Front vs back

Brian Pokorny talked about a distinction between the applications that focus on the front camera more than the back camera in the devices. I think he is right about the comfort that the younger generation (less than 25 year old) has to be in front of a camera. We observed it with vChatter also. He is also right that the front camera is about faces while the back camera is more about the things.

For many young people who are using netbooks or tablets, the only camera they have is the front camera. In those cases it is all about the faces, it is all about their faces, the faces of their friends and interesting people they meet online.

Here is his slide modified to show where vChatter fits. [Photo courtesy Brian Pokorny and TechCrunch]





Camera camera everywhere … Not a single relevant pic? Something serious is brewing in the mobile photo sharing space. A number of entrepreneurs are looking at the cameras springing up in each and every device around us and trying to make the most of it.

Instagr.am just released a very polished and popular iPhone application. Halloween picture sharing mania helped it earn many new users.
picplz just raised an insane amount of money on a good team and an idea to make it easy for people to share their photo memories. Is the imeem founder moving from one bad business (online music) to another bad business (photo sharing)? (Om Malik says that the photo sharing applications are great ideas but bad businesses.)
Path.com was launched today with an anti-social network that allows you to share your photo life path with the closest 50 friends that you have.
All of these ideas point to a bigger current flowing through the startup world – a further explosion of the content generated by the cameras all around us. Flickr, YouTube and Facebook are just scratching the surface of what is about to come. Get ready for some action guys!
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million pictures, and a live video is worth even more. That is a part of the core belief we have at vChatter that allows you to share your live moments in front of the cameras with your loved ones and if you so desire with a matching randomly chosen person from all over the world. With cameras coming up everywhere it would become easier and easier for everyone to share their live moments in different contexts. Lights, Camera, Action … Let the fun begin!

I was at the f8 facebook developer conference today. Here is a quick summary that I put together from a facebook developer’s perspective.

Facebook announced a bunch of things today. There will be a profound impact of these changes on the way we browse our favorite websites and as facebook developers our lives would be very different too.

Open Graph/Semantic web

A big step towards that “semantic web” we were all waiting for – going with their mission to make this world more and more open facebook announced that the websites would have access to an API which allows them to personalize your experience. e.g. You would know which of your friends liked a particular news story on CNN.

The developers would be able to mark their pages and objects with semantically interesting data and send that over to facebook. e.g. when someone likes a movie on IMDB it would go straight to your movies list since IMDB would be able to annotate that feed item as type “movie”.

Facebook Credits

Facebook announced that Facebook Credit which is currently in beta would come out for the broader ecosystem in June. Facebook Credits is an extremely important piece of the monetization puzzle for facebook and they have thought about this really well. They are also experimenting with many different ways to bring the liquidity in and out of the system.

Like everything, everywhere

The “Become a fan” is now “Like”. You now have a chance to leave your finger prints wherever you are on the web. You could like a song that you listen to on pandora or you could like a new story on CNN. Every web page is an object for facebook to be tracked. Every time you click some blue button you leave your trails.

Facebook also simplified the sharing process and made it a part of the Like experience. Now you could like something or someone on the web and share your comments at the same place.

Simpler and more open APIs for the developers

Facebook wants it to be extremely easy to integrate with them not just for the big websites but also for a small business owner who probably depends on his kid to program his website for him. They made two big policy changes that makes the developers’ lives much easier.

1. Now the websites would be able to store the profile information for longer than 24 hours. Removing this clause from their developer terms of usage makes the developers’ life so much more enjoyable. The applications built without this constraint would be much more powerful and stable.

2. Instead of prompting users for multiple permissions on multiple popups, developers could now prompt them for the access that they need in one screen and make the whole on-boarding process much simpler and faster.

They also announced social widgets that would make it easier for the developers who are not too deep of programmers to get plugged into the facebook party.

The new Open Graph API is a restful implementation of all the existing APIs. It is very simple and as Bret Taylor puts it requires only curl and a browser to get started.

A side comment about a personal observation – One interesting thing I noted was how facebook was able to merge FriendFeed into their organization and how they used Bret Taylor to learn the developer perspective and quickly make huge changes to their platform. I am impressed.

All these changes make the facebook platform powerful yet simple to understand and implement.

I think this slide from Steve Jobs’ presentation sums up my professional life really well – At the intersection of liberal arts and technology.

work-lifeIt is a hard balance that many of us need to struggle with. Working in a start-up and having a good family life seem to be poles apart. One of my favorite business school professors, Steve Blank published this piece today on VentureBeat. The permalink seems to be broken so I am repeating some of the key points that Steve mentioned.

This is what he writes –

My wife and I agreed to a few rules upfront and made up the rest as went along. We agreed I was still going to do startups, and probably more than most spouses she knew what that meant.  To her credit she also understood that meant that child raising wasn’t going to be a 50/50 split; I simply wasn’t going to be home at 5 pm every night.

In hindsight this list looks pretty organized but in reality we made it up as we went along, accompanied with all the husband and wife struggles of being married and trying to raise a family in Silicon Valley.  Here are the some of the rules that evolved that seemed to work for our family.

