Monday, November 24, 2008

A Role Model of a CEO

Everyday, we face more and more news of failed US institutions that are being bailed out at tax payer expense. Ironically many of the CEO's of these mega block buster failures get to keep their excessive compensation or bonuses in spite of having railroaded their companies into the ground.

We learnt recently that even as AIG officials pleaded with government officials to save the company, they also approved a second expensive company junket where top executives went to a secret gathering at a luxury resort in Phoenix. Just in the last day we have seen another failed institution (from succumbing to its excesses of bad toxic debt) being rescued. The Citi rescue package does not do anything to change the failing management.

As I was pondering all this, I came upon this video of the CEO of Japan Air Lines (JAL) and his reactions to the US excesses. I understand that the Japanese economy has its own share of issues, however what I wanted to point out was the humility with which the JAL CEO presents himself. There is no arrogance as displayed by many US CEO's.

All I have to say is that US executives need to take a page from the JAL CEO. In striking contrast to all the excesses of the American CEOs like those at the failed financial institutions, and the recent congressional jet trip for the Big-3 auto manufacturers, the CEO of JAL rides a bus to work, sits with the rest of the employees both at his desk and in the company cafeteria and has slashed his salary to below that of his own pilots (his 07 annual pay was about US$90,000).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Note to World: Don't Write America off

The past few days we have witnessed carnage in the financial markets. The US government has had to step in and stop the bloodshed in this crisis. We can debate endlessly about the origins of this financial mess and the onset of a credit freeze and how it will affect us all. Every pundit on wall street from A to Z has some dire prediction or the other. Excuse me Ladies and Gentlemen, I just want to remind you that it took over two years for this sub-prime slime to unravel and reveal itself as this market-wrecking Godzilla. In the same note, any bailout will take time to trickle down to get us back on track. Yes things will take time, but they will surely settle down. Right now irrational fear is a big driver and we as Americans need to calm down and make up our own minds instead of being swayed by irrational 'doom and gloom' pundits.

This is America, not some god-forsaken banana republic run by some two faced dictator. We have a stable government, composed of an executive, a legislative and a judiciary branch that have come forward to take on a leadership role at times of crisis. You as an individual may not agree personally with the system or the outcomes of these decisions. However, that very same system and all the other elements in place prevent this country from going into chaos time and time again.

A number of people in America and from other parts of the world state that America's reign as a super-power is over. We have people predicting that we are not the financial capital of the world anymore. What does it mean to be a financial capital of the world? We have some in the media predicting dire consequences as a result of this crisis. In fact what this crisis proves is the opposite. We as a nation are working through this crisis and will emerge from it. Not without cost, but definitely without this country falling into chaos. I don't see gun battles and riots and looting on the streets. I don't see people hoarding food and amassing guns and ammunition. Folks, get a grip. It's not over yet. Calling a game in the first of a nine inning game is well, Stupid.

We as a nation will emerge from this crisis stronger. That is not to say that we won't face other kinds of crisis' in the future. We will weather all storms. We will hit road-blocks and face other major catastrophes', but we will prevail. We will emerge stronger, not Weaker. We will be smarter, but surely make new mistakes. We will learn and we will move on.

If you are not sure about the country, it's policies, where it's generally headed, you have a choice. People who just assume that they are the new Nostradamus of predicting doom and gloom of the United States should pack up and head over to wherever they feel is a stable country. This country is about choices and freedom. You have a choice and the freedom to leave. If not you can put your thinking cap on and help build a stronger America.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are we done yet - part 2

Early this year, I wrote a blog article titled "Are we done yet" where I created a rolling snapshot from East to west of some major market indices.

Well today I am attaching a table of the same markets and their closing value on the first day of the year and their current value (as of yesterday). Check it out. I did this as there was some dodo-bird on CNBC yesterday saying that investors should look elsewhere in such times. I looked and found none. There may still be individual plays such as gold and other precious metals left.

Table 1: Select Major Market indexes

China is the one market taking the hardest hit followed by Hong Kong and India. In fact the US markets (DJIA and NASDAQ) have fallen the least from the beginning of the year. Note, If you had bought Gold at the beginning of the year and held it until now, you would have made about 3.35% gain. If you bought it last week you would have made 8.5% by now.

Until all the banks throw open their books and mark down all the values of their sub-prime gunk, we will continue this roller coaster as more and more reveal their liabilities on the day of their demise.

Knowledge and Leverage is key to any Negotiation

I sat down at the table after the presentation was done. The meeting continued as our team and the excited client were now discussing actual steps of engagement. The deal was not done but they were going to try our product based on some of the feedback they had been getting from other new customers. Suddenly, the conference room door swung open and in walked the divisional head of the group. He just stood there for a second and stared down at all of us. He took a seat and flipped through a copy of the printed presentation slides. His next words and actions are something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. With his hands thumping on the table he announced in a loud voice, "Why would I want to buy this new product from a new startup when my teams have a working solution. I do not want my teams to invest their time or money learning new products. This is a waste of time". With that he got up, tossed the slides onto the table and walked out. (Keyword: Leverage)

It was a cold february afternoon in Ottawa (Hint). On the way to the airport, I was kind of disappointed about what had happened, but was reassured by the design manager of the client that he would revisit this with the divisional head soon. We did not hear from them for a while. We went about our business and were quite successful with a lot of other companies.

