Friday, March 13, 2009

Review of India's Most Important New Startup

"The power of private information online is so great that the commercial incentive for companies or individuals to misuse it is huge"

Tim Berners-Lee

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I believe online freedom and personal data privacy are issues of fundamental importance to our future.

Indeed, I firmly believe that as IP networks become the de facto standard for all forms of global communications, the rights and freedoms we have online will become just as important (if not more important) than the rights and freedoms we have offline.

Unfortunately, as Tim Berners-Lee and other have pointed out, this freedom is under threat from all sides. The fact of the matter is that personal information is valuable, and as a result, companies will always have an incentive to abuse and exploit their users' trust and personal details for financial gain.

Which brings me to Yauba ( Yauba is a search engine that makes privacy the very bedrock of its service. Indeed, its privacy policy is literally 9 words long:

We do not keep any personally identifiable information.

All that is nice and good. But here is the kicker, however. Not only are all searches on Yauba conducted on a safe and secure basis, but also all visits to third party websites are conducted on an anonymous basis as well. Basically Yauba acts as a anonymous proxy to sites that come up on their search results.

This is huge, and this is something that I have seen on no other search engine. Anywhere.

Why This Matters

Imagine that you have a relative in Chicago who is worried about breast cancer. She feels a strange lump in her left breast, and this scares her to death. But not only is she scared about the possibility of her having breast cancer, but she is also frightened about what would happen if her employer suspected she may be sick or whether her medical insurance company may try to deny her coverage for one of the many technicalities that they use.

For a person like her, the information available on the Internet can be truly valuable, even life saving. And yet, she may be afraid about what would happen if her insurance company or employers decided one day to take her to court and use her online search records as evidence against her.

Can this happen?

If we are not vigilent in protecting our rights, absolutely.

Indeed, if we do not fight for our rights to online privacy and freedom, such a scenario is a very real and present danger. As Tim Berners Lee has stated, the temptation of companies (and indeed governments) to abuse and exploit our private data is just too strong, especially in this age of economic difficulties. We all know that Yahoo has turned over search information from dissidents in China for example to the Chinese government. And as for Google, well, I will just have you look at the following link:

This is why I am willing to claim that Yauba is the most important new startup to come out of India this year, and that Yauba and Zoho are the two companies most likely to hit mainstream. Yauba is the company that can once and for all shut down the idiotic argument that many online companies give about how it is not possible to provide a useful online service without invading the users privacy.

Yauba IS the Anti-Google.

P.S. I found a video online describes the search features very well:

New Indian startups such as Yauba demonstrates that Indian created services can make a tremendous impact on the global stage. The Indian startup revolution is just beginning, and we can look forward to many more great companies coming out of India in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reforming Women's Education in Developing Countries (Part 1 of 2)

Nobel prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen (sadly no relation to me) once wrote a very influential article entitled "More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing". In it he argued that it is a mistake to compare Europe sex ratios with that of places like India.

"The fate of women is quite different in most of Asia and North Africa [compared to US or Europe]. In these places the failure to give women medical care similar to what men get and to provide them with comparable food and social services results in fewer women surviving than would be the case if they had equal care.

In India, for example, except in the period immediately following birth, the death rate is higher for women than for men fairly consistently in all age groups until the late thirties. This relates to higher rates of disease from which women suffer, and ultimately to the relative neglect of females, especially in health care and medical attention.

Similar neglect of women vis-à-vis men can be seen also in many other parts of the world. The result is a lower proportion of women than would be the case if they had equal care—in most of Asia and North Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America.
This pattern is not uniform in all parts of the third world, however. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, ravaged as it is by extreme poverty, hunger, and famine, has a substantial excess rather than deficit of women, the ratio of women to men being around 1.02.

Indeed, sharp diversities also exist within particular regions—sometimes even within a particular country. For example, the ratio of women to men in the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, which happen to be among the country's richest, is a remarkably low 0.86, while the state of Kerala in southwestern India has a ratio higher than 1.03, similar to that in Europe, North America, and Japan.

To get an idea of the numbers of people involved in the different ratios of women to men, we can estimate the number of "missing women" in a country, say, China or India, by calculating the number of extra women who would have been in China or India if these countries had the same ratio of women to men as obtain in areas of the world in which they receive similar care. If we could expect equal populations of the two sexes, the low ratio of 0.94 women to men in South Asia, West Asia, and China would indicate a 6 percent deficit of women; but since, in countries where men and women receive similar care, the ratio is about 1.05, the real shortfall is about 11 percent.

In China alone this amounts to 50 million "missing women," taking 1.05 as the benchmark ratio. When that number is added to those in South Asia, West Asia, and North Africa, a great many more than 100 million women are "missing." These numbers tell us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect leading to the excess mortality of women."

Since Sen first wrote the article in 1990, the economic situation in India and China has certainly improved. But the glaring disparities remain.

The fact of the matter is being a woman in India, China or anyplace else in the developing world is very difficult. Anyone who has spent much time in India will know the monumental scale of the problem at hand.

So what can be done?

There is obviously no one solution. These are colossal, deep rooted problems. But this does not mean that we should despair. Indeed, I do believe that the Internet and the resulting free access to information can play a very significant role in helping to reverse this statistic.

In part two of this post, I will describe 5 ways in which the Internet can play a significant role in reversing women's inequalities in India as well as other developing countries. I will try to discuss why online freedom is so important in this process and how the Internet can also also reduce many of the barriers that previously excluded women from full participation in Indian and global community. Finally, I will discuss some of the regional differences that we see in India between Kerala and Punjab and what role the Internet can also play here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Personal Reflections on International Women's Day (as Both an Indian and as a Woman)

Yesterday was International Women's Day ...

