Thursday, August 28, 2008

Every startup needs a Turk Salesman

Salesmen are a different breed altogether; Jayadev used to say - "...folks who can sell Ice to an Eskimo" :). Unfortunately, most technology startups entirely ignore the need for someone in this role.

Techies, especially the startup types, are usually an egoistic bunch - nerds, who scarcely care to see much beyond the 100 lines of code on their PC screens. They think that putting together a software package that can solve some stupendous equation for non-linear-geometric-nth-dimension-extrapolation-of-whatever-crap is the ultimatest thing on the planet. They think - just make the stuff and hordes of buyers will descend on their shop-front to purchase boatloads of it giving bucket-loads of cash - alas! I used to be one of them, almost.

The truth is, when you start, it really does not matter how good your product/ services might be. What matters is how best you can package 'it' and how best you can sell it - and how fast.

The truth is, actually, it is fine even if you DONT exactly have what you're trying to sell as long as you can convince a potential buyer that you have something he wants (Microsoft had sold DOS to IBM even though they never made it/ had it. Do read this BusinessWeek article: The Man Who Could Have Been Bill Gates).

The truth is, you need a real salesman in your team - and he better be one of the best talkers in town. A litmus test might be to ask such a person the size of his/her linkedIn network and to rattle off the names of 50 influential contacts in rapidfire (Now, if this person is able to convince you and do all this stuff, and you come to know that he does not even have a linkedIn account - hire him!).

Sales people on rocket boosters are guys who can be chief spokesmen - 'Sultans of Spin'. Do watch this funny movie: Thank You For Smoking, to get a taste of the required attitude and aptitude.

Experience has taught me to have immense respect for these folks who sell well. Now, if these guys can sell ice to Eskimos, imagine what they could do if asked to sell 'em hot chocolate!

That brings me to the story of the Turk Salesman. I was led to this story by a reference from Guy Kawasaki's blog. I'd been reading about the art of persuasion and this article titled: What I learned Buying a Rug in Turkey, just about packs in all about it. Well, do read it and if you haven't already - get a Turk salesman in your team - ASAP!

PS: Now I know why they call the program on CNBC - 'Young Turks'.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

6+ Essential Software Tools for a startup that cost zero

If you're a startup starting up or planning to be one, here's a handy list of stuff that could help you bootstrap - the bare essentials. Trust me, its just another one of those lists - but one that I can vouch for. So if you have a better one, you're welcome, just add a link to your list in the comments section. My advice - don't use pirated software, either buy original stuff or search the web for a free alternative (there always is)

1. The Ubuntu way.
If you have a decent PC and zilch account balance, just close your eyes and take an Ubuntu leap of faith. Ubuntu is a great Linux distro that more-or-less works straight out of the box. Just check out how you could get it for free! The best part is that if you go the Ubuntu way - you might as well stop reading right here cause it packs in quite a lot of the 'good' stuff you'd need.

2. The WindowsXP way.
I'm no fan of Windows Vista to put it mildly, if you intend to go the Windows way, better take the simpler and well trodden path of Windows XP. This option of course comes with a price tag.

a. Mozilla Firefox

The best free browser - period. Trusted by millions others, one of the best outcomes of the open-source world. Get Firefox here. Its an excellent replacement for the slightly rusty Internet Explorer (which has been desperately trying to play catchup).

b. Mozilla Thunderbird
A real lightweight email client for your desktop, of course, sans the bells and whistles of the Outlook Express clan. But, it works and it works real fast and real good. Get Thunderbird here.

c. OpenOffice
Of course it lacks the bells and whistles of Microsoft Office! But, come on, you're a startup and don't have a boatload of cash to spend on purchasing licenses. With a document editor, a presentation maker, spreadsheet util and other few other tools thrown in - OpenOffice is a real bargain for the price you pay for it (ZERO). Whats really good about it is you can always read documents that had been saved in MS formats and you can Save As MS .doc, .xls, .ppt. Also, you can seamlessly export any document as .pdf with a single click!