Many months earlier I had joined a new software company as an applications engineering manager. This new company was embarking upon delivering some ground breaking verification technology to the semiconductor design companies. The new technology had been developed in anticipation of the emerging seismic technology shifts and was built to handle the various complex technological changes in the entire design flow. Some of these design flow changes would basically force existing applications to rapidly scaleup to handle larger amounts of data. We were certain that existing applications could not handle these changes and would fail. We had worked with many of the vendors who were in this design eosystem and had the foresight to accomodate for this. (Keyword: Knowledge) Many of the design companies would encounter this as they shifted their flows to design the next generation of integrated circuits. The company in question above would have roughly about three months before this hit them. Of course we had told them about it in the presentation and the team was buying it until the Divisional head had waved us off.

In late August of the same year, we got that call from the manager at the client site. Their existing tools were failing and unable to verify the next generation designs. We went in and in less then half a business day had all (I repeat all) their new designs loaded up in our tools and verified. We were verifying the integrity of the designs faster and with much lesser memory than any of their existing solutions. To top it all, we were the only solution capable of actually completing the designs. In fact they were so bewildered by the speed of our technology that they acutually inserted deliberate flaws into the designs to ensure that we would catch them. And catch we did, everyone of them.

A few days later, I got a call from the VP of sales of our company. He was calling to ask me about my email to him regarding the No-Discount to this particular client. As a startup we were accustomed to handing out generous discounts to many companies just to get some revenues in our first year (FYI: Our software list price was around $ 150K). I basically told him that given the clients arrogance and the fact that they gave up their leverage, meaning that they were basically screwed without us, that I would not offer a single percent discount even if it meant a potential loss of sale. I mean in simple terms, we were their only option period. We had them by their balls. Why the heck would we negotiate down or even offer a discount. Long story short, they are the only customer that I know of who paid full list price on nearly 6 copies of the tool and with maintenace and support thrown in, it was well over $ 1.2M when the deal was closed.

The two keywords here are Knowledge and Leverage. Know what is your customers' pain not just for today, but for what's on the horizon. Educate your field marketing, sales and application engineers to keep a eye and an ear out for information that may help you negotiate better terms. Hot heads who some company insiders consider as god (because they usually speak in a loud voice) must be kept away from customers or even let go. This is simply because their ability to supposedly keep a well oiled machine on the inside may be compromised by the fact that they are not able to handle the same on the outside.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Mighty Ping Pong Palooza

I had the opportunity to participate in a Ping Pong Matchup organized by Howard Lindzon. The event was sponsored by BuddyMedia and held at the Wang Chen's Table Tennis Club (250 W 100th St) on the upper west side of Manhattan. However I must say the place looked more like a Wang Chen's dungeon. The basement area where the ping pong palooza was held was steamy hot. I had to be careful to keep myself hydrated as you did not have to do much to start sweating in that cramped arena. Mike and Kass Lazerow (CEO and COO of BuddyMedia) had pulled together some great refreshments for the participants.

I must say that I made it to the final 16 only to be bested by Ben Kartzman, CEO of Spongecell. He ultimately went on to win the paloozathon beating Nate Westheimer. I ran into Aaron Task 0f Yahoo tech ticker fame at the event.

Post palooza celebrations were at "The Abbey Pub" on 237 W 105th st. I also did meet some old friends Wayne and made some new friends Vishy, Adarsh, Timothy Sykes, Patrick Courtney, Scott, ozsultan, Brian, Leora and more. You can find some pictures here. I had a great time and the event was great for networking.

In the end I did get something - a Tshirt from Spiritual Gangster, a clothing company based out of Scottsdale Arizona.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A divergence of sorts

Well time for a quick update.

I have been hard at work with JP and RB over the last few weeks. It seems that we may have some help finally on the Blackberry front. Very shortly we will have our software on the desktop, the Windows Mobile, the Blackberry and the iPhone platforms.

Well this update is not really about all that. I am writing this post just to update some of the readers that I will be now separating my personal blog from my professional blog. Meaning this blog will become my personal rant space. I will write here about things that I know about or things that I want to know about or something like that. Here I will also write about my personal experiences of this past year. I call it my entrepreneurial sabbatical. Don't get me wrong. Its no sabbatical. But it certainly was a welcome change from the previous industry that I was in. Going up to my Boss and saying I am resigning was hard. I had a comfy job, a great salary, good perks and all. I knew the ins and outs of the industry and the entire eco-system. But I was ready for a change and I had to get out of it. Now I am so excited to be doing the things that I have been doing over the last few months. Its been a process of discovery. Discovery of the new, the unknown and also unique ideas of how to link the new to the old.

I am moving over my technology and work related discussions to my blog on You can visit that site to learn more about our product and our future direction with MOBOW, our startup.

