India – Three Countries

A few days ago, Founding Fuel posted a cogent piece by Haresh Chawla on How India’s digital economy can rediscover its mojo. In it, Chawla speaks about the current crisis of confidence surrounding the digital economy and the so-called unicorns. It’s a great piece on the realities of the startup mania, and has a lot to offer to many of us – regardless of the role we play in the ecosystem. What was most intriguing for me, however, was Chawla’s thoughts on how India is not just a huge mass of consumers as many in the western world mistakenly assume. Here’s how he articulates it…

 

India One: Club the top 2-tiers above and you find that the top 15% of Indians, i.e. about 150-180 million, earning an average of Rs 30,000 per month, are the ones who have money left over after buying necessities. These 15% of Indians control over half the spending power of the economy and almost its entire discretionary spending.

India Two: This is the middle 30% or 400-odd million Indians, earning an average of Rs 7,000 a month… They are the ones who “service” the $1 trillion market (yes, read that again) that India One represents… Of course, we report them as internet consumers in our slick presentations on Startup India.

India Three: These are the forgotten 650 million who subsist and don’t have the money to buy two square meals. Their incomes rival that of sub-Saharan Africa… However, they are the ones who form our vote banks and determine the political future of our nation.

 

Think about that for a minute. Yes, as Indians, we all know that there are huge disparities in the wealth that surrounds us. And that is unlikely to change in the short term. But to think of India in terms of “three countries” puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they were thinking of “building an app” as a path to striking it rich…

Of course, it is a silly notion to think that one app – any app – makes for a healthy and sustainable business model. And I’m sure the marketplace will address such misplaced notions appropriately, for the most of us who venture into this ‘glamorous’ territory completely uninformed about what lies ahead. But there is a larger issue at play, here.

Even if you don’t intend to start an app project on the side, if you’re reading this, you are most likely a part of the ‘India One’ that Chawla writes about, and therefore, in a position of some influence in Society. You are more likely to be involved in making decisions on behalf of your employers related to the products or services you manage. You are more likely to spend your waking hours in the pursuit of making your product or service available to consumers across categories – India Two and Three included.

Do we really understand the customer we seek to satisfy? Do we know what their world looks like? Do we identify with their trials and tribulations? Or do we assume that their lives more or less resemble our own, except for the fact that they don’t watch Star World or converse in the Queen’s English?

Think about India in terms of three different worlds, and you may just have a greater chance of success when it comes to translating your lofty ideas into success on the ground. After all, understanding your customer’s needs and addressing those needs profitably is the very foundation on which any business is built. Is it not?

Freedom!

This post is not about how to recover from a crashed disk. It’s about how not to let a disk crash affect you in the first place…

A few weeks ago, the hard disk of my home computer crashed. Just like that. It wouldn’t turn back on. I ran some diagnostics using a recovery drive to check if there was any chance of salvaging it (the hardware, not the data), but there wasn’t. So I unplugged it, ordered another one, and went about my business on another device.

When the new drive arrived a few days later, it took me less than 30 minutes to have it up and running with every thing I needed. No data files to transfer. No settings to copy down or migrate. No nothing.

This was the goal when I began moving to a device-independent setup a few years ago. Piece by piece, I had successfully moved every thing I ever do on a computer to the cloud, so that if the day came when my hard disk crashed, I would not be affected.

And, it was satisfying to see that it worked! Today, all the mobile and computing devices I use (at home or at work) are irrelevant when it comes to the data they work with. It’s all online. Synced in real time. No fuss. No muss.

