps, and by no means as cozy with (or dependent on) Microsoft as SAP, it’s time for Larry to hammer this puppy home. How about a thin front-end for those business apps that has nothing to do with Microsoft, eh, Larry? That was the dream, right? Just build the best business and data-viewer browser software now, give it away, and outsource the hardware to Apple.

China’s Web 2.0

TechCrunch has an interesting commentary on the theme that C2C and VoIP is China’s Web 2.0:

I see the convergence of Internet and telephony taking shape through the development of mobile e-commerce and free voice.

It might look something like this: A twenty-something Chinese woman is waiting at the bus stop using her 3G enabled mobile phone to surf the Victorias Secret China site (There isnt one yet but I hope there will be someday). She sees something she likes but wants to get her friends opinion on it first. She conferences two of her best friends and shares links to the products shes considering. Afterwards, she dials Victorias Secret sales line, for free of course, and talks to a live person with video while making purchases using her handset.

After all, in China, people like to buy from people face to face and at the very least be able to hear their voice.

Nintendo’s Revolution

The New York Times writes about Nintendo’s new one-handed game controller: “While most controllers require two hands and are studded with buttons and joysticks, the new controller has fewer features, giving it the appearance of a TV remote control…The controller is intended for use with Nintendo’s Revolution game console, the successor to GameCube. Revolution is scheduled for release sometime next year. It will go head to head with Microsoft’s Xbox 360, to appear in November, and Sony’s PlayStation 3, set for next spring…Nintendo hopes the simplicity of its new controller and games will make them more accessible, especially to first-time players.”

Russell Beattie adds: “The Nintendo Revolution controller will allow movement in 3D space. Theres all sorts of configurations and movement options, but in the pic above in a FPS, youd look around by pointing the wand and move using the analog stick. Jumping via the A button (under the right thumb) and shooting with the B button (the trigger under the right hand) and swapping weapons with the trigger button on the left-hand analog controller. One review I read said it felt really natural – I totally believe it.”

TECH TALK: Building a Better India: and the Good

It is, of course, not all depressing. There are plenty of things to be happy about also. Take for example the wonder that is Tata IndiOne. This is a hotel which offers Smart Basics for under Rs 1,000 a night. I had read about the one in Bangalore and this time I stayed there. The hotel is in Whitefield, diagonally across from SAP. Considering that most hotels today charge upwards of Rs 2,000 for a decent room (probably a lot higher in Bangalore where occupancy rates are close to 100%), this was one stay I was looking forward to with expectation.

The room itself, though small in size, has everything that a business traveller needs. The hotel has done away with room-service. However, there was no reason for me to pick the phone and call for any help. I paid Rs 900 + 8% tax for a single room. A double room would have cost me Rs 50 more. The breakfast buffet cost me Rs 50. I paid Rs 67 for a 30-minute WiFi connection (an hour would have cost Rs 100).

Tata IndiOne is a great example of bottom-up innovation. They set the price point first, and then worked backwards, redesigning everything from scratch to make sure they reached the target price. Will I stay there again? You bet! And I hope they rapidly set up hotels in all the other Indian cities also. (There are plans to set up 100 such hotels across India.)

Magarpatta City in Pune was another revelation. Situated at the eastern end of Pune, it takes some time getting to. But once you are in there, it is a different world. Artfully constructed residential apartments and glassy office buildings complement the greenery around. It is like being in a different world.

Palm Meadows in Bangalore falls in the same category. The newly opened domestic airport terminal in Mumbai extension is another shining example of if we want, we can do things well. The irony, as a friend put it, is that even as we are constructing world-class private spaces, our public spaces remain, for the most, quite pathetic. Nowhere was this more apparent than the Adlabs in Kalyaninagar in Pune. Great interiors and exterior but just take a look at the road outside. Why, oh, why?

This is the question I was pondering on my journey back home from Pune. On the one hand, as we see the quality of new homes and offices being constructed in the cities, they are extraordinarily good. And yet, when we look at the infrastructure around, it is depressing. One can understand that India is in growth mode, but that is no excuse for messing things up. My thoughts wandered to technology and us citizens. Is there something we can do pro-actively to helping build a better India? After all, we are all living in it!

Tomorrow: What We Can Do

Continue reading TECH TALK: Building a Better India: and the Good