Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Archive for the ‘Open Source Innovation’ Category

3G. WiMAX. There is an inevitable showdown waiting on that camp. That’s probably also the reason why the deployments of WiMAX hasnt picked up by much. If you ask me, there is credit to deploying the 3G – or a network that is based on the telecom network. Why? Reliability. Ever picked up a landline and missed the dialtone? Thats what I am talking about.

With the economy slowing down a little, I guess the 3G talk is going to be dampened a bit here in India. But I dont think it should be. The consumerist trend hasnt slowed down and Indians have woken up to enjoying the usage of digital media, devices and services, that 3G as a service could very much consolidate and bank on. This post is partly written with the knowledge I’ve gathered being on both sides of the camp, as part of the Telecom group (and the plans that they are making with IMS – IP Multimedia Subsystem) and where the web, and industry have evolved.

Lets start with a Picture.

Future Living

Ubiquitous Computing, will not be just a term anymore. Centralized, easily accessible, and convergence. I think that’s the three keywords which are almost mantras in the new lifestyle that is emerging.

Trends:

Follow the numbers on the diagram with the explanations below.

1. Your mobile phone is not just a phone. Ask Nokia and they will tell you that. If we start with the way of 3G, its also the means to a broadband pipe, and 3G is just the beginning. HSDPA, LTE, and all the planned roadmap of the GSM Data Network, seems to be only getting faster and faster. Now, why would I advocate relying on my mobile’s data network as the crucial pipe for everything?

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This is a wonderful time to be starting up. You will come across very few people who will give comparisons to all the benefits they get working for big corporates. Its one such time. Hiring will be slightly easier, and retaining them will be even more easier.

Even in the midst of all that, it does seem that a lot of the Startup Companies are hardpressed for resources here in India. Here’s a solution.

A few of us have been talking about putting together a centre that trains people (as blank slated as freshers) on the common technologies that people use while building products – the usual PHP, Python, AJAX, MySQL, etc etc and getting them upto speed on mashups, APIs, documentation, and moving forward. That is the level of skill that most of the startup community folks are looking for it seems. Or am I wrong here?

If I am right, then there is a simple way around it. Every chapter of OCC in the country is doing quite well. I heard from Santhosh that Pune is a 300 people group now (though I do suspect that the turn out ratio would be still less), but who knew Pune had 300 people who would be open to being part of a community right? And the same case has gone on with Bangalore, Kolkatta, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, and even now and then with Mumbai.

Here’s the thought. What if in one of the OCCs a dozen of the startup companies, especially the folks who can code and code really well, commit that they will run a two month training program for people in these languages? It is going to take a bit of time and commitment, but there are a lot of resources already on the web, and with a couple of screencasts, and proper documentation, you could essentially also use it as training material for the next batch of people that you hire in your company later on.

What I am proposing is that a batch of technology entrepreneurs, each taking a week to cover different aspects of the course, could put their hands together to collaboratively solve an issue which is haunting a great many of them. Read the rest of this entry »

So I know that there are a gazillion guys out there in the whole wide world, who have given “open” advise to Yahoo as to what they should do. I am neither an expert, nor am vested into the company to have such generosity towards them 🙂

A friend of mine and I, over some conversations were discussing about some of the bigger brands that we see around us and something along the topics of Return on Equity. Not sure if you are aware of, but Microsoft has a 52% return on equity. Yahoo has roughly about 7% and falling drastically and Google has one which stands at around 26% – and growing steadily. Whatever you may say, Microsoft has played this game with a whole new set of balls and one most people simply won’t understand. And if you ask me, they are a much better company in terms of strategy and products compared to Google, anyday.

Yahoo could emerge with an edge, if they leapfrog into other verticals following the same web-based advertisement network.

Yahoo could emerge with an edge, if they leapfrog into other verticals following the same web-based advertisement network.

But that’s not the focus of this post.

The conversation was that, if a company has Advertisement as its core strength and has built a competence in it, then its going to be very hard for the company to drop that and adapt the advertising network of its partner/rival. Well, for the case of survival they might, but since they do have the core competence, the resources and the minds that can think in that direction, what could they possibly do, was the question.

Fact: Yahoo makes most of its money via advertisement, and that too on banner ads.