A day to reflect on where we have come in terms of progress in this world.

Unfortunately, I fear that the global economic crisis will have significant negative consequences in erasing many of the gains that women have made, both in India and elsewhere across the past several decades.

The fact of the matter is, it is hard enough being a woman when times are good, and you are living in an advanced industrial economy.

When times are bad and you are living in any of the many poverty stricken lands in this world, life can be truly be, as in Hobbes's words, "nasty, brutish and short". Indeed, we are seeing increasing reports of violence against women in India which only serves as a reminder of how much we have to go just in our own country.

Around the world, unfortunately, the news is not much better. The statistics are sobering enough:
  • One in five women worldwide suffer from rape or attempted rape
  • 530,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth each year
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education
These statistics are from a time when the global economy was experiencing unprecedented growth and the world was making great strides in improving women's rights. In the current global economic downturn, I fear things will become much worse.

Hurricane Katrina in the US has shown that the veneer of civilisation is very thin in times of great difficulties, and in any economic recession, it is always the poorest countries and the weakest people who suffer the most.

Yesterday was International Women's Day, but the days in the upcoming weeks and months and years, I am afraid, will be anything but.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 6: Danica McKellar

My next smart babes profile is actress Danica McKellar.

Danica is best known in her role in the Emmy award winning TV programme The Wonder Years, where she played Winnie Cooper, the main love interest of Fred Savage throughout the entire series.

Unlike other child actors or actresses, however, Danica did not neglect her studies. Instead, she graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from UCLA.

While still an undergraduate, she published a paper in the Journal of Physics entitled "Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z2" In this paper, she co-developed a mathematics theorem along with esteemed UCLA mathematics professor Lincoln Chayes, which is now referred to as the 'Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem'.

After graduation, she wrote two books on mathematics which both became New York Times Bestsellers.

By combining beauty with brains, Danica shows the world that smart babes are truly sexy and shows young girls that even male dominated subjects like mathematics are areas where we can succeed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

America's Loss Is India's Gain

Every Indian who reads my blog should also read this paper by Harvard researchers Vivek Wadhwa and Richard B. Freeman.

"Immigrants have historically provided one of America's greatest competitive advantages. They have come to the United States largely to work and have played a major role in the country's recent growth. Between 1990 and 2007, the proportion of immigrants in the U.S. labor force increased from 9.3 percent to 15.7 percent.

Approximately 45 percent of the growth of the work force over this period consisted of immigrants. Moreover, a large and growing proportion of immigrants come with high levels of education and skill.

They have contributed disproportionately in the most dynamic part of the U.S. economy - the high-tech sector. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo.
And immigrant inventors contributed to more than a quarter of U.S. global patent applications.

Since even before the 2008 financial and economic crisis, some observers have noted that a substantial number of highly skilled immigrants have started returning to their home countries, including persons from low-income countries like India and China who have historically tended to stay permanently in the United States. These returnees contributed to the tech boom in those countries and arguably spurred the growth of outsourcing of back-office processes as well as of research and development."

While I really wish America and Europe very well, I think it is hard to deny that the current turn inwards and against skilled immigration will only serve to accelerate the inevitable. The next 50 years of entrepreneurial innovation will belong to India. The Silent Revolution about which I have written before is well underway.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Rising Tide is Heading Back Home to India

From San Francisco Chronicle today:

"Sachin Maheshwari has the American dream in his grasp. A job at a venture capital firm. An MBA from Wharton. A resume filled with name-brand companies. And now this immigrant from India is moving back to his homeland.

"Here the industry is mature," said Maheshwari, sitting in his office off Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. "In India, it's booming. In a sector like investing, it's much more exciting there."

He's not the only one heading back. Vivek Wadhwa, a researcher at Duke University who just finished a survey of Indian and Chinese returnees, predicts that 100,000 Indians will return home in the next five years - compared with only 50,000 who have gone back in the past two decades.

"The trickle," Wadhwa said, "is going to become a flood."

Although Chinese returnees, wary about the whims of the communist government, tend to keep a foot in America - often leaving their families in the United States - "the Indians are going back to stay," Wadhwa said. "They want to start companies there."

That, he said, should be ringing alarm bells up and down Silicon Valley."

Read rest of article here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 5: Queen Rania of Jordan

Queen Rania of Jordan is by far the sexiest and smartest queen in the world.

Not only is she beautiful, articulate, and socially aware ... but she is also one of the most adept users of technology in the world. Believe it or not, she used to work for Apple computer and is a now the only royalty videoblogger in the world.
  • Queen Rania is a passionate advocate for women and children in the region and in the world as a whole.

  • She set up the Madrasati initiative aimed at renovating Jordan's most dilapidated public schools.

  • She was named the third most beautiful woman in the world in the 2005 by Harpers & Queen magazine.

  • In addition, she was the youngest queen in the world when she ascended to the throne.
To be a princess is probably every little girl's childish fantasy. But Queen Rania of Jordan shows that with intelligence and poise, a young girl can aspire to be much more than just the wife of someone important.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yauba IS the Indian Anti-Google

I know.

We have heard it all before.

Remember Cuil? Powerset?

After a lot of self generated media hype, both these companies ended up flaming out very quickly. (Note: Powerset at least was able to sell itself before it embarrassed itself. As for cuil, let's just say anyone with that company on their cv will be a laughingstock for quite some time.)

