Ziva in the TOI

Ziva got a passing mention in a TOI article about recruitment ai IIITB.

We're actually pretty deeply married into IIITB - with three people and soon 3 interns from there!

A lesson like few others!

Binary Search revisited - its never over till the .....

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Illusions turn reality


Tis a good read for wannabe entrepreneurs, thinkers, and other world-changers.
Hypotheses, facts, conjecture, hope, desire, fears, ambition, success, failure.
Are they all part of the curry ? When is the salt too little, or the spice too sharp ?

Ubuntu good

Linux for Human Beings

My Presario had been running Fedora Core 3 for ages together, and no upgrades (for 'business reasons') had made my fingers twitchy.

Moved to Ubuntu "Edgy Eft" a couple of days ago.

  • It Totally Rocks!
  • Volume buttons worked out of the box
  • WiFi worked out of the box
  • Anything you down works
  • Packahe installation is a breeze using Synaptic, and just works
  • All the commands on The Unofficial Guide actually worked
  • Battery management, hibernate/suspend actually works
Also tried Swiftfox. They Should've called it StableFox instead. Speed is not the draw, lack of memory hogs, and overall stability, is.


On the Bombay trip, the LCD screen suddenly went near-dark! Connected to a CRT terminal and managed for a couple of days.

Back in Bangalore, asked cousin to take a look at it - essentially the 'power supply' (in lay terms, there *are* propah terms for suchlike which I do not remember) to the LCD had a teeny diode gone kaput. Simple enough fix, or replacement of a small part. Except that HP does not list this as a part !!

Their solution - replace the LCD!!!!!! And if not under warranty, the cost would be 30k, the lady at the service point said!

This is highway robbery under a corporate policy garb! The diode would cost 25p, and even the power supply or whatever would be a couple of hundred bucks (INR, please). thirty-thousand-rupees for that !???

"We only change components" the lady said helplessly.

Well, you could define the whole laptop as a 'component' and I would be able to do precious little about that either. Its akin to saying that the car's engine needs replacement since the starter's gone bad. Or pulling down and redoing my living room since the door to it will not do its job anymore.

One should be able to go to HP's assembly line, see what 'components' they have in independent bins on the assembly line. I'm sure this power supply bit is an independent enough piece to be classified a component - it looked like a clearly plug-n-play bit, except the connectors were all very model specific and stuff (i guess to try and lock me in for sure!)

I want to badly create a fuss about this, and ensure HP takes notice. The current way of doing stuff is clearly unethical, and customers must be bleeding for minor electronic failures! Even if you factor US labour costs (which you shouldn't, logically) this is unjustifiable. Hewlett Packard, are you listening ? (Well, I'm guessing here that this is true for most manufacturers.)

After this, is it surprising that customers go looking for grey market stuff ? I really want to take this all the way up to the big boys and girls at HP.

Of course, what I'm probably going to do is - having ranted on this blog, pay HP some more money and buy a 2 year extension on the warranty now that they've managed to instill the fear of the big brand in me.

In the future, no more 'big-brand-so-proprietary-components' electronics for me - especially delicate stuff like laptops. Robust take-it-all desktops if I can live with that, or possibly some stuff assembled from commodity parts bins.

Productivity, greed and the long term health of IT

To start with heres a few good links


Though its toughie to measur the Indian IT industry's ouput, various sites point to numbers between $23k to $32k p.a. How the 'revenue' generated by the engineering and support arms of MNCs is included is a grey area - if its just the budget allocation for the headcount, that would skew the numbers terribly. The Oracles, IBMs and Microsofts of the world make a lot of money per employee, and that needs factoring in somehow.

In any case, in this backdrop, the auto industry has been seeing massive growth in productivity. A friend quoted a number of 30+ lakhs - thats about $55k per person - I have not been able to substantiate that, but have found papers refer to 40% growth in productivity bet 1993-2003, and some which state a figure of 13Lakhs or so - about $25k. This used to be a very labour intensive industry till recently.

Of course, the big story underlying the data is the wage difference between the two! IT almost exists in a different economy, and has created an economic island around it wherever it exists - driving up cost of real estate, services and everything else. This is turn has created a constant demand for the 20%+ raises year after year, and earlier-unimaginable starter salaries.

Sooner than later, we'll get to a place where we're so out of whack with reality we'll need to consider some questions.