Good Luck. Follow me here for my rants about this and that and all things relevant.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Viability and Monetization Potential of Social Networks

Is there money to be made in social networks (SN)? Well if you are interested in SN’s and are a developer or an entrepreneur building tools that leverage SN’s in the web 2.0 world, or for the mobile arena, then that is a very important question for you. As an entrepreneur myself developing products for the mobile presence space, I am constantly quizzing myself with the single question “Can the business model work or sustain in this changing eco-system”? Well, if you are interested in finding out more, you should set aside the last Monday of this month (July 28th 2008) and come to the Mobile Monday event at the Samsung Experience Center (10 Columbus Circle, NYC) for an expert-panel discussion. Lubna Dajani of Stratamerge and Co-founder at mobilemonday-NY, will be moderating a panel of experts, entrepreneurs and others with the discussion centered on the subject The Viability and Monetization Potential of Social Networks”. She does plan to share some of her initial findings of Stratemerge™’s study on social networks and debate the findings and potential market implications.

Current methods of monetization come from two areas. One is the advertisers, who flock to the sites despite the anemic response rates. The second method involves the user who pays for some premium service. SN operators, who rely solely on ad based revenue models, have to convince their customers that there is continued value in advertising on these networks.

A recent BusinessWeek article titled "Generation Myspace is Getting Fed Up" revealed certain shocking advertisement metrics; Response rates of 0.04% (on SN’s) compared to a 0.2% in general on the web. Response rate numbers like 0.04% to 0.2% cannot continue to be an acceptable ROI number for those who spend money on advertisements on the web. One industry executive put it right when he said, "it’s really hard to make money when the click through rate is that anemic". Read my article "Ad Deluge on our senses" written earlier this year. Another report in "VentureBeat", reported flat to falling ad revenues for June 08. What is interesting to note in that report is the pubmatic's ad price index of web publishers by site type. One can clearly see that SN sites have the lowest ECPM's among the other site types. You can find more details on the report at pubmatic's site.
Will consumers pay to play in a SN? The value of the extended social network fades over time unless there is a continued exchange of relevant and contextual dialogue. One has to ask the question, “What is my network’s NET-worth”? How exactly am I benefiting by participating in the SN’s? SN’s will need to continue to provide overall value to the community and unique value to each user. If this duality is not satisfied, the users will leave.

In my personal opinion, as the world moves toward mobile gadgets and phones, factors such as relevance and context become more important. Desktop centric SN users’ initial euphoric experience of finding and reconnecting with old friends is usually followed by information overload and eventual disillusion. The ad model will also have to change and provide users with a meaningful experience as opposed to pure product promotion. It is imperative that new applications provide a platform for intelligent information delivery, one that provides immense value to the user in their daily activities.

SN sites will also have to control spammers and unwanted business solicitation that irritate users. Twitter (a microblogging site), a service that I use, is an example where this happens. Many businesses hide their real identity, get accounts on twitter, try and get people to follow them so that they can spam them with the irrelevant material. As for me, my current rule is to periodically scan my followers and delete/block those who have no profile information. I try and control what’s relevant and contextual to me. Recent reports by bloggers and other SN site users have evidenced the fact that some of the SN application sites are resporting to spam themselves in an effort to increase their user base leaving a very bad user experience for the end user.

SN’s will have to create new forms of attention aggregation and inform, entertain and allow for fulfilling content consumption to effectively provide a platform for monetization.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Consumer Freedom and Choice in US Wireless market. Is it here yet?

Yes my dear friends, I have been in radio silence for the last few weeks due to a number of reasons. Over the last few months we have been busy at work at our mobile startup travelling and meeting people from NY to CA. We have spoken to a number of people about our project and assessed our current tack. We are also running into road-bumps and challenges that most every startup faces. Our market validation has proven that there is a need for the type of product that we are building. Well, enough of that. Lets move on to what I want to talk about now.

During a recent trip out to California to attend the TIECON conference, I sat through a panel discussion featuring some big-wigs from the telecom industry. During the open Q&A portion of the session, I sent in my SMS question to the panel and asked this of them: "Do you think that the american conusumer has the best experience and choice when it comes to wireless services"? Most people on the panel which featured representatives from multiple carriers and others including Google, agreed that the American consumer does not have the best in service, technology and choice when it comes to wireless services. For ex: Until recently consumers had to pay steep fees of upto $ 175 to change or stop the service midway through the contract. For years, carriers have charged steep fees as a means to either recover their costs for subsidizing the phones early on or to prevent churn. Another issue is that the American consumer has to buy the phones that the carrier issues. In most other developed and developing countries, you can walk into a store, buy a phone of your choice and then get service from the carrier of your choice. Once again, consumer choice is limited by this. Recent press announcements by Verizon and their CEO's words from the recently concluded D6 conference suggest that this control is on its way out and that real consumer choice with respect to handsets is coming soon. You can watch some of the video excerpts from the event at

The other area of concern is the control exercised by the carrier in terms of what software you can actually load onto a device. With the advent of feature rich smart phones, these devices can do a lot more than regular phones. I mean these smart phones are actually mini mobile computers. Up until recently, carriers exerted control over what software one could load on these devices maintaining that it was imperative that any 3rd party software not jeopardize the phone operation. For a carrier the ability of the device to make or receive that call is very important. Due to this reasoning, many innovative third party companies had to play by the carriers' strict guidelines. In this "pay to play" scenario the carriers wanted the software manufacturers to charge the users for the software. For many innovative companies that may have not been the ultimate business model. This made it difficult for many of them to survive or succeed. Most recently, at the same D6 conference (, Verizon Wireless' CEO announced that by the end of this year (2008), they will have a two day turn around on certification of 3rd party software. This would enable consumers to download any certified application and use it. This quick turnaround in the certification process would enable innovative new companies to develop smart new applications, have them quickly certified and available for release to mobile phone consumers. Only time will tell if Verizon will keep to its word.

Change is visible on the horizon and many things are moving in the right direction. But any change in the communication arena is a slow process in the US.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Doing my part to combat Global Warming

Oh well, I am taking a small break from my usual tech-rants to rant about something else today. Today's blog is about doing my part to combat global warming. Last Thursday night, I picked up a box full of tree saplings that I had ordered about 2 weeks ago. I had ordered about 80 saplings of various tree types. They range in variety from dogwoods, oak, lilacs and some evergreens. I am doing this as part of my contribution to Earth Day (4/22/08) and “Arbor Day” (4/25/08). My goal with this sapling planting project is to drive carbon sequestration. I sincerely believe that many of the existing methods to fight “global warming” do not really address how to increase the utilization of Carbon-dioxide (CO2). Excessive CO2 levels in the atmosphere is one of the reasons often cited for global warming.

Yes, there are actually 80 saplings in this picture.
Each little stick will grow up to be a tree (aided by some serious TLC)

Let’s face it. We are massively dependent on oil as our main energy source. The alternate fuels market (ethanol etc) currently requires the use of precious resources such as clean water and arable land and therefore is not a truly viable substitute for oil. Wind and Solar are the main source of renewable energy which do not have substantial natural resources requirements. However, the input materials cost and maintenance costs for these energy sources are still high and these power sources are still out of the reach of most people as the end product is expensive. Many local zoning requirements (U.S) also prohibit or have controls on these installations as some people view them as an eyesore. Moreover, all of these alternate energy sources put together do not even come close to meeting our future requirements for energy.

As for me, I believe that it would not be prudent to suddenly change all our daily activities to accommodate a reduction in consumption of energy. Any temporary band-aid solution only goes so far and may in fact harm the environment in the long term while seemingly providing a short term remedy. I will try to reduce my carbon footprint, but however that will require a lot more thought than some random action that results in other kinds of environmental issues.

So, I have decided that from this year on, I will plant as many tree saplings as I can, so that in very near future, they will help in the generation of O
2 and utilization of CO2. My aim at a minimum is to somehow balance my carbon output by planting enough trees that create oxygen. I truly believe that, by doing so I have acted in a way that provides a solution for the long term. So with this in mind, over the next week or two I will be planting these saplings. While we cannot change our methods in one day, we can certainly take small steps toward doing our part for the environment and for the future of our planet. I hope you do your part. Go plant a tree.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cash is King. Cash-Like is Not

I am writing this article in an effort to refocus the blame on who is really responsible for the recent write downs and charges that companies have been forced to take due to the drop in demand for auction rate securities.

There have been posts by many VC's recently on this issue including one by Fred Wilson Our Run In With Auction Rates And What It Taught Me About Markets where he explained what actions he personally took on his holdings in such debt-instruments to avoid such write downs or losses. He was prudent and also his investment advisors called him in a timely manner so that he could act on it. I am sure there were others who understood the potential risk of "cash-like" financial instruments and took timely action to mitigate the risks.

It is absolutely important to understand the complete risk and the liquidity situation of all your finances and investments. I am sure if the right questions had been asked and answered, and if the papers signed at the onset of the agreement stated that there are certain inherent risks associated with these arcane debt instruments, then the people who signed them bear the ultimate responsibility. One can't blame an institution for writing down the auction rate debt instrument and hence a loss on the value of the original cash investment, unless a fraud has been committed.

Late Last year after, after some of the initial shudders in some of the banks and brokerages, I re-evaluated all my accounts that I hold at various institutions, verified that they met the FDIC insurance limits (for MMAs) and that all the other accounts were under the SIPC limits as well. I called the various institutions, asked them to reconfirm the federal insurance amounts that they had taken on accounts, asken them what extra insurance they carried and how I was protected in case of a bank failure. Basically I did a complete "risk assessment". I did this to fully understand my "risk picture" - so that I knew what was "SAFE" and what was risky.

This is the same mentality that should be exhibited by a start-up company. The management along with the investors must assess and fully understand the risks associated with different kind of debt instruments. Past safe practices of such instruments does not necessarily mean continued safety. If someone made a suggestion to put in the company's cash originally acquired through Venture Funding, into auction rate securities, here are the questions that I would have asked.

1: how different is this from a money market account or a CD?
2: Are these deposits insured by the government if the bank failed or there was a "run on the bank"?
3: I understand that this has been done for the last X number of years, but can you tell me what are the possible scenarios under which this so called "cash-equivalent" can lose its value? Please give me the scenario however remote it may be. If you can't give me a scenario, then you the "bank" has to give me in writing that this is truly "cash" and is fully convertible to cash equivalent at a minimum of the original deposit.

The bottom line is, if the debt-instrument cannot be federally insured, then the accounts are not the same as "cash". Hopefully the investment professionals who advice on the portfolio construction for the cash that a company is sitting on, are astute regarding the risks associated with these debt-instruments. Its more important for you to ascertain if "cash-like-investments" is "cash".