Well, I am going to go out on a limb here and stake my entire online reputation on one single sentence:

Yauba IS the Indian Anti-Google.

I was fortunate enough to get a special preview invitation to see the development version of the product before the official launch. I have now spent 2 days exploring the product, and I can only say that my initial impression has not changed:

Yauba rocks.

The company has asked people who have received preview invitations to not publish any reviews of the product until the official launch, so I will have to refrain from doing so here. But what I can say is that it is obvious that the engineers behind Yauba have put a lot of thought behind the service by focusing their efforts on those things that Google does not do very well and coming up up with ingenious solutions around them. At least a half a dozen times, it made me giggle with delight and made me ask myself "now why didn't anyone else think of that?" In a certain sense it is almost the anti-Google ... it does things that Google does not, or cannot do, and makes it somehow all come together.

This is not to say it is perfect.

Far from it. But as an young Indian who is eagerly anticipating a new era of great entrepreneurial Indian companies, I can't think of a better example right now of such an era than Yauba. And I cannot wait for the official release so that I can post a full review and explain of why this is the first product since probably the Apple iPod that has made me so excited.

Yes, Virginia, it is really that good.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why India Will Replace Silicon Valley in the 21st Century, Part 2 of 2

In my previous post, I presented some case studies on how the law of unintended consequences have ended up benefiting India and accelerating her ascent to a leading role on the world stage today. In this post, I will describe how the recent catastrophic events in the global economy are inadvertently laying down the foundation for an unprecedented Indian entrepreneurial revolution.

THE LESSONS OF HISTORY: The Once Great German Universities

It is hard to believe today, but a century ago, German universities were considered the greatest in the world. At one time, German universities would churn out one world class scholar after another and would sweep the Nobel prizes, just as Slumdog Millionaire is sweeping every movie award this year. Today, however, if you were to mention once great German universities like Goettingen or Heidelberg to the average Indian, you would just get back a blank stare.

So what happened in the past 100 years in Germany?

Many things, of course. World wars; the partition of Germany; reconstruction, among others. But perhaps the most profound single event that happened in Germany with respect to their universities was the mass exodus of Jewish scholars to America. They left Germany and ultimately ended up at places like Harvard, Princeton, and MIT, where they inadvertently helped create the second revolution in America.

America's (and India's) Second Revolution

We all know about the first American revolution. This happened in 1776 against the British. It is the one we read about in history books, and this is why I like to call it a "loud" revolution.

But in fact, America has had a second, and equally transformative revolution. It was the silent, entrepreneurial revolution that occurred in the second half of the 20th century, when the US took the lead to become the great entrepreneurial machine that has since come to dominate the world.

By the time German and other highly skilled European immigrants arrived to America, the country had already changed completely beyond recognition from its colonial days. Sure, it did not have all the cultural amenities of Berlin or Paris, and parts of America were still stuck in grinding poverty, but by that time, America had developed a solid middle class and a large domestic market with significant latent demand. And it had highly skilled workers who believed in the idea of social mobility through hard work and were therefore willing to learn new skills.


Today, in 2009, we in India find ourselves in exactly the same situation.

Today, in the midst of an unprecedented global economic slowdown, we are starting to see a re-exodus of Indian immigrants back to India. And when they return to India, they discover both a country and a world which in the past ten years has changed beyond belief.

In India, not only do they find a solid middle class and a large domestic market with significant latent demand, but they find a pool of professional workers who are literally the some of the best in the world.

Why is this the case? Because over the past 10 years, due to the massive outsourcing of business process global best practices to India, we have witnessed the greatest legal transfer of knowledge and intellectual capital the world has ever seen. We now have an entire class of Indians who know what global best practices are in almost every single business process, from the mundane like call centres to the unimaginable like product liability litigation, creative brand design and convertible bond valuation. No other country in the world has such an asset.

The Perfect Recipe

All of this is the perfect recipe for an entrepreneurial revolution. India now has all the tantalising ingredients needed to shift up and away from our past role as a facilitator and supporter to that of a creator. And we are seeing the signs of this emerging phenomenon right beneath our feet.

Still skeptical? I can hear the objections already: "Okay so we have helped make search engines for others, but where is our own homegrown Google for India? We know all about CRM best practices, but where is our own homegrown"

My answer? They are coming. And you ain't seen nothing yet.


Case in point. A few days ago, as part of my Real Life Smart Babes series of articles, I had profiled Janeena Basra, the first Indian Miss England finalist, a Ph.D. student in medicine, part time model, and vice president of an Indian search engine company called Yauba.

A few days after I wrote the profile, the company sent me a special preview password for the service which will be launching at the end of this month. And since that time, I have spent at least five hours playing around with it.

My verdict? It completely rocks.

I will be posting a more in depth review of the service after I have explored it some more. But all I will say for now is that I think this is the Next Big Thing. I know they has been a lot of hype and fluff around such vaporware search services like cuil and Powerset. But this is different.

I think this is the only company I have seen in the past 3 years which can take on--and beat--Google head to head. It is that good.

But what is most impressive about Yauba (and most relevant to this post) is that it has been built almost completely in India and by overseas Indians. If services like Yauba or Zoho are any indication, a true golden age of Indian startups is just beginning. And even if services like Yauba and Zoho ultimately end up not succeeding, many more will be coming our way. That is how entrepreneurial revolutions work ... as in Schumpeter's famous phrase, through "creative destruction."

