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Thursday, 14 April 2016

How to change the world from a chai shop

“Because of the opportunities created by exponentially growing communication technologies, many of the best and brightest have been lured in by an app-tilted playing field, which has both entrepreneurs and venture capitalists believing that three years to profitability and exit should be the norm. Of course if your true passion is building apps, then build away. But let’s be clear: when Steve Jobs said that the goal of every entrepreneur is to ‘put a dent in the universe’, he wasn’t talking about next Angry Birds!” – Peter H. Diamandis, Bold.


An average Indian finds it a great achievement if he snags a seat on a passenger train or bus, which typically run full. And rightly so; it is usually a fierce battle and takes a lot of luck to find a seat. One has to strategise quite a bit to get them.

The above metaphor fits to the world of startups. Prospective entrepreneurs search for opportunities like people search for the right trains and buses. These trains and buses come unreserved, so it is vital for them to fight. If they have access to resources and funds they get promoted to a less crowded though still unreserved wagons. Those who can manage to find a seat, win. Those who can’t, lose. Game over.

Here’s where the metaphor ends. Train and bus journeys are supposed to be commutes between two points. Unlike companies; while stated objective of a given company might be to sell as many flavored and colored sugary water bottles as possible, they do leave a lot of social, economic, and ecological footprints. Entrepreneurs will not mind if the companies they start end up making the world a better place, but this is not their primary concern either. At least not for the so-called ‘for-profits’.

Utilitarianism 101

“The danger in trying to do good is that the mind comes to confuse the intent of goodness with the act of doing things well.”- Ursula K. Le Guin, Tales from Earthsea

Does consequence matter more than just intent? Is trying to eliminate world hunger, fight poverty, increase production and eliminate waste, cure diseases, and improve the conditions of a particular region or section of the society all such worthy pursuits? Is it possible to have some idea of the effects that the actions of people or entities exert upon one another? Does long term or indirect or inconspicuous aspects of actions also matter?

If you answer affirmatively to most of these questions, you are a fellow utilitarian. That is, someone who respects the idea that we must strive to do maximum good for maximum beings. We often get swayed by the problems we see around us, and rightly so. Some of us would try to solve these problems, but would bother less about the problems we don’t see right in front of us, or the ones which are highly imperceptible, or in the far future. But we live in an extensively intertwined world. The effect of what we do resonates at far-off places and far-off times, and what happens there affects us. When we decide to do something, we decide not to do almost everything else. Opportunity cost of doing something is the value of its best alternative forgone, and this best alternative might be something you didn’t know, or you didn’t know that you didn’t know. The most important decision you will ever make is where to invest your time and energy and money.

On a less bombastic note, we don’t even have a rich enough vocabulary to address the social, ecological, economic impacts of companies. How much good does McDonald’s do? Yes it gives you the pleasure of arguably tasty food and saves time, which may improve the quality of life and productivity of people, it employs a lot of workers and supports them. But does it not create a culture of consumerism, and health concerns, and a lot of waste? How do we weigh the pros and cons? We, at best, have kneejerk answers.
Valuation vs. value

Valuation, in business jargon, is the expected worth of a company, which is a combination of its current as well as prospective assets. In other words, the valuation of a company is how much money a company has in its own kitty and that of others it has a firm grasp on. Adjusting for the future value of time, of course.

However, this is not synonymous with the value that the company will generate. Similar to the McDonald’s example, the value of an e-commerce company like Flipkart is a function of time and money it saves for people, the choices it provides, the employment it generates, the impact on allied economies, numbers of storerooms and air conditioners saved, the enhancement in productivity, the number of dependent business it would spin. On the other hand, it would introduce a culture of consumerism and waste. The overall assessment is very complex, but it is way too easy to shrug it off as merely a subjective and personal choice. More on the issues with personal choice in a previous article we had written.

The accepted dichotomy these days is that there are either companies who sell products and services, and are typically for profit. Or if you are concerned about a social or environmental problem, you are quickly termed as a social entrepreneur, and you better not aim for any profits. So, either make money or make good. (Yes, there is corporate social responsibility, and ‘for-profit’ social enterprises, but these are very few). The irony in this demarcation has always been apparent, but now we have tools to actually unlearn it. ‘The best way to become a billionaire is to solve a billion persons’ problem’. Y combinator has prescribed a list of fundable startup ideas that matter.
The real meaning of value
What is the status of arts, and cinema, and video games, and pure maths, and Mars mission in this utilitarian picture? What value, for example, video games create (apart from the arguably debauched personal pleasure)? The answer is that the apparent personal pleasure is also a type of value, however degraded, and as soon we lift the canvas, various additional hidden values comes to surface. Video games industry has given rise to fantastic visual tools, simulations, technological breakthroughs, and these are now being used from training to remote surgery to teaching maths. The value of arts and cinema may not be immediate, but they give a sense of meaning and higher pleasure to the audience.

So, any calculus which measures the value of an enterprise must take into account the less tangible elements of beauty, depth, and effects on the far future. It must capture what John Keating said in the Dead Poets Society, “..medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”.

References –
Cover pic: Luke Muehlhauser
Other pic: Funders and Founders
Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, 2015, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, Simon & Schuster
William MacAskill, 2015, Doing Good Better, Gotham

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Dr Saundarya Rajesh is helping 1000s of women restart their career

Dr Saundarya Rajesh has been championing the cause of career opportunities for women who have taken breaks after marriage, motherhood, or relocation for over a decade. She was chosen as one of the 100 Women Achievers of 2016 and was felicitated by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee and Maneka Gandhi, the Minister of state for Women and Child Development, in January this year.

Founder of AVTAR career creators and the AVTAR I-WIN network (for women returning to work after a break), 47-year-old Saundarya has won several commendations and awards in her career spanning two decades, but there is a special place in her heart for a simple card. She says, “In 2008, I received a card that was made by an 11-year-old boy. He thanked me for finding his mother a job after an eight-year break. That is the best award I will ever get!”