You need to have an investment policy which you should review and question constantly. Ask those questions regarding risk freely without hesitation at the risk of appearing stupid. After all it the money with which you plan to build your company. You should always assume that no investment is risk free and the higher the apparent return the higher the risk.

Cash is King. Cash-Like is Not

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Are We done yet?

Recession (the "R" word) is a word easily bandied about these days by everybody. It seems that it has become the most used word for Q1-08 already. With job losses in the US, the sub-prime slime, and the recent Bear Stearns Circus, we seem to have our hands full with financial news on a daily basis. Some have started to use the other "R" word, Recovery and have predicted that we have hit the bottom and that Q2 and the second half of 2008 will lead to a recovery. As i thought about this, I just wanted to take a quick snapshot of how our markets have fared over the last 6 months v/s other major markets. So I did a quick computation of percentage drops of
1: % drop 52 week highs v/s the closing numbers for 4/4/08 and
2: % drop of index value at open on Jan 08 v/s closing numbers for 4/4/08.

Here's a rolling snapshot from East to west of some major market indices. Note the numbers are approximate. (All graphs & Numbers from Yahoo Finance)

The worst preforming index:
Shanghai Composite down almost 44% since its 52 week high and down 34.5% YTD

The best (of the Worst)
Dow Jones Industrial Average down 11.7% since its 52 week high and down 7.13% YTD

You decide if US markets have reached the bottom. I know there is no sense in comparing some of these indices directly, but still I thought it was interesting to show the difference in the percentage drops between the majors.

(JAPAN) NIKKEI 225 Index Value: 13,292.22 @ close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 11,691.00 - 18,297.00 [% total drop = 27.35%]

Year open at 15,155.73: [% drop YTD 2008 = 12.29%]

(CHINA) SSE Composite Index Value: 3,446.24 @ close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 3,271.29 - 6,124.04 [% total drop = 43.72%]

Year open at 5265: [% drop YTD 2008 = 34.5%]

(HONG KONG) HANG SENG Index Value: 24,264.63 @ close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 19,386.70 - 31,958.40 [% total drop = 24.07%]

Year open at 27,632.19: [% drop YTD 2008 = 12.18%]

(INDIA) BSE SENSEX Index Value: 15,343.12 @ close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 12,904.80 - 21,206.80 [% total drop = 27.64%]

Year open at 20,393: [% drop YTD 2008 = 24.76%]

(GERMANY) DAX Index Value: 6,763.39 @ close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 6,167.82 - 8,151.57 [% total drop = 17.02%]

Year open at 8,045.97: [% drop YTD 2008 = 15.93%]

(U.K.) FTSE 100 Index Value: 5,947.10 @ close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 5,338.70 - 6,754.10 [% total drop = 11.94%]

Year open at 6,456.89: [% drop from start of 2008 = 7.88%]

(U.S.A.) DJIA Index Value: 12,609.42 @close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 11,508.70 - 14,280.00 [% total drop = 11.70%]

Year open at 13,261.82: [% drop from start of 2008 = 7.13%]

(U.S.A.) NASDAQ COMPOSITE Value: 2,370.98 @close on 4/4/2008

52wk Range: 2,155.42 - 2,861.51 [% total drop = 17.16%]

Year open at 2653.91: [% drop from start of 2008 = 10.67%]

Well I sincerely hope that we have reached a bottom in some sense here. I say this because if U.S. markets continue to fall further to be more in line with India and China we have a long way to go to the bottom. Well is the economy in a recession? I was at an Apple store today and the place was humming. Kids and parents buying more gadgets. Heck I myself bought a few items.

As for India, Food Prices Drive India Inflation., rapid inflationary pressures recently forced the government to stop the export of all non-basmati rice. The finance minister even lashed out at western nations regarding the use of corn for ethanol production when the world's poorer countries were going hungry. The rise in food prices is not just in India, it's a worldwide phenomenon. Q&A Rising World Food Prices.

While the inflationary pressures are not so high in the U.S, the prices of wheat and other staples have increased in the past few months. Americans only seem to relate to prices of fuel with increasing urgency, but respond with the "Boiling Frog Syndrome" mentality with respect to the rise in the cost of food.

But some do notice and it's not the poor. It is real surprising that the ones who do notice are the real wealthy. One such person recently came back home after a long vacation and complained about the increased cost of a bagel (from a micro blog post that I follow). Maybe that's why they get wealthy in the first place.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Social Isolation - Physically present but mentally absent

The best laid schemes of mice and men often go astray
– Robert Burns

I sat down the other day reminiscing of a class during my MBA days. The Professor gave an analogy comparing the IT industry to the plumbing industry. He talked about a time when people became more absorbed in the details of the fitting and pipes, but forgot about the water. It made me think of how the world has built up network infrastructure for information without actually stopping to think of how much of the data that traverses it is actually relevant. The arrival of new gadgets and gizmos that utilize both the infrastructure of the wired and the wireless world are giving way to a new social isolation phenomenon sweeping the planet; Physically present, but mentally absent. Anywhere I go these days, in the city, at airports, restaurants, and malls, people are either peering into a mobile device or its hugging their ears. Even among groups of people there’s always one or more distracted by a device. As I pondered for a bit, Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” came to mind.

