Weekend Reading

This weekend’s links:

  • A fascinating collection of 75+ comments on my three [1 2 3] elections-related blog posts. I wish the Indian political parties would read this.
  • What would Google do? An interview with Jeff Jarvis about his new book.
  • The Big Fix: A New York Times Magazine article on the US economy. “While Washington has been preoccupied with stimulus and bailouts, another, equally important issue has received far less attention — and the resolution of it is far more uncertain. What will happen once the paddles have been applied and the economy’s heart starts beating again? How should the new American economy be remade? Above all, how fast will it grow?” Why can’t we in India do some deep and big thinking about the Indian economy?
  • The Midas List: Forbes’ special report on Venture Capital.
  • Positioning and Pitch decks for Start-ups: Advice from Ed Sim.
  • Hiring as a core competency: by Seth Levine. “Most start-ups will tell you that hiring great people is one of the most important determinants of a company’s success. Why then is the process of hiring generally treated as a completely ad hoc exercise?”

Panelist at 5th National Conference on Electoral and Political Reforms

I am on a panel discussing “Role of Business and Government” in the event tomorrow (Saturday) at Nehru Centre, Mumbai. Here are the details of the 2-day conference, hosted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW). The context of the event: “Since 2002, the major impacts of these campaigns have been on criminalization of politics, and transparency in candidate and political party assets. Leaders of both the BJP and the Indian National Congress have made public statements that they would not field candidates with criminal records even if they were likely to win in the coming Lok Sabha elections. As a result of these campaigns, the percentage of candidates with criminal records has come down from over 20% to about 12% recently. However, a lot still remains to be done. In particular, the exponential growth in the use of money power is a major area of concern since it vitiates democracy.”

The focus of the conference is as follows:

  1. A set of demands for improving elections and democracy. These include the option of “None of the Above” on the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), barring candidates against whom serious charges have been framed in a Court, disqualifying candidates who indulge in electoral malpractices, and striking off names of people with non bailable warrants from voter rolls. These have emerged from consultations around the country, and have also been endorsed by the Election Commission.
  2. The need for a comprehensive Bill to regulate Political Parties. All leading democracies have such a Bill, we have none. The issues of inner party democracy in political parties, and greater transparency and regulation of political party funding is required.
  3. Specific action plans for the coming general elections under the banner of National Election Watch (NEW), a campaign that is already under way.

I would love to get inputs on what topics to discuss in the panel. Some initial thoughts:

  • the need for creating an information infrastructure (“infostructure”) on candidates, work done by elected representatives in constituencies. The RTI (Right to Information) Act has helped, but more needs to be done, and information needs to be made  more easily accessible to people.
  • laying the foundation for two-way governance, where citizens can play a participatory role in decision-making.
  • the need for businesses to be more proactively involved in good governance — how can this be done? For one, there is still a complete lack of transparency in how many decisions are made. Case in point: the complete mess with the telecom policy and 2G spectrum doleout, and the3G auction process.
  • bringing in measurement metrics at every level of elected government – perhaps, this is easier said than done.

I strongly believe that the interactive tools now available with us (Internet, mobile) can bring about dramatic bottom-up change in the quality of people we elect, and the people-centricity of the government that we elect. This is the foundation for solving some of the big problems that we face in India – and driving smart, well-thought out development-friendly policies in disciplines like education, energy, urbanisation, transportation, and technology which cannot be reversed.

Any suggestions?

Elections 2009: I Support the BJP

For the reasons expressed below, I have decided that being a silent supporter (and voter) for a political party is not good enough. Hence, I have decided to publicly voice my support for the BJP for the general elections to be held in April-May. I am also working together with a group of like-minded professionals to create a “Friends of BJP” group. We are having a get-together today evening at 7:30 pm at NSCI, Worli. Anyone can come and brainstorm with us. Here’s the gist of what I will share in my remarks at the event. 

I am Rajesh Jain, a serial technology entrepreneur and a citizen of India who has chosen to act.