Imagine if just 10% of all the top Indian engineers at Google and Microsoft and Facebook suddenly decided to build something in India, and you can imagine what is likely to happen. And with the slowdown in the US and European economies, such a prospect becomes more and more attractive every day. India will soon have an Internet population greater than all of Europe and US combined. And as US and Europe begin to tighten their regulations on immigration even more, the exodus will continue even more.

And in doing so, the centre of gravity for entrepreneurship will naturally shift to India. Just as America took over the dominant role in entrepreneurship in the 20th century, so too will India in the 21st.

EPILOGUE: What All This Means for Indian Entrepreneurs

All of this is good news for Indian entrepreneurs, but it also means that the entrepreneurial world in India will get much much more challenging due to greater competition.

When the best domestic search engine is a clunky, outdated service like Rediff, it really is not that hard to create something better. But when the best domestic search engine becomes something like Yauba, it will be a whole new ball game.

It will indeed become a brutally competitive, brave new world

But it is this very competition which will finally allow Indian companies and startups to create (and not just faciliate) world class companies and thereby lead the way in India's Silent Entrepreneurial Revolution.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why India Will Replace Silicon Valley in the 21st Century, Part 1 of 2

We are currently standing at the threshold of a new revolution in India.

It is a silent revolution.

But it is a revolution of such tremendous magnitude that its repercussions will be felt for decades to come.

It is the Indian entrepreneurial revolution.

It has been almost 30 years in the making.

But now it is finally happening--ironically--thanks to the current perfect storm in the global economy.

(Note to readers: This is the first of a two part post. In this first post, I will provide some necessary background to this revolution ... a revolution that is largely driven by an unexpected and unforeseen confluence of unintended consequences. I will begin by describing some other such unintended consequences in our history which have served to inadvertently accelerate India's entry into the global economy. And in my next post I will describe the full details of this new silent revolution, and explain why this revolution is happening just now.)

PROLOGUE: Case Studies in the Law of Unintended Consequences

A. British Imperialism:

When The British East India Company first began its imperial rule in India, its motivations were far from altruistic.

In its trafficking of such narcotics as opium throughout Asia, the British East India Company (under full knowledge and authority of the Queen) engaged in practices that would be associated today with the likes of Colombian drug cartels. Its motivation was, to it crudely, to exploit India's resources as much as possible.

And yet, despite all the shameful activities of the British East India company (and it successor, the British Empire), it did unintentionally spread English in the Indian subcontinent. This would have significant unintended consequences later on for India. It would later allow India to enter into global service industries with relative ease, and it would later allow Indian educated immigrants to more easily adapt to, and find success in, places like the UK and the US.

B. The Hijli Detention Camp:

When the British found themselves increasing under siege by masses of Indians fighting against Imperial rule in the early 20th century, they resorted to increasingly violent reprisals, killings, and torture.

The British Government established harsh detention camps throughout India, including the Hijli Detention Camp in 1930. But this detention camp did not last for ever, and once again, the law of unintended consequences struck again.

In May, 1950, Prime Minister Nehru established the first Indian Institute of Technology at that very site and at that very building with the goal of educating India's best and brightest so that they would lead India out of poverty and into a great world power. The construction of the Hijli Detention Camp would indeed also have significant unintended consequences for India later on. It would later create a class of engineers, scientists and mathematicians that have become (and remain) the envy of the world.

C. Technology Crash, Year 2000-2002:

When the first Internet bubble crashed in the year 2000, very few investors or companies could see a silver lining in the dark clouds which had cast their gloomy and lugubrious spectre over the entire technology industry.

Technology companies had invested hundreds of billions of dollars in Internet technologies, but had destroyed an even greater amount of shareholder value in the process. Investors lost massively during this process.

But once again, the law of unintended consequences reared its head.
There WAS one major winner.


As a result of all this investment, the world was now equipped--for the very first time--with an incredible global Internet communications infrastructure.

And it was this infrastructure that enabled the Indian offshoring industry to truly take off. For the first time, IT work could be conducted half the world away with cheap, real time, and seamless Internet communications technologies.

And the pressure on costs brought on by the technology bust made the Indian offshoring value proposition even more appealing than ever.

TODAY'S CONTEXT: The Perfect Storm

And now we find ourselves in 2009, in the midst of perhaps the greatest global financial calamity of the post world war era. And there is no shortage of pessimism, both around the world and certainly in India.
  • Companies are laying off employees by the tens of thousands.
  • Banks are failing left and right.
  • And as a result of significant political pressure, governments such as the US and the UK are severely cutting back on immigration into their respective countries.
  • The gloom over Silicon Valley and Wall Street is perhaps the worst most people have seen in their lifetimes.
  • And as a result, many of the professional employed in the Indian IT offshoring sector are finding their careers and livelihoods at risk

But just as the British East India Company, the construction of Hijli Detention Camp and the first Internet crash ultimate ended up unintentionally benefiting India, this perfect storm will also end up benefiting India.

Indeed, all of this global economic turmoil and dislocation will have the completely unexpected and unintended result of turning India into the Silicon Valley of the 21st Century.

All we have to do is open our eyes to see this happening already. We are now at the beginning stages of India's great silent revolution, one which will catapult India to the very forefront of the global technology industry for decades to come.

And for domestic technology startups, it will mean a true golden age unlike any we have seen before.

Why do I feel this is the case? In my next post, I will describe the early signs of this silent revolution, why they are emerging right now, and what all this means for us Indians everywhere, both in India and abroad.