  • We would have a family dinner at home most nights of the week.  Regardless of what I was doing I had to be home by 7pm.  (My kids still remember mom secretly feeding them when they were hungry at 5pm, but eating again with dad at 7pm.)  But we would use dinnertime to talk about what they did at school, have family meetings etc.
  • Put the kids to bed. Since I was already home for dinner it was fun to help give them their baths, read them stories and put them to bed.  I never understood how important the continuity of time between dinner through bedtime was until my kids mentioned it as teenagers.
  • Act and be engaged. My kids and wife had better antenna than I thought.  If I was home but my head was elsewhere and not mentally engaged they would call me on it.  So I figured out how to spit the flow of the day in half.  I would work 10 hours a day in the office, come home and then…
  • Back to work after the kids were in bed. What my kids never saw is that as soon as they were in bed I was back on the computer and back at work for another 4 or 5 hours until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Weekends were with and for my kids. There was always some adventure on the weekends. I think we must have gone to the zoo, beach, museum, picnic, amusement, etc. a 100 times.
  • Half a day work on Saturday.  While weekends were for my kids I did go to work on Saturday morning.  But my kids would come with me.  This had two unexpected consequences; my kids still remember that work was very cool.  They liked going in with me and they said it helped them understand what dad did at “work.”  Second, it set a cultural norm at my startups, first at Supermac as the VP of Marketing, then at Rocket Science as the CEO and at E.piphany as President. (Most Silicon Valley startups have great policies for having your dog at work but not your kids.)
  • Long vacations. We would take at least a 3-week vacation every summer.  Since my wife and I liked to hike we’d explore national parks around the U.S. (Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine.) When the kids got older our adventures took us to Mexico, Ecuador, India, Africa and Europe. The trips gave them a sense that the rest of the country and the world was not Silicon Valley and that their lives were not the norm.
  • Never miss an event. As my kids got older there were class plays, soccer games, piano and dance performances, birthdays, etc.  I never missed one if I was in town, sometimes even if it was in the middle of the day. (And I made sure I was in town for the major events.)
  • Engage your spouse. I asked my wife to read and critique every major presentation and document I wrote. Everything she touched was much better for it.  What my investors never knew is that they were getting two of us for the price of one.  (And one of us actually went to business school.)  It helped her understand what I was working on and what I was trying to accomplish.
  • Have a Date-Night. We tried hard to set aside one evening a week when just the two of us went out to dinner and/or a movie.
  • Get your spouse help. Early on in our marriage we didn’t have much money but we invested in childcare to help my wife.  While it didn’t make up for my absences it offloaded a lot.
  • Traditions matter. Holidays, religious and secular, weekly and yearly, were important to us.  The kids looked forward to them and we made them special.
  • Travel only if it needed me. As an executive it was easy to think I had to get on a plane for every deal. But after I had kids I definitely thought long and hard before I would jump on a plane.  When I ran Rocket Science our corporate partners were in Japan (Sega), Germany (Bertelsmann) and Italy (Mondadori) and some travel was unavoidable.  But I probably traveled 20% of what I did when I was single.
  • Document every step. Like most dads I took thousands of photos.  But I also filmed the girls once a week on the same couch, sitting in the same spot, for a few minutes – for 16 years.  When my oldest graduated high school I gave her a time-lapse movie of her life.

Jane McGonigal is a very talented game designer. I met her for lunch in Berkeley when Nipun brought us together with Mike Smolen (dotSUB). She was voted MIT’s top-35 innovators changing the world, for her work in building distributed games. Here is an interesting presentation from her about how gaming would help learning in the future.


Could games be used to influence behavior? Could guilds, mobs and monsters teach us a thing or two about leadership, decision making, team building and effective communication? The answer is absolutely yes.

I met an interesting Stanford professor Byron Reeves who is focusing all his energies now to create this link between the fun games and the serious business.

Byron says –

If you want to see what business leadership may look like in three to five years, look at what’s happening in online games.

Here is an interesting report by IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook group – virtual worlds real leaders.

Helen Cheng, a level 60 guild leader and a stanford graduate talks about her transformative experience.

Finally, I pushed my button to talk and rallied the troops to revive one another and try again, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. It was me, this girl, talking to a room of guys. And to my shock and surprise, everyone complied and we got going. That was a defining moment for me, and eventually led to me becoming a guild leader.

Leadership in current times, just like games, could be –

  • A temporary phenomenon
  • Task-oriented
  • Dynamic and constantly changing

Only time will tell where the leadership is headed in the coming decades. I think games are a clear indication of what it might look like in the future.


I met a very successful enterprise software entrepreneur/investor Bruce Cleveland in a very random way. Bruce was a part of the founding teams at Siebel and Oracle. It is really amazing how/where/when you meet such interesting people. As I was going through Bruce’s blog I found many intriguing posts. This one stood out because it defines an alternate investment structure particularly suitable for enterprise software companies. This could be a new structure that brave VCs who are looking for innovation in the VC model could experiment with.

Bruce defines this Spin In structure as a new startup where a large software company seeds the venture with the management team, IP, distribution and sometimes cash. This is done in partnership with other financial investors.

I could see how this would be very useful in some situations if all the incentives are aligned properly. It would also make a lot of sense to try it in a partnership situation too. For companies with a platform strategy it could make sense to seed the potential platform applications start-up partners funded using this approach. Think iFund and fbFund kind of situations in the enterprise software world.

Bruce’s blog post also reminded me of an author/entrepreneur I recently met – Jon Fisher. He advocates building companies (most relevant for enterprise software) with the end goal (a large software company as the exit) in mind. Bruce’s approach provides a good structure to what he calls strategic entrepreneurism.

Hope to see how this structure would play out in the real life. This could take at least 8-10 years before we see some start-ups exiting using this approach.

Nipun wrote about what makes TED talks tick. What is it about these talks that makes all of them resonate so deeply? What makes them so consistently good?


  1. Thou shalt not simply trot out thy usual shtick
  2. Thou shalt dream a great dream, or show forth a wondrous new thing, or share something thou hast never shared before
  3. Thou shalt reveal thy curiosity and thy passion
  4. Thou shalt tell a story
  5. Thou shalt freely comment on the utterances of other speakers for the sake of blessed connection and exquisite controversy
  6. Thou shalt not flaunt thine Ego. Be thou vulnerable. Speak of thy failure as well as thy success.
  7. Thou shalt not sell from the stage: neither thy company, thy goods, thy writings, nor thy desparate need for funding; lest thou be cast aside into outer darkness.
  8. Thou shalt remember all the while: laughter is good.
  9. Thou shalt not read thy speech.
  10. Thou shalt not steal the time of them that follow thee.

Meaningful Games

chrisChris Swain talks about how games would impact our lives in the future. I agree with him. I believe we are just scratching the surface of what games could do with the process of learning and many other social change issues.

