Random


I had a small chat last night with an EE student here at IIT, who has a business idea that a bit of financing and refinement can help him launch off ground. And in there my young friend commented, “We’re IITians and we get paid well. So its easier for us to do a startup.”

While I admire his conviction in his idea, his comment sets me thinking. “We’re IITians and we get paid well. So its easier for us to do a startup.” Really?

I agree that while there may be some truth in the campus salary of IITians vis-a-vis other engineering colleges, I beg to differ on the inference derived. Higher salary => higher reserves => Easy to Quit and startup.

No.

Human mind works in queer ways! Its less maths, its more psychology. And I have experienced it first hand.

The more paid you are, the more difficult is it to let go. I had frequent discussions about it with one of my colleagues Anshul in Bangalore; we had both landed the highest paying Indian job at our respective campuses ๐Ÿ™‚ And both of us had a strong urge to do “something”. Work at DrKW was immensly satisfying, and I believe I was lucky to be writing software for Risk and Credit Derivatives and the likes in my very first year – indeed, very few people were exposed to this kind of work way back in 2001. The guys we worked with were all brilliant, but we still missed the thrill that you only get out of “creating something”. We both wanted to “build a business”.

And we both found the salary an inhibitor, not a facilitator!

While a top-of-the-line salary ensures that we build up a comfortable reserves early off in the career, which should ideally allow us to quit and work out a dream – it often works the other way. I call it the Golden Cage. The more you get, the more difficult it becomes to let go and the more the notional loss it seems. And a more stronger leap of faith it requires. And it goes on increasing. You are smart, so you work smart and you get paid more, and you end up deeper in the Golden Cage.

Infact I have seen more people who have worked at startups, do a startup themself, rather than the masses at bigger companies. Work at startup is like living at the fronts. You are standing in the line of fire and exposing yourself to a wider range of responsibilites, technologies and business functions. From financing, sales and marketing, strategy to product conceptualisation and execution. A bigger company cannot give you the same amount of learning, because its a huge machine – the nuts and the bolts, the gear and the pulley needs to work well in their closed domains to keep the machine working.

So to all those in the Golden Cage who think they will be free ‘later’ – my humble advice to them – a later never comes. You end up deeper in the Golden Cage. Have an urge? Have an idea and does it makes business sense? Then damn the salary and take the plunge.

When I quit Bank of America, my colleague did an MBA from ISB (probably hoping that an MBA will help in startup) but the more smart you are, the deeper you end up in the Golden Cage – he is working at a leading Investment Bank in New York! Few nights back he mailed me;

“Work is great, money is wow, but yaar, the entrepreneurial itch pings a lot at times.”

Deeper in the Golden Cage.

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The Forbes list for 2007 said India ended Japan’s 20 year reign as home to Asia’s highest number of billionaires.

After a 20-year reign, Japan is no longer Asia’s top spot for billionaires: India has 36, worth a total of $191 billion, followed by Japan with 24, worth a combined $64 billion.

India’s rich are also marching toward the top of our rankings. Brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani, who split up their familyโ€™s conglomerate in 2005, join Lakshmi Mittal, who heads the world’s biggest steel company, Arcelor Mittal, among the worldโ€™s 20 wealthiest. India now has three in the upper echelons, second only to the U.S.

Wow! I just love the sound of it ๐Ÿ˜›

But as a country, we have lots to do. Education, Cleanliness, Standard of Living, Infrastructure and Corruption, Corruption, Corruption. So pat your back for that, and get back to work. Lots to do, as I said.

Also, someone tell this Govt. to tackle this.

Of course, a brand is made of the company, its product and services, the advertisements and the promos. But all that happens after you have already decided a name. The question is how to come up with a good name in the first place?

First your have a business in mind, then you choose a name for it. What type of name do you choose?

Depending on the market you are in, the significance of a name varies. In niche and b2b markets, names don’t matter as much as they do in consumer markets. Consumer markets are made of masses. A name which makes sense to space organisations won’t have the same appeal with general public. That is why a satellite launching company can be named Antrix, but ask the average person on the road, he is more likely to say its the name of some medicinal capsule. Consumer brands have to appeal to a much wider audience.

So what makes a good candidate for a public brand? I think the name should be –
1. Easy to pronounceMonosyllables are best, two is ok, and three just about qualifies. Not more than that. Sony is the best on this one – monosyllable and ends in ‘y’. BlackBerry – 2 syllables, plus ends in ‘y’.