(to be continued in part 2)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Silicon Valley's Identity Crisis

Like a post war Britain that had lost an Empire and that has been searching ever since for a role, Silicon Valley is likewise undergoing a major identity crisis.

In short, its traditional role of providing much needed capital and connections to young companies and generating tremendous returns afterwards is very much in doubt.

Providing Connections? No.
  • With the advent of Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking software, connections are much freer. Now everyone knows a friend of a friend of someone important, and if you really persist, you will be able to get in touch with that person.
  • While it may have been important for a person to physically be present in Silicon Valley in the 80's and 90's, this is much less the case today.
  • The epicenter of the global economy has now shifted to Asia. And in Asian cultures where meeting face to face is ever so important, being IN Silicon Valley means that you are NOT IN Delhi or Shanghai ... potentially an even greater disadvantage.
Providing Capital? No.
  • For the most part, companies do not need much capital anymore.
  • When a laptop costs $350, GBs of memories can be purchased for loose change, database and operating system software are free ... you do not need tens of millions of dollars to succeed. Indeed, as I have written elsewhere, raising so much money can actually make a company less likely to succeed.
  • And regardless of the amount of money a company needs, the US and Silicon Valley no longer have a monopoly on venture capital. Indeed, the tremendous wealth creation in Asia over the past 20 years means that Asia now provides capital to the US rather than the other way around.
Generating Tremendous Returns? No.
  • Like everyone else, Silicon Valley VCs need to sell their inventory for more than they paid. Unfortunately, during the last 2-3 years, Silicon Valley VCs overpaid on very expensive inventory for which there is no more demand.
  • It will be a tough several years in the Silicon Valley VC world, and the tremendous returns of the past are likely to become distant memories.
So what does all this mean ... for Startups? For Silicon Valley? For the World?

In my next post, I will explore what this means for startups, and why in the next several decades ... India will take over the role of Silicon Valley, just as the US took over the role of world leader after the British Empire crumbled.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Facebook is Evil

If you have not read Facebook's terms of service by now, you should.

It is evil.

And I do not use that word lightly.

You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to

(a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you
  1. Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or
  2. enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and
(b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.

The following sections will survive any termination of your use of the Facebook Service: Prohibited Conduct, User Content, Your Privacy Practices, Gift Credits, Ownership; Proprietary Rights, Licenses, Submissions, User Disputes; Complaints, Indemnity, General Disclaimers, Limitation on Liability, Termination and Changes to the Facebook Service, Arbitration, Governing Law; Venue and Jurisdiction and Other.

So basically, Facebook owns all your photos, your writings, your friend's contact details and private information about you.


Even if you terminate use of Facebook.

To me, this is simply an abuse of the trust users have placed in a site like Facebook.

I just dare them to try to use my image to advertise their services. I certainly know how Cristiano Ronaldo, Adam Sandler and other celebrities (or their agents) on Facebook would feel about that.

The sad part of all is that because all of this is buried in fine print, most people will have no idea that they just signed away pretty much all of their private information.

This is evil.

Not a great day for online privacy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 4: Janeena Basra

My fourth smart babe profile is Janeena Basra. I think you will agree that she is definitely THE sexiest young businesswomen in India today.

Her personal website is

Janeena was the first Indian to become a finalist in the Miss England competition. While in high school she received 11 A+/A scores on her college entrance exams.

She holds both bachelors and masters degrees in medicine from the U.K., and has put her Ph.D. studies on hold to become the Vice President of Yauba, an Indian startup company based in Delhi that has been getting quite a lot of attention in the Indian Internet industry recently.

Janeena is a highly successful model in both Europe and in India and has appeared on the BBC as well as countless Indian newspapers.

She is passionate about science and technology.

And she is Indian.




India does not have many young, high profile, women executives in business.

Janeena Basra shows that being female should not be an obstacle to achieving your dreams and that it is possible to be smart, sexy, and successful.

Proof once again that smart babes are sexy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Metaphor is Not a Business Strategy. Save it for Literature Class.

We will become a financial supermarket.
We are capturing strategic beachhead.
We are giving away the razors to sell the blades.

Over the past 5 years, businesspeople and entrepreneurs have evoked numerous such bad metaphors to articulate why their ventures will become successful.

Well, I have some very unfortunate news.

A metaphor is not a business strategy. It is a literary device that belongs in the high school classroom.

And the next time you hear someone evoke a metaphor to describe their business, you should run for cover.

Because it usually means that business is headed in one direction. And it's not up.

Take for example, the idiotic metaphor of the financial supermarket. This single metaphor has been responsible for possibly the greatest shareholder destruction and economic crisis the world has known to date. Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, UBS all justified their catastrophic strategies on the quest to become a financial supermarket, without even asking what this metaphor meant.

Well guess what ... people do not want to go to a supermarket where they get constantly ripped off. If you look at history, people shifted from mom and pop grocery stores to supermarkets because these supermarkets offered every day low prices on virtually all of their items. Compare this to banks like Citibank who try to foist ridiculous products and services onto you just because you signed up for a checking account. A supermarket who tried this on their customers would soon go bankrupt.

Or take the metaphor of strategic beachhead. If you know anything about war, you would know that most attempts to capture any type of beachhead ended in enormous casualty for the attacker. Not that different from many Internet companies who have no business model but think that they can create one after burning millions of dollars of venture capital.

A metaphor is not a business strategy. It is a literary device that belongs in the high school classroom.

A business strategy is an articulation of how you will consistently make money.

So how can a business make money? It's no big secret. There are only four ways to make money.