I am one of us. Till some time ago, I assumed that my contribution to the 2009 elections and the future of India would be my one vote. But, somewhere along the line, things changed. Maybe it was 26/11 and seeing some of us out on the streets demanding action. Maybe it was seeing Obama become President, and see politics really change in America, bottom-up.  Whatever it was, I have woken up to the fact that we have to do more – much more – if we are going to rewrite our future and rebuild our India into the glorious country that it once was.

We know we are on the wrong track when security warnings sent on September 24 for the event that happened on 26/11 are ignored and not acted on. We know we are on the wrong track when we cannot provide adequate electricity 24×7 in our homes and factories – and yet for the sake of votes our political parties offer free power to millions. We know we are on the wrong track when we have schemes like NREGS and bank loan write-offs which create wealth for the entire value chain – expect for the one it is supposed to help. We know we are on the wrong track when we can barely add to the highways in five years.   We know we are on the wrong track when a mother says that her biggest challenge of parenting is finding a good school for her daughter.

We are on the wrong track. And it is WE who put us there. By our apathy, by not voting, by accepting mediocrity, by not being part of the political process. The best we do is show up at candle-light vigils when we are shocked from our smugness, but don’t we need something more concrete and impactful?

We are India’s educated civil society. If we cannot act individually and as a team, then we forfeit the right to complain. Democracy comes with responsibilities and duties. It also comes with a generation having to make some sacrifices so the Tomorrow for our children can be better than our Today.

We have 100 days only to the elections.  India has 2 national parties and a multitude of regional parties. We have to make a choice about the party at the Centre. We can wait for a utopian world and the creation of the Perfect Political Party. Or, we can pick the party with the lighter shades of grey.

A week ago, when some of us got together to talk about the elections and the future, we also made our choice. We decided to support the BJP – and work towards ensuring LK Advani becomes Prime Minister. The BJP may not be the Whitest of the parties, but in our view, it is by far, the better, cleaner, more democratic, less feudal and more promising of the two national options. More importantly, we also realised that in the 2009 Elections, the way things stand, unless the BJP gets 50-75 more seats on its own above the 130 it got in the 2004 elections, there is little hope of the BJP forming a government at the centre.

Thus was formed Friends of BJP. We are neither all signed-up members nor agree with everything and everybody in the party has always said.  But we firmly believe that, in 2009, the BJP and LK Advani are the best hopes for India. We have a clear short-term goal, and a grander long-term vision for Friends of BJP.

The 100-day goal is to get BJP to 200+ seats – in the 15th Lok Sabha. This will mean a massive outreach programme through all means at our disposal to get the silent supporters to be more vocal, and the undecideds to be swung the BJP way. Bringing about a BJP government at the centre with Advani at the helm will then bring into focus the longer-term vision. That is about a government that is two-way, that listens to us, that we can feel a part of. Technologies like the Internet and mobile give us the tools to self-organise and make our voices heard. The India of 2009 is very different from that of 2004. The 2009 Elections will be the first where urban India can actually make a difference.

And that is why we are gathered here today. As citizens of India, we have a duty to help build a Better India. The 20 of a week ago are now 200. We need to become 2000 in another week, and 20 million by the time the elections are here. We have to become the Voice of India.  For 60 years, we have been Led. And for many of those years, Led down a wrong path. The time has now come for us to Lead.

The first step in that direction is Mission 200+ Seats for the BJP. Let’s get cracking!

PS: A vote at the ballot box is just a first step – and not the end goal. We need to – and have to – do more. I am not completely sure where this will lead to. It could fizzle out, or it could grow into something very big. I hope I can be a part of making a difference. The next 100 days will show us. This is a a journey we need to do together.  As a first step, irrespective of which party you decide you support, you can start by being vocal – so we can start a dialogue. India needs millions of such conversations happening every day. Out of that will emerge a New, Better India whose citizens are equal stakeholders in its future.

Elections 2009: What can we do?

There are about 100 days to the elections in India. These will be be the 15th national elections in India’s history. I like to think that the 2004 elections were the last of the 20th century elections, and these will be the first of the 21st century. We, the People, need to give a decisive mandate in this election. India cannot afford another five years of fragmented, coalition politics. So, the question to ponder is: what can we do? How can each of us make a difference – besides casting our one vote?