Here’s what works for me…

Laptops/PCs:

  • Google Calendar – To manage multiple calendars online; Synced across devices
  • GMail – For my work/personal emails; Synced across devices
  • Google Drive – For all my personal work documents; Synced across home PCs/laptops I frequently use
  • Box.com – For all home/common documents; Synced across PCs
  • Evernote – For long notes; Synced across devices
  • SimpleNote – For short notes; Synced across devices
  • Google Photos – To backup any photos I shoot (on the phone/cameras) to my Google account
  • Pocket (plus its Chrome Extension) – To save any bookmarks from my phone or PC that I need to read/retrieve later
  • ToDoist (plus its Chrome Extension) – To save any To Do items (with/without reminders) from my phone or PC

Mobile Devices:

  • An Android device serves as my primary mobile phone
  • All my Contacts are saved on a Google account – nothing is saved/stored on the phone
  • SMS Backup & Restore – To periodically save SMS messages & threads (when migrating from one phone to another)
  • Google Photos – To auto backup any photos shot on my mobile device
  • Apps for SimpleNote, Evernote, ToDoist, Pocket and Drive, as above

Second Level Backups:

  • All documents & pictures from any computers I use are also backed up – once a year – to two external (portable) hard disks… This goes in a folder with the name YYYY
  • I also keep one of the two external disks in a remote location as an offsite backup, just in case

That’s it, really! This simple setup now enables me to work from anywhere, with instant access to all my data, as long as I have an Internet connection. Plus, if one device fails, I can literally switch over to another in minutes, without any loss of data.

 

Mumbai-Pune Puncture Scam

If you live in any of the major cities of India, and own a vehicle, you’re more than likely to have heard of many popular cons that happen in and around the city to unsuspecting motorists. Typically, they involve someone flagging your running vehicle down, and pointing out a problem you need to get fixed. Then, another helpful someone shows up out of the blue, and attempts to “fix” the problem, eventually making it worse, and making you shell out thousands before you can be on your way again. One variant of this also includes throwing out sharp nails on your road stretch, causing some punctures, and then going about fixing them.

Since I was aware of many of these, I thought that I would be insulated from such scams. But, I was wrong.

On a recent trip with the family to Pune, just as we entered the Pune city limits on the Mumbai-Pune expressway (near Hinjewadi), a man on a bike signalled that I should get my front-left tyre checked… and rode away without stopping.

Since he didn’t stop to “help” me, I took his warning as genuine, and soon stopped the car by the kerb. The tyre pressure in my tubeless tyre did look a little lower than normal, so I thought I should get it checked as soon as possible. As it turns out, close to where I’d stopped was a roadside tyre repair shack, so I headed there and asked him to check it.

Again, note that there was no way for me to link the biker who rode away without glancing back, and the tyre shack who was supposedly minding his own business when I drove upto him.

Anyway, he jacked up the wheel and starting checking the tyre in question with some soapy liquid for air bubbles. I did ask why they use soap (which would froth and bubble on its own) instead of plain water, but he said they help him spot the puncture leaks better. I wasn’t too worried since I was keeping a sharp eye out for what was a real air bubble from inside the tyre, and what was on the surface.

During the conversation, repeating the process through the entire surface of the tyre, the good man found (and showed me proof of!) 8 different puncture leaks – big and small. The physics seemed sound: Unless the leaks are fixed, they would keep increasing in size. Plus, I was travelling with kids and the trip hadn’t even begin yet. Plus, I was 200 kms from my home city (and trusted garage). So, all things considered, I asked him to go ahead and fix all of them at 150 bucks a pop.

All the way home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss. So, when I returned, I went to have a word with my local garage, who I have known for years and has yet to cheat me in any way. Here’s what he told me…

This is a very common scam on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. In all likelihood, while the chap at the tyre shack was “checking” for a puncture, as soon as I glanced away, he probably used his poker to make more tiny holes which later he could prove as punctures, so that he could charge me for each fix. Checking for punctures in tubeless tyres should be done by dismounting the wheel, putting it in a bath of liquid and filling it with high pressure.

Not only did I get conned for a thousand bucks, but I also ended up damaging a good tyre for the long run.

Shockingly, I came home to look this up on the Net and could hardly find any stories of similar experiences. Hence, this post to warn other unsuspecting motorists of what to watch for. If enough of us are armed with the correct information, it will be difficult for the scamsters to do their thing, don’t you think?