He asks the right questions – Can we create games that help people learn even more effectively? Can those games teach us more than the limited things we learn from today’s commercial entertainment games? I think the answer is Yes and Yes.

Chris says –

Games are powerful learning devices that provide instant feedback and sophisticated reward structures. Games let us learn by doing, which is one of the most powerful ways of learning, according to the research. People especially kids are learning machines by nature. We have instincts built into our operating systems to learn about the world through play. Learning is pleasurable to us and games are some of the most engaging learning devices.

His lab just released a game called ReDISTRICTING game.

ReDISTRICTING – The purpose of the game is to educate people about the problems associated with congressional redistricting and empower them to take civic action.

They are taking this concept further and applying to the broader set of issues.

The point here is that we explored an important and hard to explain social issue with a game. People get deeply engaged in it because they experience for themselves. We hope that the game can help drive public discourse about the issue and help affect positive change.

[…] I see the game as a model for how to explore other tricky social issues. Right now I am working on funding a game about campaign finance reform.

[…] People have been skeptical of games in academia for so long that I just assume everyone will doubt me. That is recently changing though. For instance, it was very rewarding when we went to Washington this summer with The Redistricting Game and were welcomed with enthusiasm in the House of Representatives, think tanks, advocacy group offices, and by all kinds of reporters.

[…] Games are interesting because they fit together with all kinds of other research. Imagine: games plus politics, immunology, economics, leadership studies, management, intelligence analysis, art.

His tips for aspiring innovators –

1) Embrace iterative design. Short cycles of prototyping and iteration are more powerful than long cycles.

2) Embrace your user. In the game lab we employ a technique called playcentric design which means the player is at the heart of the process and we continuously test on our target player. Replace the word “player” with “user” and you have a core concept for innovation in fields beyond game design.

3) Understand that the way you present an idea is as important as the idea itself.

4) If you get stuck on a design problem give it a little space and go relax. Your brain will churn on the problem in the background and bring an answer back to you when you least expect it. That’s why you get great ideas in the shower and while driving. If you know this about your brain your life – as someone under pressure to innovate – will be more enjoyable.

I asked this question to my network –

How to bring simplicity in to the design of products – take complexity out and not the capabilities?

Here are a couple of interesting answers I got –

David Marshall wrote back –

It should all be driven by a proper elicitation process to define system requirements. This should result in an immediate protoyping session with the users without ever telling them what is technically possible. Find out what they need to be able to do their work effectively. Then build that and only that. Too often, designers build what they want to work on and with. The latest technological gizmos are cool. It is boring to keep reusing the tried and tested code. Except that users want only what makes their work easy. Anything that slows down the system’s performance or clutters up the GUI with redundant options is annoying and demotivating. It is hard enough to manage the transition to a new system. Giving the users the chance to take ownership of the design gives managers the best chance of a smooth transition. Thus, taking the designers out of the design is the best way to achieve simplicity.

Shantanu Sengupta says –

1st step – Forget you’re designing!!! Think you’re solving a problem!
2nd step – Once a solution is found, don’t stop… look for more solutions – at least 5 more!
3rd step – Apply logic and reason to see if these solutions are different and addresses the problem fully
4th step – If yes, see if they’re simple enough for applying in reality

steve-blank4 One of my greatest teachers ever, Steve Blank, started writing his blog recently. He is the master of understanding the intricacies of the startups. He has a knack of telling these complex ideas in a very simple and fun language. His core idea is that there are patterns in successful startups. He calls his core model “customer development”. After going through a few cycles of startups myself I could tell you how right he is. Everytime I get in to a situation where I have a choice to go the “traditional product development cycle” or follow the “customer development approach” – I take a deap breath, remember Steve and choose the second path.

Chris Anderson calls Steve “a dude with serious street cred“.

Steve writes on his Blog –

I call this process “Customer Development,” a sibling to “Product Development,” and each and every startup that succeeds recapitulates it, knowingly or not.

The “Customer Development” model is a paradox because it is followed by successful startups, yet articulated by no one.  Its basic propositions are the antithesis of common wisdom yet they are followed by those who succeed.

It is the path that is hidden in plain sight.

Steve: Thanks for continuing our customer development class conversations on Twitter and blog now 🙂 Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts. So far I used to refer my entrepreneur friends to your book, now I have two more places to send them to – your tweets and your blog.

mark_zuckerberg_ceo_facebookI loved this short story about Mark Zuckerberg and how to “start” communities. [Taken from “What would Google do?”]

The scene was the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum International Media Council in Davos, Switzerland, as the head of a powerful news organization begged young Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for his secret. Please, the publisher beseeched him, how can my publication start a community like yours? We should own a community, shouldn’t we? Tell us how.

Zuckerberg, 22 at the time, is a geek of few words. Some assume his laconicism is a sign of arrogance – that and his habit of wearing sandals at big business conferences. But it’s not. He’s shy. He’s direct. He’s a geek, and this is how geeks are. Better get used to it. When the geeks take over the world-and they will-a few blunt words and then a silent stare will become a societal norm. But Zuckerberg is brilliant and accomplished, and so his few words are worth waiting for.

After this publishing titan pleaded for advice about how to build his own community, Zuckerberg’s reply was, in full: “You can’t.”

Full stop. Hard stare.

He later offered more advice. He told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question. You don’t start communities, he said. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.

His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”

What is an elegant organization? I would tell my perspective in a post later.

Dale Peskin at #wemedia conference.

Wall-street asked for a new story. Here could be a new balance sheet that could provide them this new story to tell the investors.

Appreciating assets
– Knowledge creation
– Connections, Creativity

Everyone equity
– Me, Us, Everyone

Upside liabilities
– Preserve fossil fuels
– Save trees

Good expense
– Free access
– Low operating costs

– Invention
– Innovation
– Good
– Social and financial capital

Twentieth century capitalism was dumb. Smart capitalism’s agenda is outcomes not income (If you are starting the company just to make money, stop now.), connections not transactions (It is easy for people to leave your product or service if it is transactionalized.), people not products and creativity not productivity.

