How to Build a Global Tech Business from India?

I just off from a talk I gave to Wharton Students and Alumni at IIM Bangalore. The talk was organized by Prof. Kartik Hosanagar who focuses on the internet space at Wharton. Building a tech business out of India has its own share of frustrations, challenges and advantages and having beent through the journey, I would not mind sharing the same with other fellow entrepreneurs who are embarking on one.

Here’s the slides from the talk. They don’t say too much (for that you’d have to listen!) but I would be happy to answer questions!


An Evening with Latif

Seeking The Beloved

I attended an evening of Sufi Sindhi music organized by The Kabir Project – the evening was a wonderful experience to say the least.

My interest in Latif had been piqued due to the detailed mention he got in The Empires of the Indus, with his risalos being quite popular and a big celebration in Bhitai on the day of his urs. He is quite obviously one of the most famous icons of Sindhi culture. More about the Shah:

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai (1689-1752) is one of the greatest Sufi poets along with Rumi (1207-1273) and Mir Dard (1721-1785), but relatively speaking lesser known. His poetry draws on the power and beauty of Vedanta and Islam melding the two philosophies into one poetic and spiritual vision. His major work is the “Shah Jo Risalo” and his poems thrive today as a vibrant oral tradition being widely sung, quoted and loved by both Hindu and Muslim communities in the Sindh region on both sides of the Indo-Pak border. He takes the popular love legends of the region and speaks through the voices of different woman protagonists. Sometimes he is Sasui, sometimes Moomal, sometimes Sohini and sometimes Marui… and through their journeys of seeking the Truth he expresses his own. His poetry creates a tantalizing dance of expressions between the sensual yearnings for the earthly Beloved and the deeply meditative yearnings for the transcendent Beloved.

What made the event outstanding was the organization – the music was completed by a sampling of Sindhi cuisine, including their samosas, tosha, daal and halwa. There had souvenirs available in the form of t-shirts and books. The artwork and the presentation playing in the background was absolutely fascinating. Shabnam Virmani, as the emcee weaved a number of stories and kep the audience enthralled. even the sign boards to the venue said, “Seeking the Beloved? … This way”.

Just putting down a few couplets that I really liked

all bear
some burden of sorrow
I carry a full load

I seek
sellers of sorrow
most have left
the marketplace


ordinary ears
do not decipher whispers

throw away
sell these
donkey ears

tune into the inner ear

The only comment would be that the second part (Waee music) was probably not very mellifluous and for popular consumption. While the authenticity of the experience is very important, the organizers should have kept public taste in mind.

Snowflakes Templates – Blogs are the new media

Just came across this interesting post about Snowflake templates where you put a word with just about anything, and make a punchline. For instance, “X is the new Y”, or “In Soviet-Russia, X Y’s you”, and in Israel during the election campaign, a leader came up with “Not X. Y”. Some examples are:

  1. Dhoni is the new Tendulkar
  2. Laptops are the new supercomputers
  3. In Soviet Russia, water drinks you
  4. In Bollywood, dreams make you
  5. Not a blog. An elegy.
  6. Not a snowflake. A phenomenon.
  7. Rahul is the new Rajiv!

What snowflake patterns have you seen? Any common in India?

Hop onto the original post as well.

Happy Durga Puja!

It’s the time of the year again when we are anxiously waiting for the longest vacation in the year — the time of Durga Puja in Calcutta. And the festival brings not just a phew! for the vacations, but also unbridled joy, masti abound, relatives and friends, and adda as not seen for the rest of the year. Here’s wishing everybody a very happy Durga Puja!

The only pain point in Durga Puja is the traffic. Vehicles slow down to a crawl, and stand boot to bonnet on the streets. And while you can’t wait to reach the next pandal, you are not blessed with a BatMobile, and hence practicalities of life can dampen the spirit sometimes. It’s for this reason that we have tied up with Kolkata Police to provide live traffic updates through an SMS. You can sms “PUJA” to 9874400500 to get the list of commands. We also provide location of the top 80 pandals in Kolkata, the vehicular entry points, and the closest parking (as stipulated by traffic police). You can also look up this information online at

Read more details at our team blog.

Cheers — here’s to a traffic free puja!

PS: A handout for your reference:

Live Traffic Updates this Durga Puja!

Live Traffic Updates this Durga Puja!

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

image Just finished reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Amazon, Wikipedia) written by Mohsin Hamid. The book is about the story of Changez, who grows up in Lahore, goes to the United States to obtain his bachelors from Princeton (mirroring the life of the author quite closely thus far), gets a job in one of the top financial consultancy firms Underwood Samson (the author worked in McKinsey), falls in love with a girl who still loves her dead boyfriend, and finally returns to Pakistan following emotional turmoil in the aftermath of 9/11. The book is written as a conversation that the protagonist has with an American tourist, and is quite brief. In fact, Hamid had remarked on it’s brevity:

I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through.