  1. You can grow your revenues. You can do this by selling more stuff, selling to more people, having these people buy your products more often and selling at higher prices
  2. You can lower your costs. You can lower your fixed costs or your variable costs.
  3. You can play around with your capital structure. You can try to get cheaper financing, and you can try to leverage your capital and take oversize bets. Of course this can come to bite you big time.
  4. You can pay lower taxes.
That's it. There is no secret formula. No fancy metaphor.

Just 4 main levers you can pull.

So the next time you read on Techcrunch article after article on companies with no business model, you should ask yourself, is this a real business, or just a bad literary device?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 3: Linda Yueh

My third smart babes profile is Professor Linda Yueh of Oxford University.

She has BA from Yale University, Masters from Harvard, a Doctorate in Laws from New York University and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University.

In addition to teaching at Oxford, she also lectures at the London School of Economics and the London Business School. She is considered one the of world's foremost experts on the Chinese economy.

She previously practiced international corporate law while resident in New York, Beijing and Hong Kong.

She is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA), and a member of the Bar of New York State in the United States.

She speaks Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, English, French and Spanish.

Her recent books include Macroeconomics (co-authored with Graeme Chamberlin) and Globalisation and Economic Growth in China (co-edited with Yang Yao).

Forthcoming books in 2009 include: The Law and Economics of Globalisation: New Challenges for a World in Flux (editor), and The Future of Asian Trade and Growth: Economic Development with the Emergence of China (editor).

She recently gave testimony before the Treasury Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, UK Parliament, on the impact of China on the world and UK economy.

She has served as a special advisor for the World Economic Forum in Davos, UK Trade and Industry (UKTI), the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Executive Briefing Advisory Board, among others.

She has recently been appointed to the newly established World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Energy Security and serves as an advisor on scenarios for the UK economy and society to 2030 for the UK Government's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) in conjunction with the HM Treasury.

Indeed, Smart Babes are Sexy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 2: Corina Tarnita

My second smart babe profile is Corina Tarnita, a Harvard mathematics genius from Eastern Europe.

Corina holds Ph.D., Masters, and Bachelor's degrees all from Harvard.

Her publications include "Verification of the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture for Specific Elliptic Curves", "On Dynamic Bit-Probe Complexity" and "Computing Order Statistics in the Farey Sequence".

She was the top mathematics high school student in Romania, where she published two mathematics textbooks and won the 1st prize in the Romanian National Mathematical Olympiad for three straight years.

She won both the 1st place individual and the 1st place teams competitions in the International Mathematical Contest.

Her research interests are in evolutionary dynamics (in particular, evolutionary game theory); Her other research interests are in algebraic geometry, number theory, theoretical computer science, cognitive psychology, behavioral economics.

How much better would the world be if young girls looked up to people like Corina Tarnita as role models instead of Paris Hilton?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Virtue of Simplicity: A Call to Action

One of the simpliest ways to beat your competitors is by being just that. Simple.

Not simplistic.


Take a vexing problem that people face and ask yourself, a) how can I make the solution as simple as possible and b) how can I make the business model as simple as possible.

Unfortunately, too many companies take the opposite approach. They seem to believe that complicated problems require complicated solutions.

Take airlines. Over the past 20 years, most American airlines have invested billions of dollars in yield management systems and complicated hub and spoke systems which were designed to wring out the last possible penny from the traveller.

This is why
  • two people on the same plane sitting next to each other almost never pay the same price for a ticket
  • if you don't have a Saturday night stay, you have to pay three times and much, and
  • one way tickets costs twice as much as round trip tickets.

Has all this complexity succeeded?

Not at all.

These airlines have failed to realise that complexity comes at a great cost ... both to the company and to their customers. These airlines have basically yield managed themselves to death.

Companies like Southwest Airlines and Ryanair now are worth more than most of the traditional airlines combined. Part of the reason is that their business models are much simpler. They don't need to pay Accenture billions of dollars per year to run their CRM systems. And their customers know exactly what they are getting.

No, they do not provide the best service in the world, and you do not get in flight meals included with your price. But as an example of business success in an incredibly difficult industry, they cannot be beat.

Perhaps we should all rethink how we can simplify our solutions and business models?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Smart Babes Profile 1: Natalie Portman

First of all, I wanted to thank all of the followers of my blog! I am very grateful and flattered that you find my thoughts worth reading. Thank you!

Today, I begin a new section of my blog dedicated to profiling real life smart babes.

For the next several weeks, I will highlight women from various fields: media, entertainment, academic, business, philanthropy, etc. who I think you will agree are incredible sexy.

And a large part of their (and anyone's sexiness), I will argue, come from their intelligence.

First up is Natalie Portman.

Natalie is fluent in English, Hebrew, and French and has studied Japanese, German and Arabic.

She graduated with honours from Harvard University.

She has taught at Columbia University in March 2006 as a guest lecturer on a course on terrorism and counterterrorism, where she spoke about her film V for Vendetta.

She is passionate about math and science.

While still in high school, her 1998 high school paper on the "Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen" was entered in the Intel Science Talent Search.

At Harvard, she co-authored two research papers that were published in professional scientific journals. And in 2002, she contributed to a study on memory called "Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence".

She has said, "I'd rather be smart than a movie star."

Fortunately, she shows that you can be both.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Desiderata: A Wonderful Poem

Someone sent me this poem from early last century, and I thought it was wonderful enough to post in its entirety.


Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Enough about Passion and Changing the World: That is Not The Entrepreneur's Job

The old joke goes like this.

