Thursday, May 18, 2017

The more things change the more they remain the same

We programmed first for the PLCs (programmable logic controllers) then for Microprocessors then DOS, then Windows, then Java, then the Browser, then iOS and Android and now the Cloud. 
The more things change the more they remain the same. 
Each higher level platform, opens up new possibilities (and closes some). Each new platform brings in new levels of efficiencies. Each improvement in the platform, makes it easier to adopt technology, creating a wider market. Each improvement in platform puts a greater challenge to deliver to newer (higher) levels of convenience. Each change shifts the domain of work. Each change reorganises the markets. 
Each change also brings in new challenges - e.g. today, the ability to harness collective compute power, connected (networked devices), mobile devices, centralised data stores magnifies and complicates the data security threats and the need for build stronger counter measures.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Getting around the ‘Under-funded’ problem

Your capital requirement can be pretty large if you plan to run a 24x7 critical business IT system or want to build highly scalable software applications or want to target large consumer markets, than e.g. if you want to run a boutique digital marketing business. 
When your business is underfunded, everything is compromised, the team, quality, distribution, marketing, sales system, speed…nearly everything. That slows you down. Stretching out the time it takes to reach product maturity. For a tech company this is dangerous. It is eating into your window of opportunity. The tech landscape changes fast. Also if you get in with your product at a later stage, gaining customers becomes that much harder. Much opportunity can be lost. Worse still you may miss the window of opportunity altogether.
How do you break out from this? Better still how do you avoid getting trapped in a situation like this? 
Being well funded is the obvious answer but getting funded itself is a low probability event for most start-ups. Getting well funded can be even harder, especially so in places where risk capital ecosystems are not so well developed. It might be easier to find initial capital (angel fund) than follow-up capital in such underdeveloped ecosystems. Leaving you stuck in the middle of no where at a later stage in the start-up lifecycle.
You can adjust to the low capital availability or lack of it. The real answer lies in the design of the business model. 
By innovating on the business model, you may be able to scale down your funding requirement or at least postpone it to a later stage in the business life cycle, giving you more time to work on it.
Business Models are a very effective way of getting around the shortage of funding. Its an option filled with many possibilities.
But what about the business model can you change? The simple answer lies in examining the number of parts that go into creating the engine that would generate revenues for you. The more parts there are to the business, the more is the complexity of the business and therefore, higher the cost and capital required to put it in place and run it. Simplifying the business model by reducing the number of parts that go into creating your business engine is a very effective way to bring down the capital requirement. Yes it may mean using other peoples services, sharing revenues etc. which could reduce the size of your pie, but, it may also be a surer way to gain control and find success.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mutual Respect and Growth

One of the best things I’ve learnt from Dr Adizes is the importance of Mutual Respect within the team for it to perform well. He says that the lack of Mutual Respect causes conflict, the lack of synergy within the team. It is a drain on the teams energy that it could otherwise use in overcoming obstacles to growing the enterprise. Lack of Mutual Respect at the top (between founders, owners, top mangers) can be completely destructive. Now Mutual Respect is not something that can be feigned nor can you psych yourself up for it. It is not something that can be developed in a few off sites or Mutual Appreciation camps. It can only be developed by spending a good amount of time understanding each others points of view and building out a shared understanding and vision. Of course the pre condition is honesty, sincerity and integrity on the part of the team members. And Prejudice here is poison.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Consciousness and Enterprise Productivity - The 4 Levels of Improving Performance through People

