April 14, 2004

Nowhere Men

Long time back during college days I read Pritish Nandy's poem Nowhere Man (isn't this an amazing fact that an average Joe does most of the right things only during college-days, once out of college its just about injecting slow reality in the imagination factory !)

I have travelled all the lonely highways in the autumn and watched all the lonesome cities pale at dust. I have held all those tired strangers in my waves, and whispered stranger secrets now forgotten. This gypsy satchel carries all my sorrows, this fatigued evening carries all my songs.

This thought about Nowhere Man came from a post by Om Malik. I love his posts on Broadband industry, his research and news on industry movers/shakers are worth reading. Om is nowadays in India doing his job, which is mostly reporting on the new India. His post on outsourcing has invoked some strong emotions from readers. This led me to think about the different perspective all displaced Indians have about India's growth. By displaced I mean those who left India for better future - in economic and social sense. Their loyalty and aspirations are as foggy as their Friedman's lense through which they see new India.

There were many Nowhere Men before as well - Nirad C Choudhary and V.S. Naipaul stand out from that crowd. Whatever they wrote Indians never liked , it was too obvious to their taste and too painful as well. Its an ironic and painful fact that Indians in India dont like any Non-resident Indian picking on them, now if its Thomas Friedmann or somebody from Economist then its fine. It gets front page attention and all the desi blogger's attention as well.

Expat Indians are not allowed to pick on anything Indian - Om Malik broke that rule. I guess its fine by him as well, his audience is different.

April 14, 2004 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 04, 2004


Via Atanu Dey's post getting to know more about the progress in RISC project. I met Atanu last year and round the same time exchanged few emails with Rajesh Jain. I was immediately impressed by the beauty of the model and its promise. RISC project is all about leveraging the entrepreneurial talent in the rural India setting by providing both infrastructure level ( power, telecom etc) and application level (micro-financing, access to market etc) services. Its ultimate objective is to lift much of rural India out of the poverty trap by correcting the problem of coordination between multiple parties. Project requires $5Billion to execute and has a very compelling promise of increasing India's GDP by 1 percentage point. Now this project is getting executed under the for-profit banner of Deeshaa Ventures. Its a wise decision to use explicit for-profit model to generate seriousness, convey a new thinking and make it sustainable.

Though there is not much information available about the pilot project, I am curious to see the initial data points to understand this model at its edges. When I first looked at the model I was wondering about an entrepreuner (the main actor of this model), the question was what is the most compelling entry model for a budding entrepreuner in rural India and how this model provides the compelling "user interface" to enhance his risk appetite and make them jump-in. As this model suggests that the circled "User" sitting on top of the services and infrastructure layer needs infrastructure support and for-profit motivation for joining-in.

At the risk of sounding too-IT centric (though some of this comes from the strong IT analogy I have seen in the RISC whitepaper itself) , the three layers could be treated as analogous to Cisco (Infrastructure), Microsoft (Services), SAP (User). Three strong franchisees of the three critical layers. As somebody who is just one generation removed from the eastern-UP's backward environment, I would need strong incentive at the SAP layer to jump-in. Its the application which matters in the end, and this model needs to address the motivation (or the lack of) of entrepreuner by providing a realistic roadmap which can make him sit-up and dream a new dream. For example take the case of eastern UP, a very poor area by income and level of education . There is a place called Chunar where stone quarrying and ceramics based businesses have flourished at the small scale level for many generations. Commercialization of this natural resource is a classic example where most of the stakeholders are locked up in never ending poverty cycle. I am not able to visualize how a budding entrepreuner, trying to take his ceramics business to the level where access to global market can suddenly make him 10x-20x return on his investments, will enter into this RISC model and why cant he do that right now ?

For the promoters of RISC the big question is where to invest first - at the Cisco level or Microsoft or at let there be thousand homegrown SAPs. Probably pilot project's lessons will shed more light on this.