The Good: One of the areas that availability of the network infrastructure is really making a difference is in the area of education. You can now have virtual class rooms half way across the world where students from distant countries join in via an interactive video conferencing classroom. An individual student or a classroom full of them can interact with the professor and other students who are hundreds of miles away as if every one of them were physically in the same room. Information delivered through this technology has made distance ignorable, while creating a highly productive educational session. The existence of the network infrastructure has also helped other industries such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals and many others.

The Bad: These days most everyone has a cell phone, and a personal laptop computer. I have personally seen instances when people are replying to text messages, talking on their phones and looking into their laptops while driving in vehicles at highway speeds. Does this “instant-gratification” world we now live in really make us that much more productive? I believe that the existence of these technologies have cut down the intrinsic delay that used to allow people to think over a query and respond in an astute manner. The perceived expectation of responses in real time has really cut down on the quality of the interaction between people. We have to question ourselves if technology has really increased productivity or caused more disruption? It is sad to note that the very same people who benefit from the education at virtual classrooms are also affected by the high tech distraction of texting and email while the class is in session.

The Ugly: One recent afternoon, as I came to the end of the running trail at a local park, I happened to notice a family setup on a bench near the tot-lot. The father was working on his portable computer with one child by his side playing a portable videogame. The mother was talking on a cell phone while minding the other child that played on the swing set. Each to their own space; Is social isolation the future we are building for our kids? The next generation of kids are going to be mere “Talking Heads”.

Conclusion: There are significant benefits and some bad side effects to society from technology. It is up to the people to control how technology will not become a disruption in their lives. Etiquette coach Colette Swan says that, "We are becoming an internalized society. We are living in our laptops, our cell phones, and in our texting". See Michael Parekh's blog Gadget Etiquette in meetings. Dan Saffer of Adaptive path coined the phrase topless, where companies and universities are forcing meeting or classroom participants to ditch laptops and phones. Some of the participants swear that their productivity has increased by leaving behind their electronic gadgets to such meetings. I am sure some other die hard tech fans will argue that Text messaging, emails and cell phones have not distracted the prioritization of activities.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Simplicity, will be key to success with Mobile Applications

These days there is a lot of buzz about the newest applications that are available or coming for the mobile phone. Hundreds of companies are getting venture funding for developing the next set of applications for the mobile device. Much of the focus here is on delivering fragmented applications that take the user away from the core phone use. Any application developed for the phone has to consider the core phone use and be designed specifically for the limitations of the device with respect to the form factor and usability. Fact is, typing on the small key board makes it more difficult for people to have to enter a lot of information or click through many levels of menus to get the information that they require. Applications need to keep power consumption in mind. As much as the battery life has improved, graphic intensive applications are draining them already. One of the fundamental issues that need to be accomplished is that the software for the mobile device has to be designed from the device out, not the desktop/internet in. It is not about having the internet on your phone. The application designed for a mobile device should allow access to all the information that a person normally wants at their fingertips, at the time that they want it, without having to search for it. Tie in location, and time and context and my mobile phone should do all the work for me. I don’t want coolness of an application to drain out the battery and keep forcing me to tether myself to a plug-point frequently.

On the other hand, the current crop of mobile social networking platforms do NOT enhance interpersonal communication or reduce the clutter of asynchronous communication. They only add more distraction and noise and completely drown out meaningful communication. Recently I have talked to some Myspace and Facebook users, who claim to have over 800 contacts. I probed further to note that the core group of people that they communicate with is very limited are listed on their mobile devices and after a while the interaction with all these contacts on facebook and myspace also gets limited. Now translate that to mobile. Would you really put up with more noise on your mobile device? Ask yourself if the unbounded network that mostly becomes irrelevant over time is what you really want to use the device for. Recently I saw an ad for Facebook on an iphone; Novelty YES. Usefulness ZERO. What personal value does that add to anyone’s daily routine, especially on the mobile device? Does having access to Facebook on your mobile device really enhance personal productivity? A “boredom-response” application does not enhance productivity.

Yahoo! also announced onePlace™ (to be released Q2 – 08) claiming that it brings together all your interests, passions and important information into a single location, creating a rich, highly personalized experience around it for you. What will that do to power consumption on the device if it has to constantly bring loads of data to your device?

Other mobile widget apps offer to take web based content from a variety of sources, restructure the data and then push so called customized content to the phone throughout the day. All they do is offer yet another fragmented application of force fitting the web based information infrastructure onto the mobile device. Relevance and context are once again left far behind.

It is very important to note that coolness of an application is not necessarily monetizable in the mobile world. Ability to provide value to the general user and designing with respect for the form-factor of the device is imperative. Connecting relevant people and the pertinent information behind them is what is needed. Successful applications for the mobile world will be those that keep it simple and relevant.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Make My SmartPhone Smarter

I have been thinking about this and I wonder why my mobile phone can't do more for me. I want to delegate more work to my phone. I want to tell my phone in advance all of my interests, tastes, likes and dislikes and want it to constantly scan things out there for me instead of sitting idle all day waiting to send or receive a call or email. I want to be able to just pick up the phone at any time and have the information that I normally look for instantly available. Well I have a smart phone with more processing power on it than some of the first Rockets that went into outer space. You would think that it can do more.