Question: What do you call a very polite, friendly, kind, good looking monster?
Answer: A failure.

Why is this joke (mildly) funny? Well, it's because it plays on our sense of values and how it may conflict with the specific role occupied by an individual. Yes, we like polite, friendly, kind, and good looking creatures.

But the
role of a monster is to be none of these ... and so, defined by its specific role, such a monster would be a failure.

The same could be said for entrepreneurs.

An entrepreneur's job is to build lasting companies that makes lot of money. Period
  • An entrepreneur's job is not to change the world.
  • An entrepreneur's job is not to show passion for a product.
  • An entrepreneur's job is not to do what he or she loves.
An entrepreneur's job is to build lasting companies that make lots of money. Period.

Sure there is nothing wrong with changing the world, or showing passion for a product, or doing what he or she loves. But at the end of the day, if that person has not built a lasting company that makes lots of money, he or she has failed as an entrepreneur.

Take sports. The job of a competitive swimmer is to swim faster than anyone else. Sure it's great if the swimmer feels passionate about the sport, but no matter how passionate one feels about it, if he or she cannot swim faster than the person in the other lanes, that swimmer has failed. The swimmer may be a very fine person, but as a competitive swimmer, the person has lost.

Entrepreneurship is a sport.

It is a competition.

The rules are very clear.

And that is what makes it so exciting ... It does not matter if you are black or white or brown or tall or short or fat. If you create a company that spews out massive profits year after year, you have won the competition. You have earned the right to call yourself an entrepreneur.

If you don't ... well you can be a good father, a poetic soul, a dreamer, a passionate person ... but you will not have won the entrepreneurship game. Like the monster, you would have failed.

There is nothing wrong with failing at entrepreneurship
, just as there is nothing wrong with failing at competitive swimming, or anything else.

But the sooner an entrepreneur and young budding CEOs realise that there really is only one metric that counts in this game, the sooner we will get beyond the recent Web 2.0 silliness and thereby give birth to a revitalised start up environment where some truly amazing, long lasting companies will be created.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Indian Street Delivery Workers

We are beginning to see a lot of bankruptcies and firings at Internet startups. This is obviously very sad.

However, almost all online businesses and startups which launched in the past 2 years deserve to fail.

Why? Because their only revenue model is VC funding, and their only long term strategy is to get bought out or go public before it runs out of money. Sadly enough this idiotic formula has proven successful during economic boom times, and as a result it has brainwashed a whole generation of so-called "entrepreneurs" who unfortunately can put up a website but could not run a real business if their life depended on it.

What type of real business do I mean? Take the dabbawalas, for example, of Mumbai ... street delivery workers. As Sagar Gubbi writes: "Take a stroll on one of Mumbai’s busy streets and you are likely to meet men clad in white attire and Gandhi topis (caps), scurrying past with cartloads of lunch boxes. They are Dabbawalas of Mumbai, well known for their six sigma-rated service quality. A dabbawala (a Hindi word that translates into ‘a person with a box’) is someone who delivers home-cooked lunch to office-goers and businessmen in Mumbai, at a nominal monthly fee.

A dabbawala’s service might involve only delivering cooked food from the client’s home or both cooking and delivering the food, based on the client’s preference. Sounds simple, eh? What’s stunning is the fact that dabbawalas deliver nearly 200,000 dabbas (lunch boxes) everyday, with six sigma quality, which means that there is only one mistake in every 6,000,000 deliveries!

The dabbawalas have existed for more than a century and have become an essential part of Mumbai’s social fabric. They travel either by foot or bicycles or suburban trains and barely use any technology. Their service is uninterrupted, even during Mumbai’s dreaded monsoon rains.

There are an estimated 5000 dabbawalas in Mumbai, most of whom are illiterates and come from very poor backgrounds. They are all shareholders of Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Supply Trust which has a turnover of nearly 450 million rupees (approximately $11.25 million) per annum. Dabbawalas have never gone on strike and four years ago, they allotted just 20 minutes to Prince Charles to meet them so that their customers are not kept waiting.

Their excellent teamwork and time management system has been featured as a case study by Harvard Business Review and they have presented their business model to various corporate houses such as Tata, Coca Cola, Daimler Chrysler and Reliance Industries. Riding on this success, the Dabbawalas are now planning to start a Supply Chain Consulting business.

The dabbawala story is an inspiring success story and demonstrates that simple ideas, when executed with discipline and dedication, can bring amazing results at the base of the pyramid."

The dabbawalas are profitable, have never taken external funding, provide incredible value to their customers, and they make only 1 mistakefor every 6,000,000 deliveries. How much better the world would be if every web 2.0 "company" could do the same?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Winning the ARMEs Race

An acquaintance of mine from Eastern Europe wrote to ask me about what it would take for media businesses to succeed in this increasingly challenging environment.

My view is that in this brave new world, media and entertainment companies will find that they have to fight and win four battles at once in order to create truly incredible businesses:

1. First, the Battle for Attention: How successful are we in getting people to try our service? How much of a consumer's time are we capturing? How engaged is the consumer while they are with us?

2. Second, the Battle for Retention: How many consumers return regularly to our products and services?

3. Third, the Battle for Monetisation: How successful are we in translating attention and retention into revenues and profits?

4. And fourth, the Battle for Extension: How successful are we in leveraging our consumer base, products and services into new channels or areas for growth?

I am afraid that despite the Web 2.0 hype, very few of the companies have figured out the formula for winning this ARMEs race. Too many of them focus on just one aspect or two at most. Unfortunately, this is like trying to win a pole vaulting competition with a toothpick. It does not work.