Hopefully, this should save you from ruining another good tyre and a few thousand bucks…

 

Making Relationships Work

Ever so often, we ask from a relationship, before we give to it. Sometimes, it may be from a family member of friend. At other times, it may be from a work colleague or an acquaintance on LinkedIn.

Ivan Misner’s post on making relationships work makes you re-think…

In my career, a huge number of folks come to me and ask me to promote something for them. The thing is, the majority of those who contact me have never actually met me or had a previous conversation with me. They’ve never invested in the relationship, yet they want a withdrawal from it!

Before you ask for a withdrawal, make sure to make an investment, and build a deep referral relationship.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s not such an impossible ask to make a few deposits before we seek a withdrawal, be it at work or among pals.

Misner also includes a quick guide to questions that you should be able to answer with a “Yes” if you have a strong working relationship.

Useful stuff, don’t you think?

Taking Stock: Year 1

It’s been one year since I launched “ThinkShop“.

Yes, this was my second stint as an entrepreneur. But, in many ways, the experience was completely different. Unlike the last time (which was more than 13 years ago), I was no longer a starry-eyed, young man, without a care in the world. This time around, I was a wee bit wiser, more mature, and understood a little better – what lay in store for me. But even I couldn’t have anticipated all that transpired.

Here’s a quick look at how Year 1 has fared…

  • Attended a plethora of business & technology events
  • Addressed hundreds of eager listeners via workshops and talks
  • Reached out to hundreds more via press mentions and articles
  • Met with a range of interesting folks from different industries
  • Signed up a number of clients, across domains
  • Worked on multiple projects, across platforms and solutions
  • Attended dozens of workshops on a diverse range of topics
  • Made connections & exchanged cards with hundreds of people
  • Experimented with different formats in the quest for a workplace
  • Worked more hours in a day (and week) than I thought possible
  • Stayed up nights “figuring out the answers” (work-in-progress)
  • Improved self-awareness, and discovered a little about myself
  • Learned to enjoy higher highs and deal with lower lows
  • Clocked more steps on my Fitbit than I’d imagined
  • Tried out a few pilot experiments to develop products & services
  • Collaborated with a few people, but had to part ways, soon after
  • Said “No” to countless things, ideas and people (ongoing effort!)
  • Learned of a lot of things, and realized how much I still don’t know
  • Traveled to places I’d never been to, including some that I had
  • Joined in a number of family celebrations and events
  • Did not miss a single important occasion related to my children

When I look back on the year gone by, it has been nothing short of living life to the fullest – making each day count.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Would you?

How To Quit Your Job

This post was also featured on YourStory

On countless occassions, I have heard folks lament about their jobs and how they wish they could simply quit and do something else… perhaps start a business of their own. If you are considering that option, this post should be of some help.

When To Quit (And, When Not To)

Yes, we’ve all been on the wrong side of cruel bosses, inept organizational structures and long commutes that sap the life energy out of us. If you’re waking up every day dreading the thought of going to work, there is a strong case to make big changes in your professional life. But that does not always have to mean quitting your job.

Take some time to analyze your present situation (take a friend’s help if you’re not good at the ‘analysis’ part). I would not recommend picking up your briefcase and walking out of your cubicle at the first sign of trouble.

If you’re bored with your current role, it will help to understand that you can multiply your learning (and hence, excitement) by changing one or more of the following variables: Industry, Company, Function and Role. In fact, you can aim to change more than one of these simultaneously, if you’re so inclined.

If an unpleasant boss / manager / colleague is the source of your unhappiness, it may help to know that no one lasts forever. Besides, there is no guarantee of your new employment not having a worse personality to contend with, and almost any person can be managed if you have the right skills or approach.

If you live under the assumption that starting your own business = being your own boss, please know that it is nothing but a myth. Yes, you get more flexibility when you are at the top of the food chain in your own setup, but businesses ultimately serve customers. So, in a sense, the customer is always going to call the shots.

Are You Ready?

