A commentary on Kerala Startup policy

Though there is a very bad impression about running business in Kerala & sayings like, if you know how to run a business in Kerala, you can do it successfully elsewhere in the world. Over a period of last 5 years there are welcoming changes and right now the government has taken baby steps and come up with a startup policy.

While the policy is definitely a big welcome, it lacks defintion of what a startup is, perhaps confuses college final year projects as startups ideas.

 

DST funded TBIs missing in the document

Perhaps one of the biggest omissions in the document is that there is no mention of National Institute of Technology TBI – the first TBI in Kerala, Amrita TBI etc. While Technopark TBI and StartupVilla PPP initiative is part of the document, its a big mistake not ignore NIT – TBI which boasts a large number of graduated companies just like the Technopark TBI.

 

Definition of startups

on startup ideas : finding the niche

Somehow I find lot of people interested in product ideas end up meeting me and the ideas often surprise me either with the uniqueness or lack of it. The lack of skills and the reluctance of pick it up seems to be common trait in most of the cases. But then some people understand it and try finding mentor’s and succeed. Perhaps this will be a good idea to share some of the thoughts from personal experience.

Find a niche

I think this is one of the important aspects of succeeding with a startup idea in any area. But care must be taken to make sure that the niche will grow enough to provide the return to sustain the idea (product or service whatever the idea is). The second point it should be possible to generate enough revenue to keep going.

There 2 personal experiences of finding a niche segment and then not able to scale up : though there was a rock solid team, timelines were met etc etc.

Find a niche, boot strap and run after MONEY !

In the first example, we had a photo agency where we catered to a niche – sports photography and within the segment we focused on football. This was during the time i-league was started and we even had AIFF as client.We had a super cool name :

MangoPeel

We had award winning photographers across the country, we probably managed to publish photos faster the best, we trained photographers to upload photos, process them & we paid them probably 3 times what they used get paid. All were happy. Though all were happy, we had issues with collecting payments. After an year of operations throughout which we were break even, we had to wind it up.

Why we didn’t take off ?

I think we lacked in collecting the payments. Personally, I was too shy to ask for payments. I don’t think we were ready with money! Technically, though we had found a niche and managed to bootstrap, we couldn’t generate enough revenue to keep going. Having right skills in finance is very important. This is one point often Entreprenures overlook as they get carried away by passion. For us this was the best thing, as photography was our passion

 

 

MangoPeel is started by two young photography & travel enthusiasts who came to to know about each other through their photos. They had dreams to do things differently & courage to do it. They met at a beach side restaurant to discuss their future plans and MangoPeel was born.
MangoPeel is started by two young photography & travel enthusiasts who came to to know about each other through their photos. They had dreams to do things differently & courage to do it. They met at a beach side restaurant to discuss their future plans and MangoPeel was born.

 

about-photo-2014-11-30_11-19-04

 

Find a niche, but make sure that there is enough growth in demand

This is a particularly interesting case as this was novel & the first of its kind. We launched India’s First Web TV – IndiaVibes.TV

Once again everything was uber cool, India was about to witness a massive upgradation in internet connectivity, the magical 3G was about to get launched. Our timing looked good. We had enough programs, impressions everything looked good. But one assumption failed – the high speed internet wave didn’t take off the way we expected. This was something we never expected as projections regarding internet speed & availability at low cost miserably failed to meet the expectations. Years down the down even now the 3G connectivity is poor across the country. The writing on the wall was clear. We had wind up the show in sometime.

This was unfortunate, but I think this can happen to anyone even if everything looks good. Finding a niche & then making sure that there is enough demand is very important. If there is not enough demand, we MUST pivot and move ahead.

 

Find the niche, follow the Lean startup approach & launch fast. I think this needs an elaborative post & will talk about this in another post.

 

me fishing!

Its been sometime since I wanted to try my luck with fishing again – that means, during my lower primary school days I used tail along Kurichya friends in Wayanad and they used to let me cast the “choonda” with earth worm bait and once or twice gave me their knife with which I hit the water and nothing happened. So, Yesterday, we decided that enough is enough & we will get choonda again. Armed with earth worms, we bought that stick with hooks, went to nearby backwaters, alas in 10 minutes we got 2 fishes.