Its a long term commitment and naturally there will be course corrections and adaptations. Important thing is to stay end-state focused. Its very encouraging to see people like Vinod Khosla evangelizing this model and making media aware of these initiatives. Project of this size will need support from all parties. Needless to say its progress will be fun to watch and there will be many learning opportunities as well. As Vinod Khosla said in the interview , one has to think long term -

See, despondency reflects short-term thinking. People who have no vision say this. It is the people who think short-term. It is the people who think something going up and down in the stock markets is the definition of success. Success is defined by the impact something has on the lives of people.

April 4, 2004 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 25, 2004

Acumen Fund

Acumen Fund has a very compelling model -

Acumen Fund’s mission is to link high net worth individuals to some of the world's most innovative problem-solvers through a portfolio approach

March 25, 2004 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2004


Craig Newmark , founder of the hugely popular Craigslist, on his philosophy and customer-driven approach -

"There's a figure in popular mythology who goes to high school who wears glasses, a pocket protector, and has no social skills. Those stereotypes have a basis in reality. I used to joke about being a recovering nerd, but now I embrace some kind of nerd militancy. The Internet is about getting people to talk to each other. .... Quantum physics is fun, but the only way we can change the world is by doing the mundane stuff everyday. And then doing it again. The everyday stuff we do is what really matters in the world. We need to develop a culture of trust and earn it again every day. I take misuse of the list personally. We also pay a lot of attention to privacy, due process, and law enforcement. I get a subpoena on my desk about once a week. Community feedback should result in changes, and you need to provide excellent customer service. "

His is a refreshing voice, translates all complex issues into simple everyday concerns - helping each other, privacy, building trust by doing small things - everyday - , and best of all having a right moral compass.

March 15, 2004 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

WildBlue satellite

Free bandwidth !! If governments in developing world are willing to subsidize it.

WildBlue satellite

WildBlue plans to exploit the Ka frequencies, 20 and 30 GHz, using geostationary (GEO) earth orbit satellites (satellites that are stationed in a fixed position over the earth). This will allow high-speed Internet access nationwide with just one satellite in place. These satellites allow "bandwidth on demand" for WildBlue customers.

To deliver high-speed Internet access virtually no matter where you live or work, WildBlue will utilize a large number of small "spot beams" instead of a single Continental U.S. (CONUS) beam.

September 22, 2003 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Simputer: Not a common man's device anymore

There must be some lessons to be learned from Simputer project :

Well, it's not a cheap computer.

Its proponents have since discarded the buzzword -- 'cheap computer' -- that brought the Simputer into the limelight.

"We are not making a cheap computer. We are making a sophisticated device that will make computing possible for everyone," declares Professor Manohar.

And that computing for everyone is likely to carry a price tag of anything between Rs 12,000 and Rs 20,000.

Encore's entry-level model will cost Rs 12,000, while the most expensive one will be priced Rs 22,000.

PicoPeta is likely to price its Simputer, Amida, at about Rs 15,000.

Which begs the question, why would anyone opt for a Simputer and not go for a desktop PC or a handheld device?

For its portability and the range of features it offers, argue PicoPeta and Encore.

"Our Simputer comes with a smart card reader. It has a USB master that can host different kind of peripherals. It has an in-built modem, GSM/CDMA data interface, GPS receiver and the equivalent of a 400 MHZ Celeron. It is a power packed machine," says Samyeer Metrani, group manager (embedded systems), Encore Technologies.

Says PicoPeta's Professor Manohar: "The Rs 20,000 that a desktop costs is only a part of the total ownership costs. How many people can use the standard PC? You need to know Windows, English, how to operate a mouse, et cetera. The Simputer will give them applications that they can handle easily."

But clearly, somewhere along the line from conception to development, talk of the Rs 9,000 Simputer that would become the computer for the poor man, has been lost.

"The Rs 10,000 estimate for a Simputer was based on 100,000 pieces being ordered. When we told people that they just wrote about the first part and forgot to mention the conditional second part," says Professor Manohar.