The statistics

Though participation of women in different sectors of the organised workforce has undergone phenomenal changes over the last 30 years, in terms of sheer numbers there has been a decline in women’s workforce participation; during the time window from 1990 to 2010, the decline is at almost eight per cent. The fact that gender equality plays an important role in economic development has long been proven by social researchers. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report shows a positive correlation between higher female labour force participation and per capita GDP.

So what does it mean for India? Over the next 40 years, India is projected to add 424 million working-age adults. According to a 2015 study commissioned by McKinsey Global Institute,if India can increase women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points (68 million more women) by 2025, India could increase its GDP by 16 per cent. That means an estimated Rs 46 lakh crore ($700 billion) addition to India’s GDP. Also when women are given a Hobson’s choice of either family or career, the nation stands to lose the investment made in women’s education.


Saundarya set up recruitment consulting firm AVTAR career creators in 2000. When Saundarya started the online platform called AVTAR I-WIN in 2005, it was the first time a system was set up exclusively to help women re-enter the workplace. They organise counselling sessions, career-entry programmes, skill-building and networking sessions, second career as well as early career recruitment. With an employee strength of 75, AVTAR I-WIN has helped 8,000 women get back to work after a career break.

Overcoming obstacles

When Saundarya began evangelising the concept of second careers for women in 2005, she had to face management of companies as well as recruitment agencies who would reject point blank the resumes of women who had taken a break. “There was a mental block and they would ask me why I could not send them serious resumes,” she says.

Saundarya decided that the problem had to be approached differently. She started convincing organisations that women who had taken breaks were a viable group for employment. Soon corporates that were hungry for good talent, decided to try out Saundarya’s suggestion – engaging “returning” women professionals. The very first recorded instance of a ‘second career’ programme in Indian industry took place in July 2006 under the stewardship of Saundarya. Around 400 women re-entered the workplace for the first time.

Saundarya began counselling organisations to develop a Gender Inclusion plan. Using research and analytics, she focussed on the monetary value that organisations would accrue if they invested in women’s careers.

The legacy

Today, Saundarya travels extensively speaking in various conferences and forums on the benefits and importance of engaging with women on career breaks. The AVTAR I-WIN network has grown to about 40,000 women professionals and is today a destination not only for women professionals, but also for organisations that want to leverage this gender inclusive talent strategy. Several organisations have started offering critical roles to women after a break. Organisations such as Hindustan Unilever, Axis Bank, Godrej, Goldman Sachs, Axis Bank, Fidelity, HCL, Godrej, Philips, and Microsoft have also started their exclusive second career programmes.

How women rock!

The very first project that AVTAR undertook, 15 years ago, was that of the privatisation of the Chennai Container Terminal. The expats in charge were not happy about the fact that they were giving them the profiles of women engineers, rather than men for the position of “Fork-Lift Operator”. Saundarya says that a woman engineer who attended the interview went on to perform it excellently, sitting 25 feet above the ground in a small cabin and operating the fork-lift with finesse, and thus landed the job!

Childhood amidst nature

Saundarya is nostalgic about her childhood in Puducherry, in a world without televisions and smartphones, spent reading her favourite books and cycling to her school that was nestled amidst mango orchards. She wanted to teach English when she grew up.

The Madras University Gold medallist in English Literature in 1988, she met her husband Rajesh who was her batch mate while pursuing MBA. A mother of two, she quit her job at Citibank after her first child was born. Her own experiences while trying to get back to work post motherhood led her to her calling.

The inspiration

Saundarya says, “In the 90s aspirations of women had to be restricted to either children or career, and managing both was tough.” She struggled to find a job that gave her flexibility since her children were young along with an opportunity to exercise her skills, and so turned to teaching. She taught as a guest lecturer at the MOP Vaishnav College for women, Chennai, and could understand first-hand the calibre of Indian women through her students.

Also when Saundarya visited the UK on a Chevening Scholarship in 2005, she interacted with several professionals (male and female) who took up only part-time or project-based assignments. She met an engineer, who lived in the country and tended a tulip garden and a web technologist, who was part of a Shakespearean theatre group. “This beautiful dichotomy truly inspired me. I thought what if we supported the need of Indian women to manage home and hearth, while at the same time not waste their talent and skills?” Today, Saundarya has the satisfaction of translating that thought into an organisation that helps thousands of women.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