Now all inspired we went back and bough a bigger stick, oh, fishing raad. Then the class began. The guy at the shop is a champ with this stick ! Poor me. I just wanted to catch fish and now I have this graphite stick, “flow”, a rotating whatever for the “line” with 3 bearings, swivel (2 level one to be specific), clip / lock, I took the lessons well. Oh yea, got few led balls as weight too.

Oh the most important part is “Loore” – this fish like thing is to fool fishes. People claim that the fishes are foolish enough to hit sorry, “bait harder or faster”. I think I already know how to cast this thing – thanks to the “mooppan” who had the patience to teach me this.

After paying for this stick, which was a hefty sum, went to the earlier spot from where we got 2 fishes, successfully casted in the second try, casted again, again, finally realised that the fishes are not foolish enough to be “lured” into. And earth worms may work better. Or may be the fishes are foolish and they don’t know to deal with sophisticated sticks.

Never knew that this fishing thing is a hobby where people talk about the size of their “sticks”, weight it can handle, swivel, clip, lock, line, flow – these seems to be status symbols. (almost like people flaunting their cars, FX cameras, 1.2f 50mm lenses blah blah). Anyways, here I am with 2 fishing rods, one which can catch fishes with live baits, ie earth worms and another super sophisticated stick with even the fishes not understand.

If anyone in an around kochi knows where these ultra sophisticated fishes who understands, loore and other stuff, please do let me know !

Exported oriented businesses and EEFC accounts

For an export oriented business its always good to have EEFC accounts because two reasons. 1. Better forex rates 2. if interested, one can monitor the market & earn some extra revenue.

Lets take case I
———————-

When a client makes a payment in USD, if we have a INR account with an Indian bank, during the wire / swift process, the conversion rate is optimised to make maximum profits for the bank. Say, we will be given lowest rate of the day etc. It gets worse if the transaction is above a threshold say 3K USD as manual intervention is kicked in & we end up getting even lower rate.

If the wire is redirected to a USD EEFC account, we can convert the same against the card rate or the negotiated special rate which will be often better than the floating rate.

Here the process involved is SWIFT and not ACH.

Case II
———–

Closely monitor the forex markets & play the game to get the better rates. If we are really confident, like the sort that does butterfly analysis and stuff, we can go for a loan against the forex reserve and use it for OPEX & may end up making profit from the forex conversion, protection from inflation etc. Now this is for the biggies like infy i guess.

Now the question what is SBIePay, HDFC, Citi licenses do:

they are multi currency payment gateways approved by the RBI. Till now it was not possible for PGs like EBS, CCAvenue, payzippy etc to receive foreign currency & if we use the PGs of banks, they used to take the automated route thus ending up giving us lower rates.

Technically its very simple as all it takes is to receive forex & then deposit to the appropriate EEFC a/c.

But then there was a small catch, it needed RBI permission. And to get that we need to be the likes of CIAL who has say, 100K USD transaction per day.

We can use swift but if the amounts are less than 2000 USD (1920 USD as per a calculation I did few years ago), wire will not be cost effective as the cost for wire is something around 35-45 USD unless there is a special arrangement with the bank. In short for such transactions we end up using services like Paypal. Now they are very aggressive & we end up getting around INR 2.5 less than the market price / card rate per USD. Plus there is a service charge which also quite high. In anycase for 10K USD there will be a loss of INR 25000/- now if the USD is getting stronger against INR, say by 5 paise by the time the cash reaches our account, the loss increase further.

an example with paypal with 4K USD

Amount received will be 3823.70 after service charges.

Total amount:
-Rs.221,822.39 INR (equals -$3,823.70 USD)
Fee amount:
Rs.0.00 INR
Net amount:
-Rs.221,822.39 INR

Conversion from:
-$3,823.70 USD
Conversion to:
Rs.221,822.39 INR
Exchange rate:
1 US Dollar = 58.0125 Indian Rupees

The original amount the client paid was USD 4000. If we calculate at 1 USD = 60 INR, we were supposed to receive INR 2,40,000/- our loss is INR 18178/-

PS: today’s non-negotiated rate with SBT is 59.67 INR / USD.

measuring Indian patriotism

OVer the years I was observing the patriotism fever that happens to Indians around August 15th, January 26th and during conflicts with any of the nearby countries. I was lucky enough to have a mechanism to plot the graph over the years. This is done with few photos uploaded to flickr with Google search terms related to the fever.