Of course, every case is different, and no writeup can cover all the possible scenarios. If you’ve come to the conclusion that beginning a new venture is the only way out for you, it will help to keep the following in mind:

  • Monthly Buffer – The first significant impact of leaving behind the comfort of a monthly salary is the opportunity cost involved. Every one has monthly expenses – make sure you have a good handle on your’s, including factoring in rent/mortgage payments, insurance, travel and other one-time or annual expenses you incur in a typical year. Then, aim to have 6-12 months worth of monthly expenses covered by way of savings, so that you have a decent buffer while you go about establishing your business footprint.

    Tip: If you have the foresight to plan years ahead of time, aim to get debt-free as soon as possible. It will make a considerable dent in the monthly buffer needed.

  • Business Costs – Depending on your business model, you will also need to factor in the costs that will need to be incurred before you start clocking any revenues from your new venture. A lot depends on whether your plans involve manufacturing (as in, a whole lot of capital costs) or services (which are more likely to involve ideas, technology and people). If you plan to seek a loan to fund your business, learn about your credit history and line up some contenders with whom you can vet your business proposition, well in advance. If you intend to seek venture capital, understand how the VC industry works and don’t get too optimistic about your chances of securing funding too soon.

    Tip: In today’s age, crowdsourcing of funds is another idea that may work in your case. But your chances of success will greatly improve if the amount of capital required to get your new venture off the ground is not prohibitive.

  • Planning vs Action – There is no substitute for planning before you take the plunge, but sometimes too much planning can also result in ‘analysis-paralysis’. Regardless of the business idea, remember to do your research and understand the market in which you intend to operate. But, also remember that a plan is only as good as its assumptions. Try and validate your assumptions with potential customers, if you can talk to some. You can reach other, more experienced folks in industry, if finding your target segment is not possible.

    Tip: Make “shipping date” your priority. Don’t worry about building the perfect mousetrap in your first attempt. (Remember the first version of Facebook?) It’s better to have something out there that your customers can respond to, than months of working on ideas and having nothing to show for it.

Oh, and if you have decided to take the plunge, understand that your financial freedom will now solely depend on the success of your new venture. If you have dependents, it is a good idea to make sure you are adequately insured.

One last thing: Anyone can start a business, but not many can sustain one or make it scale. When things get tough, as they inevitably will, you will need all the passion in the world to get past it and come out shining at the other end.

If you think that quitting your job and starting a new business is a get-rich-quick proposition, I wish you luck. You will need a lot of it. But, take care of the essentials, and hopefully, your new endeavour can mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter in your Life.

Also Read: Corporate Life vs Entrepreneurship

 

Ignoring Great Advice

Jeff Haden writes a cogent piece on Inc. entitled ‘Why You So Often Ignore Great Advice‘. Here are some excerpts…

… people focus a lot less on the quality of advice, information, etc. than on the “quality” of the person who provides it. If Warren Buffett gives you a stock tip, you’ll listen; if the same advice comes from the guy who runs your local deli… probably not so much.

Most of the people you meet are not recognized as thought leaders and nor are they wildly successful. So you won’t automatically hang on their every word.

But you should always listen.

So strip away the framing you apply to the source. Strip away the setting or environment. Consider the advice, the information, or the opinion based solely on its merits. Sure, the quality of the source matters, but ultimately the quality of the information–and its relevance to your unique situation–matters a lot more.

It’s easy for most of us to get swayed by the opinions of those who are much more “experienced” than us, otherwise we run the risk of discounting their “learnings”. The fact remains we need to be objective and informed, and develop the ability to take all the available inputs, viewing them through the lens of relevance.

Thank you for the reminder, Jeff.

Slipping Back

2012 may not have turned out the way the Mayans had predicted, but it did represent the year I lost six months to illness and recovery. Well, technically, the six months spanned from Oct 2012 to Mar 2013, but you get the drift.

I’d been battling an increasing amount of lower back pain for a while, but each time it would go away after rest and exercise. A new regime of the McKenzie method was showing promising results, but the pain kept recurring in greater intensity and frequency than ever before. Until, one day, I went to bed and couldn’t get up the next morning.