People are at the heart of any enterprise. They are even more critical to the performance and growth of a start-up or small enterprise. How can we best manage this resource? How must an enterprise especially a smaller one approach its objective for improving productivity through organisational change and development?
In our journey as an enterprise, we’ve been through many experiments, always believing in the great potential that humans hold but also realising along the way that it isn’t always easy to get people to tap into that potential. Then there also is the immediacy of the need to deliver results, which leaves little room for long drawn out transformation projects. In the process, we have discovered four levels of organisational work to drive productivity improvement and transformation that I describe here in brief. 
"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it" ~ Albert Einstein
Ideally, we’d be blessed to be working with all enlightened people around us. It is perhaps the best guarantee for a sensible and durable enterprise, but working on raising the consciousness of a team can be a long hard task, loaded with potential disappointments and little to measure by way of progress.  And while it may be pursued collectively, the journey to higher levels of consciousness and awareness is a personal one; its success deeply dependent on the mental make-up of an individual and her immediate environment. The gains therefore are likely to be uneven across the team. 
But just because the gains are hard to measure and come with little guarantees of quick-uniform gains, it should not be left to itself, but perhaps worked on as a long term initiative for improving the productivity and effectiveness of the team. 
So what could be a faster route to improved productivity & effectiveness?
“Our contribution purely depends on our consciousness and our willingness to support those in need, to show vulnerability and accept the support of others, to share without expecting the credit, to give it our all and allow our hard work to decide the outcome, to understand that control can only be achieved with a shared responsibility.” ~ Yehuda Berg
Attitudes people carry have a large bearing on their performance and that of the team in which they function. That in turn is a function of the culture and the prevailing environment within the enterprise. The values, idioms, rules, rituals and expected standards of work and behaviour. The culture is what shapes the attitudes of the individual and teams within the enterprise.
To build a culture needs regular ongoing work and reinforcement with much depending on the conduct and initiatives of the team leadership. Things can happen a little faster here, with deep impact on productivity & effectiveness but here again its hard to quantify and measure progress in the short term.
So what does one do that provides more measurable outcomes? 
Working at enhancing the skill and competencies of the team can bring quicker and more tangible productivity gains. Again this is ongoing work, needing a sustained effort in training, talent acquisition, team organisation etc., to deliver progressively better results. Enhancing worker skills can be slow and sometimes extremely challenging depending on the complexity of the skills that need to be built, individual abilities and willingness to learn, the quality of training inputs available etc. 
What if you can’t wait? What if you need a quick step jump in productivity to ensure survival?
“Either you run the day or the day runs you” ~ Jim Rohn
The fastest, perhaps the most measurable and biggest gains (at least in the short term) can come from improving the ‘systems’ within which people perform their work - the tools, methods, processes, resources(material, technology) etc., that enable people to raise the level of their work with greater ease. And in Codifyingthe behaviour of the enterprise through calendars, routines, standardisation, processes, automation etc. I use the word codify here because it is best done by encoding it into a system (software) that can notify, track and monitor the compliance to the desired methods & standards.
This is not to drive the employees like a herd but to free them of hundreds of unnecessary discussions, decision making, exception handling that chew away productive time, slowing down operations and leaving little time for deeper transformational work. 
That incidentally might also be the order of how you should do it. Getting the plans, systems and resources in place would create the space for the the skill enhancements, which creates the space for the building of a culture that fosters the right attitudes, which in turn gives you time to work on raising the consciousness of the enterprise. Get the order wrong and you are heading for a people muddle. 
Collaboration - Getting it Started
However, to infuse these changes in the system, it needs at least a few good people to pilot the transition. It means getting the best people you can find as fast as you can and putting them to work on the short and long of building or rebuilding the enterprise. People who can plan and set-up systems, people who can coach, people who can exert the cultural influence and people who can help raise the consciousness. 
For any enterprise (especially the smaller ones), freeing up the time of its best people from operational tasks and challenges for transformational work is hard though. The enterprise must do this transformation while in motion. Taking too much time off operational work for transformational work can put at risk the immediate future of the enterprise.
Here a good team collaboration tool can come handy. A good collaboration system can help in both - building a faster response system for the team to the everyday situations while at the same time enabling in depth collaboration for more durable changes. It can help in aggregating hundreds of little pieces of collaborative work to create something bigger, reducing the need for meetings, making meetings and follow-ups to them more productive, ensuring continuity of the effort and wider participation.
So the first thing to do in getting started on your transformation journey could be to Connect-Up the people through a team / enterprise collaboration system and setting the conversation going on the needed change.
A Word of Caution - Driving Deeper Change
Grass grows pretty quickly with a little rain but dries up just as fast with the onset of the dry season. So it is with interventions involving systems & tools - they deliver quick returns but the improvements may not run deep, may not be enough to sustain growth for long. Working on consciousness is like planting trees - it takes a while for the tree to grow but it can weather a lot more. Bear fruits for a longer period of time.  Woking on a culture is like gardening, it needs continuous work to keep it beautiful and vibrant but a lot happens by itself. The rose plant you had been working on for a while greets you one morning with a dozen flowers and the lilies you had almost forgotten come to life as the weather turns and the rains comes in.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Make in India - Are the small businesses ready to make the most of it?