David Plouffe (the mastermind behind Obama’s campaign) was awarded the Game-changer award at the We Media conference. They are launching recovery.gov today.

David gave an address via video here at the We Media conference.

He mentioned about the holy grail of politics – how to use the Internet to organize people. Rapid response isn’t just a press release anymore. They did a great job using facebook, twitter, myspace and other tools. Their baseline mission was to get people to vote even more than raising money and contributing. Most importantly they had the inspiration behind the tools.

David congratulations on winning this award.

I am blogging live about WeekendApps happening right now at Googleplex in Mountain View. Here is one of the posts –


If the first day (Friday evening) looked like NBC’s reality TV show Apprentice then what followed on the day 2 and day 3 was very much like Survivor. The first day had some real drama and emotion similar to the Apprentice show when teams came together and ideas were hatched.

Friday started with a bang, starting with presentation from Kevin. The slides from his great presentation are online, here.

Dave’s presentation took us through Buddy Poke’s journey from ZERO users to 30 Million. Wow!  Liked what he mentioned about making sure you test your applications on really old computers. You would not believe the cyber-cafes in India and Indonesia still use those neanderthal computers – so make sure your app works with the lowest common denominator.

When Deepika Bajaj from Offerpal who moderated the panel on monetization asked the crowd – “Who here wants to make money from applications?”, no wonder almost all the hands went up. Long live capitalism! Real tested insights by Randall, Nick, Ben taught a thing or two about the $ side of the equation.

Then the real movie started with quick 30 second pitches by more than 20 participants. Here are the pictures on Flickr from Shirley’s photo journalism that tell the whole story.

What a moment for America! Obama is the 44th president of the USA. A great inaugural speech by Obama which touches everyone on this planet.

obama_hopeOne of the readers of Andrew Sullivan’s blog writes about the difficulty that the comedians have in mocking Obama. Interesting read particularly this line – “Obama has the realness that comes from the hard psychological work that it takes to really get to know yourself and come out on the other side unafraid of whatever might come your way. “

But what Obama seems to have is the ability not to appear as if he is acting, faking it.  That is why comedians were able to mock Clinton’s lower lip biting and other such gestures meant to show how much he cared. Why do comedians have such a hard time mocking Obama?  Some say it is because he is black, and they don’t want to be seen as racist; no, that’s not it.  They mock Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton all the time.

They can’t mock Obama because he is not a faker, not a schmoozer,  not a dolt, not a skirt-chaser, not a charlatan, etc. etc.  Obama has the realness that comes from the hard psychological work that it takes to really get to know yourself and come out on the other side unafraid of whatever might come your way.  That is decidedly not funny.

I wrote this poem in Hindi. A translation for my non-Hindi-speaking friends is coming soon 🙂

जीवन की दुपहरी! – ना  जाने क्या है शिखर के उस पार!

तीसरा और चौथा पहर अभी शेष है
जगमगाती दुपहरी का ये भेष है
सूर्य अपने चरम पर
आशाएं अपने परचम पर
असली जीवन तो अभी बाकी है!

क्या पहुँच पाऊँगा अपने शिखर पर?

सूर्यास्त से भय कैसा
चंद्रमा तो शीतल है
और चौथे पहर के बाद एक सुंदर कल है

यही तो बस एक क्षण है
आज ही का बस जीवन है

दोपहर हो गई गंतव्य का पता नहीं
धूप से उत्साह में कोई कमी नहीं
पहले पहर जब निकले थे
आभास नहीं था कि इतना दूर पहुँच जाएंगे

दूसरे पहर में, कुछ नए मार्ग खुले हैं
कुछ नए साथी मिले हैं
कुछ नए पुष्प खिले हैं

जीवन मार्ग बहुत सुखद है
मिलकर एक बागीचा बनायें
जीवन रस को चहूं और पहुंचाएं

शिखर की अभिलाषा त्याग बस आगे बढ़ते जाएं
ना  जाने क्या है शिखर के उस पार!

Wishing a great new year!

Amidst the financial crisis that this world is going through, it was a great feeling to go out and spread some smiles at Stanford. Here are some stories from this exercise that we carried out at Stanford as a part of the 3rd Annual Giving Marketplace conference. It was a lot of fun and in the true spirit of CharityFocus, we created quite a stir at Stanford that evening. ☺

17 different organizations from all over the world (China, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Argentina, Colombia, India and the US) got together for four days to share and learn from each other and hear from the experts in the field of giving marketplaces, micro-investment and micro-finance. The organizations represented are the likes of Kiva, Wokai, GiveMeaning, HelpArgentina, GlobalGiving, GiveIndia, Rang De and DonorsChoose.

Pawan and Lloyd suggested a fun exercise, which would help this group bond with each other and also kick off this conference with the spirit of giving and service. They wanted me to organize this exercise CharityFocus style.

We carried out this “Kindness Challenge” during the first orientation evening where people just landed jet-lagged and tired. This was a spirited group of around 30 entrepreneurs – founders and key players working with these Giving Marketplaces. We divided them into random groups of 3 each. These people most likely did not know each other and some of them were new to the Stanford Campus. We gave them Smile Cards and a map of the Stanford campus. We then challenged them to go out, roam around in the campus and do small and anonymous acts of kindness.

They spent a couple of hours tagging people all around the campus with Smile Cards. At the end of the evening we sat together for a 2-minute silence. We then shared our experiences with each other. There were many interesting stories and deep realizations with this simple exercise. Here are some of them:

•    One of the participants ended up singing a song to a newly wed couple and made their day in an unexpected way.

•    Stanford was looking much cleaner last evening because a majority of the groups decided to pick trash and clean the campus.

•    There was a formal dinner happening at the lawn of the Old Union building. A couple of the groups decided to help the waiters and served the people dining over there – KarmaKitchen style.