The current status can be seen below screenshots. Will post a snapshot tomorrow which I expect to show a steep growth.

This shows the rise in patriotism in last 28 days. I think roughly this will represent the overall rise in patriotism of those who are listening to media.
This shows the rise in patriotism in last 28 days. I think roughly this will represent the overall rise in patriotism of those who are listening to media.

 

 

Google searches hitting the image
Google search queries hitting the image
Various keywords related to patriotism
Various keywords related to patriotism

 

stats measured with a different photo - this one historically gets hits during republic day period.
stats measured with a different photo – this one historically gets hits during republic day period.

The stats on  16-08-2013 will be posted to get a better measurement.

Perhaps we need to understand the need for being Indian 24x7x365 & not just for around 60 days in an year !

4197040130_07bff0459b_z

Aadhar aka UID project – questions and concerns.

There is confusion and ambiguity about the Unique Identity aka Aadhar project implemented in India by UIDAI. This post is an attempt to compile the questions and concerns from various sources. I will update the post with clarifications when available & try to keep updated with recent developments. My personal opinions or ideas will not be added & will try to ignore anything that sounds illogical. Credit to authors will be given at all times when its possible to find the authors & this post is under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 India for India & under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported in all other countries.

Concerns:

Here are some questions on Aadhaar which not answered at al1. The UID was promoted as a `voluntary’ `entitlement’. Now, people are being threatened that they canot access any services or institutions unless they are enrolled for a UID. This has not happened only because states have so decided, but are based largely on the reports of various committees.


2. This coercion has been introduced into a project where no feasibility study has been done till date. On 28 September, 2010, 17 eminent citizens had raised questions about the launch of a project of this nature without even a report on feasibility. The Parliamentary Standing Committee had raised similar concerns. There are no answers yet,and yet the coercion has become the norm.

3. The Standing Committee on Finance roundly rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010, by its report presented to Parliament on December 13, 2011. It also said that the UID project needs to be sent back to the drawing board, citing various deficiencies in its plan and execution.

The UIDAI and government have chosen to ignore the report. There is still no law. And the UID project, and the compulsion that has been introduced, are occurring beyond the protection of the law.

4. Proof of Concept studies were done only after the project was already underway. While doing the PoC on enrollment (uploaded in February 2011, over 4 months after enrollment had begun), the report says, they did not include arecanut workers and other plantation workers because this would only complicate the sample. How can such a study find validity. Also, the findings of the study are not substantiated; the evidence is not available, and those reading the report critically have found it to be self-serving.

The Fingerprint Authentication report (March 2012) and the Iris Authentication report (September 2012) suffer from similar problems. And unreasonable assumptions have been used to make it appear like the technology can be made to work: for instance, it is said in the report that iris never changes! A study by two professors at Notre Dame demonstrates that this is in fact untrue, and that those who have been saying it have done so because no longitudinal studies had been done thus far, since this is such recent technology!

5. The UIDAI, is pushing for `re-engineering’ all systems and `seeding’ all data bases with the UID number to make it `ubiquitous’. This will make all systems dependent on the UID system functioning. Already, the inability to authenticate people is showing signs of requiring the use of `manual override’, which is a magnificent source of `leakage’ and of exclusion of those the systems does not authenticate. This unseemly haste to shift to untested and undependable technology is a source of grave concern.

6. The seeding of the number everywhere also raises privacy concerns. UIDAI has not denied that the UID project raises serious privacy issues. But UDAI has sidestepped the issue, saying that it is an issue wider than the UID project and needs a general law, and so he will not worry himself about it.

Whatever his assumption of responsibility to ensure the protection of privacy — and in this case it would include concerns of profiling, tracking, tagging, convergence of data, data mining, the state and all manner of people gaining access to this data bank that is being created especially in the context of data becoming a transactable commodity — must precede consideration of any such project. Instead, there is no law governing the project and the uses to it which it may put; and there is no law on privacy either.