India needs an engaged civil society. Politics cannot be bifurcated completely from our lives. So, what can each of us do? What can we do as a group? Is there a way to create a bottom-up, emergent organisation using next-generation community and interaction tools to amplify messages? Given than 42% of India did not vote last time, can these “non-consumers” create a decisive swing?

Only 100 days stand between us and a new government coming to power. Whom would we like to see form the next government? Given that the India of 2009 is very much different from 2004, can we really make a difference? Whatever our decisions and answers, we need to make it quick.

My Favourite Indian Business Newspaper is…

…Mint!

There is no shortage of business dailies: Economic Times, Business Standard, Financial Express, Business Line and Financial Chronicle, along with Mint. I like Mint for its news reporting and editorial pages. I think they have amongst the best journalists, and it shows. For scoops and exclusives, it is still the Economic Times. In their effort to make the ET a business daily with mass base, I think they have compromised on their reporting quality. The ET is of course the Intel+Microsoft of the business daily space. But somewhere, they have given up a lot to achieve this.

On Mint, I am not sure how much longer it can continue with keeping a low cover price and have few ads. The paper must be expensive to produce, and in today’s slow ad times, their breakeven period must have gotten longer. Being owned by the Hindustan Times is good, but they probably need to rethink their low cover price (subscription offers). I would be willing to pay Rs 10-15 daily for Mint (I probably pay Re 1 or so given the special offers they have for subscription). Yes, it will lead to a reduction in numbers, but it will also give them an exclusivity which would be very valuable — just like the Economist. And it will probably get them to cashflow positive much sooner.

Random: Slumdog Millionaire, PVR and Strand Book Exhibition

Slumdog Millionaire: I saw the movie over the weekend, was underwhelmed. It may be great watching for non-Indians internationally, but for me living in Mumbai, it was a case of good-not-great.

PVR: The PVR multiplex that has opened recently at Phoenix Mills is excellent. Much better than Metro Adlabs and Inox Nariman Point — the seats are more comfortable, there is much more legroom, the sound and picture quality also seems to be better.

Strand Book Exhibition: Another couple days to go, and for those book lovers in Mumbai who haven’t yet been to Sunderbhai Hall, make sure you do! There is so much variety that one is bound to pick up more than a handful!

Blog Past: Transforming Rural India

Given that elections are coming along soon, this paper I had co-authored in 2003 is worth a second read.

Poverty—income poverty as well as non-income poverty—is perhaps the most common characteristic that defines the populations living in the developing world today. Non-income poverty in terms of education, health-care, access to markets, etc., directly produce the income poverty that traps the average citizen of developing countries. The question of how to raise huge populations out of this poverty trap is a formidable challenge that governments, multilateral organizations and policy makers face.

Because income poverty is relatively easier to measure compared to non-income poverty, it is more commonly reported and emphasized. (For instance, about half the world’s population, or about 3 billion people, have an average income of less than $2 a day, and of that about 1.3 billion have a daily average income of $1 a day. For India, the figures are even more stark: about 60% of Indians, or 600 million people, live on less than $1 a day.) Income poverty and non-income poverty are closely related, of course. The problem appears almost intractable because the two kinds of poverty are mutually reinforcing. Any solution that does not address both kinds of poverty is unlikely to be successful in poverty alleviation.

In this paper we focus on two uses of information and communications technology (ICT) that hold the promise of immense benefit to the rural poor, specifically in India, and more generally in other parts of the developing world. We focus on the rural population because the incidence of poverty is higher there than in the urban population.

The first application is the use of ICT in providing education. Specifically, primary and secondary education, increasing literacy, and providing vocational education. The current system is unable to deliver due to number of reasons primary among which is its reliance on mostly individual content creation and delivery, essentially through the public sector. The economies of scope and scale attainable through the use of ICT tools would make education accessible and more affordable.

The second application relates to expanding market access for agricultural and non-agricultural products. This would increase rural incomes and thus alleviate income poverty. The internet can efficiently provide access to a vast market for traditional handcrafted goods which can be sold worldwide, for instance. This would be an effective way of integrating the rural population with the globalised marketplace.