2. Easy to read and hard to mispell.
You don’t want people confused when their browser shows them Tricon.com (when they really meant Trikon.com). You don’t want them waiting on the keyboard and recalling wether to type Jhoomla or Joomla or Zoomla or Jomlaa.

3. Signify something about the line of business.
Not really necessary, but such names are better candidates. Think Microsoft in its early days.

Of course there are exceptions to these ‘rules’. Sony is monosyllable, but Microsoft has three and the world’s biggest brand Coca-Cola has four. Apple is easy to pronounce but its name (apple is a fruit) has got nothing to do with its business. Yahoo confuses you about the number of ‘o’s you need to put. It could be Yaho, Yaaho or Yaahoo.

Exception, right. But you want to place your best bet.

Now what makes a good brand name in mobile space? I really like Orange and AirTel. And I was looking for a similar name.

After some juggling I came up with FireFly. It instantly struck a chord with me.
FireFly – Its energetic, its catchy and is 2 syllables. Plus it ends in ‘y’ ๐Ÿ™‚ Just like Sony, BlackBerry.
FireFly – Its clear sounding. Tell your dad over a long distance phone, or shout to your coworker across a noisy room – it will reach the recipent without any signal distortion. He will hear it right.

FireFly – is just plain simple FireFly. When you type in your browser, you simply type F-i-r-e-F-l-y. You have to be very bad at English to be able to mispell that.
FireFly – Fly, roam freely across the sky, freedom and mobility.

So there was this name, with everything I needed – a catchy sound, easy to remember, hard to mispell and signifying something about the line of business. I was so excited at having found such a perfect name, that I instantly called up Alok. And he instantly told me that the domain FireFly.com is taken, the brand FireFly is trademarked and worse its a mobile company! In short, I was so bang on target that it didn’t help. The bomb I had choosen was someone else’s.

Came up with BlueBird. Instantly liked it. Same thing, easy to pronouce, easy to remember, hard to mispell, catchy and all.. but guess what, BlueBird was taken.

Since the day this exercise has started, I have pushed myself into coining numerous words – good and bad.

Mobilocity (Liked this one very much, but not as short and easy as FireFly. FortuneCity, Tripod etc in early days.)
GoMobile
MobiMax
MobiNation
MobiSoft

and so on… (No no, its a long long long… long list. Cant put it all here.)
But unfortunately they are all taken. As time passes by, it is becoming more difficult for me to come up with a name. Human mind has an uncanny habit of sticking to its past, so I am generating names closer to what I have already thought – none new or radically different.

Its not difficult to coin a potentially good consumer brand name. But the really remote possibility of getting the matching domain name, thanks to domain kiting, makes turn it all upside down . I think ICANN must do something about it really fast.

Now you know what keeps me awake at nights. I am still looking. If you have any suggestions for a whacky cracky name, do drop me a line. Even if you don’t have a name, do come up with one – I need it.
What’s in a name, That which we call a rose by any name would smell as sweet. When Shakespeare’s wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’, domain names were a long time in future.

Alok has an interesting question. An ‘average’ person is more likely to perform better in a small team.

He nails it right with this observation – ‘a person’s work is easily noticeable in small teams’. Small fact, bigger ramifications. And worth sparing a thought.

I think the surprising thing about humans is that when time comes, most of us who are otherwise average can rise to be a ‘hero’. Think school days, college days, office days. Its likely that the time when you rose to the occasion and performed beyond your normal capabilities was a time when you believed in the greater cause and your work would have made a critical difference to that goal.

This ‘criticality of ones contribution’ is more evident in smaller teams. Throw two people down a well and each will do his best to climb out. There is no other way. They cannot look to others or blame others for not finding a way out simply because there are no ‘others’ – its only two of them. And each person’s work contributes in a significant way.
But throw fifty people and each of them will wait for someone else to come up with a solution.

Try the reverse. Throw 50 people down a well. Now the more resourceful among them will try to find a way out. The lesser ones would talk among themself and throw up an idea at random to these resourceful ‘leaders’. And there will be a few lazy ducks who will find their best use of time in cracking jokes and talking about the latest Bollywood scandal while the ‘leaders’ come up with a solution. Take 2 of these lazy ducks and throw them in another well. What do you think will happen? Jokes and scandals? Or, ‘Man, we need to find a way out’.

Maybe as Tom Peters says, it arises from man’s duality to be a part of something bigger and to stand out at the same time‘. A smaller team allows this psychological contradiction in human beings to be satisfied better, hence the avg person puts in better efforts. And hence (statistically) the performance of an ‘average’ person is better in smaller teams.