7. While still on privacy, it is being propagated that `the poor have no use for privacy’. This casual dismissal of such a right, especially given how vulnerable the poor, including classes of migrants, homeless, jhuggi dwellers, casualised workforce, for instance, are needs to be confronted.

8. There is much concern about the companies to whom the UIDAI has given contracts. There are companies like L1 Identity Solutions whose favoured customer has been the CIA, where a former director of the CIA, George Tenet, was even on their Board. Accenture Securities Ltd, another company shortlisted for the project, is on Smart Borders Project with the US Homeland Security. US law requires all agencies to provide any information demanded of them to the Homeland Security if asked.

When the UIDAI was sent an RTI asking why they had enlisted foreign companies such as these in the project, the answer was that they had no way of knowing whether they were foreign companies — because the way invited participation did not elicit this information!

The absence of a law means that there is nothing binding them to a legal structure within which we could hold them.
The contracts with these companies are being denied for public perusal in the name of `confidentiality’

9. The rampant outsourcing in the project means that all manner of people handle our data, including biometric data, and there is little that we can do when it is traded, misused, shared, lost ….

In January 2011, the Home Ministry had said that they could not use UIDAI data because it was insecure, unverified and could pose a security threat. Then they patched up their differences and decided to share the country 50:50! As citizens, though, the rapprochement does not answer the problems raised by the Home Ministry.

Where are the answers?

 

Confusion between NPR & UID projects.

 

It seems there is confusion regarding the purpose two identical projects and no one seems to know the difference.

 

Court orders requesting clarification:

 

Ownership of data

It seems there is no clear answer as to who owns the data and recent news articles like “Your data, going on sale soon” discusses about these ownership issues.

Safety of data collected

There are numerous incidents of data collected being found discarded. The biggest such reported event is this one : Maharashtra loses data of 3 lakh UID cards

 

 

What is the difference between a Bill and an Act ?

 

Legislative proposals are brought before either house of the Parliament of India in the form of a bill. A bill is the draft of a legislative proposal, which, when passed by both houses of Parliament and assented to by the President, becomes an Act of Parliament. As soon as the bill has been framed, it has to be published in the news papers and suggestions are invited from the general people, and after going through the suggestions of the people the bill is amended and then Bill may be introduced in the Parliament by ministers or private members. The former are called government bills and the latter, private members’ bills. Bills may also be classified as public bills and private bills. A public bill is one referring to a matter applying to the public in general, whereas a private bill relates to a particular person or corporation or institution. The Orphanages and Charitable Homes Bill or the Muslim Waqfs Bills are examples of private bills. – wikipedia.org

US Patriot Act & security of Indian citizen data

In a nutshell, the act can force companies registered in the United States or their subsidiaries elsewhere to share any or all data to law enforcement agencies. A detailed description can be found here: USA Patriot Act

This is a major issue for many technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Salesforce, Data.com etc. The act is in clear violation of EU data protection regulation, UK privacy act which clearly states individual data can be stored only in UK or safer harbors but access must not be allowed. Swiss regulations makes this more complicated. As far as India is concerned IT act 2000 and its 2008 amendments  and not talking about any of these issues. The privacy law is still under scrutiny. There are incidents of many firms deciding against doing business with US based companies of which some are listed below.

  1. European Firm Refuses To Go On the Microsoft Cloud Due to PATRIOT Act Concerns
  2. Microsoft admits Patriot Act can access EU-based cloud data
  3. PATRIOT Act and privacy laws take a bite out of US cloud business

Now lets back to our context. This simply means that other countries can access all our biometric data without any permission whatsoever from us or our government. If one thinks, this is OK, then this discussion is definitely for such people.

The question has been raised here long back but I am not sure how and why we are going to circumvent it. Here is a discussion about it which even activists seem to be not noticing – The Trouble With Big Brother’s Eye

 

To be added:

Time period of validity of a bill, Reasons for a bill not be presented in Parliament, Is there a provision under RTI to find out why a bill is not presented to the parliament.