Weekend Reading

This weekend’s links:

iPhone Software Upgrade

I finally got the software upgraded on the iPhone I have been using now for more than 15 months. And it feels like a different phone! The most important feature is the access to the AppStore, and the ability to add new applications so easily. While I have always been a proponent of the mobile Internet, I have to admit that having an on-device app can improve the user experience dramatically. I used an iTouch over the past few months to check the AppStore, but not having access to the applications on the iPhone made the usage minimal. One device that does it all is definitely the way to go.

The other application I now look forward to using more is Google map which can identify my location using cellID triangulation (since there is no GPS on my old phone). That is still good enough to start to get a glimpse of the GPS-enabled future with Location-Based Service.

This is probably the longest I have used the same phone model in the past five or so year — having been used to changing phone models every year. It says a lot for Apple that the iPhone is, according to me, still the best that’s out there.

Two other phones I am looking to try out in the future are the Palm Pre and a device using Google’s Android. Hopefully, they will come to India this year.

President Obama

Like probably everyone else, I watched the inauguration on Tuesday night on TV, and after I long time in recent times, I felt jealous of America – that they have  elected a person like Obama, who in turn has put a ‘dream team’ in place to lead and is bringing in a new attitude and mindset to governance. And here we are in India, where our politicians cannot articulate a vision to bring back the greatness that once was ours, cannot put the most competent people to lead the nation, cannot put in place the right policies. I feel sad because the problems in India are our own making, and we cannot seem to figure out a way to get out of the mess.

The next elections offer us a way out. It is a moment in India’s history where we the voters need to think hard about the kind of people we elect, the kind of party we put in the centre, and  the kind of policies we want. We have to be part of our own future. We need a government for the people. And for that, we cannot remain silent anymore — we need to use technology tools to organise and make ourselves heard.

Obama has ignited hope not just in Americans but many globally — a hope that a government may actually be able to do good. We need to turn the hope that lies within us to reality. We cannot afford to lose another five years. We deserve a better future. And, we have to be part of the writing of our own history.

Comments on TRAI Paper on MVAS Growth Recommendations

TRAI recently came out with a paper outlining draft recommendations for the growth of Mobile Value-added Services (MVAS) in India [TRAI press release, TRAI paper]. Here is NetCore’s response sent to TRAI:

At the outset we would like to congratulate TRAI for having made extremely well thought out recommendations that will be far-reaching in their positive impact on the growth of VAS in India.

However, we would like to draw your attention to just a few issues that, we believe, still requires more detailed clarifications. These are listed below:

1)       The key issue considered is ‘Issue 9 – whether there should be regulation on revenue share model’. In the debate on pricing models there is mention of the mandatory revenue share model whereby TRAI can specify a maximum revenue share that the operator can charge. Netcore is of the opinion that it would be good if TRAI specifies separate revenue shares for each of the services in the off-deck as well as the on-deck model. It has been suggested that the same should be left to discussions between operator and content provider but, as we all know, one party has much more bargaining power than the other so the negotiations can never be bilateral. This is why TRAI needs to intervene. TRAI cites the roadblock to doing this as the lack of mandatory licensing for VASPs. We believe that smaller VAS and content players will be more than happy to register as ‘OSP – VAS’, provided this would ensure them of a reasonable revenue share.

2)       In addition to access, one of the key services that Telecom providers can give to other players is access to billing services. Although this is mentioned in the document a few times, the obligation of telecom operators to provide this service to off-deck providers at reasonable revenue shares is not spelt out clearly. Netcore would like to appeal to TRAI to make further clarifications on this very important point. The ability to collect money (through operators) from subscribers will energize content and VAS providers to come up with new and innovative services further accelerating the growth of VAS. This will encourage a lot of VAS companies to undertake their own marketing, customer support as well as brand building. For billing services there could either be a revenue share or a fixed price defined by TRAI. This will also spawn healthy competition in the market and hence ensure consumers/subscribers get the best pricing possible for value added services. This will help a larger number of subscribers to avail of such services.