रतलाम शहर में रहने वाले राम के बेटे दशरथ चाय वाले की कहानी

इस बार मध्यप्रदेश यात्रा के दौरान जयपुर से दोपहर दो बजे निकल कर रतलाम जाने के निश्चय किया तक़रीबन छह सौ किलोमीटर का सफर था साथी अमित जो सुबह नौ बजे से गाड़ी चला रहा था ने कहा चलिए सर देख लेंगे। जब पार्टनर ने कहा देख लेंगे तो मैंने भी कह दिया देख लेंगे। खैर गिरते पड़ते चित्तौड़गढ़ के सोमानी रेस्टोरेंट पर पंद्रह रूपये का पापड़  खाने का अनुभव लेते हुए सुबह आठ बजे रतलाम शहर जा पहुंचे और अमित ने एक होटल वाली गली में गाडी घुसा दी। उस समय में ऊंघ रहा था पर जैसे ही गाडी घूमी तो थोड़ी मेरी नींद खुल गयी और एक अजीब सा शोर मेरे कानों में सुनाई दिया।  मैंने उस एक नजर   घुमाई तो देखा पुलिस की पीसीआर खड़ी है , कुछ सीटियों की आवाजें सुनाई पड़ रही हैं। मैंने मन में सोचा "सुसरा लगै है रौला हो ग्या" और बिना कोई ध्यान दिए मैँ होटल की सीढ़ियां चढ़ने लगा। कमरा लेकर सो गया, शाम को छह बजे नहा कर घूमने के इरादे से नीचे उतरा तो देखा बाहर सुबह से भी ज्यादा भीड़ भड़क्का और रौला कटा हुआ था। पुलिस की पीसीआर भी वहां खड़ी हुई थी। मुझे लगा के भाई लगता है कोई कसूता ही प्रोग्राम सेट हो गया है । उत्सुक भाव से आगे बढ़ा तो शोर शराबे वाली जगह से कोई सौ मीटर दूर से ही लोगों की लाइन जैसी स्थिति दिखी और पास जा कर देखा दिमाग घूम गया। यह एक चाय की दुकान थी जिसके दोनों और सौ सौ मीटर के इलाके में लाइन लगी थी और लोग चाय लेकर वहीँ पर भजिये , पोहा , वडा पाँव , समोसे का आनंद ले रहे थे। तकरीबन दस के आसपास पर्सनल सिक्योरिटी गार्ड सादी वर्दी में ट्रैफिक और भीड़ को नियंत्रित करने में मदद कर रहे थे। दुकान का नाम था बजरंग टी स्टाल। वास्तु के नियमों की ऐसी तैसी करती दूकान के मालिक है दशरथ भाई सुपुत्र राम लाल जिनकी दूकान के लम्बाई सात मीटर , आगे की चौड़ाई तीन मीटर और पीछे की चौड़ाई मात्र एक मीटर थी। बीस लीटर के पतीले में चाय का एक बैच तैयार किया जाता है। प्रत्येक गर्म पतीले को उठने के लिए चारपाई का पावा बड़ी बेदर्दी से ठोका गया है । पतीले में ठुके हुए लकड़ी के पावे की  मदद से पतीला कारीगर के हाथ में आसानी से आ जाता है। चाय को छानने के चक्कर से बचने के लिए कपडे की एक पोटली में चाय की पत्ती बाँध कर पतीले में लटका दी जाती है। पांच रुपये की हाफ चाय जिसे कटिंग कहा जाता है और दस रुपये की फुल  चाय। बिना पैसे दिए पोहा लो चाय लो , एक लो या दस लो कोई पैसा नहीं मांगता। साइड में खड़े हो कर आराम से खाओ और चाय पियो। मन करे एक और ले लो। उसके बाद जा कर गल्ले पर खड़े दशरथ भाई या उनके बेटे को बताओ क्या क्या खाया पिया , वो पैसे बताएँगे और बस हो गया हिसाब।  तीस रुपये में आप लगभग हर एक आइटम टेस्ट कर सकते हैं। क्या पुलिस वाले , क्या दुकानदार और क्या स्टूडेंट सुबह साढ़े चार बजे से दिन भर  और रात ग्यारह बजे तक ऐसे ही मेला लगा रहता है। दशरथ भाई छटी कक्षा पास करके काम धंधे की तलाश ,में रतलाम आ गए। कई छोटे मोटे काम आजमाने के बाद तीस वर्ष पहले एक आड़ा टेढ़ा जमीन का टुकड़ा ले लिए और तीन की छत रख कर बजरंग बली जी के नाम से चाय बेचने लगे। तब से ले कर आज तक सिर्फ गुडरिक चायपत्ती ही प्रयोग करते हैं । चाय में पानी कभी नहीं मिलाया जाता सिर्फ दूध में पत्ती और ईलायची। सुनील और विकास इनके दो बेटे हैं जो बारी बारी से दूकान पर गल्ले की ड्यूटी देते हैं। चाय देने और गिलास उठाने के लिए 10 लड़कों की टीम है। कुल मिला कर एक छोटी से दूकान जिसमें बैठने की कोई जगह नहीं है और दूकान मालिक भी नौ घंटे खड़ा ही रहता है कम से कम बीस परिवारों का पेट भर रही है। दुकान में चारों और सात सी सी टीवी कैमरे लगाये गए हैं ताकि भीड़ का फायदा उठा कर कोई झोल झाल ना कर सके। प्रिय पाठकों दशरथ भाई का मोबाइल नंबर  9179787303 है । आप कभी भी रतलाम जाएँ तो दशरथ भाई की चाय जरूर पी कर आएं। उनकी दूकान रेलवे स्टेशन रतलाम  से मात्र दो सौ मीटर पर स्तिथ है।

                    बजरंग रेस्टोरेंट का दृश्य सामने से सुबह छेह बजे  

     सी सी टी वी डिस्प्ले 

दशरथ भाई की टीम    
दशरथ भाई का चित्र    

Friday, 8 April 2016

How 22-year-old Saman Pahwa achieved Rs 34 lakh revenue with his one-year-old startup

Age has become just a number in the startup world. And it is quite evident in the Forbes’ List of Achievers that comprises 45 Indian entrepreneurs under the age of 30. This is a story of 22-year-old Delhi-based Saman Pahwa, who despite the disapproval of his parents, chose to be an entrepreneur.

While still a student at Delhi’s Sri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce, Saman realised that the gift market is limited to Hallmark, Archie’s, and small gift shops with boring gifts.

His startup, Handmade Junction, founded in April 2015, allows users to order personalised, handmade and custom gifts online and have it delivered to their doorsteps.

Handmade Junction initially sold their products online through their Facebook page. Moreover, putting up stalls at across Delhi University was another option to expand their customer base. The positive reviews and reactions towards the products strengthened Saman’s determination to take Handmade Junction to the next level.

Saman Pahwa and Simran Jeet Singh
Saman quit his MNC job in Gurgaon to follow his passion for Handmade Junction. Because of the dearth of technology expertise, Saman decided to run the Handmade Junction Website on e-commerce platform Zepo. Zepo allows businesses to setup stores online and offers everything from integrated payment gateways to marketing support. FedEx has tied up to offer logistic support to all the online stores.

Saman’s brother Simran Jeet Singh (28) joined the business in April 2015 and they have invested Rs 1 lakh as seed capital. Simran, who also works in a FMCG company in Gurgaon, looks after the Digital Marketing, SEO, and New Product Ideas at Handmade Junction.
A journey towards the junction

The product range of Handmade Junction includes photo lamps, unique LED Collage (which contains more than 200 pictures), customised inside cover of dairy milk silk, temptation box with vodka and unique scroll card. The products are priced between Rs 300 and 3,900, and Handmade Junction gains a margin of 35–40 per cent.

Customers are asked to email customised messages and images once they place an order on the website. Moreover, the team also interacts with the customers to understand their requirements and designs. Once the product is prepared, a draft is shared with the customer and the products are only delivered after they receive a confirmation from the customer.

We have in-house carpenter who make wooden base for our lamps. We also import acrylic pipes from China and we have tied-up with a Canon franchisee store for printing,” says Saman.

The startup has tied up with seven to eight vendors based out of Delhi-NCR to procure the materials. And for Digital Printing and Laser Engraving, they have two more vendors.

Handmade Junction has a team of five people, including the Saman and Simran. Kritika Arora looks after the designing of the products, Ram Chander is for packaging, and Sunil Kumar takes care of the local delivery of the products.

The products of Handmade Junction are also sold via Giveter, GiftingNation, Giftsvilla,Craftsvilla and Shoppo App, which generates 3.6 per cent of the total number of sales.

Number of deliveries

Handmade Junction has delivered more than 4,000 orders in the last one and half year. The website currently sees 8,000 to 9,000 unique visitors per month. Handmade Junction is growing at a rate of 10 per cent month-on-month in terms of revenue. This fiscal year, it has achieved a revenue of Rs 34 lakhs annually. Apart from Delhi, the platform also witness customers from Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad.

A glimpse of the market

According to a report by Technopak, the gifting market in India is estimated to be $40 to 42 billion with a handful of players (which comprises corporate gifting and personal gifting) witnessing the annual growth in the range of 20–40 per cent., RednBrown, BuddyGifting, PictureBite, Indibni are few of them who are in the tug of war to stay ahead of the competition in the personalised gifting space.

Handmade Junction aims to reach one lakh visitors per month and expand their product range with microcontroller-based personalised gifts, unique gifts for kids and parents in a couple of years. Being a new baby in the personalised gifting space, the startup managed to stay profitable in terms of unit economics. The startup is in talks with some of the investors and is likely to be part of an Incubator programme. Handmade Junction app, which will be launched soon, will add credibility to the growth trajectory, where users can send requests by sharing images via Pinterest, Instagram, Etsy, and more.

Monday, 21 March 2016

उस्ताद बिस्मिल्लाह खान ।

1982 के दिन.... अमेरिका के एक बड़े शहर में आयोजित कार्यक्रम.... वहां के लोग उस्ताद से जिद्द कर देतें हैं कि "आप यहीं रह जायें तो बड़ा अच्छा हो..." उस्ताद इस बात को अनसुना कर शहनाई फूंकने में व्यस्त हो जातें हैं। फिर तो अमेरिका द्वारा विदेश में बसने बसाने के वो तमाम फाइव स्टार प्रलोभन दिये जाते हैं. वो तरह तरह के लग्जरी सपने दिखाये जातें हैं,जो आजकल के कलाकार दिन रात देखतें हैं। लेकिन ये क्या...उस्ताद ने बस इतना ही कहा "मेरी काशी मेरी,गंगा ला दो. वो बालाजी घाट की सीढीयाँ...वो मंगला-गौरी मन्दिर..वो बिश्वनाथ मन्दिर का नौबत खाना,जहाँ से बजाते बजाते आज तुम तक यहाँ पहुँचा हूँ। ला दो तो हम यहीं रह जायें।" अमेरिकन खामोश और अवाक रह गये..आगे कुछ कहने की हिम्मत न कर सके. फिर तो भारत रत्न से लेकर सारे विभूषण आधा दर्जन डाक्टरेट और न जाने कितने बड़े पुरस्कार और मानद उपाधियाँ पाने वाले कला के सच्चा साधक ने इस बात का कभी अफ़सोस न किया कि ."वो अमेरिका का वैभवशाली जीवन न जी सके" जीवन भर उन्हें इस बात का गर्व ही रहा.. इस नयी नज़ीर को पेश कर वो आजीवन,सादगी की प्रतिमूर्ति बने रहे..और बनारस के उस तंग मोहल्ले के छोटे से कमरे में जीवन गुजार दिया जिसे हड़हासराय कहतें हैं। कहतें हैं उस्ताद जीवन के आखिरी दिनों में हेरिटेज हॉस्पिटल में भर्ती थे...लता जी,उषा जी,दिलीप साब,अमिताभ बच्चन, सबने मिलकर सन्देश भिजवाया कि "आप खाना और जूस समय से लिया करें..." जब शिवनाथ झा ने ये सन्देश उस्ताद को सुनाया. तो उन्होंने कहा.."जब पूरा देश दुआ में खड़ा है तो मैं जरूर ठीक हो जाऊँगा...सुनों तुम इंडिया गेट वाले कार्यक्रम की तैयारी करो मैं एक नये राग की तैयारी कर रहा हूँ. जिस राग से भारत माँ के लिये लिये मर मिट जाने वाले सैनिकों,योद्धाओं, को बधाई दे सकूँ..उनके बलिदान को अपनी शहनाई से सलाम कर सकूँ।" लेकिन अफ़सोस..ऊपर वाले को ये मंजूर नहीं था..वो कुछ ही दिन बाद हम सबके बीच से चले गये.. और उनकी ये अंतिम तमन्ना कभी न पूरी हो सकी...वो राग कभी न बज सका। आज तो हालात खराब हैं...कलाबाजी के दौर में अपने मूल्यों और आदर्शों पर जीने वाले कलाकार बहुत कम हैं। इस विकृत समय में..ये अथाह प्रेम अपने देश के प्रति,शहर के प्रति, अपनी माटी और कला के प्रति बनारस से अब जाने को है।  या यूँ कह सकतें हैं कि उस्ताद के साथ ही विदा हो गया। आज लोगों को पता नहीं कि बिस्मिलाह खान होना एक निर्दोष और निश्छल आदमी होना है.जिसे न मंदिर से मतलब है न मस्जिद से.न हिन्दू से न मुसलमान से ।क्योंकि सुर की न जाती हैं न धरम है.. एक फक्कड़ होना है,जिसे न सम्पदा से मतलब है न वैभव से, एक सादगी की प्रतिमूर्ति होना है, जिसमें सहजता ही सहजता है। अपने सांगीतिक क्रिया कलापों में तहजीब को तरजीह देना है।  एक हीरो होना है, जिससे आने वाली नस्लें सिख सकें। इधर जब कुछ लोग देशभक्ति और देशद्रोह की नयी-नयी परिभाषा बनाने पर तुले हैं... कुछ लोगों को दशरथ मांझी के बजाय रोहित वेमुला में हीरो नज़र आता है. अब्दुल हमीद,अब्दुल कलाम,बिस्मिलाह खान के बजाय..अफ़जल,याकूब और उमर खालिद,हीरों लगतें हैं. तब हमारी जिम्मेदारी और बढ़ जाती है कि हम हीरो की असली परिभाषा से सबको अवगत करायें... हम देश हित में अपने घर परिवार बच्चे आने वाली पीढ़ी को बतायें कि हमारे असली हीरो कौन हैं।