 

Photo editing with Freedom – the GIMP way

 

Until recently, the issues with FOSS and photo post processing was loss of data while RAW conversion, poor colour management, lack of 16  bit support etc.

Finally it seems Gimp 2.9 is addressing the 16 – bit issue which was until recently addressed only by CinePaint. Yes there are multitude of options like Photivo, Krita etc but IMHO if all these efforts are combined in building a better GIMP, RAW support etc things could have been better. Looks like too much of a freedom is not always the right way unless there is a guiding force.

Gimp 2.9  30 May 2013 development branch
Gimp 2.9 30 May 2013 development branch with a unified / single window, support for images with upto 32 bit floating point precision (hurray!!), better colour profile management – trust me! my TIFF images looks the same in Mac OS X & GNU/Linux now, GEGL

Here I am trying to get Gimp 2.9 working on GNU/Linux flavours and if possible on Mac OS X as well & explaining photo processing with Gimp 2.9. I am thinking of using RawTherapee (http://rawtherapee.com/) for RAW conversion as I am not happy with UFRaw. For the colour management I am using Open-ICC profiles, Argyll CMS & UI

The workflow:

  1. Photos are taken in Adobe RGB 1998
  2. Monitor uses calibrated profile
  3. Processing is done with ProPhoto profile from OpenICC bundle
  4. RAWTherapee is used for RAW conversion
  5. Final output in JPEG and TIFF are saved with Adobe RGB 1998
  6. Gimp 2.9 compiled from source is used as it supports 16 – bit image formats
  7. RAM is used for GEGEL swap for faster performance by mounting tmpfs with 6GB (instead of default 50% physical memory size)
  8. Linux SWAP is also getting used upto 2.8 GB

 

Setting the stage

The first step is to install OpenICC profiles

Compile Gimp 2.9 as per the instructions

1. http://crunchbang.org/forums/viewtopic.php?id=25716

2. http://www.gimp.org/source/howtos/gimp-git-build.html

Install RAW therapee & get an image ready.

 

Errors & fixes:

The first error I came across was babl accessing a different process and can be fixed with a less “secure” kernel setting as shown below.

Change ptrace_scop by Editing  /etc/sysctl.d/10-ptrace.conf & the resultant value should be: kernel.yama.ptrace_scope = 0

Keel in mind that this will be applicable only after restart & we can change proc values as follows.

# echo 0 >  /proc/sys/kernel/yama/ptrace_scope

 

Second error:

Yet to find a solution for this.

babl-memory.c:114 babl_malloc()

(script-fu:1976): LibGimpBase-WARNING **: script-fu: gimp_wire_read(): error

 

 

I will be updating the document with more insights and automation. For now, the above steps should work and may be you want to look into some GIMP tutorials like: http://blog.patdavid.net/2013/03/the-open-source-portrait-postprocessing.html

 

Updated: 30-05-2013

the pivotal moment

This post could be an evolving one and may keep updated for sometime until I find it well refined. The post is the result of a chain of events happened over last 3 – 4 years where my focus was on people, people & people. I think I can say that I have transformed at a great pace, helped transforming many but for atleast last one month I was going in circles thinking about “why some people perform and others fail”. In other words some manage to transform and others get lost in a maze & the chances of someone getting lost is directly proportional how smart that person is ! Though somehow my idea was invest people, motivate, give room for mistakes / errors so that they learn from the same. But there was something wrong.

A very shocking event was, A young boy completed a simple task which another set of people I loved, supported, considered very smart and creative couldn’t do in more than six months in less than 2 hours. I had decided to give room errors to this particular group and did the same my organization as well. Instead of hiring from outside decided to “blaze” up folks from the team and create a scenario for growth. Personal, professional, organizational – carefully designed a scheme after working for months. Involved some external teams which I thought also could help and achieve organizational growth. The end result was, I found a pattern, inability to rise to the challenge.

 

Now this was a big learning for me, no I am not putting it as a failure but I had actually found a pattern, a common trait over a period in four years.