•    One homeless person at the campus was so moved after talking to a participant that he proposed to marry her ☺.

•    One participant from Spain said – “I did not know what to do with my 2 minutes of silence. It was the first time that I got 2 minutes to reflect on an exercise like this.”

•    A group got some flowers and started searching for loving couples to share these flowers with. After a couple of false tries they finally found a couple that was very happy receiving those flowers.

•    Some participants just decided to buy coffee for Stanford students.

They all shared the challenge that they faced with a deadline of a couple of hours and when they are “on a mission” to do good deeds with an awareness and consciousness.  They mentioned the difficulty in finding “people in need” and not be intrusive in this seemingly all-happy part of the world. Some groups also shared how some people start looking at the act of kindness as something weird and strange but they quickly open up after getting a hang of what’s happening to them.

We then gave them a plenty of Smile Cards so they could keep this spirit alive during this conference. Also, the incentive at the end of this contest was a bunch of smile cards that these organizations could take with them to their respective countries and spread smiles wherever they go.

Gandhian Mindset

What constitutes Gandhian Mindset. I found these words and had to capture them in a brief post. These summarize Gandhian Mindset very well –

  • Keen observation
  • Selflessness
  • Patient Determination
  • In-Sync Emotions
  • Critical Thinking
  • Decisive Persistence

This is an interesting short-story that gives a perspective for entrepreneurs’ risk taking abilities. 

A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision which insured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, “You see the boats going up in smoke. That means that we cannot leave these shores alive unless we win! We now have no choice – we win – or we perish!

They won. [From Napolean Hill’s classic book]

The Man Who Burnt Bridges


Exceptional leaders (from the book “WHAT MAKES jack welch JACK WELCH”) had experienced exceptional personal growth in the following five critical areas:

  1. Appetite to lead

  2. Character

  3. The confidence to seek challenges

  4. Ability to engage and inspire others

  5. and most importantly CONFRONT RISK.

True NorthI interviewed Bill George, author of best-seller books “Authentic Leadership” and “True North”. Bill is not just a great author and a leader himself, he is a wonderful coach and a teacher too. Here are the excerpts of this brief interview –

Hitesh: What is “True North” and how does it apply in the context of a business student or a budding entrepreneur who is just starting on a leadership journey?

Bill George: “True North” refers to the deeply held beliefs, values and passions. It is how you see yourself as a human being at a fundamental level. As a business student, it is easy to get lured to the seductions of the job search. It is easy to follow the herd and live the expectations of someone else. At this stage it becomes all the more important for you to discover your real self and find your sweet spot.

The book “True North” provides a framework because that allows you to create your own direction. Instead of other cook-books on leadership that provide the “10 qualities that make a great leader”, “True North” provides an individual approach and a framework with exercises. YOU have to figure out yourself your own values and point of differentiation.

Hitesh: How does one “frame” or “reframe” one’s life story? Is framing not by definition twisting the truth and thus not authentic? How can you have flexible leadership styles and still be authentic? Please help explain these contradictions.

Bill George: Good questions and I wrestle with these myself all the time. If you start taking these recommendations from the book to an extreme, that could be a problem.

We all see this world through a certain lens. e.g. If one grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and later on got exposed to multi-religious or atheist view points, then that opens up the mind at a much deeper level. Oprah Winfrey came to a realization at the age of 36 that she is not a “bad girl” as she always viewed herself as. She reframed her childhood abuse experiences by tracing her actions there and came out a much stronger person.

The flexibility referred in the book is the tradeoffs in your values that sometimes you have to make. These are tough decision moments where you have to make decisions like layoffs and sometimes have to reprioritize your values. The leadership “style” is a different thing than your authentic self. e.g. If the situation demands quick decisions then a consensus leadership style will not fit and you will have to adapt.

Hitesh: Any words of wisdom for the younger budding leaders?

Bill George: Get into the game. Do not watch it from the sidelines. Don’t hold back. Take the risk of failing to learn a lot.

[Please note that Bill’s comments are not verbatim and are based on the notes that I took. This was not a recorded interview]


 Here is a simple sketch of Buddha as I “see” it. Just looking at this sketch brings so many different emotions and thoughts. Sketching Buddha was very peaceful.

This is the fourth sketch in my series of simple “starter” sketches. The other three were Baby Hanuman, Flower Vase and A View from Up Here.

I read Randy Komisar’s “The Monk and the Riddle“. I just could not stop when I started reading it. By the time I finished reading it, the clock struck 4 AM. I think it was a night well spent.

Randy Komisar is a Venture Capitalist with Kleiner Perkins. This book tells Randy’s evolution (thus the word Monkey in this post’s title) and search for his passion. Autobiographies are generally boring but Randy does a great job by weaving his life nuggets with a great story of an entrepreneur, Lenny.

“We will put the Fun back in FUNerals”, says Lenny. He is trying to sell an internet business called funerals.com to Randy. This story is set in year 2000, when the whole world was going online – from pets and groceries to well funerals and caskets. I could relate to this story since a number of my friends were pitching get-rich-quick-internet-business-plans those days (and with Web 2.0 they are doing it all over again).

Lenny is a vulnerable soul like many of us who go through life in two phases. In the first phase we do what we HAVE to do so that in the second phase we can do what we LOVE to do. Randy’s point is to start doing what we LOVE to do NOW. He asks us to not live a life plan which is always deferred till we pay our dues. How practical is it?

Randy does a good job explaining the importance of following our passion, but he lacks concrete steps and examples to find out what that passion is. That search for passion is a very individual matter and requires a lot of personal effort. Bill George’s “True North” does a great job providing a framework to search for that passion. “True North” picks up where “The Monk and the Riddle” ends.

This book is a must read for anybody who thinks business is all about the bottom-line and chasing money. It will convince you to look at business and your professional life through a new lens.

Gates and Jobs shared a stage and it was quite a show (better than a Bollywood thriller).