3)       In off-deck model, Telecom providers will be mandated to publish access and bearer charges. Again this could become a problem if the charges published are high because these will add to the end-user price. Also end-users will need to be educated that they will be paying the sum of the two charges – VAS + access – and it may well be that the high access/carrier charge may make the service unviable. This is once again an argument in favour of TRAI setting the revenue shares for all services provided by the telecom operator.

4)       Common short code services Chapter II clause (xvii): VAS and content providers should be asked to keep DOT informed about additional services that they propose to release on existing short codes rather than asking them to seek approval for each such new service. Once DOT is informed it should be assumed that the service can be made operational after 15 days unless an objection is raised. The process of seeking approval will delay the launch of new services and introduce unnecessary bureaucracy.

5)       Common short code services, Chapter II clause (xxiii): While we welcome the introduction of short codes at different price points and also Toll free short codes, we would like to seek an additional clarification. Over the years, short codes have become automatically associated with premium services. This has led to the interpretation in some quarters that free information alert (push) services of the type provided by Netcore (MyToday Dailies) cannot be offered on short codes. Netcore would therefore like to have an explicit clarification that users may indeed opt-in for free information alert (subscription) services through short codes. If a VASP is able to subsidise the cost of service via other revenue sources e.g. advertising, lead generation etc. and in turn is able to offer free service to the subscribers then this will be in the best interest of a consumer. Since these are opt-in services it will help build multi-revenue streams rather than just burdening the subscriber to pay for every service he/she wants to subscribe to.

6)       Chapter II, Clause (iv)(d) and para 3.9.3(ii): The argument that reconciliation and calibration of MIS systems should be part of the negotiation between Telecom providers and VAS providers, in order to bring confidence in the MVAS value chain and improve the reconciliation process, is flawed. Telecom access providers have much more bargaining power than smaller players like VAS and content providers so this will not lead to the effect that TRAI is looking for. Ideally online access to MIS should be made available to VAS providers, but technology wise this could take a long time to be ready. In the meantime MIS and reconciliation will always be subject to dispute.

7)       At the open house, one of the key issues raised was that of dispute redressal. The TRAI draft recommendations document is completely silent on this topic. Netcore is of the opinion that a healthy ecosystem cannot be created unless there are quick and effective mechanisms to settle disputes. Netcore would like to urge TRAI to add some recommendations in this regard.

8)       Another issue that needs clarification is one of NDNC vs. Opt-in. Netcore pioneered opt-in services and the industry today is moving steadily towards ‘opt-in’ as the best method of offering services (Airtel information alerts, Google SMS channels and even TRAI’s DND service some of the services that have already started). In the light of this it becomes important for TRAI to issue a clarification to the effect that ‘Opt-in overrides NDNC registration’. Every subscriber should have the option to register under NDNC and hence protect himself from un-solicited communication. However a subscriber who has registered under NDNC yet has the right to opt-in to any service voluntarily. Due to lack of clarity, currently subscribers under NDNC are not allowed to be offered services even if they have voluntarily opted-in to a service.

Elections 2009: What’s Different from 2004?