Please note – we are not talking about results. Maybe eventually ‘the fifty ppl’ will climb out and ‘the two ppl’ won’t – but we are really talking about motivation for putting in your efforts, not the actual outcome. Two people thrown in a well will put in all their worth to climb out. And the fastest rower in a 100 man boat race will think, ‘What difference can I make alone when there are 99 others to slow me down!’

How often have you come across star performers suffocated and feeling frustated in a bigger team, and how often have you seen average people performing better when put in smaller teams. Any thoughts?

I can either be transparent or happy.

What happens when trust is broken?
A heart is shattered.
Someone dies.
Another person is born.

I can either be consistent, or human.

One of my closest buddies and partner from IITK, Ajit got married yesterday. Apart from being excited about it for the obvious reasons, I was also looking forward to it coz I had a chance to meet with few people whom I haven't met for quite a long time. Some snippets –

  • Met Atul after a gap of 5 years. Spent the night talking about his business. With 550 students Momentum is the No.2 institute in Jabalpur in just 3 years of existence. We talked about the growth and the issues he is facing – personally as well as professionaly. (Btw, if you know someone who is good at teaching Chemistry for IIT-JEE and is looking for work then let me know. From what I gather, Momentum has a vacancy and pays quite handsomely)
  • Met Abhijeet Bhandari. He has joined Techspan, the company I was in a few years back. We talked about his career plans about the work at Techspan, and the changes between the time I left and now.
  • Met Niraj Nandan – he shared some of his 'wants' in life. My advice, give some time to yourself and figure out what makes you happy. You'll do well in that. Also know that there are more than one things that will make you happy.
  • Met Mayur. An easy-go-happy person. I hardly had five minutes to get him talking about his plans. He likes the concept of Tendulkar's and the way they have named the tables (after famous cricket venues – The Oval, The Eden Gardens and so on). I shared my idea of a "War Theme" with him. I want to see how exciting it will be to eat sitting inside a bunker, night time battle scene, dim lights, with tanks rolling and grenades exploding around you, and enemies crawling behind thick bushes. I am very much for a theme restaurant, I have some ideas in mind ("War" being one of them). And I am willing to discuss it with anyone who is putting up a theme restaurant. When Mayur has his food business up and running, I am surely going to give it a shot. Esp if he has a War Theme in it ๐Ÿ™‚

And now some memories from the marriage.

  • It was the first day-time marriage I attended. And even though the barat was out in the sun at 1pm I liked it more than I had eariler thought I would. It was the first time I saw Lalitpur and met all of Ajits family (brothers & sis & jiju). The marriage was warm, the closeness – very visible.
  • I 'met' Romi. Why 'met' (quotes) and not just met? Actually its a bit strange. One year back we had chanced at a mall in Gurgaon, where we had both bought books at Galgotia's, didn't talk anything except the customary 'Hi' and that was it. Really that was it. Back then I had left the mall with a feeling that I will want to talk to her some times in future. Many months later I spotted her on Orkut, dropped in a line and things took off nicely. Now about fifteen months later from our technically first meeting, we met at Ajit's Marriage. The first words she said, 'Hi. We met again,.. finally!' Yes, we did. And I liked the way she put it – with all smiles. Picture perfect, kodak moment.
  • Atul tells me – 'Ajit means one who cannot be won. Vijeta means someone who won.' Ajit – jisko jeeta nahi ja sakta hain. Vijeta – jiseny usey bhi jeet liya. I liked the idea. Later I learned it was obvious for many people there. How come it didn't strike me? Dumb me.
  • Saw a cute little girl. Wanted to talk to her. So I just make a wild guess, 'Bete, tumhaarey chachu ki shaadi hain?' She says in a defiant tone typical of a small child, 'Nai. Chachi ki shaadi hain'. DING!
  • 'Okay, I'm wrong. She is from the ladki waala side', I thought. And carried on with the gang. But something was amiss. Chaachu is a blood relation. Chaachi is by nature a matrimonial relation. Then how can anyone's chaachi get married? A chaachi is only when you are already married. Half an hour later, when 'saat fere' was over, it struck me, if Ajit is her Chachu, then Vijeta is her Chachi.
  • Ajit and Vijeta on stage after jaymaal. Photographer to Vijeta – 'Thoda smile kijiye please'. She smiles a bit, still maintaining that poised demeanour of a 'dulhan'. Someone says something, and she slips into a wide smile, then a hearty laugh, then hides her face in her hands, and then back to normal smiling again. I liked the drama.
  • We on the stage with Ajit & Vijeta. Atul hands over his handycam to the guy who is doing the video recordings for the marriage, and asks him to take a 20-sec shot for us, before he takes the 'official' version. A minute later we all descend after wishing the couple, and see the recording on Atul's cam. Its a simple recording, starts with all eight of us on the dais. Zoom in. Atul, Mayur and myself fall out of frame. Zoom more, Abhijeet and Neeraj are out. Keep zooming, and move the focus next to Vijeta. Ajit & Vijeta also knocked out of frame! But the photographer doesn't seem to be worrying about that. He focusses on the prettiest face in the party – Romi! Haha, 'Nice photographer, perfect focus', we chuckle. 'O that means, I haven't lost my charms', she entertains. Too good!
  • After the 'saat feres' Ajit puts sindoor on Vijeta. The moment he applies the first bit, tears well in her eyes. Ajit takes some more sindoor and applies the second bit. Tears roll down her face. Why? I wondered. I still don't know, but I was moved by the moment.