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures. ~ William Shakespeare
“Make in India” presents an unprecedented opportunity for the small businesses in India to build world class businesses, an opportunity that’s been denied to them for long.  But are they ready to make the most of it? This article briefly explores the Make in India program, the opportunities it presents to the self employed, start-ups and SMEs and what they could do to make the most of it. 
The Need - Why a ‘Make in India’ program
There are 48.8 million small businesses in India which could become the engine for growth, job creation and social change but need a conducive environment to flourish. 
With more than 356 million 10-24 year-olds, India has the world's largest youth population  which in turn means that in the next decade India will need upwards of 11.5 million non-farm jobs to employ them gainfully. 
Despite significant improvements over the last two years (with good help from falling oil prices), the Current Account Deficit remains at 1.4% of the GDP. This needs a simultaneous push for export and a reduction in dependence on imports.
The programme having the vision to transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub, is a call to action to all the government agencies to work in a concerted way to create the hard, soft and policy infrastructure to make India one of the top destinations for doing business. With the promise of delivering jobs, economic growth and expanded social benefits in return.
An Invitation to Participate and Gain
Make in India is an invitation to Start-ups and entrepreneurs to think of making things in India, it is an invitation to businesses to make in India for India and it is an invitation to international industries to make in India for India and for the world. 
The program highlights the 3Ds (Democracy, Demography and Demand) as the inherent advantages for the country as a business destination, and promises to turn around its lethargic business environment into a responsive and vibrant one through investments in infrastructure and policy reforms.
The government is also taking the lead as a demand generator with -  Defense Production, Railways, and Solar Power chosen as the thrust areas, for their huge social, environmental, economic and geo-political impact. While development of railways and solar power would reduce the demand and dependency on oil imports, defense production, electronic manufacturing would reduce the skew in the trade with some key partner countries. 
Also included under the program are - Aerospace, Automobiles and Auto Components, Construction Equipment, IT & Electronic Manufacturing, Textiles, Chemicals, Petrochemicals, Food Processing etc. that would find ready markets in India. 
These initiatives have the potential to spin-off hundreds of thousands of business opportunities both in the domestic and export markets for businesses of every size.
The opportunities for the smaller businesses will come in the form of participation in the creation and maintenance of the infrastructure, as supply chain participants, in support services (such as logistics, transport, hospitality, food, housing etc.), human resource development and in many more ways than one can imagine now.
How Can the SMEs make the most of this opportunity
So what can the SMEs do to make the most of these opportunities? Here are some quick suggestions. 
Looking Out - There will be much happening under this program and it is important that small businesses are in touch with the opportunities opening up. Following key twitter handles, social media pages, growing your professional network through sites like Linkedin and following websites dedicated to information around the Make in India program is extremely important. Unfortunately, the mainstream media carries little of this information; fortunately the current government is actively using the social media and other digital channels to disseminating information.  
Engaging with the Eco-System - becoming part of multiple industry associations and participating in the programs, trade shows and online forums would help not just for accelerated learning but also to keep abreast with the developments, help find partners, talent and ways to pool resources to take advantage of upcoming opportunities.  
Both the government agencies and industry associations are engaging actively to respond to the needs of the industry under the program.
Building Capability & Capacity - taking up the internal planning and organisational development, with a 5 to 10 years perspective, to ready the business for upcoming opportunities, is necessary to build the capacity & capability to take advantage of the emerging opportunities. Key amongst them is the adoption of methods & technology platforms to support world class quality and scale in one’s area of work. It is also important that Start-Ups & SMEs are aware of all the resources, platforms & programs that are being created by the government and industry associations in this regard and take benefit from them.
Gaining through Collaboration - bringing the team together for quicker response to emerging opportunities (and challenges) is critical to the survival and growth of any enterprise. Technology can help here - a scalable, secure and well designed collaboration platform can help in
  1. bringing the team together improving the speed and quality of its response
  2. collaborating more efficiently with customers and partners and most importantly, 
  3. managing exception at work (opportunities and challenges that falls outside business as usual), because for the enterprise that seeks to make the most of the emerging opportunity it is going to be anything but business as usual.
Creating and Managing an Opportunity Portfolio  - creating and managing the a portfolio of opportunity one’s business is pursuing and not letting it run ahead of the internal capacity creation is necessary to avoid overextending the business in pursuit of growth. Building and maintaining a Capability versus Opportunity matrix could be a very useful decision making tool in such a dynamic environment. A calibrated engagement with the emerging opportunities can considerably reduce the risk for the small enterprise.
In summary the government seems committed to creating a more supportive environment for business. Start-ups & SMEs on their part need to be active in taking advantage of these initiatives; find time to building linkages with the eco-system and invest in building distinguished capabilities, to be gainful participants in this new business environment.
Do share your feedback, ideas, suggestions and experiences.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why no Google in India - Part 2