Even as Obama takes oath to become the 44th president of the US, India is gearing up for its own election season. Sometime in April-May, hundreds of millions will vote in the general elections for the 15th Lok Sabha. It would have been hard to imagine five years ago that the Congress would have been able to stay in power with a cobbled coalition for the full term, but they did — even as they switched partners from the Left to the Samajwadi Party towards the end. So, as we look ahead to the elections this year, what has changed since 2004? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • 2009 will probably see a more fragmented verdict than 2004, making the task of government formation harder. In 2004, the Congress got 150 seats, the BJP 130, the Left 60, and about 200 went to various other parties. In 2009, I think the Congress-BJP combo will probably again find it difficult tocross the 300 mark. One big factor is the rise of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party in central India. For the Congress to come back to power, they will need to at least get 150 seats and then work on putting together a coalition. I think the bar for the BJP is much higher — it needs to win 200 seats on its own. Like last time, pre-poll alliances will make a difference.
  • There is a distinct possibility this time of a non-Congress, non-BJP government at the centre, with Mayawati hoping to do a Deve Gowda. If the BSP wins 60-80 seats, she will get support from the Left, and then it can all be up for grabs to get to the 270-mark.
  • The economy is on a down trend, as against the uptrend of 2004. The last year has posed many challenges, and the present government has not handled them well.
  • There is a heightened civic consciousness among citizens, which has grown in the past couple years. I think we will see higher voting percentages this time around. It is not clear who will benefit from this. This engagement is especially higher among the Youth.
  • Getting voters out on the big day will matter since one can expect some smaller parties and dissidents to also contest and split the vote, thus reducing victory margins and putting more seats in play.
  • Both the national parties have a Prnce-in-waiting (Rahul Gandhi for the Congress, and Narendra Modi for the BJP). If either of the Congress or BJP comes to power, expect a mid-term power transfer.
  • On the tech front, I think mobile marketing will play an important role, given that 300+ million Indian voters have a mobile in their hands.
  • Finally, there are the “Learnings of Obama” — I am sure all parties have studied what Obama did in the past 2 years in the US. But one has to be careful innot overplaying the Obama card. India’s election process is different. So, one has to also know what will not work in India.

I think the Congress (as Incumbent) will benefit from playing the same game, while the BJP needs to focus on “Disruptive Innovations” as the Challenger. All in all, it will be a fascinating 4 months – with the elections, and the negotiations to form a government.

What do you think will happen in the elections? If you were strategising for any of the political parties, what would you do?

Blog Past: The IndiaWorld Story

Since the IndiaWorld deal has been brought back to the forefront in recent times because of the controversy surrounding Satyam, I thought it would be a good idea to read how it all began. I wrote this series in late 1997 and early 1998.

The IndiaWorld story begins in September 1994. I was in the US, trying to figure out a good business to do in an area other than software exports. It was the time when the Internet and Web were just about beginning to catch people’s fancies. I spent a few weeks at a friend’s place, browsing the Web on a 14.4 Kbps dial-up modem with Netcom’s Netcruiser account. The experience was absolutely amazing. It was quite evident then that the Web as a medium would have a significant impact on how information was disseminated. The Web offered a good business opportunity: attract the NRIs (I was one myself!) with good intent, and then look at offshoots in electronic commerce.

That was the vision of IndiaWorld: a bridge between Indians worldwide.

On my return to India in November 1994, I wrote to various publishers and talked to a number of companies and individuals to participate in the venture by offering their content. It was tough explaining the Internet and the Web to people in India then: there was no commercial Internet access provider (our “shell” account was through NCST/ERNET). Most thought the Internet to be another variation of a satellite channel! I would take a notebook with NCSA Mosaic, and show them the power of hyperlinks. It wasn’t quite clear how it would make an impact on businesses, but yes, it was going to transform how NRIs got their information.

Our focus was on IndiaWorld as a news and information service for NRIs. With help (and content) from Indian Express, India Today, Dataquest, Reader’s Digest, Kensource, Crisil, CMIE, DSP Financial, Professional Management Group and Laxman, IndiaWorld was formallylaunched from a server in the US on March 13, 1995.

Mobile Microcontent

One of the ideas I have been thinking about is paid microcontent subscriptions delivered to the mobile — via SMS or mail. The key word is “paid” — will people pay, or will it have to be free forever? The mobile is different — see the success of Blackberry and push mail, and also mobile operator-promoted VAS services. The question is: is it possible to build a direct-to-consumer model for content subscriptions, a sort-of iTunes for microcontent. Here are some starting thoughts from me.Pushed content has a charm of its own on the mobile. It just comes to us. Because of the immediacy and 24×7 availability, we welcome it – as long as it not spam. Consider email, for example. It is available on PCs, but people are willing to spend a lot of money to get it pushed to them on the mobile. Pushed content eliminates latency and can also fill free/empty moments.

Microcontent too has its own charm. Look at how taken up people are with Twitter. We have also seen the same reaction with our MyToday free SMS services – the snippets of news and various kinds of tips are so useful and timely. A Daily Delight.