d. Google Apps

Welcome to the connected world. To get your startup off its feet and into the mindshares of potential employees, investors, partners, clients and customers, you need a communication and collaboration tools. Thats what a set of apps - Google Apps does.
The best thing about google apps - gmail for your company. Its a really reliable mail server which gives your team a fully functional, online, kindof email suite (which you can use with Mozilla Thunderbird as well). Goodbye tinkering with boxes trying to set up your own mail server and wondering why your email never reached its recipient.

e. Tortoise, Subversion
Now, this one is for those who might be slightly tech oriented, but trust me, this is one tool that can save you bucket-loads of tears when things go wrong with your PCs or you do things like SHIFT+DEL with that critical source code file or you accidentally delete your most famous quote from the document that you had put in a day before (these things, let me assure you - they will! - amen, says Murphy)

So, viola! we have a free version control system. What this means is that you can now track all changes you made to any file or folder, have multiple people modifying the same file but in different geo-locations and still maintain perfect sanity.

It essentially consists of two parts:
- Subversion, - the server, which you can install either on your own computer (that means it will only function as a limited tracker - sorry folks, no collaborations this way- to each his own) or on a server that could be accessed by all folks in your team.

- TortoiseSVN. A Windows client shell that makes all your subversion tasks as easy as a right click on any file you might want to be 'subversioned'.

Integrated Development Environment

This ones for all ye developers out there. If you're already a developer, I'd bet you already have your fav toolbox with you. But in case you're still undecided or want to choose a uniform one for your organization; pls make a pick else, as google reader often tells me - you'd better land here.

f.1 Netbeans
It says its the "The only IDE you need! Runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris.... Supports: Ajax | C/C++ | Databases | Debugger |Java EE | JavaFX | Java ME | Java SE | JavaScript | Mobile | PHP | REST | Rich Client Platform | Ruby | SOA | SOAP | UML | Web | WSDL | XML". We'd used it extensively for mobile app development and apart from the fact that it needs a good amount of RAM, Netbeans rocks!

f.2 Eclipse
Eclipse is considered a more mature IDE of two and has its loyal base of users with many companies coming up with their own custom Eclipse IDE to do different things.

Well, that brings me to the end of my list though there are a couple of tools that only a pure techie would need and would rather try n figure out on his/ her own. I think with this you have just about everything essential to get started. So - get started!

The Real Steve Jobs - iStuff

This is a pretty popular (over 2 mill views), a bit old (2k6) but a pretty motivational clip - the kinda stuff that fuels inspiration - iStuff.

Be inspired!

Mobile and the non/semi literate

One of the roles that I take on at Eko is that of a an observer of the mobile-and-user relationship. While yesteryear's India might have been defined by a turban-clad snake charmer, a man on the street clutching a mobile handset very much describes an average Indian today.

A mobile based service (like eko) which aims at reaching out to a billion such 'mobile' Indians today has to contend with another truth - illiteracy. If this Times of India article is right, our illiterate population equals the entire population of the USA!

At Tinfo Mobile, this fact had driven me to design an application series titled TeachMe Akshara which would run on even the basic mobile handsets supporting Java (which were then being given out by Reliance Communications for prices as low as 500 bucks). The purpose of this app was to teach its users the basic alphabets of Indian languages. This news article on Digit magazine talked about that app. Unfortunately, that app never got formally deployed and I've moved on.

What was amazing about Eko was that the great folks here had put in a great deal of research and thought into this problem and had come out with a mobile interface that could be used by even the most basic mobile user, because the solution involved nothing more than dialing!

Resonating with the Eko team's findings, is this research paper published a few years ago by the Nokia Research Center authored by Jan Chipchase - a pioneer in mobile usage research. Here is a link to the research paper titled: Understanding Non-Literacy as a Barrier to Mobile Phone Communication

The following excerpt is particularly interesting:

The simple answer is that non-literate mobile phone users can call, but cannot message or use the address book. The subtleties are more interesting than this.