  • I believed in People, People and People – but failed to understand not everyone likes challenges. I purposefully acted as a facilator of challenges which others took as problems ! That too the ones without solutions.
  • People hated the need to change which came along with Challenges
  • Though everyone thinks, including me that they are capable of raise to the occasion  face challenges, when faced with a given challenge we all tend to fail. In short the challenges ended up as hurting egos than an opportunity to learn !
  • Why – My interactions with groups and with internal team was always about telling them about “why we do what we do ?” Passed on the message that, we are passionate about technology and should use our passion to create tools and solutions that can help stakeholders, clients, employees, users to enhance their lives. From my interaction with the external group also I learned they also do the same – they are passionate about something and they are on it. Two things went wrong here, internally the “why” was either misunderstood or never communicated beyond my immediate circle. With the external group I was talking to stakeholders who understood the “why” in their scenario but was working with those who never understood the “why”
  • I entrusted people with the duty of great things, after measuring them up & thinking that they will love it. I was also jealous that I was never given such opportunities while I was just obeying instructions – oh yea, it didn’t work too. Apparently, its difficult to understand and measure the opportunity at hand.
  • Ego – I am not sure whether it was my personal ego that I can do this or overconfidence and dependence in people or egoistic about the people around me. The ego part become much more destructive when I learned about Ricardo Semler & “Managing without Managers”. I became more confident about what I was doing, my ego told me that the folks around me can take up ownership. My ego told me that the groups I am involved are much more capable of Semco’s 10,000 odd people. The last nail in the coffin was the book “The Lean Startup”. I found some similarities, which made me tell this to a friend “We are doing something very unique here, partnered with few exciting people & though this is little bit crazy, I am quite sure that we will be studied in B-schools and management schools.”
  • I passed on ownership to people – my version was I was empowering them ! Now I realize that along with it I ended up spending too much time teaching people many things from scratch and spending more time with someone who was performing well. It seems those who were stuck, lost & became more frustrated, but I believed in the ultimate power of human mind which can fight any challenge. As for the external group, the PoC couldn’t even respond to emails & it was a completely lost game.
  • Over estimated myself – my ability to multi-task, ability to motivate, ability to pass on the answer to “why” to everyone ! This also resulted me liking people for what they are not, what they are not doing because my theory was all that needs is motivation and hard work. Kept on investing on this wrong assumption.
  • I ended up doing the same things again and again, ended teaching people the same things which was very unproductive. Instead of evolving or transforming, I was going in circles. I was simply frustrated.

 

What is next ?

Take a pivot, a deviation from what is being followed now & address each one of the above. This was where I was spending time for quite sometime. I met a friend & mentor this week. We talked for some 7 hours, I even argued.

Now I am at peace. Because I think I have it figured out. I am also proud, very proud that I have many transformed, some special cases whom I choose just by looking into their eyes and seeing the sparkle or the eagerness to finish a task though not matching any criteria – has came back to me about talking things I had no clue whatsover :-) But more than that it burned when seeing yet another group failing just to transform.

This is what I think what’s to be done right now. Just like facing the fireballs in the video below & I am not alone or shattered.

Answer the why

This is the most important aspect. Need to focus on making everyone around it understand this. May be there is a need to re-connect with many but its essential. Every stakeholder should be clear about why we are here & everything that we do are just means to achieve it.

Don’t train people from start !

Experience matters. period. We need experienced hands who are trained and who can answer why.

Don’t be too personal.

This comes as a trait when someone is too passionate something. Professional aspects are overrun Personal aspects. There has to be a clear balance between personal, professional growth finally contributing to the organizational growth.

 

People are different !

Very. Not everyone likes challenges or don’t even understand what they are. Sad but one can achieve anything if they wish for it is not true for everyone.

 

Now, I think this makes me at peace, helps me with a turmoil to certain level. And yes, very happy about learning something very useful.

 

Note: incomplete musings, there will be more upcoming versions. This may help people who are lost in their careers to look into themselves and fix them up & organizations which are growing organically.

Rating of Engineering Colleges in Kerala 2009

Posting a link to the rating of engineering colleges which Regional Engineering College Calicut Alumni Association Cochin Chapter (NITC) did in 2009. This was a 6+ month project undertaken by some of the most eminent engineers in the country or perhaps in the whole world. Sharing for public access. Further details can be found in the survey result pages.

Rating of Engineering Colleges in Kerala

living the dreams