One thing that is quickly evident from this – Jobs comes across as a person who still has a lot to prove while Gates looks deeply satisfied like a Sadhu. While Gates looks like entering Sanyas , Jobs is still in the prime of his Grahastha Ashram. Again, there are a number of personal reasons (I won’t go there – Read iCon) that one could highlight why Jobs is still so thirsty. 

Jobs’ thirst is doing a lot of good for customers. Jobs has this beautiful left-brain-right-brain conflict going on that creates these stellar products. Go Jobs Go!

Another thing that came out from this was something that Jobs joked about: both of them being dinosaurs in this new Googly age. These guys will not be extinct anytime soon but their era is not what will define the next 20 years. iPhone is great but is that all? Surface Computing might not be the next killer device. This “Post-PC devices” era might not be dominated by Google either. Where is that next Google, Microsoft and Apple?

I think this picture says it all –

Gates & Jobs

Here is the third post in my series of sketches. The first one was the view from my patio and the second one was Baby Hanuman. This one is a flower vase that I sketched just before it was broken by accident. It was good that I captured it in some form before we lost it.

I really like this quote about giving – “Smell remains on the hands of someone who gives a rose”. It is in line with what Karma Kitchen is doing in Berkeley. I will write a separate detailed post about Karma Kitchen. I went there with my family last Saturday. It was an amazing experience and a great feast. The check total at the end of a tasty meal was $0.00. Amazing, isn’t it?


Here is the next sketch that I tried. This is the second one in my series of posted sketches – first one was a view from my patio. This one is a Baby Hauman sketch based on Indian animation film Hanuman. Pardon some of the shade which is because of scanner issues. More sketches to follow.

Baby Hanuman Sketch

I recently started sketching again (after 18 years). It had been a great experience.

Here is one of the first sketches that I came up with. It is a view from the patio of my townhouse in the University Village. I know it is far from perfect. It is a beginning (restart actually). I will post more of these sketches to show my evolution as a sketcher. I will appreciate any feedback from pros on blogosphere.

The View From Up Here

HAPPINESS – It is the single most important goal of human life. All our actions could be traced to “seeking happiness”. While happiness is so important and sought after, it is not properly understood. There is a huge element of subjectivity involved and that makes it hard to define, measure, monitor and fix.

 Frontal LobeUncertain Future: Our brains have a number of issues that make it hard for us to predict “what would make us happy”. The most significant shortcoming is the lack of details in our imagination. When we think about a future event we tend to just imagine a few important aspects of it. Our brain misses on a number of details.

What differentiates human beings from other animals – our ability to imagine and “plan” for future. This long-term thinking is also responsible for our misery. Our super ancestors’ brains did not have a faculty to “worry” about future. Just like cows, cats and dogs they just had sufficient brain power to handle the immediate future. Our frontal-lobe in the brain is responsible for future long-term thinking and it was developed in the middle of our evolution cycle. This lobe is a part of brain which is non-essential for the basic functions of human body. We would still live if we don’t have this worrisome frontal lobe with our brain.

Unclear Past: Second shortcoming for our brain is related to our past memories. Contrary to common belief our brain is actually not a good storage device. The way it stores past events is by leaving out a lot of details and compressing what it stores. The problem that it manifests itself in is the fact that we are not able to do a good job of “looking back” and deciding what makes us happy. E.g. the only thing our brain might remember about our family reunion is the great panaromic view from the hotel balcony. It does not remember the details of pickerings with our cousins. Because of this we make irrational decision of going to our reunion every year.

What To Do?

Two things one could do to work around these limitations –

  1. Consciously try to “Be Happy NOW”, instead of putting it off for a future event, sale or possession – enjoy the moment.
  2. Talk to somebody who “IS” in that situation before making these decisions. That is the best proxy for finding our future happiness. This way we do not rely completely on our own faulty imagination. E.g. if you are thinking of moving to Raleigh from San Francisco for your next job – talk to somebody who has done it and is currently in North Carolina.

We make so many decisions everyday, ranging from as simple as which brand of coffee to drink to as significant decisions as whether to use nuclear weapons against Japan.

How do we make these decisions? What is our personal compass that we use to navigate through this web of decisions? And, Is that compass directing us to our best estimate of “happiness” in future?


Happiness is so subjective and all of us have so different definitions. This subjectivity and variety in how we interpret our own compass of happiness results in this magnificent variety of life experiences that we go through. It results in so many different life stories.

What is important in all these journeys is the “seeking” part of happiness. We strive to be happy and thus we do all those things that we “think” will make us happy.

Three important decisions that one makes in one’s life are –

  1. Place where we live our lives
  2. People we choose to spend our lives with
  3. Work that we choose to do

In the last couple of decades the possibilities in these choices have exploded exponentially. In this global world the way we decide where and how to live our lives is very different than how it used to be. A number of us end up being nomads or “global citizens” as we call ourselves. The happiness comes from the eclectic experiences that one gets by moving to different locations, meeting different people and doing different things.

The HARMONY that we can build around our three choices is important. The dissonance that arises is responsible for unhappiness.

Just follow the high-level personal compass instead of going into the detailed analysis and planning for future. There are so many variables anyway on your way – focus on the most important ones.

I met and listened to Vinod Khosla, a renowned Venture Capitalist, at a US-India Venture Capital Association meeting. His speech gave a glimpse inside his mind. It was a very personal speech unlike his previous speeches. Khosla talked about some of the decisions he made in life and why he made those decisions.

Vinod Khosla

Move to India – Remember 1993 – Technology world was eclipsed by Microsoft, the King. There were others like Nortel but mostly big things were happening in Redmond. Khosla lived in Northern California at that time with his family. At that time he observed a lot of action happening in Asia. To go to where the action is – he moved with his family to India.

Disillusionment – When in India he tried to find out about the non-profits that he could help and work with to make a difference. He could not find any good organizations. He was shuttling between India and the US – spending six weeks in India and six weeks in the US, alternatively. He was trying hard to help solve some of India’s biggest problems like poverty and rural development. He gave up – thinking that these are big issues and he is not even able to make a dent in these huge problems.