Two basic tasks were easy for almost all our participants to complete: turning on the phone and answering an incoming call. Beyond this, there were various degrees of success. Dialing a local phone number is relatively easy, but problems can occur when there are variations such as dialing a national or international number, or using IP telephone prefixes. ...

iPhone iNdia - dUd dEal

iPhone+ India - I can only imagine what these two put (well) together could have resulted in (lets for a moment even forget the fact that it is a an awfully buggy device - the new 3G version, that is)! Unfortunately, that was not to be.

For the price INR 31K (thats $700! @44), iPhone will have to be satisfied with a couple of thousand units in sale - if they are lucky. Wish some telco really had the guts to come out with a $200, roughly (INR 8800) iPhone. Imagine what a crowd that would have resulted in. I'm sure the headlines would have been something like - 'Total Traffic Chaos. Delhi roads blocked on the new iPhone launch'. I'm sure those who have seen the real India would agree - we are a billion strong magnets (suckers) for mobile phones priced right. I'm sure a million units could have been sold in the first few weeks then - imagine the ARPU these could have generated (iPhone is a proven data services guzzler).

Well, nothings lost, iPhone's loss will be Samsungs', Nokias' and Sony Ericssons' gain! It only means that I will have to contend with my taxi driver holding on to his Nokia N 70!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Eko Presentation at

Eko was one of the companies that presented at the July edition of The following is a video recording of the same, gives one a good view on how it works.

'Encyclopaedia Britannica' as a measurement unit

You might have come across descriptions such as this-
"such and such thing....can store the equivalent of 10000 Encyclopedia Britannicas in one square millimeter ..."
Amazing :) - I regularly come across such expressions in almost every memory related electronic/ software description. In this google-wikipedia-(and knol - is already called a unit of knowledge) age, the good ol' encyclopedia has been reduced to a measurement unit ;). I'd propose- the International Standards Organization come up with an official unit named 'EB' which could either be a unit of Mass (those books are pretty bulky) or Memory (enough of KiloBytes!) :)

Randy Pausch

Here's a post dedicated in memory of Randy Pausch who passed away on 25th July 2008. Like millions of others, I came to know about this personality through a YouTube video and have been struck by his words at the 'Last Lecture' titled 'Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams':

True, we never think of dying - that inevitably, one day we will simply 'fly away'. Randy was keenly aware of that fact and made sure he left behind a legacy of hope.

Related links:
1. His page
2. CMU page dedicated to his lecture

Saturday, August 02, 2008

On-screen Telepresence

The Hologram, "...invented in 1947 by Hungarian physicist Dennis Gabor (Hungarian name: Gábor Dénes) (1900–1979),[1] work for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971" - as the wiki says, has come a long way and in many incarnations.

Here's another link which gives an excellent idea on how a hologram works.

Having two eyes (and two ears) separated by a distance between them gives us humans what we call the 'stereo' capability; which when roughly explained means the ability to estimate the location of the 'subject' object / sound in a three dimensional space. However, we've been generally quite satisfied by two dimensional capture and reproduction of photographs (I keep a collection at picasaweb :) ). Thanks to broadband internet, good web-cameras, processors and displays, web-conferencing has become a reality. Add to this the growing cost of travel, fuel, time and our new-found concerns for our fragile ecosystem- now we have a good business case for people to arrange 'meetings' over the web.

Still, even an HDTVish quality web-conference for most business is not as 'good enough' as a face-to-face. I don't know how exactly, but I'd trust my sales friends when they say that it just doesn't cut it!

Anyways, despair not! If the folks at Cisco and a UK based company Musion have their way, you'll soon be able to literally transmit the whole of yourself in all its three dimensional glory to anywhere you'd want to be present - over the net, of course.

Check this demo video out that my colleague Abhinav at Eko shared with me a few days back:
This is an actual demonstration by Cisco at Bangalore!

Going through the Musion site, I was surprised to find this video where they say the Tatas used this at the Nano unveiling at a car-expo at Delhi!

I'd still believe that this will be history soon and B2BC (Brain to Brain Communication) as I had mentioned in a previous post will prevail. Ah, flights of fantasy!