This is the second of my blogs on the reasons why there is no Google in India and what can be done about it. [Orginally published on]

The common beliefs and the truth about start-ups

Various reasons have been attributed to the start-ups culture in Silicon valley and else where. Like the proximity to investors, tax breaks, legal incentives, incubators, availability of workforce etc. []

But these are the accelerators and elements of a platforms for scaling up, rather than the necessary condition for the birth & success of a start-up. By themselves, they are not the sufficient ingredients to create a start-up culture.

According to Steve Blank, consulting associate professor at Stanford University and a lecturer at National Science Foundation and principal investigator at the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University, growth in the number of start-ups is constrained by five factors :

1. The high cost of getting the first customer and the even higher cost of getting the product wrong.

2. Long technology development cycles.

3. The limited number of people with an appetite for the risks inherent in founding or working at a start-up.

4. The structure of the venture capital industry, in which a small number of firms each need to invest big sums in a handful of start-ups to have a chance at significant returns.

5. The concentration of real expertise in how to build start-ups.

All these factors are however altered favourably with the presence of a customer(s).

Nearly 48.8 million small businesses exist in India, most of them aren't funded, nor recipients of special government concessions or nurtured in incubators. The thing that gave birth to them and sustains them is - the presence of a customer(s).

All the means of production begin to fall in place with the appearance of a customer(s).

India with its large and diverse consumer market provides the fertile ground for much of these enterprises to exist.[

Take a look at the eco-system of the Auto & Engineering industry in a place like Pune. Nearly none of them have been supported by VCs, most have survived and thrived despite adverse government regulations, infrastructure deficiencies, lack of expertise, and at best mediocre cities for their people to live in. The presence of customers (large auto manufacturers) has been largely responsible for a strong manufacturing start-up culture in the city.

A mid sized customer of ours, a supplier to Tata Motors, has over a hundred smaller suppliers supplying to them in turn.

There are a lot of small companies, toughened by years of living with constrains, that could grow out very rapidly under a more congenial environment. With the right environment (policies & infrastructure), many of whom could be part of the international supply chain and become world class players.

ACMA says the industry is driving towards a goal of crossing the US$ 100 billion mark including exports of US$ 30-40 billion by the year 2020.

India is probably the most competitive country in the world for the automotive industry. It does not cover 100 per cent of technology or components required to make a car but it is giving a good 97 per cent - Vicent Cobee, Corporate Vice-President, Nissan Motor’s Datsun.

What is Constraining the Software Product business in India

In comparison, the Software industry has not suffered from such constraining regulations, neither is the infrastructure requirement as demanding. It has done quite well in exporting software services, but not so with software product exports. Nearly all of the hardware (and software) used in India is imported. These imports, classified collectively under electronic goods, threaten to overtake the Oil import bill by 2020

The reason could be the lack of an eco-system as robust as that of the Auto and Engineering sector.