Of course for those that have been able to get all the pieces together, the results have been astonishing. In a space of a few short years, Google has grown from an interesting start-up company, to an advertising behemoth, already sporting a market cap over US$100 billion. But even in the case of Google, it took an acquisition of a New York based keyword advertising company to fill in the missing piece.

How is your startup doing against each of these dimensions? How can you fill the gaps? Through organic development? Merger? New business focus?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Curse of Too Much Capital

Leading weeklies are proclaiming the death of Silicon Valley, and technology blogs are carrying "Layoff Trackers," which their readers devour with a combination of fascination and dread.

Indeed, if you believe the popular press, it seems like the tech bust of 2000-2002 was just a precursor to what is likely to come over the next several years ... a nuclear winter for technology startups.

But does this need to be the case?

Perhaps if a startup raises $10 million in funding which the VCs are trying to claw back using every trick their lawyers can conjure up.

But who needs $10 million to start up an Internet company these days? Unless you are starting a search engine that indexes 10 billion pages and are maintaining a 5000 server farm data center to return results in a millisecond, you pretty much need just a few smart programmers, some good designers, and a hosting package.

With a lean structure like that, you can run a company for several years as long as it can generate a few thousand dollars of revenue per month. And if a company cannot generate a few thousand dollars of revenue per month, it should not be a company.

And so, perhaps this global recession will have some beneficial effects for startup companies ... by creating ones that are built to last and don't need to suffer from the curse of too much capital.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Top 5 Free Internet Sites for Impressing Your Date With Your Creativity (Even If You Are Not Artistic)

The other evening, Sameer, an old friend of mine from my university days asked me how he could impress a girl.

I suppose this is the eternal question, and there will be as many different answers as there are people in this world. However, I told him that I was always impressed by people who could express their creativity.

Sameer was disappointed with my answer. "Unfortunately, I don't have an artistic bone in my body," he said.

I thought about this for quite some time. And then I realised, that just as we have now outsourced our intelligence to search engines, we could now outsource our creativity to an Internet solution. So, I quickly put together the following list and sent it off to Sameer. Today, I heard back from Sameer. Apparently, the list worked. :)

The Top 5 Free Internet Sites for Impressing Your Date With Your Creativity (Even If You Are Not Artistic)

  1. Photofunia: I used this site to create my avatar. A great site that lets you make some amazingly creative and sexy photo manipulations. I can guarantee that you will impress your date if you take a snapshot of her and then run it through one of Photofunia's images. Developed by a creative team in Russia.

  2. Animoto: Would you like to make a music video in less than 2 minutes? All you need to do is upload some recent photos, and animoto does the rest for you. Much better than a slideshow, and it literally takes the amount of time to upload a few photos to the site. Run by a team based out of New York.

  3. Befunky: Change any photo into a Frank Milleresque image like in the movie. Very cool and sexy. Easy to use and incredibly beautiful results. Dveloped by a team based in one of my favourite countries, Turkey.

  4. Fotoflexer: Essentially an easy to use Photoshop equivalent for free. Several advanced options as well ... including retouching photos. Run by a team based in Berkeley.

  5. Prezi: Powerpoint is like, so 2008. Try this service from Hungary. You will never go back to boring old Powerpoint again.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Why I Don't Have a TV

Many people ask me how I live without a TV.

The reasons are simple.

1. Waste of time: The average person watches 5 hours of TV a day. That is almost 17 years of one's life spent watching TV. That is 17 years that could have been spent creating a piece of art, starting a company, helping someone in need, raising a child, making love. We only have one life to live. Why waste such a precious gift?

2. Skewed perception of reality: TV is designed to get people to buy products. Full stop. And to get people to buy products, companies need to make people feel deficient, lacking, unhappy ... that is, until they buy the company's product. Companies need to redefine normality in terms that advantage them.

The real world is nothing like the TV world. Take a walk on the normal street. In India, you will see millions of people who look nothing like the people you see on TV and TV commercials. These are the real people. And yet, companies want people to feel that the real people are stars like Aishwarya Rai, and that if you do not wear the perfume they are wearing, you are not normal.

3. Materialism: After I got my first job out of university, I decided to move into my own flat. This is somewhat new in India, but since my work was in Bangalore, I did not have a choice. Over the next few months, with my new income, I starting accumulating goods.

My favorite TV show at the time was Friends, an American show about young people in New York. For a while I tried to imitate their way of life. I spent my spare time in cafes, and I bought a lot of the stuff advertised on TV to match the Friends lifestyle. Then one day I looked around, and all of a sudden it seemed so futile. We spend all of our lives accumulating junk, and then we die.

This is why I don't have a TV.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My First Post

For several years, like many Indian girls, I have kept a journal of my thoughts. I never showed them to anybody, however. Instead, I believed that one day, my own ideas would develop to the point where I would not feel embarassed about sharing them with the world. When that day came, I thought, I would publish my thoughts in a real printed book.

And yet, as time passed, I slowly realised that such a day would never come. Even philosophers, in their old age, look back on their earlier work with at least a small amount of embarassment. Likewise, I saw that my ideas thoughts will always change and evolve, and that I will always look back at my earlier thoughts with at least a small amount of embarassment as well.

And so, as the new year came, I decided to start this blog. I make no pretensions about it. It is simply the thoughts of a young girl in India, living in a confusing world, trying to make sense of it all.

I hope you will join me on this journey. For, I believe that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has ideas that are worth sharing.