This becomes an issue when you have so much internet portals and properties, but just simply have to fill them with advertisements in order to make them viable. And in this day and age of APIs, nobody might even come visit the site to get hit by the advertisement. You are forced to rethink in terms of strategically placing the advertisement within the content, but thats a very very hard thing.

My Take: I think this is probably the same route as making fiber out of rocks. There might be some way to do it, but whatever it is, its one rare, long process.

I’d say, flip the coin, and lets look out to the horizon. Go after other streams, television and Radio… to be precise.

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It’s quite possible that I am just plain simply crazy, but if you bear with me and try to understand how my brain and thought process works, I think there is most certainly an idea here.

Energy is a Pressing Matter and Hot Topic in all Circles, but I think the basis of our problem isnt focused on.

Energy is a Pressing Matter and Hot Topic in all Circles, but I think the basis of our problem isnt focused on.

So I was sitting through a Sustainability Conference in IIT Madras today and there was one talk on Energy Consumption. The talk essentially mentioned how we ascertain energy demands by our peak hours. The problem being we need that at the most, and at times when its not the peak, we have to “shed” the load, and it usually ends up being dumped into the grid, and thanks to our grids not being designed properly, it usually ends up overloading half of rural India. That’s a different story all together.

The hint was in a passing by comment that the problem with energy is that it has to be consumed as and when its produced. There is simply no way to store it. If you want to store it in batteries and such, its simply not viable for large quantities, since its very expensive.

I have no idea what happened for the rest of the talk, apart for when he showed graphs and numbers – which always catches my attention, but he also mentioned that they were not accurate, which made me go “bleh” and back to my thinking process.

The Idea:

So Energy. The basis is that all energy is created from one form or the other. So Lets accept that we cant break this rule and make newton roll over in his grave. Knowing limitations are a plus point.

Lets learn a little bit of inspiration from biology. We take food, we break it down into amino acids, the smallest and easily metabolic form of food, and then the system burns it into energy as per the demands of the body. Compare it with however it is that we create energy, saying that one form of energy – coal or whatever is converted into energy which is converted into electricity which is probably the simplest form of energy.

If you look at biology, the food that is intaken, if the broken down food is more than the “demand” of the system, then the system quickly converts them into FAT and stores them all around the body – which is what provides all those funky love handles that people put so much energy to get rid of. But quite strictly speaking, its just the systems way of saying that we are consuming more than we need, and it is storing it away for a rainy day. The first signs of starvation and thats the storage unit that the system starts feeding off of.

Whats the FAT version of electricity? That’s the question.

Now, I am thinking that there is a possibility here that one cannot go directly from coal into  free flowing electrons. And we are probably missing a middle step that might help us with efficiency.

Secondly, there must be a way to join these electrons to become something that is more passive and with a trigger break them down into simpler free flowing electrons again.

And you know what? If that is possible… you and I would never have to wait for ages for our phones or ipods t get charged. We can technically dump these “FAT” into our devices, and let the device trigger these substance into electrons so that we get a full charge. But the deal is that, just like it doesnt take the body more than a few enzymes to break down FAT back into Amino acids and use them, we have to have these in a form that the devices themselves can transform without elaborate machinery – aka. combustion chambers and engines.

I think it should be possible. These are days when I wish I was a physicist and a chemist put together. But if, and I think it can be, it is possible, then technically we should be able to catch “energy” as and when it happens – from the lightnings, to tornadoes, to cyclones, save up all the energy and use it for when we need it. We can harvest all of the Sunlight hitting the earth and probably setup plants that can fight some of the global warming, and probably use energy in a way that is not as harmful to the planet as our current barbaric ways are.

There was sometime back when was doing a rough math on how many live camera streams there are. There are some that are pointed towards the “habitat” of the Loch Ness Monster, there are enough live traffic camera, and plenty of them pointed towards a birds nest or so. And if you take the example of Justin.tv (which seems to be inspired by The Truman Show), even people are willing to play their part in all this.

Ofcourse all of this is a one way broadcast. Apart from adult sites which are apparently making their niche through two way interaction, there is not much that is happening in this space.

Is there any of that, that can be adapted into the “green” scenario? A couple of light bulbs went on and off and here’s the thought (or Idea):

MMORPG
The forest department today plans thousands of saplings every year on barren lands to convert them into lush green forests, but the biggest problem with it has been the case of watering them. There is not enough manpower to do those menial tasks – at the salary that the govt is providing – and there is also the issue of accountability where all the saplings near the roadside stand straight and well watered, but the ones in the interior die away because laziness kicks in for most of these workers. They are not to be blamed either when the scorching sun is merciless on them and they are poorly prepped for all that.