I took a while reading it since I had misplaced my copy and finally located it in my luggage. The book is a very easy read — no high flying philosophy, or cross references to Greek literature, but is quite alluring. There are so many things you identify with and you see such people around you. Changez, after passing out of Princeton thinks that the world is his oyster. He is uneasy adjusting with his high-flying lifestyle. The work (as a foreigner in one of the most respected firms in NY), the competition at the workplace, holidays, finding in unrequited love with a girl, the emotional turmoil at the contrast between his own life in a castle and his family’s in a moat, and finally giving it all up to return to a life where rewards are less monetary and more spiritual, the heightened sense of everything that is right about your country, the smell of the soil, the flower market, the food and even the beggars on the streets to regain a connection with his country all give you a sense of deja vu, a feeling that this is for real, I have seen this person somewhere.

What is also endearing is Hamid’s style. The pity remarks he makes while describing the contrasts between his country and the US. Of the heightened security in the airports he says:

Seen in this fashion I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer.

His descriptions of life back in Pakistan is also unique, his observing the foreigner leering at girls and noting that girls milling in the streets joyfully is such an uncommon sight that it is hard not to notice. Small things that make the book a very enjoyable read.

I was particularly struck by the sense of turmoil Changez had, and I thought it was a little exaggerated, and his response artificial. Confronted with a motherland at war and a girlfriend who commits suicide, his work slacks and he is soon fired. He goes back to his motherland, becomes a lecturer and the nucleus of anti-American protests among students. However, with his knowledge of the States, he might have been well positioned to not only know its limitations but its goodness as well, and if that little bit had been brought in as well, the book might have a different flavour and perhaps a different ending.

More reviews: Akhil Tandulwadikar

Some Observations on Social Networking

I took a rather long break from reading technology news while I was in London and Abu Dhabi and just got back to reading some of the things I used to follow closely. While it seems to me that I didn’t miss much (on looking at Techcrunch), I did find it extremely interesting to read the analysis presented on Chris Anderson’s blog.

In one of his posts, he states in no unclear terms that social networking ought to be leveraged in innovative ways everywhere rather than have soc-nets which are for the sake of soc-nets themselves. This post also captures what is wrong with a new soc-net coming up everyday. There is great scope of using social-networking as a feature in your product, making it viral, making it authentic and useful. Unfortunately, a host of internet startups seem to only want to create social-nets without giving a thought to how it can be useful. Reminds me of the heydeys of the internet age, when it had become fashionable to start a new business that had a .com suffix even if all you did was just register a company. Something very similar seems to be happening to social-nets now — people just want a social networking component to everything without giving a thought to how it is making sense in the context of the product. That is the point. If you want your product to be useful in the new world, you need to have a clearly thought out social component to it, because otherwise somebody else will add it and peddle your own product better.

Another observation which I found interesting was that facebook applications (which are a rage now-a-days) don’t seem to exhibit the pareto distribution characteristics which is what Anderson uses to explain the Long Tail. He attributes it mainly to the effects of viral social networking, and that most apps are pretty much useless. It might also be a case of “limited” shelf real estate. I agree with the first two points, but not so much with the third because that is also true of book in my personal bookshelf. The Long Tail is typically defined not at the end of the consumer but rather at the end of the producer/seller. Facebook as a marketplace is governed by the same arguments as Amazon because there are good search tools, and strong recommendation channels. Facebook has a strong collaborative filtering engine though which is stronger than Amazon’s primarily because it is more explicit. I, personally, would believe that as a marketplace of Apps, facebook is fairly new in the game, and it may not be in the ‘quiescent’ state as yet, and starting to model based on the pre-mature data we already have might not give us correct indicators. Currently, it is just seeing a massive growth which is characterized by almost factory-produced similarity. The apps on everybody’s profile are very similar. However, my guess is that as things start to settle down, we will start seeing a lot more differentiation (and usefulness!).

To use a metaphor, currently, it is signing on children who are just discovering the ABCs of facebook apps, and hence the apps that have become very popular are like children’s books which are characterized by sameness. However, as the books become more mature and deeper, people will resort to have things that are more tuned into what their personal interests are. Also, the people will demand books that are useful in their content and perhaps design. That is when we will start seeing the Long Tail effect kick in. In a similar fashion, the early days of the internet were dominated by technology centric pages and it was only much later in its evolution that the internet became the downtown for all kinds of information.

However, the different dynamics of the Facebook social network will mean that the marketplace characteristics are never going to be identical to those of (say) Amazon. Since there is a far more stronger viral network, if we view the network as a graph, we will see a lot more cliques. Users would be far more tempted to install apps which are common to their friends networks. However, if we look at these graphs at a higher level of granularity, there might be less ineraction across cliques as compared to traditional retailers like Amazon — we will see more isolated vertices if seen from far away. The fact that installing apps (for now) is free, will also alter dynamics considerably.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

Live Mail M9 Rocks!

The new milestone of Windows Live mail is neat. I see significant improvement in speed. At the same time, my gmail account has been behaving erratically, and I am really considering if I should mirror my mail accounts! I think both Gmail and LiveMail provide ExIm of contacts as well as forwarding of emails.

If you haven’t checked out Windows Live mail yet, do it now by visiting See the announcement of the M9 at the WLM blog.

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