The Delhi gang left at 9pm. One day in life..  one final goodbye, and some memories for a lifetime.

Few minutes later my train arrives. As I lie down on my berth, and stretch myself out, Romi's introduction appears in my mind. 'I am I, and there is no other I'.

So true. Closed my eyes, and tuned into Echoes.

'Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me…'

Merit is the latest taboo. And a forgotten word in Indian politics. Caste is more important. The promise of 49.5% reservation by Mr Arjun Singh was a dangerous political stunt timed just ahead of elections in five states. And to top it, what could be more pitiable state for the country other than that the Govt instead of looking into rationally, has conceeded to it hurriedly just to diffuse the agitation.

The latest statement from PM, stating that the 'Issue is settled' reminds me of the medivial age kingdoms. No debate, no data, no thinking. You wake up one morning, the King says, "Whoosh! The decision is final."

Reservation. Something that started with a good intention behind it, but used as a political tool to garner votes. VP Singh changed it all in 1989. Till 1989 reservation was the solution to a social problem, after that it has itself become a social problem.

I find the present system of reservation to be severely flawed. One, it is caste based rather than need based. And two, it is a reservation of results rather than facilitation of efforts.

Its common logic, but I wonder wether Mr Singh knows it; you don't launch a substandard missile and then hope it to succeed. You try to first _make_ the best missile you can, and then launch it. Children are born more or less equal even though the families they are born into might be very unequal. And the time to help is right then. Ensure nutrition and education in their formative years. Help them develop their skills right from the initial stages of their education. And when they are ready, let their individual efforts bring the results. Substituting substandard candidates at the final stages of career just on the basis of caste is a cruel injustice to the more deserving candidates who have toiled all their life. Providing free books to study is one thing, providing free marks at the final exams is quite another. (I don't think the "lower cut-off percentage" is anything other than disguised form of free marks). Worst, caste based reservation is detrimental to India's talent pool and more importantly social harmony.

10 years. Then 20 years. 30, 40 and now 50 years have gone by. We're closing in 60. How many more to go before we stop penalising the deserving candidates for Govt's failure to provide education to the deprived classes at primary and secondary level? How many more years to go before we stop dividing the country on basis of caste? How many more years before we realise that reservation is NOT the goal. The goal is the entire process itself; a system where facilities are available right from start. A system where people are helped not on the basis of caste or religion, but on the basis of needs. A child born in a family that cannot afford food and education has every right to be helped. And he must be helped irrespective of his caste or religion. Let the government be his family and provide him food and education. But the end result still HAS to come from him.

Fifty years of cosmetics. Fifty years of social injustice in a free country. I think Arjun Singh needs to refresh his political history. Nehru was opposed to reservation and Rajiv vehemently opposed it during Mandal, saying it was a threat to national unity and integrity. Heck! Arjun himself opposed reservation during Mandal era. How much more selfish can one get?

Already people have started to think in terms of 'us' and 'them'. Today its caste based, tomorrow it will be religion based. Congress is pushing strongly for that.

Mr Singh, I have a question for you. Where will this political madness end? Are you so blinded by the lure of votes that you can't see the grave dangers lying down this path? Can't you see that you are taking India into an era of Apartheid? Only in our case, the parameters are different. Its not Black or White; its religion and caste.

When will it dawn upon your infinite intelligence that you are eating right through the social fabric of my country?

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