Payment by subscribers is what makes the mobile so unique. Mobile users are willing to pay for content and services. The same music that is perceived as free becomes paid in the form of its micro ringtone version. Operators too have benefited from paid SMS subscription services – it is again the combination of push and microcontent delivered on the mobile that elicits the money. What do you think? Will people play? If so, for what type of content?

Quarterly Numbers

As private companies, we are not obliged to publish any quarterly financials. But imagine if we did think of our business with quarterly targets, and published a report and financials (for internal circulation only) — just like the public companies do? I think it will help small, private companies got a better handle on their own business — and in some ways, even prepare them for the day they become public (if they do).

For most of my life as an entrepreneur, I have not really bothered about targets and all that. “Do the best” was the mantra. Over the past year, I have started tracking all key numbers of our business on a monthly basis more closely (since it is my money that we are currently burning)! We also do a quarterly Board review for a couple of external people – so we at least see the business once from someone else’s eyes. This quarter, I also prepared a brief report which reviewed the quarter that had just gotten over, and provided an outlook for the coming quarter.

This exercise was quite a useful one — it helped look back at what had happened, and put into perspective what we need to do. While there are daily battles to be fought, a bit of big picture  thinking is also critical – and based around the numbers that matter in the business.

So, my advice to entrepreneurs is (and I wish someone had given this to me a decade ago):

  • think of the business in quarters: it is the right granularity — a month is too short, and a year is too long
  • put together a 2-3 member Board with whom you can review the business once a quarter
  • prepare a quarterly report just like a publicly listed company does (and share it with the Board and senior management internally)

The challenge inherent in new, early-stage blue ocean businesses is that one has no clue how the numbers will come up against projections or targets. But, the exercise will still be a useful one and creates much-needed discipline of tracking numbers.

At Infocom in Kolkata on Thursday

I will be speaking at Infocom 08-09 on Thursday at ITC Sonar in Kolkata. My session is at 4 pm, and I have 20 minutes to speak on “Breakthrough Innovations in Mobile.” There will be three other speakers in the 90-minute session. The session brief is as follows:

Turning ideas into reality is what innovation is all about — even better when these innovations will shape the mobile industry. This session would discuss the Mobile innovation market and will bring together the mobile industry’s top innovators, investors, operators and key suppliers from across market segments.

This forum would identify the industry’s top priorities for new products and services, elevate the best-in-class innovations that are building them, and explore how the interests of customers or investors drive these breakthrough Innovations.

This session will explore the technical and commercial drivers underlining mobile businesses and the issues and challenges that will be faced by the mobile enterprises in times to come. Finally, the session would show how innovation can drive reduction in costs and focus on simplicity for increasing consumer base.

In my talk, I plan to build on my 2009 India Mobility Trends note. There are three focus areas I want to concentrate on:

  • the coming mobile Internet era, brought about by new devices (smartphones), 3G and flat-rate data plans
  • the opportunity for new business models in the form of VAS operators and mobile computing operators (Data MVNOs)
  • the emergence of the mobile as the next medium for advertising and marketing medium

Would love your inputs — what do you think are the breakthrough innovations in the mobile space?

It has been many years since I visited Kolkata — probably 5-6 years. I am looking forward to it, though I guess I will end up being at the conference venue for most of the day.

A Boat Ride

One of the nice things about Mumbai is the Arabian Sea. But unlike many other cities, we haven’t really made much of the sea. Only now will we get our first bridge (connecting Bandra and Worli). And then there are the boat rides.

On Saturday evening, I took Abhishek and my niece for a boat ride at Gateway of India. It wasn’t the first time I was doing it — I’ve done this about once a year for the past three years. We don’t even have proper places for people to get on and off easily. The boats also could do with some improvement. In all, plenty of room for an improvement in the overall experience. I guess for Rs 40 for a 25-minute outing one shouldn’t be asking too much.

The ride itself was quite relaxing. Away from land, with only the sea all around, the thoughts start changing. No longer does one think of the short-term issues. Instead, one becomes more contemplative. I guess as the boat becomes detached from the land, so does the mind from all things immediate.

Abhishek has hoping we’d get to see a sea snake! Makes me think what we need next is a sub-marine ride.