Perhaps due to lack of cost constrains, maybe to ensure proximity with their customers, maybe to move rapidly, maybe to ensure compliance, the software service industry chose to mostly use pre-built and standard software (and hardware) made elsewhere (with a few exceptions).

So it was with other Indian businesses. To survive and grow, post industrial liberalisation, Indian businesses accelerated their use of the IT to build more efficient businesses, enable growth and enter new lines of business. Something that they had not given much heed to hitherto. The emphasis was mostly on speedy implementation and risk mitigation. CIOs mostly got busy with purchase, implementation and management of 'proven' IT systems. Most of government institutions and government owned businesses too followed a similar path.

The result is a large IT reseller and service segment but not may local makers of software & IT products.

Starting up a robust local Eco-System

As a company we've been fortunate in having gained support of some bold CIOs and CXOs who have supported us as customers for our product. The customers, especially those that supported us in the early years, were undertaking risks quite unusual of CIOs in India. The presence of customers, not just helped us financially, but it also gave us the context to create the product, helped us find systems integration & solution partners to enhance our offering. Helping us move towards a world class product.

Maybe it's time CIOs (and more so CXOs), put some time and resource aside to engage with and invest with local start-ups as a means to build new advantages for themselves. They stand to benefit from cost savings, unlocking new efficiencies, creating unique advantages for their businesses.

CIOs/CXOs could start with the periphery, with processes and parts of the business still not digital, with experiments on new business models, with start-ups that have demonstratable capabilities, as low cost experiments. The pay-off could be huge. The cost of failure not much. And the learning of great value a certainty for all.

They won't be a day too early in initiating it. Start-ups like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Ola, Quickr are already creating new systems of business that offers a platform for rapid scale and profits, by a more innovative use of technology. Running factories and business operations efficiently, having large production capacities, or ability to manage scale, might not be enough to survive in the new business environment where business rules are being rewritten at a rapid pace.

Such investment hold promise not only for the customer and the supplier (start-up), but also to the industry (through the creation of a robust eco-system) and country as a whole (through business & economic growth).

Who knows, it may just seed a Google here in India.

What do you say?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Putting your heart into it

People are uncomfortable when they encounter emotions from others because they associate an emotional response with having to give in, give up or give into something in dealing with that emotional response. They feel manipulated through these emotions. People try to cover-up and can their own emotions so as to stay away from inviting an emotional response which could place an unpleasant demand on them.

When we talk of acting out of love and of putting our heart into our work, we are not talking about this kind of emotional manipulation.

Acting out of love (and from your heart) is acting out of a deeper understanding. It is not to be confused with responding emotionally (especially with uncontrolled emotions) or using emotions as a means to manipulate. It comes from the understanding that giving in to emotions makes one unsteady, unpredictable and a slave to rising and falling emotions. It comes from the understanding that a caluculating mind become dry, dull, colorless, hard, ruthless. It is good at taking and grabbing things from others but it is incapable of creating. That it is incapable of giving. It comes from the understanding that these two are but our sensors and tools that help us live and work better.

Emotions are at best used as sensors (guides) and as a means to expression. Can you even think of poetry and music and art bereft of emotions? Can you even imagine anything beautiful ever being created or done without the doer having his or her heart into it?

How you really feel about work is an important indicator of how you are doing at work and the quality of work you are doing.

Are you feeling unhappy? Are you feeling frustrated? Are you are feeling happy? Are you are feeling exhilaration? If you are unhappy it's more likely that you are unable to do your work well. If you feel frustrated it is likely that the problems you encounter in your work keeps reappearing. If you are feeling happy probably you've been able to do a job well. If you are feeling exhilarated you've probably made a breakthrough at work.

Indeed reflecting on how you are feeling about your work can help you manage yourself better.

Acting out of love comes from an understanding that we are can hardly stand alone. That we are dependent on others for our well being. That we have much to be grateful to others for. And that in response, we must at least attempt to do our bit to pay it back and forward.

Here is how the great Einstien saw it -
A hundred times everyday I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received. - Albert Einstien