The idea is to basically plant all the saplings as the forest department does and then have water drums which can be filled periodically with water from trucks (much simpler task). The pipes to the saplings will be set on drip irrigation and there will be a soil moisture sensor in the soil which measures if there is water or not. Set a Camera that overlooks this area, connect it to the Internet and create a frontend to a MMORPG (Massively Multi-user Online Role Playing Game). If that’s too much of an acronym, think Second Life. People can “adopt” grids of these fields and take care of them. All they have to do is, once the soil moisture turns a bit low, hit the buttons that will start the drip irrigation and stop them when the moisture level is optimal.

There are already countless number of such “events” that happen in Second Life, where if one plants a sapling in the virtual world, an organization instead plants one in the real world somewhere. This would just be an extension of that.

Now, technically you can take this to the next level. Think of all the Wild Life Sanctuaries. The biggest problem today is Poachers (I am still worried if I have to show stuffed toys of Tigers as our National Animal to my kids someday), and the forest officers are not nearly paid enough to scout the areas – and they are very ill armed to protect themselves from these animals as well. What if we could setup a range of Wifi cameras, stream the videos and let people monitor them. I’m sure there are enough animal activists around the world that some might even take it up while we sleep. All they would have to do is to hit a button which will alert the officer if a Poacher is spotted. And give the front end the control to click a snap if they want to document something and we might capture poachers and exotic wildlife as souvenirs.

I think finally, and its about time that the conscious of having to go green is kicking in. And we are gonna have to do everything – not just to sustain – but positively influence this planet to make it sustainable and even stay on the existential path. Maybe entrepreneurship, technology and the enthusiasm of the global audience can create a network of Global Watchers, to take care of the assets around us – All this while getting to “play” their roles.

There is nothing new under the sun. Nothing Whatsoever. Ideas are just evolved from one form to another to adapt and wear a new dress.

I often used to quote the phrase that “Ideas are worth nothing. Implementation is all that matters”. Its true, but it also frustrates a lot of people who think they have fabulous ideas in their hands. I don’t spell it out as much anymore, but I have figured out much easier ways to get that same point across.

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to a guy named Sian, the brains behind an event named Alpha Summit that used to happen in Europe. It was almost like Proto.in, except that their focus was slightly different. They focused on Tombstone companies. Companies which would have died, if not for that boost that an event brings together. They succeeded a bit in what they did, but turning around a company is no one day matter, it takes months and years to turn some companies around, and hence the Alpha Summit is no more. But the thought has stayed in my mind, that some companies simply are hatching ideas that are way ahead of its time. If the timing is right, and if it is repositioned, there is a chance for a miracle. Heck, if we have already categorized them as a tombstone, why not give it that shot? That’s been a thought in my head, as we are also looking at ways to evolve where Proto.in stands right now. But this thought goes beyond that.

When I first heard from Arun Katiyar, the concept of an Event Web, I was quite amused. It’s true, our life is a sequence of events, and an “event-web” as he put it, makes a lot of sense. SERaja was a company for which the visions came from Rajesh Jain and Ramesh Jain. Ramesh has published a paper on the same concept. They were one of the companies that presented at the first edition of Proto.in. Unfortunately, it seems that they didnt manage to build traction as they hoped to, but then just recently I heard a very similar pitch. It came from Dandelife and Lifeblob. Timelines, events, blogs, friends and how everything is interconnected.

While SEraja had complicated the implementation a bit my mixing multimedia content and such, and also adding the complexity of mobile phones and such, Lifeblog is taking the incremental step of taking blogs, appealing from a point where everyone is comfortable and taking it from there. To be quite honest, I signed up, found a fair bit of friends there and am still trying to figure out how well it works. I haven’t made too many posts there, given that I can barely keep my facebook, blog and twitter updated – let alone a lifeblob. But if you haven’t already succumbed to so many social networks, it does make sense to stick to that.

One of the oldest ideas that makes me remember of the phrase that Ideas are immortal is how Location-based services are coming up. LBS had the imaginations of people lighted up and quite a bit of rave imaginations I must say, were running behind what it could possibly do. Five years ago when I was bootstrapping a venture, we explored around that, lobbied with the canadian govt to give us location data and were shooed away. Fun times. But today companies such as bangalore-based Yulop are digging that old grave up and bringing that dream to life – atleast the hope of such dreams back to life.

Most often timing, and the wrong timing is what kills an idea. VoIP still hasn’t taken off, because people really don’t know what to do with it beyond making phone calls, and the infrastructure cost that goes into it is so darn expensive that it doesn’t justify the phone calls as a function or feature. VoIP will die its death in this timeline, but will come back again. Perhaps when 3G becomes prevalent and demand pushes need and applications and services are born, a revival might come in place.

Quite a lot of folks ask me whats a good idea worth exploring. It is quite interesting to note that the “ideas to toss” section of this blog is one of the most popular ones, apart from the controversial ones that come up from time to time. People are looking for ideas, and thats a statement. Sometimes, in order to look into the future, you just have to look at the past and see what has died before its time, and perhaps give those tombstones a new leash on life.

If you want a hint and a springboard, go right ahead to the deadpool section of Techcrunch and see, what you can dig up, and where you can play the part of a necromancer (Oh the Diablo playing days!)

More Links to Click:
Startup North
Startups that came back from the Dead
Michael Arrington Seeds Dead Startups.
Y Combinator List, with Lots of Dead Startups

Well, for those of you who aren’t aware, as part of the work in the Indian Institute of Technology, we file a lot of patents every year. It used to be the case that faculty members who are working on something would file for a patent without even cross-referencing what is already out there and patented, and would just wait it out till they get a patent rejected, or in some cases of amusement, an acceptance of a patent for a very well known technology – the flaws of the indian patent system is a healthy debate for another day.

Coming back to the present day and age, most of the patents that we file which are commercially focused, we do a little bit of groundwork as to who is working on what and what is already patented, and there is a fair bit of strategic positioning that goes into how you want to leverage your IP to hedge towards future opportunities. It’s a fun excercise.

Here’s where the paranoid bit comes in. Most of the time, we use strings of keywords to search through patent search engines, and at times even Google’s patent search engine to find out what already exists out there. If you are smart, you’d have figured out where I am going with this.

Let me form my base of reasoning here. Most businesses have three kinds of activities that go on with every interaction that happens with a customer. The First is the straightforward transaction. The second is in understanding the needs of the customer and evolving their next product line. And the third, which a lot of folks also miss, is the data that you have of all the interactions that have gone on with you and your customer. Understanding your customer, which also means understanding a very niche market segment and with behavorial patterns and data is a very lucrative asset – one that is rarely put to use by most companies. If you are planning a marketing campaign, be it digital or offline, the data you collect, observe and dissect later on, might even hold mysteries to turning your company around later on at some point in time.

So coming back to the paranoid self, I am applying these three cases to the sites which offer me these services to search. For one, I search and get the search results which translates to pageviews and advertisements which is good for these companies. The more I search, the feedbacks that I provide helps them improve their service. And there is also this thing where I am a little worried as to what happens to all these search queries that I have put into this engine, which if analysed properly, can give out what I have in hand as my core IP to start off with.

I used to use vague terms such as “Mobile+Speech” but, then there are results that throw out in the thousands that it takes ages to go through all of them. When I was living in a different continent under a different system, our IP law team made sure to keep an eye on what patents were already out there, what we had created, and also they had a list of all the pending patents, which helps to ensure that we are in the current, and are positioned well. I am not sure we have a way of tracking “pending patents” here in India yet.

There are some controversies that Albert Einstein was a clerk in a Patent office and it is quite possible that most of his theories were influenced by the applications that came in. Imagine that, sitting in a patent office and you get to sift through countless research, delivered in a form which is easily digestible, coming right at ya. Sometimes the controversy does seem to be leaning towards a case against Einstein. If he did get “influenced” by those ideas, then perhaps he did exploit an opportunity quite well, lived and died, so he doesn’t care anymore either. I am, at times worried if these search engines are doing the same task.

I am not saying that these engines are using these keywords to start looking up, or feeding that data to people who could leverage them and translate them into IP. But what I am saying is that, a startup, or an academician needs to be aware that the possibility exists. Do use your discretion on the matter.


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