Khosla Version 2.0 – After spending three years in India he came back to the US again. The current run is his second attempt at solving world’s problems. This time he is more successful.

Positive Future – His prediction for future is that entrepreneurship and innovation will thrive with great opportunities ahead. He also predicts that with the growing complexity of the world, people would move to the more relevant (for happiness) things like relationships, family and enjoyment.

Responsible Capitalism – One of his core beliefs is that capitalist solutions work best for the global problems. According to him a sustainable solution is to have someone make money while solving these problems. Subsidies would take you only so far. His rule of thumb – For a long-lasting solution you need the venture to be in black within five years.

Open Source – He believes in the power of open source. One of his pet projects (where his wife is working full time now) is the open source text-books project. The goal of this project is to make textbooks freely available to all the kids. According to him California alone spends more than half a Billion dollars on text-books every year. That money would be rather well spent on the teacher’s salaries for example. Is open source (and free text-books) not contradictory to the capitalistic principles?

Gut Feeling – He mentioned that we never looks at the extensive spreadsheets and financials calculating ROI and all the good stuff for making investment decisions. He evaluates opportunities solely relying on his gut feeling.

In this meeting I saw in him an ordinary person like you and me who goes through contradicting battles in his own mind. One who is trying his best to make a dent in these massive world problems utilizing all his resources to the best he can. Good luck Mr Khosla in your pursuit of happYness (with a Y instead of i).

I started my first business at the age of 9 (1984). It was a comic books rental service. I did that during my summer vacations. My first partner was my childhood friend Amit. I got all his comics, combined them with my collection and we had our starting inventory of books. We had books including Chacha Chaudhary, Vetal, Mandrake, Archies, Pinky, Ankur, Chandan, Champak, Lotpot, Motu Patlu, et al. This needed minimal investment and I started being cash flow positive on day one since most of my cost was sunk cost as we already owned all these books.


I used the concrete space (front yard) in front of my home to setup my first shop. This whole shop was setup every day in the morning and removed in the evening.

Pricing was not that tough – we just had to be lower than our competitors (professional comic book rentals). It was 25 paisa a book per day. I also relaxed the late fee rules (just like what Blockbuster had to do after Netflix). No-late-fee was a very novel idea those days. This was critical to get our initial customer base.

We created buzz using the current viral marketing techniques. We gave one day one comic book rental free if you refer one friend as our new customer.

Customer Database was a simple notebook with columns capturing information about customers on one page and their rentals on a new page for each customer.

I used to reinvest 50% of my earnings back into the business by buying new comic book sets. One of these nights before sleeping I pledged to myself that I will invest 50% of my earnings always (even when I grow up) on books. I realize now how difficult promise that was. I still try to buy quite a lot of books but certainly not 50% of my earnings. I never understood at that time why these grown-ups always wanted to so many things in life. According to me all that you needed to survive was comics.

As an extension (a big one), I also tried to create my own comic characters. I thought about partnering with my cousin brother Avadhesh (who according to me was the best businessman I knew) for creating a new comic series. It never happened!

As I look back we used all the concepts that I eventually formally studied in my Berkeley MBA program. The basics of business remain same. The most important thing to keep in mind is to do what you are passionate about. My little comics rental business was successful because I was absolutely passionate about it. Follow your heart!

When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.

–Alan Watts

A good question – “Now that we can be in touch with anyone at any time, do we risk being out of touch with ourselves?”

Read Here …

Silence …

A man’s silence is wonderful to listen to.

When we ask this question about “How green is this purchase of mine?” – Remember this –

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.

Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.

Popular Belief: Discipline hinders creativity.
Reverse: Discipline fosters creativity.

The most prevalent way to depict creativity is Einstein’s photo with his shabby hairstyle and chaotic looks. Creativity does not always come packaged as this confused picture. The other well-behaved gentleman shown above is C.V. Raman – another physics Nobel Prize winner. It is a different face of creativity than what is popular. Raman was a disciplined scientist who performed ground breaking research while still receiving a gold-medal in college [Einstein got into repeated trouble at school].

Quantity of ideas is very important for creativity. Discipline provides a platform to create an “idea factory”. Discipline helps create a fine-tuned operational process to generate a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas are always better than the few ideas that shabby zealots find themselves boxed in because of their inflexible mindset.

Being chaotic has suddenly become hip. It is the current fad in the enterprise. We have gone too far when it comes to creating an “informal” culture. Being informal does not mean being dirty and messy.

A number of chaotic-creative-people never get to implement their creative ideas because they are not focused. They do not have a goal in mind when they start with their creative process. Disciplined thinking requires you to clearly state your goal in mind before you start any creative endeavor. With structured thinking you start on a stated goal, identify a compelling motive and follow a disciplined approach to finding creatively disciplined ideas.

Another related popular notion is that a shabby work environment is a sign of creativity. A clean environment is much more helpful when it comes to creating good ideas. A dirty environment breeds dirty ideas. A messy environment creates stress and stress in turn kills creative juices. A clean environment on the other hand lets you focus on the creative task at hand.

In conclusion, do not get rid of the basic discipline which is required in the creative process. Do not create unnecessary chaos just hoping that creativity is directly linked to dirty desks and lunatic looks. Discipline is a virtue – embrace it when you embark on your next creative endeavor. And, please get a decent haircut.

Dealing with Darwin

“In sume, if the past few decades were heralded as the revenge of the nerds, the next few will be the revenge of the liberal arts graduates.”

Yesterday I attended a class on “Creativity and Innovation”. Our guest speaker Pat Christen (President: HopeLab) described some fascinating insights into how they are working on ReMission, a video game for teens and young adults suffering from cancer.

Creativity is sometimes applying the old concepts. She described how she applied the same old concepts she learnt with SF AIDS Foundation and applied them to get ReMission tested within one year.

Teaching …

An Eastern saying … (food for thought)

“The teacher and the taught together create the teaching”.