Yet he feels the Simputer will find enough takers. "There are 7 million (70 lakh) PCs in the country today. There are over 1 billion (100 crore) people in this country. Where are the rest going to get PCs from?" he asks.

September 22, 2003 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2003

Thoughts on RISC

I will start off my attempt to understand RISC model by asking a question - What was common between Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dostoevsky's Crime and punishment ? Both were stories of human life, struggle and change. Like all great fiction both novels attempted to address the fundamentals of human life using some metaphors. War and Peace used masses as a focal point whereas Dostoevsky used individual and his thoughts as a model to address fundamental issues affecting human beings. This masses versus individual approach is a matter of choice to convey the same points. Then why choose one over the other?
That begs a question as to how important is scale in dealing with any problem. Scale is what is so critical to the success of RISC.

Atanu Dey has a provided a wonderful model of Rural Infrastructural & Services Commons (RISC) to address the problem of market coordination between different market building forces in a specific social setting. Its an excellent model which articulates the current market inefficiencies and provides a compelling argument to exploit information technology advances to raise the entrepreneurial activity for eventual market correction.

What problem RISC is solving: It addresses the market failure of coordination and attempts to introduce a market building platform which will radically bring down the information gap by facilitating the transactions between different parties. This will be made possible by the exploitation of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in a very scalable and affordable manner.

Working on the pareto's law, RISC model attempts to provide enough services to 5% of the rural population hoping that this entrepreunarial segment will pull the remaining 95% into more economic activity thereby initiating a chain of positive market intervention. With the assertion that a modest 10% increase in economic efficiency would mean $14billion of additional income this model makes you sit up and take note of its ambitious scale.

Personally I want RISC to happen with its current scope and scale, its so intricately tied to the formula that any attempt to remove them or "phase" them might bring some structural inconsistencies. My usecase oriented thinking says that first we need to identify all core set of economic services where person X might want to be engaged in and then go around building the infrastructural and application services to support his needs. This will have its own deterministic flow to it. To this Atanu is pointing towards projects which have attempted to work using partial and organic attempt to address this economic issue with only partial success.

RISC is compelling to me for several reasons and I am sure anybody who has a deep interest in finding models to bridge the rural and urban divide is going to be impressed by the "scale" of the project. It has that uncanny vision of removing information gap between rural and urban settings. Think of it, given equal and efficient information flow between these two social settings many of urban folks would like to move back to semi-urban (closer to rural) environments thus initiating several positive market building forces. Thats where RISC's model of creating micro-city right at the junction point has a strong chance of succeeding. It will not face any problem in evangelizing the concept. People will flock to it.

This micro-city model uses the computing platform analogy , where there are infrastructural services known as I-services which provides the foundation services such as power, telecommunication, banking etc. On top of this infrastructural services there is a provision for application services termed as S-level, which are providing user interfacing services. If we carry on with this analogy it sort of looks like RISC is proposing to build Internet using scale used by DARPA with the hope that one day Ciscos,AOLs and Ebays will make all this iron-and-fiber investment worthwhile. No reason why this cannot be accomplished, on the other hand DARPA analogy should be used as a selling point to emphasize the "already proven" models. In this model DARPA has to be a consortium run by somebody who has the similar power as Lee Kuan Yew enjoyed in Singapore.

Its main challenge would be to articulate a flexible and multi-phase plan without running into the operational risk of executing on a all-or-nothing vision. In subsequent articles I will further brainstorm on the challenges, magnets on the supply and demand side,need to build ebay effect into the model and why it must succeed.

(What are the known models which have successfully intervened in non-linear economic system as the one which is aimed by RISC. Study of those models will shed some light on the differentiating disruption which ICT brings to the equation.)

August 30, 2003 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2003

Room to read

Is there any way to measure the effectiveness of these good initiatives. Measurements and stats will help new initiatives to focus on the non-overlapping areas.

August 21, 2003 in Social angle | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack