After a gap of over 20 years, I got a chance to meet with my mentor. I first met him towards the end of 1984 and pitched him three ways of building a database engine. I will tell this long story in another post. I was nervous as hell and blabbered about SQL vs QBE (Query by Example) vs QBF (query by forms) approaches. I strongly recommended SQL based approach since it was the real back end. He listened carefully, asked a few questions and told my partners that we should go ahead with development. My partners were his students at Wharton. At that time, I did not know what Venture Capital was. Howard used to be a VC. Howard was an advisor to Coromandel and a great one with deep knowledge of the industry.
Yesterday when I met him, the deep knowledge part is still there. We talked a lot about some database technologies. He joked that he never seems to get out of involvement with database companies. It was a great conversation in his offices and it was really great to catch up.
A few quotes from Howard.
A few of the database problems have still not been solved yet. There are still opportunities in that space.
Being surrounded by young, bright people, keeps you young (my philosophy, exactly). Twenty years ago it was students at Wharton (he was an adjunct professor there and that is how my partners met him). Today he invests in lots of startups.
Idealabs (where he spent some time and still on the board of), is a special type of incubator. It incubates ideas from the founder Bill Gross.
In early 90s, it used to take 5 million dollars to first customer ship and in late 90s it fell to 2 million dollars. In mid 2000 it was $750,000 and now thanks to AWS and all the open source tools, it is almost nothing. So VCs have to rethink their involvement and value add.
Traditional VC model’s scalability is limited by the partner model. So innovation in scalability is one of the interesting problems to solve.
NY startup scene is booming. We are right in the middle of it.
I think I will write down a lot of ideas this conversation generated for a future post. One thing is for sure. It is a privilege to know people like Howard and get some time from them to have conversations and get some perceptions of the industry from them.
Yesterday, I met a long time customer(using our product for over 7 years and renewing every year) in NY. It was an amazing experience. Even though, we had only about 40 minutes, we covered a lot in that time. We figured out not only how she can leverage our products more but also how we can use her services to help increase awareness of our product. We let the conversation flow. I had only one question. I asked her to say anything that comes to her mind about our product positive or negative. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her answer.
It is the engine that runs my business.
What else can you ask for? I wonder how many of our customers, hold this view. It is something that is core to their business than something nice to have. I need to talk to many more and find out.
I don’t write much about our products or customers in this blog, but this is something I certainly wanted to share with my fellow entrepreneurs. Talk to your customers. If possible, meet them in person. Let the conversation flow and listen to their problems. It is an enriching experience.
I came across this infographic today – Wikipedia – Redefining Research
Some observations and ideas for projects:
- “In comparison to College Level Text Books – Wikipedia is 98% accurate”. It will be interesting to see whether Wikipedia’s coverage is as extensive as a recommended book for a specific course? Wikibooks may be designed to meet these needs, but I wonder how many wikibooks take content from Wikipedia itself.
- Since Wikipedia text is available under Creative Commons License , it can be tailored to the needs of learners and researchers with special tools.
- It will be useful to create some guides on how to do research using Wikipedia, and compare it with other alternate methods.
- Projects like DbPedia use Wikipedia to extract information about entities like companies and provide a searchable database. This concept can be extended further for other entities including subjects.
- Concept mapping tools can provide a visual interface to Wikipedia. Instead of the conventional method of drawing by hand, you can create automatic concept map generators (a subject for another blog post)
The Intersection Event Is Where Innovation And Social Change Meet
That philosophy is this: Some of the greatest inventions the world has seen were developed incrementally as one person built on another’s ideas, sometimes transcending decades or even centuries between them. What makes for a real innovation is that someone takes a previous idea and juxtapositions it in new light, or with a new twist, or in a new context. That means finding the intersection between the original observation or thought and the new environment or situation. The most fertile areas for innovation–and the most new ideas–are likely to occur at the intersection of several great minds.
You never know where a good idea is going to come from
I’m fascinated by the different types of people I meet in the world and the way their personalities show in what they do. People with passion, energy, ideas and an unquenchable thirst for life inspire me the most. I’m fueled by their energy, fascinated by their ideas and inspired by the way they live life to its fullest.
Yesterday I was at Srinivasa Institute of Engineering and Tech, Chennai for the inaugural of their Innovation Cell. In my keynote, I told them a few stories they can relate to, stories of other student innovators from innovation cells I was involved in.
After the ceremony, we (about four of us who spoke) got a chance to meet the Chairman Mr. Kanagaraj. He told us a story of his early entrepreneurship attempts. I am going to retell the story in my own words, slightly differently.
In 1950, I used to receive half an anna per week as allowance ( in today’s terms, it is about 3 paisa). I used to accumulate it for a couple of weeks, buy a packet of ‘kadale mittai’ (a cake made out of ground nuts and jaggery) and sell pieces to my friends. His profit? About 10-15%.
He said he was from a village and did not know much. But he went on to get his MA, M.Phil, started a school with just 37 students and now runs about 23 institutions.
I have heard of similar stories. All you have to do is to read the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. It has countless stories of his early attempts of entrepreneurship.
So what makes entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs? How do they pick up this trait early in life?