उस्ताद के जन्मदिन पर नमन।

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Why BYOD for startups is a good idea

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is becoming an increasingly acceptable concept in the startup space. Here are my views on the benefits of BYOD and a bit on how to handle it in your startup.
Reducing depreciating fixed assets in your startup!

The most pressing issue in any startup is the fund. The concept of BYOD has gained a lot of traction. It decreases cost and increases productivity.

Laptops and mobile devices are fixed assets and they depreciate over time. With BYOD, you’ll have a stronger balance sheet with one less depreciation expense to hog up your profit and loss (P&L).

Feeling a little relieved? Yeah, I too was.

I had no idea about P&L, balance sheet, depreciation and fixed assets until recently. Nevertheless, it would always be better to have an idea about what they are.
Build an awesome customer support culture

If you can call/email an inbound lead within 60 to 120 seconds, you will have a better chance of converting them as a customer. In a startup scene it is fortunate, right? I believe that once you have a great product and a support culture, the rest will follow. BYOD and mobility allows you to respond to customer queries in no time.

Result, you will ultimately win the heart of the customer and gain more customers.

Work from anywhere

BYOD allows you to work from anywhere – your home, or on your commute, or while on your vacation.
Improve productivity – Reducing the learning curve and time to settle down:

It is not that easy to switch machines, you might have different keyboard layouts, different operating systems, and you might not have files you were working on. If you face this frustration every single day, will you be happy?.

I will be more comfortable if I can complete personal and official things from the same system or phone. I guess it is the same for everyone. With BYOD, employees do not have to switch between their personal and company devices. They gain more flexibility and will have better work-life continuity.

The result, they are happy and productive. As founders, we are happy too.
You can concentrate on your work rather on IT tickets

Employees will be more careful while using their own devices. They will also fix any issues related to it themselves. Thus, this will help reduce the stress level and request/tickets related to user devices.
Security risk and team culture:

Deploy countermeasures to promptly identify and mitigate security risks. Educate your team about the security aspects and trust them, they are part of your startup family. From an employee perspective, it is an immense pleasure to feel you are an integral part of the team and that you have earned their trust. Every single team member should have this feeling, it will improve the entire culture and atmosphere.

The result, highly motivated and productive employees, which reflects on the overall growth of your organisation.

Note: when you hire, give utmost priority for the culture and attitude. Hire him/her only if you get that family feel.

Using EMM/MDM tools to manage BYOD:

Deploying a tool requires your time and money. Thus, spend your time and money wisely. There are free tools too, but sometime it might be costlier in terms of time and effort. There is no free lunch, it would be better to think about the total cost of ownership when you choose any tool.

Think about an EMM/MDM tool when you are at that stage, where you can’t survive without one. Spend your time wisely and choose the one which is affordable and saves your time (time is precious) and effort in managing the devices.

Best of Luck, go and make your dream come true.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Bhasha festival uncovers 13 startups working to ensure local languages thrive in digital ecosystem

The highlight of the first-ever Bhasha festival that united entrepreneurs, experts and policy makers to stand up for our local languages was the showcase of 13 startups working to ensure that local languages thrive in the digital ecosystem.

 Founder CEO Shradha Sharma with the startups at the Bhasha Startup Showcase
Supported by the Ministry of Culture, along with language partner Reverie Language Technologies, the first-ever Indian Languages Digital Festival, Bhasha, organised by YourStory on March 11 in New Delhi opened opportunities for more such startups working in the language space.

The 13 startups include: BiliTutor, eReleGo, IndusOS, IndianTTS, Lipikar, Linguavista, Megdap Innovation Labs Pvt Ltd., Matrubharti, Planet GOGO, Pratilipi, Shabdanagri, Shradhanjali, and Tide Learning.

Here’s a brief about what they do:

BiliTutor: This startup combines the power of Kindle with Duolingo, that is, an e-book reader that gives the language learner an engaging and entertaining experience. The founder Amarsh Anand has had a successful pilot in China recently.

eRelego: eRelego Digi Media is a market place (e-commerce platform) for publishers, including those in local languages to sell the publications to online users across the globe. eReleGo publishes books, magazines, newspapers online for a new generation of readers who prefer digital over print publications.

Indus OS: This startup is addressing Digital India’s biggest challenge — to develop technology to cater to the diversity of the economic, social and regional diaspora. They use the smartphone as the medium to connect the digital world with the masses. Indus OS’s technology team has developed the world’s first Regional Mobile Operating System made especially for the regional language user. It also recently signed a first-of-its-kind MoU with the Government of India’s Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY) to develop a native operating system with integrated text-to-speech technology in regional languages. The company recently raised $ 5 million Series A funding led by Omidyar Network and is also funded by angel investors such as Snapdeal Co-founders Rohit Bansal and Kunal Bahl, Quikr Founder Pranay Chulet and InMobi Co-founders Naveen Tewari and Amit Gupta, Hari Padmanabhan and Mayank Singhal from Temasek.

Indian TTS: This is a text-to-speech system for local Indian languages with a strong significance on rhythm and prosody of speech that is closer to the natural enunciation. IndianTTS languages provides Indian accent voice. They build Hindi TTS API to use with IVR software for any kind of machines and any kind of mobiles. Earlier, IVR software was a pre-recorded voice which had an interrupted sound. Their solution provides normalization of the voice. Thus if IVR pronounces your name or order in a regional language or Hindi, it is more effective and improves customer’s engagement.