Current Mobile Phone use model: Most people use their mobile device to mainly talk, send & receive txt messages & email, listen to voicemail, access & browse a few websites, take pictures and video etc. Most of this activity requires a lot of keystrokes on that little form factor keyboard. It is difficult to type even for someone experienced in typing away like me. Yes, the iPhone has eliminated the keyboard and gone with the bolder touch screen version. Maybe that's the way to go in the future. However some people don't like the iPhone specifically for that because their fingers are too big or their nails get in the way. That’s a discussion for another day.

Let's get back to the original conversation. The current crop of applications for the mobile devices that are out there get or retrieve information from some place when you click on a link or a news item. You are forced sometimes to go from one application to another to get all the data that you want. I don’t like to leave one application to another to get the things I want. I want a better phone and I want it to be constantly updating itself of things that I care and follow and discard items when I either move out of a certain location or a certain time has passed. How do I go about getting this? and what are all the things that I want it to do?

I want my phone regardless of which make, model, OS, network, carrier or technology to be able to keep me updated on certain things that I most care about. Now first: what do I care about. Well for starters the most important thing on my phone is my contact list. If someone made it in there, then they are family, friends, colleagues or businesses. All of whom or which I interact on a daily basis or with a certain frequency. This small bounded relevant network is most important to me. Do I care about other people beyond this network? Yes I do, I may meet new people, interact with them from time to time, however if they become important enough or relevant to my personal, professional or social life, then they move into my address book on my phone. Are you all with me so far? OK good!

Now think about this. I am a busy person, highly efficient and I don’t have time to waste. I am sure you are in the same situation. So the things that I don’t like are calling someone to get to their Voicemail, or them having to call me a leave me a Voicemail. If I have to talk to someone, then I need to know if they are available for me. If they are busy then I don’t want to call them. If I knew they were busy then I want to send them a quick Voice note (not text) asking them to call me when they were free. But I want to do this without having to dial their number, going through their voicemail system (precious seconds wasted) and then leaving a message. Wherever they are, however busy they are, they notice that I have a Vnote for them and listen to it or read (via voice to txt) it. Now how cool is that?

Now as for other types of mixed media needs I would have to categorize these based on certain people that I follow. If I wanted the general news, then I could just go to CNN, Fox or any one of the other major news networks. But let’s say that I want to track some one’s blog which I follow. I want my phone to have that information and then tell me that it’s ready to read. This person may or may not even be a contact on my address book, but they can exist as a named person in my contact list and anything and everything that I need to know about them (changes to their website, streaming video broadcast availability, hosted events) must be made available on my phone for me. Why do I need to go to the desktop and be forced to read through a whole lot of other stuff before I get to the component of the news that I care about. In addition I’d be subjected to advertisements that I am not really "interested" in and I don’t especially want to view them on my mobile device. I would never be interested in looking or clicking-on an ad on my mobile device unless it knew exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it and gave me some incentive to follow through with it.

On the other hand, the patterns in my life are not overly complicated. I'd like my phone to start learning about how I live my life. Yes, I want my smartphone to start tracking my moves so that a resident application can track all that and somehow I can take all that information feed it into a different application and learn something more about efficiency. Am I turning into an efficiency evangelist? No not really, I just want to constantly reform myself to be more efficient in the surroundings that I am presented with everyday. So let's say that I am in NYC, its 11:30 am and I just finished a meeting uptown and have to head to a downtown meeting in 2 hours. I want my phone to tell me based on my current location, my next destination, my interests, the traffic situation along my with need to be replenished with food(energy) what are all the things out there for me to do in that time. I could search for things to do, but what fun is that when i have to do all the work. I want an application that suggests things that I should do, in the available timeframe and still make my meeting on time.

Oh Gotta go, my phone's telling me that if I leave right now, i could pick up a gizmo that I always wanted at 30% off at a store on the way to my afternoon tennis game.

Be in the "know", when on the go.

Delegate to your smartphone and make it do more for you.

Coming soon to a phone near you.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ad deluge on our senses

The recent BusinessWeek article titled "Generation Myspace is Getting Fed Up" - is interesting in that it reveals certain advertisement metrics which are really pathetic and shocking.

Let me explain. The article says that social networks have some of the lowest response rates on the web, and advertisers and ad placements firms all agree on this. Well the shocking metric here is that only 0.04% of people who see their ads on social networking sites click on them compared to 0.2% on the web. How can 0.04% be an acceptable number for ROI? In fact how can even 0.2% be an acceptable number? These kind of response rates should make those who spend money on advertisements on the web do a double-take and stop to think about it. As one industry executive put it, "its really hard to make money when the click through rate is that anemic". I mean empires have been created based on these rates!?

MySpace and Facebook have supposedly recognized the issue and seem to think that increased targeted advertising will spur users to pay more attention. Let me be clear about this. I am willing to bet that any user who goes to an application as a "boredom response" will not be interested in any ads. You have to give the user products and services that actually help them and provide greater value than these unbounded desktop centric social networking sites to be able to monetize them. Just tying relevance to a search or tying relevance to a location ain't going to cut it. You will still frustrate the user because they were not interested in seeing the ad in the first place.

How exactly do the current crop of social networking sites bring value to a paying customer? The above rates are a sure sign that while there are millions of users on the sites, none of them are interested in looking at or clicking on the ads. There are some very stupid people who aren't realizing that they are losing a lot of money to display ads on a medium that only promises the huge potential of impressions, but delivers none.