I concluded that going around giving talks is a great way to meet some very interesting people and hear some great (real life) and inspiring stories.
In early 50’s we had a British system. A rupee was divided into 4 quarter-annas and each quarter-anna was divided into 4 annas. Around 1955, India switched to decimal (100 paise per rupee). So an anna was roughly equivalent to 6 paisa.
This article is a good read. It raises many interesting questions and argues that Creativity is not a gift but a skill that can be developed. Look at the following paragraphs – “creativity is just connecting things”.
Steve Jobs famously declared that “creativity is just connecting things.” Although we think of inventors as dreaming up breakthroughs out of thin air, Mr. Jobs was pointing out that even the most far-fetched concepts are usually just new combinations of stuff that already exists. Under Mr. Jobs’s leadership, for instance, Apple didn’t invent MP3 players or tablet computers—the company just made them better, adding design features that were new to the product category.
The history of innovation bears out Mr. Jobs’s theory. The Wright Brothers transferred their background as bicycle manufacturers to the invention of the airplane; their first flying craft was, in many respects, just a bicycle with wings. Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. Or look at Google: Larry Page and Sergey Brin came up with their famous search algorithm by applying the ranking method used for academic articles (more citations equals more influence) to the sprawl of the Internet.
Some times these connections are made by a variety of cognitive processes. They help us abstract ideas and apply them in other situations.
It turns out that we use “creativity” as a catchall term for a variety of cognitive tools, each of which applies to particular sorts of problems and is coaxed to action in a particular way.
If creativity is connecting dots, how do we find these dots? How do make the connections? Observing and Questioning seem to be some of the skills to hone.
At iMorph, we build tools to discover, gather and explore information. Here is one prototype we are playing with. It takes three publications and analyzes the top terms (we chose bigrams – pairs of words). Each tag cloud is build by analyzing the news feeds from these financial newspaper sources.
Topic: You can create a topic and assign some feeds to get information about the topic
URL: You can pick from different sources in the specified Topic
View: We have several views (Linked Tagclouds, Trend Clouds and CompanyClouds). You can pick one to deep dive into
Tag Count: Number of top level tags (in this example top 50 bigrams).
If you are interested in taking a look, let us know. We can get you into an early access program.
”Unless you measure it” said some one, “you cannot improve it”. Sounds reasonable. However, I think it is a hypothesis that needs to be verified. I am not doubting its validity. I just have this doubt that it may not work in all circumstances. Here are my concerns:
- How do you pick what to measure? What if it is wrong doesn’t it skew the whole process? Like the grades to judge student performance?
- Can you have multiple alternate measures? If you do, how do you give each one a weight?
But let me leave the theoretical questions and ask you a more practical one?
- How many of you have any kind of metrics to measure your performance/progress/growth? At work? In life?
- How many of you have considered (even just considered) measuring job satisfaction or work satisfaction?
- How many of you have metrics for a Curiosity Quotient? Or Happiness Quotient? Or any one of those umpteen measures?
Frankly, I don’t have any. Once in a while I think about them. It sounds like a good idea but then, I am not sure how to go about it. Because, i know if I use the wrong metric to guide my life, I am going to screw up big time.
One danger of not having a personal quotient, is that you have to live with what others measure you by. If you care about that too much, it may make you a very unhappy person very quickly.
I sat there mesmerized. Here is a man, Mr T.P. Srinivasan, who breathes UN in every breath. I think every little memory, every little incident has been permanently etched in this amazing mind. He has the capability to look at UN critically from India’s point of view, philosophically as a Global citizen and even though he is tree in the UN forest, is able to separate forest from trees. I would love to read his book “Words, Words, Words”. He got me interested in world bodies and their dynamics immensely. Previously the talk of UN, IMF, G20 would bring out a yawn. Not any more.
I learned a lot more about UN in less than an hour, than I ever knew. It came from an eminent Indian who was part of UN for over 20 years of his life. It will be great to get 193 (the number of nations in UN now) views and look at them in a philosophical manner.
There is no way I can capture the breadth, depth and spirit of his speech. Here are the snippets as I rapidly tried to keep track a flowing river of knowledge
- Goal of UN was to rid the world of scourges of war. Yet, after UN was formed there were more than 800 wars. So UN really did not do what it set out to do. However, they argue that they stopped the Third World War. Only history can prove that.
- We need UN. It is the only truly global organization to look at world problems. It started with 52 nations. But now it has 193 nations.
- The participating nations feel that it is a symbol of sovereignty. We need that.
- How does India look at UN? Taking Kashmir to UN was one of the biggest mistakes. Since its initial idealistic model of UN, India has reset its expectations of this world body
- Centers of power in the world are changing. The current permanent members have to rethink their position
- US pays 22% of UN expenses while India pays only 0.4%. So we cannot justify being members based on our financial contributions. However, India’s contribution to UN has been enormous. It has been part of (almost) every peace keeping force UN has ever formed
- On the future of UN – Unless the power structure of UN changes, UN will not be relevant in future
One warning, though. You need to apply a bias filter. These observations are from an Indian ambassador to UN. No single country can really be objective about UN or other global organizations. I wonder whether there are any true global citizens.