The Power of NOW

The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.

Why Yahoo could not use the first-mover advantage in number of areas with Web 1.0?

Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix.net, puts it this way:

The second mouse gets the cheese while the first mouse gets trampled on.

  1. All achievement, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea.
  2. He had nothing to start with, except the capacity to know what he wanted, and the determination to stand by that desire until he realized it.
  3. Seek expert cousel before giving up. “Three feet from Gold” story.
  4. The greatest success comes just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken. Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.
  5. What of the man who has neither the time, not the inclination to study failure in search of knowledge that may lead to success? Where and how is he to learn the art of converting defeat into stepping stonres to opportunity?
  6. When riches begin to come they come so quickly, in such great abundance, that one wonders where they have been hiding during all those lean years.

Consider this -You wake up in the morning suffused with an ineffable feeling of joy, a deep sense of well being. You go to work, to a job you love so much that you would pay for the privilege of doing it. You labor intently but are so focused that time flies by unnoticed. At the end of the day you are invigorated, brimming with more energy than when you started. You have a penetrating awareness of the course you are charting, a clear knowledge of your place in the scheme of the universe. Your work feeds this, is congruent with it and brings great contentment and peace.

You face obstacles, big ones and small ones, perhaps more than your fair share of them. You understand very clearly that their purpose is to test your mettle, to bring out the best in you even as the abrasive whetting stone serves to finely hone the knife. So you plow on indomitably, sure of what you want to achieve and yet unconcerned about results. At times it seems as if you are riding on the crest of a powerful tidal wave, as if the universe itself is helping you, working with you and through you. Locked doors open mysteriously. Incredibly fortuitous coincidences occur. You accomplish prodigious feats, feats you would never have imagined yourself capable of. Yet it would have been perfectly okay if you had not accomplished them. You accept accolades gracefully but are not swayed by them because you march to the beat of your own drummer.

Your personal life is intensely fulfilling. You are active in a variety of civic, charitable and political causes and successful in all of them. Your spouse is perfectly compatible with you, a true helpmate in every sense of the word. You beget progeny and your offspring bring great satisfaction. You have a sense of trusteeship towards them and intuit what Gibran articulated:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you, not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but strive not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that the arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves the bow that is stable.

So it goes on year after year, each day more perfect than the one before. Your gratitude is so intense that at times it is like a physical ache. Your heart bursts as you thank the universe. What have you done to deserve such good fortune? And when the time comes for you to depart, you do so joyfully and in peace, achieving identification with the Cosmic Principle, that incredible merging which has been called many things by many peoples but is ultimately indescribable, far beyond the feeble capabilities of language.

Source: Creativity and Personal Mastery (Dr. Srikumar Rao)

I went to the “CIO Meet” at Haas tonight. I got the privilege to ask them some questions.

The three CIOs were –

  • Marty Chuck, CIO, ElectronicArts
  • Greg Higham, VP, Information Systems &Technology, Witness Systems
  • Chris Jones, CTO, Shaklee Corporation

What an opportunity! Along with the free EA game and T-shirts I got answers to some of my questions I had about the role of a CIO.

Some interesting ideas they talked about were –

  • IT needs a structured approach to identifying and solving business problems. Applying this structure to the “startup-like (a polite way of saying chaotic)” culture could be really challenging. How do you assimilate processes but still not fight with the culture of the company that might oppose it?
  • Some of the new enterprise applications are looked upon as “shiny new objects” which might not bring a lot of business value.
  • The role of a CIO is very flexible and thus there are opportunities to define it your way and set your own priorities.
  • The IT infrastructure decisions are moving from “Build or Buy” to “Buy or rent” to “Rent or BPO”. Eventually, they see moving a lot of these support processes outside the company to a Rent or BPO kind of model.
  • Being a CTO/CIO in a technology company has its pluses and minuses. When you are surrounded by tech-savvy executives it is not very hard to educate them on the “new shining objects”. But, as one of the CIOs gave an example – some of the colleagues would read some articles (on their United flight) and then with half-baked knowledge try to apply that to their context.
  • One CIO used ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to explain the nature of business users and their priorities. Their attention span is just too short. Either you give quick results or their attention would go away to something else.
  • The companies resist buying critical enterprise software from the start-ups.

Thanks Marty, Greg and Chris to be there.

Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror. –Kahlil Gibran

Here are some excerpts …

By almost any economically relevant metric, distances have shrunk considerably in recent decades. As a consequence, economically speaking, Wausau and Wuhan are today closer and more interdependent than ever before. Economic and technological changes are likely to shrink effective distances still further in coming years, creating the potential for continued improvements in productivity and living standards and for a reduction in global poverty.

Read this for the complete speech.

CEO’s Advice

“It’s better to be poor and running your own business than to be rich and work for someone else.”– Calvin Ayre, CEO of Bodog.com

“Perseverance. Stick with it and keep a positive attitude. Starting a company is definitely a challenging process, and you have to be able to believe in yourself and believe in the concept, day after day.”– Scott Sanders, owner and CEO of F1 Race Factory

“Flexible people never get bent out of shape.”– Joshua Estrin, president and CEO of Concepts in Success

“Find an area of confusion and figure it out.”– Amy James, CEO of sixThings

“Make other people’s money work for you.”– Corey Llewellyn, CEO of Digiwaxx Media

“Always be in over your head. That way, you’re always learning something and you never get bored. Floating is overrated.”– Gini Dietrich, President and CEO of Arment Dietrich PR

“Don’t get angry, get smart.”– Vicki Kunkel, CEO, Leader Brand Strategists

“Find out what you’re good at and learn how to leverage that to your advantage.”– Stephen Blakesley, CEO of Global Management Systems, Inc.

“Find your passion and then make a living doing it.”– Ann Higgins, CEO of Utopia Communications

“Your job as a leader is to change the people, and if you can’t change the people, then CHANGE the people.”– Jeff Kaye, CEO of Kaye Bassman International