The current idea of relevance as voiced by many of these companies (portals, search engines and social networking sites) is that if someone searches for something then display an advertisement based on the text entered in the search. Can you really tie relevance to that. You have to think bigger. You have to find ways to capture the real intent behind the search. The above response rate metrics prove that relevance certainly cannot be gleaned from the search "text" alone.

Innovation lies ahead, in being able to track the intent and then tie it to relevance and deliver information to the user that is of value to them.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is search going to be the core function for monetization of the mobile phone

Well i find that hard to believe. Just think of the number of times that people use the mobile device to search in their daily phone use. I have one simple question. How many times do you pick up your cellphone to look for your next meal?

"Oh I am hungry, I need my phone to tell me where the nearest pizza store that offers the most competetive price/slice is." Or for that matter how many times do you use search for the most mundane things in your daily life. I will let you answer that question yourself.

Lets talk about this. People use mobile phones when they are up and about. Lets just assume that it means that about 12 hours of the day are available to look at the mobile device. That does not automatically translate to constantly staring at the mobile phone. Most people lead predictable lives, and go about their lives in a robotic fashion. They wake up, shower, get dressed, have breakfast at their favorite place (either home or the bagel store down the street), get to work, work, go to their favorite hangout after work (gym, bar or whatever), eat dinner and get back to bed. This leads me to believe that the total "search" time when most people need "search' as a way to lead them to the next step of their daily activity is all but a sliver of their total daily time.

I would argue that if you are mobile and are constantly in need of a search mechanism to lead you to the next step, then you are either constantly lost or are traveling in a new place. The former leads me to believe that you need more help than just a cellphone. If its the latter, there exists the possibility that you would "ask" someone where to eat or what place to visit. This would most likely be a colleague, a friend at the office in the new city you are visiting or someone with local tacit knowledge.

I know we need more discussion on this point, but I question if "search" is going to be the core function for monetization of the mobile phone. I think not.

Watch Rich Miner of Google on his monetization scheme, from his World Mobile Congress interview on youtube at

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Rants

I am happy to announce that I have begun to blog. Hmm, lets see what interests me. First I have to say that I have always been a technology and gadget geek for as long as I can remember.

I was one of the early adopters of TIVO (though after some persuasion by Tom Churylo who I do not consider to be a gadget geek by any means) and just recently upgraded to a HD-THX series 3 version. I must say that TIVO completely revolutionized the way we watch TV. I couldn't believe it when in my MBA days, during a marketing class we did a TIVO case study and I was the only one in the class to have one of those. Well anyway to cut a long story short I had a hard time defending my purchase of TIVO after the class discussion. Who cares, I still love it. I will convince Jomy Pidiath one of these days that it is a worthy gadget to have.

Well on to other things. I love to apply technology in meaningful ways and not in wasteful ways. For example: I have serious issues with these so called energy saver bulbs, hybrid cars (especially huge hybrid trucks) etc., and believe that short term technology bandaids only serve to cause greater harm. We'll discuss this more later and I will explain all this in more detail. This intro blog will not do justice to this issue.

I am also interested in politics. But lately I have been removed from it due to my focus on my startup which is now taking up most of my waking hours. I am all for flat-tax (single postcard method), or better yet, held at source. You know the tax system is out-dated when the government and the companies in this country have to outsource some of the tax related work. I hate the AMT. It was never ever meant for me. I have been paying it for a long time now. Since CONS@gress never ever seems to fix this issue and instead seem to adopt some bandaids, the AMT will haunt me a lot longer than it really should. On another note, you know something is wrong with the Tax system when Warren Buffet's secretary pays more taxes (% wise) than him. Well that's what he told Jane Wells a few months ago on a CNBC show. I am all for fair taxation, and a complete overhaul of this archaic and gigantic bureaucratic organization. Well more on this later. Well about this economic stimulus package with the rebate checks. If you asked me, those people who are going to get it, are promptly going to spend it on Chinese made imports at Walmart. Does that really stimulate our economy!?

Hmm. What else interests me. I love to play golf (though Tom thinks I can knock out a few people with my drives). I love to sail and I sincerely wish I could devote more (if not some) time to this. Well maybe after MOBOW, I will have all the time in the world to do so. I have also promised myself to run "a" marathon. I do love mountain/trail biking and hiking. I love photography and though I am not that good at it, I believe that i do take some good pictures (thanks mainly to the expensive cameras I purchase)

and last but not the least I love baseball. Yes, i admit I am a hard core Yankee Fan. (I routinely have these great discussions/arguments with Sean, Shawn, Tom, Boyd and Bobby about it). My low point in being a baseball fan was when i had to watch game 6 and 7 of the 2004 ALCS in San Jose during a business trip. To make it more difficult Jeff Fleider was calling me every two minutes. The worst part was all the Oakland fans in the bay area were rooting for the Sox and I felt like I was the was the only Yankee fan in the bay area those two days. I felt so lonely. It was a difficult time. Well The NY Giants certainly helped me in some strange way this past SuperBowl. I can call all those 18-1 boston fans and get back. I am not such a big fan of the NFl though.

Well I want to end this initial blog/rant on this note as its time for dinner. Well this is a start and more will come, I promise. Good Stuff.