Lipikaar: Lipikaar is a patented solution that simplifies typing in all Indian Languages — currently supports 18 languages, including popular ones like Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, and Telugu. The product suite comprises a multi-lingual editing software for Windows PC, keyboard app on Android phones, various browser plugins and a Web API. Lipikaar was awarded the 2008 Manthan Award South Asia for mass appeal and simplicity in product innovation. Its popularity comes from its easy and intuitive typing method. Lipikaar (unlike transliteration) does not require its users to be comfortable with English, allowing them to think and type in their native language.

Linguavista: Founder CEO Abhishek Chakrabarti started Linguavista with a simple vision of developing state-of-the-art language technology and combining it with outstanding language services to aggressively drive the businesses of global companies across the international markets. He started his journey with Linguavista at the age of 20 and has since led the company to having international presence in India, China, and Japan.

Megdap Innovation Labs Pvt Ltd.: Megdap was founded with the single goal of bridging the digital divide by creating an ecosystem for business that blends local relevance with a sustainable business model for all stakeholders. Megdap has created a technology platform, products and tools that enable real time delivery of content in multiple local languages. It provides a Language Technology Platform (TexLang) for consumption by third parties. This includes the ability to localize content for high churn areas like e-commerce, govt. media, travel and hospitality and education among others. TexLang will be a language technology platform that enables companies to localise their online/offline business, communications and every other customer interaction channels into local languages

Matrubharti: Matrubharti is a self-publishing platform for authors and an app for readers to download ebooks of authors in local Indian languages. In the last year, Matrubharti has achieved over 35000 readers, 900 writers, 3300 ebooks and over 3.6 lakhs of downloads of ebooks. Their milestone also includes reach in 22 Indian states, five languages and readers in 42 countries.

Pratilipi: Pratilipi is possibly the fastest growing self-publishing and reading platform for Indian language literature. In less than 18 months of its existence it already has over 2700 Indian language authors in six languages, including many who have won Sahitya Academy and Jnanpith awards, and their content has been read over 3.5 million times on the platform.

Planet GoGo: Gurgaon-based Planet GoGo is a lock-screen app for content discovery in local languages that delivers personalised content and news to Android users. Users are rewarded ‘GoGo points’ that can be used to redeem free talk-time from mobile operators, in exchange for reading content or even unlocking their phone.

Shabdanagari: Incubated in IIT Kanpur, Shabdanagari is India’s first social networking site in Hindi. They are addressing the content generation in local language piece of the puzzle. The portal went live a little over a year ago and has been gaining traction faster than anticipated.

Shradhanjali: helps people keep the memories of their departed ancestors and relatives. One can upload, store, publish and share biographies (multiple languages), family details, photos, videos, post condolence messages (multiple languages), set music and also set death and birth anniversary reminders year on year. The portal has more than 350 subscribers. It supports condolence messages in as many as nine Indian languages.

Tidelearning: Their mission is to develop tech-assisted learning tools, which will create new learning experiences in education for teachers and less privileged children across the globe. Technology Initiative for Development of Education (TIDE) intends to create a platform that while suitably providing a link is also dynamic in nature to address ‘wide-eyed’ students’ quest for knowledge and a committed teachers search for ‘answers’. At the same time it endeavours to keep the classroom in touch with its local culture, language and traditions. It intends to assist teachers in reinforcing their knowledge by making available suitable content, new concepts and facilitators in teaching while also tracking the progress of their learners. It is also developing an independent English as a Second Language app for the rural and less privileged audience.

Monday, 14 March 2016

A curated art gallery minus the intimidating vibe and lack of information: Eikowa takes genuine art online

The thought of buying art immediately invokes the image of someone in Tussar silks or Fab India khadis waltzing around a space with minimalist décor, nodding nonchalantly and making quintessential small-talk in breathy tones, of Picasso’s cubist rebellion. Here’s a revelation – it is as difficult for some genuinely talented upcoming and senior artists to create this simulation of high-society living for you as it is for you to keep up the façade every time you want to find an adornment for your walls. Your love affair with art can simply thrive as a silent conversation you have with the frame that you know belongs on the empty square above your bed, even though it is through a computer screen.

Where art thou?

Eikowa – the Greek word for ‘image’ – was born in December 2015 out of the need to break this barrier. Vaishnavi Murali, Founder and CEO at the brand, wanted to become a curator of meaningful art minus the nonsense of pretense. A two-time patron of the luxury brand industry, through retail brands like Madura Garment and Ethos, but an artist at heart, she started the portal after noticing a gap in the ecosystem. “The problem lies on both the demand as well as the supply side. While I was painting one day, I realised that there were hardly any avenues for upcoming artists to showcase their work. With limited wall space, new talent either gets sidelined or lost in the crowd. Reputed galleries seldom support upcoming artists. Local galleries lack the network or resources to promote artists, and good exhibitions are few and expensive. Serious artists, on the other hand, don’t get the right representation, as their works are mixed with hobby artists,”she explains.

On the buying side, art is accessible only to a few. “Many don’t know what to buy and where to buy from. Galleries are intimidating, and the other online galleries lack curation. Prices are rarely mentioned, and there is little information provided to the buyer. Ultimately, this scares the common buyer away, and limits the reach of the artist and the size of the ecosystem. At Eikowa, we create a lot of content around art through our blog, The Canvas, to help people understand the painting and the thought process behind the creation,” Vaishnavi adds.

And how art they different?

While sites like Fizdi choose to exhibit work by hobby artists also, e-commerce sites likeAmazon and Pepperfry predominantly sell prints. Eikowa strictly sells original paintings by professional artists – senior ones, who have been around for over a decade, but in some cases, even upcoming ones whose work shows promise.

“There are a lot of hobby artists and professional artists at similar price points. We as a brand believe that it’s our responsibility to deliver value to the customer’s investment. We sell original art only. If there are multiple prints of original art in the market, the art loses its value. Art by professional artists tends to appreciate, hence we work with artists who have been painting for over 10 years and have developed a unique style of their own. In case of a promising upcoming artist we do make an exception,” she explains.

All in all, Vaishnavi, who curates each and every painting on her site with the help of some mentors, likes to see evolution, steady themes and ideas, professional strokes, and a portfolio that has morphed into a distinct personality of its own.

“We differentiate ourselves on our curation. From the cubist rebellion of Picasso, to the surrealistic renderings of Dali, every school of art will find a fan among this group of art connoisseurs,”she says.

Aficionados approve

Eikowa primarily focusses on three cites at the moment- Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad. Anyone with a higher disposable income, collectors or first-time art buyers are their target customers.

Through Eikowa, a lot of artists get to share space with some established artist in the industry, not something seen commonly. “The ability to help deserving artists represent themselves well, reach the right people, and command the right price, gives me a high. It may be a mercurial and rocky journey, but I am finding it the most fulfilling,”Vaishnavi says.

There is no listing fee for the artist, and her revenue model is a clear-cut commission on sale. So far, she has curated the works of over 85 artists, many of whom are masters. They are the only startup in this space to have tied-up with so many master artists, within a month of launch. Some of the artists they work with are Madhuri Bhaduri, Biplab Biswas, Beena Pradhan, Dinkar Jadhav, and Niladri Paul.

The number of customers is limited but the value of transactions is high. They get close to 100-150 visits a day, and in a short span of two months, they have closed transactions worth Rsseven lakh and have recovered their set-up and operational costs already. They are on the way to sealing 80percent growth in March.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Why this Indian bank is partnering with startups

HDFC Bank on Thursday announced the companies that it would partner with to use their tech products to empower and benefit the bank’s customers. The five companies were the winners of Digital Innovation Summit, conducted by the bank.

The process started in January this year, where the bank chose 30, out of the 105 applicants, to pitch and showcase their products to the senior leadership of the bank.

Winners of the Digital Innovation Summit Challenge (left) with . Nitin Chugh, Country Head – Digital Banking (3rd from Right)

Speaking to YourStory, Nitin Chugh, Country Head, Digital Banking, HDFC Bank said that the idea behind this initiative was not just to empower the customers but also to provide market linkage to the shortlisted businesses. While the engagement being strictly solution-led, the bank will not put any money in the businesses. However, there will be informal mentoring as well as reverse mentoring (from the businesses to the bank) as a part of the project. The gain to the winners would be in terms of the scale they would achieve from associating with a bank that is in a mature stage of the adoption cycle and digital aspects of transactions.

Judged on parameters of compatibility with HDFC Bank’s systems, uniqueness and innovation, business potential and usability with scale, the winners range from verticals ofartificial intelligence (AI), marketing, payments as well as quality assurances.

Here is a quick introduction to the winner startups:

Senseforth Technologies (AI)

Working on AI, Senseforth Technologies venture is essentially a conversation platform. Deploying customer response systems, the bot or machine can talk to millions of consumers to address their queries, and also to guide and help them with shopping through recommendations. Their bot is called AIRA, standing for Artifical Inteligence for Response and Action.

Started in November 2012 and based out of Bengaluru, the business has customers in the BFSI, telecom, healthcare and hospitality space.

NotifyVisitors (customer engagement SaaS)

Started in 2013 as a referral friends programme, the business has now taken the shape of a SaaS-based customer engagement platform. The company automates pop-up and push notifications, personalising user experiences across platform.

Having three offerings, the firm’s products are split between InviteReferals for e-commerce firms; automating in-app pop-up, push and browser push notifications, as well as AnalyticsMobi, which provide real-time analytics reports on engagements to mobile app companies.

Co-founder Siddharth Gupta explains a use case: if a customer is taking too long to fill in a credit card application form, HDFC Bank, through NotifyVisitors, will launch a pop-up asking the person’s details, to later help him through the process. This could be seen both in apps and websites.

Presently, the firm is associated with over 10,000 businesses, with 70 percent of the demand coming from foreign markets. Some of the bigger clients for the business include Shopclues, Times Group, EduKart etc.

Talking about the Digital Summit, Siddharth says,

“Being bootstrapped we not just get brand push and scalability but also a lot of support when it comes to visibility in the market. It is not everyday you get to pitch your idea in front of the whole leadership of the bank.”

NetVigil Software (mobile QR code payments)

With its flagship product S2Pay, the business is trying to replicate the cash transactions by introducing QR code-based mobile payments. In this case, the solution integrates with the vendor’s application (in this case HDFC Bank) where the consumer doesn’t require any Internet connection on their phone.

On putting in the amount to be paid with the personal pin, the application creates a 24-digit pin with a QR code that could be transmitted to the merchant through PoS (Point of Sale), NFC, QR code or sound for the merchant to capture the code. Once captured the payment is already made.

This holds even merchants in good stead as they don’t need any hardware (swipe machines) to accept payments. Just a smartphone can be used. Banks are also saved from installing a PoS terminal, which enables digital acceptance of payments for merchants where transaction numbers or values aren’t very large.

As a separate offering S2Pay needs to be downloaded as an application where all the customer’s cards are linked (including debit, credit, loyalty cards) without a customer having to sacrifice critical information in shops or malls .

Bug Clipper (Quality Assurance, in-app reporting tool)

Also a part of Target’s third Accelerator batch, Bug Clipper essentially helps report bugs sharing screenshots and screen recordings.

Bug Clipper captures screenshots to avoid time wasted to spot a problem and allows individuals to record a video by shaking the device. An enterprise solution now, this especially helps teams of testers and developers who work remotely and usually take multiple rounds of communication to fix a bug.

In HDFC Bank, according to co-founder Puneet Sharma , the platform also aims to empower consumers to report any bugs on the app. Based in Mumbai, the firm has BFSI clients like ICICI, Kotak, and Yes Bank, as well as others like Reliance and Tata Motors.

Tapits Technologies (biometric payments)

HDFC Bank will be the first to integrate Tapits Technologies’ solution on its platform. It took one-and-a-half years to build the biometric payment solution with which a consumer can shop only with their biometric fingerprint, without needing any cash or credit card.

During the transaction there is biometric authentication, including a personal pin, which is chosen as a default (could be ATM, net banking etc.) to make payments by the account holder.