Then came a series of explorations of finding out my options (ranging from steroids to ozone injections to yet another surgery), and attempts at trying out everything from EFT to cranio-sacral therapy.  Finally, what worked for me was electro-acupuncture and auriculotherapy at the hands of a gifted individual (God bless you, Dr. Mistry!). Of course, weeks of rest and rehabilitation would have to follow. But I was on my way to recovery…

I’d written about my experience with back surgery, many years ago, in a post that shared my learnings; it my way of informing those who were considering the surgical option of what would be in store for them. This post continues where that one left off.

Here are the lessons I learned from my second slipped disc:

  • Surgery does not always work and may not be necessary in most cases (Google “failed back syndrome” to know more!)
  • Acupuncture does work, if you find someone who knows what they are doing (easier said than done)
  • There is no alternative to an intensive, customised physiotherapy routine for your back, which you will have to commit to forever
  • There are degrees and degrees of slipped disc – don’t compare your’s with folks whose symptoms are not comparable
  • Every case is unique – only a good practitioner will know enough to give you a good prognosis
  • There are no shortcuts to the time your body takes to heal – and it can heal from some pretty nasty stuff
  • When you experience excruciating pain, it is very difficult to maintain a sense of optimism, and yet even more important that you do so
  • Whatever treatment path you decide to adopt, learn about it, find out its limitations, and try it out for a reasonable time frame before switching to something else
  • You may very well have to make some “lifestyle” changes to aid and sustain your recovery
  • And, finally, as you go through the recovery process, you’re going to need help – a lot of it

If my experience is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that one can recover from almost any thing.

I started with not being able to sit up for more than a minute, and now I travel out of town several times a month, put in a full day at work each day, commute on the killer roads of Mumbai and, having lost 10 kilos, look fitter and walk faster than ever before!

Mumbai Local

After some years, I found myself taking one of Mumbai’s local trains to go from one end of the city to another.  I also ended up tweeting about everything I experienced during that journey.  This short poem has evolved from those tweets…

LED displays
Improved ventilation
Faster fans
And cushioned seats
Mobile phones
Seem to be with all of you
Everything looks new in a Mumbai Local

Shoe-shine boys
AH Wheeler
The smell of popcorn
Eunuchs onboard
Pocket radios for some
And a Ray Ban too!
Life sure is interesting on a Mumbai Local

Abusive cop
Scared little kid
Girlfriend-Boyfriend
And an office exec
Vegetable vendors
And a Parsi bawa too
Every one takes the Mumbai Local

Fast train screams past
Marine Lines sea breeze
I arrive at Churchgate
By a window seat
Reached in no time
In 6 rupees too!
Is there anything better than a Mumbai Local?

All We Need

Thanks to a re tweet, I chanced upon a wonderful blog post by Anirban, entitled Driftwood.  In it, he shares a very personal account of how we cope with the tragedies of our lives.  It was beautifully written and poignant, almost poetry in prose form…

And so the waves come crashing down on us. With marriage. With graduation. With a job or a promotion. On buying a house. With the first steps of an infant. With the scaling of every personal Mount Everest.

There is no unalloyed joy in this world, no hope, no freedom, no solace – once you have lost someone you truly love.

Anirban’s words will ring true for many of us.  Yes, we all have our own unique ways to cope with our losses.  But, in the end, we are all united in the truth that there’s not much we can do about it…

On weekends you call relatives up. Just as they state the plain truth that they are getting older, you either bluff your way through the conversation by telling them that nothing will ever happen to them or you berate them for not taking better care of themselves. The deception and the anger are your strange way of compensating for the impotence of not being able to do anything at all.

One day you are speaking to a loved one. The next day he or she is gone forever. You know that tomorrow it could be someone else. And the day after, it will be someone else. And one day it will be you.

Driftwood was an affirmation of my belief that Life should be lived to the fullest, every single moment!  That, we cannot choose our circumstances, only how we react to them.  That, all things come to an end, good and bad.  That, all we need is love.