On the backend, the fingerprint goes to the Aadhaar, which on authentication is passed to the bank for approval. The co-founders claim that it takes roughly seven seconds for the transaction to process.

Based out of Indore, Tapits is also looking to innovate further to enhance the experiences for customers.

HDFC bank is not the only bank that is looking to partner with MSMEs and startups in the fintech space. With the launch of Unified Payments Interface (UPI), ICICI also launched its‘Appathon’, inviting fintech startups and developers to be a part of the event.

According to Nitin, HDFC Bank has been aggressively tracking newer technologies and integrating with them for a long time. He says

We just think a lot of ideation and innovation is happening in this space, looking as though banks are more open now to partnerships. We internally have a team called the ‘innovation team’ which was established one-and-a-half years back, which always looks at market developments and newer technologies entering the space.

The bank’s interest in new tech could be seen with HDFC making technology inroads with 30-minute paperless auto loans using biometric technology, 10-second personal loan on net banking and instant loans at ATMs to power its digital offerings.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Father-daughter duo develop an elixir for partygoers against nasty hangovers, Morning Fresh

Imagine something you created had the ability to get someone through a career-making presentation without them imagining the numbers dancing on the slides. Or that you could save someone the embarrassment of throwing up every time a ladoo was waved in their face on their wedding day. You would have every reason to be completely invested in the product you were building. This is what inspires the father-daughter duo of Bharat and Mitali Tandon as they constantly work on improving the elixir they have concocted for night birds – Morning Fresh, the antidote for nasty hangovers.

A rather dope solution

Mitali Tandon started out rather young. While still in college, she volunteered with the Spastic Society of Karnataka and was part of the ‘Young Enterprise’ group. She clocked short stints with the forensics department at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Bangalore, and took up advocacy at Samvada, an NGO backing Dalits and Adivasis in Karnataka, as their fundraising manager. During that time, she also involved herself in her father’s business that dealt in Animal health, biotech and pharmaceuticals. It was then that she had her eureka moment.

“Our parent company Sericare, is a pioneer in the field of sericulture and using silk as a bio-material,” says Mitali, founder and CEO of Morning Fresh. ” I was always encouraged to work with my hands and be independent in thought and action. During our research, we discovered that certain peptides from silk protein stimulate the production of ADH. ADH is an enzyme that naturally occurs in your liver, and that is what helps break down alcohol. But it gets overpowered when given excess alcohol to manage, thus resulting in hangovers. But peptides re-activate the enzyme. We were very excited by the potential of the idea, and decided to test our hypothesis. We did a preliminary study on rats. We got fantastic results, which was really our ‘aha’ moment and that encouraged us to start developing the product.”

They developed Morning Fresh as the only post-drinking solution to help relieve the after-effects of alcohol consumption. “Most people rely on home-remedies or informal methods. Our target audience is also very health conscious and we were particular about keeping the product natural, portable, and easy to consume,” explains Mitali. Completely natural, its key ingredients are silk protein hydrolysate, Vitamin C and Mulberry Extract. They created three flavours – cola, mint and strawberry, at Rs 100 a bottle.

Binging on strategy, expansion, and publicity

To build a business around the breakthrough, they evaluated the market size in terms of the number of cases of alcohol bought every year, and the number of bars and restaurants that serve liquor. The quick survey showed that binge drinking was on the rise, and that there was a proliferation of bars and restaurants in the city and youngsters were increasingly leading a fast-paced life. Their customers are young professionals between the ages of 21 and 35 years. They are social drinkers, party goers, have high disposable incomes, and are also often health and fitness conscious.

“Our model is to continuously and consistently set a relevant context of Morning Fresh to our customer by being visible and available at venues our target market spends time at. And, there is a pattern that emerges in their lifestyle and entertainment preferences, so, we want to be around when they are most likely to need the product. Like at a bar with the bill; ensuring that wedding planners make Morning Fresh available in guest’s rooms at the end of a sangeet or a cocktail reception; or even at the checkout counter of a liquor store,” explains Mitali.

“Customers expect us to be responsive 24/7. I have received calls at midnight and 2:00 am from customers who want the product ‘immediately’. We realise it is an occupational hazard, especially with a product of this nature and are working towards a sustainable solution,” she elaborates, regarding the next leg of their business.

No morning without Morning Fresh

Mitali wants Morning Fresh to stand for responsible drinking, by having the top 500 bars and restaurants in the country that support responsible drinking stock it as part of the drinking routine or drinking culture. “Drink Morning Fresh as your last drink of the evening and wake up fresh, ready to take on your day. This should become the new drinking routine,” says Mitali.

This is being done by associating with specific kinds of events in the city – like Kitsch Mandi, Strawberry Fields, SteppinOut Food Festival; through e-commerce platforms for easy access to information and sales, and tying up with distribution points like bars, restaurants, and wedding planners.

In the two months, since they have been in distribution, they have built a presence at Dewars Wine Stores, St. Marks Road, Red Fork and Hangover at Indiranagar, as well as events in venues like Shiro’s, Ub City, Church Street Social . With a user base of over 500, they have sold over 3,000 bottles, and had several little success stories that form the basis of their motivation. “When customers call us saying they made it through their own wedding because of Morning Fresh, and thank us for making sure they received their last-minute order in time or because they were able to get to work on time or catch an early flight, we know we are on the right track,” says Mitali.

Who’s the boss?

Between the 25-year-old daughter who wants to experience first and decide later, and the 62-year-old seasoned entrepreneur, who is set in his ways, their business is as varied a concoction as their product itself. “My father has had extensive academic and professional experience in the world of business, bio-technology and business development. He brings his collective experience, love for bio-technology, wisdom and foresight to the table while I add creative energy, new technology and out-of-the box marketing strategies. And as you would have guessed, the tug of war that ensues is mostly strategy related as we are trying to find a balance between traditional and modern methods of creating an impact.”

Also, in this space locally, there are certain herbal capsules, Mitali informs us. “However the functionalities of our products are very different. Abroad, there are several products that target the same segment; however, very few, if not none, are post-drinking solutions that use silk-proteins as their active ingredient,” she says.