  • How soon must salary growth get in synch with the rest of the economy
  • How do we see a multiplier effect in productivity, so brand India does not seem overpriced
    • tech upgrades
    • The industry grew up in Univs not too long ago - and 35% of the work never gets 'done', and a lot more never sees the market. Its got to start working more like the auto or consumer goods sector and working back from costs and market needs.
    • Build services, organizatiions around standards (and get involved in supporting/promoting them) and longer running "basics" - OSs, protocols will help. Too many, frequent upgrades, a multitude of standards can only slow things down, and create more learning curve issues.
    • Stop focusing on 'time' as a productivity enhancement tool.
    • Better time-management skills and tools.
    • Transparency, collaboration and wikis.
    • Some good knowledge management tools.
    • Industry needs to poke its nose into education wayyyy more - projects, seats of learning, sourceforge.net initiatives, curriculum.
    • Its possible to over-processify
      • Agile methodologies - in spirit, not letter (actually XP etc cannot be 'followed' - goes against their idea)
      • Measure the value of each step, and judge if its become 'bureaucracy' ?
  • Cater to the domestic market - and stop existing in the 'dollar' world. Or, work back from costs and price/develop for what a long term, sustainable market will happily support. Develop pricing models for the domestic market - its a very different one, and a much larger challenge. Once arbitrage opportunities end or migrate away, the base of the pyramid will have to be the domestic market, with highend tech work bringing in the high-margin revenue. A robust local market will also help push branding/products, but pricing vs value wise its a chicken and egg issue that the industry must take the first crack at.
  • Crazy - but for two years the hikes of all 3+ years experienced people get used for a managed upgrade of tech institutions and education.
  • Help smaller tech entrepreneurship for experimenting with region, niche specific products etc. Why do we have to ape the 'large tech product co' model ? India traditionally has been a very fragmented market, with customers keeping costs low and keeping monopolisitc situations from happening inherently (not counting the legislated monopolies).
  • Evolve new work models to use combined experience of individuals. A lot many people have made it financially, and are not willing to give all their time to work, which seems to have become the norm. Some of these would not mind taking either part time lowered effort roles, or even combining forces with someone with complementary skills to fill in a job! HR needs to innovate beyond team building, and management styles even more so.
  • There's been a lot of lip service to this - but team accountability needs to be way more important than individual responsibility (not replace it, but be the decider).
    • As a corollary, the hiring of 'clones' i.e. multiple of the 'stated' ideal person will reduce - cause the best teams always have a mix of complementary skills.
  • Telecommute when/where possible. The number of hours saved alone will improve output if used

As one of my friends pointed out over email discussing this post, the whole using the raises to better institutes idea is too far fetched and 'socialist' - I take that back.

And, on the other hand, http://www.rediff.com/money/2006/sep/07jobs.htm.
One crore IT jobs! Wow. I don't know what that number is based on, but its staggering.

Some rocking stuff, some not so

  • MediaWiki - truly easy to install/use. Configuring options take a little figuring out tho
  • Webmin - you almost cannot manage remote linux servers without this. I've installed it for my laptop too - lazy old me.
  • Postfix - Sendmail replacement - making it work with LDAP, SASL took Siddhartha some figuring out
  • Bugzilla - as always, easy, breezy. Need to figure out a concept of "views" for specific users though.

Some interesting blogs

  • http://www.mobility4enterprise.org/
  • http://gigaom.com/

Ups n downs

On the same day, within hours of each other, I had my near-worst and near-best startup moment!

The former made me question my existence, life, the meaning of Om etc, and the latter got me irrationaly excited like a kid. Both reactions were over the top, but these have become part of this new life, so all said and considered, its fun.

Corollary : "celebrating differences" is a great phrase - and a very important one to build a team around - but extremely tough to internalize. We all have layers of masks, and even in a mirror we see those more than ourselves very often. Often, these masks get painted by what we hear from others, and that both rocks and sucks.

OTOH, others do pay you for what you sell/give them. So their reportcards are not totally irrelevant, are they ?

Obviously, I'm running a little confused :)


Am i a biker at heart ?
Geek ?
Dreamer ?
Bum ?
Poet ?
Non-conformist ?
(for the heck of it ?)

A year today!

Aug 19th 2005 was my last day at the last job - its been a year! We're doing pretty good for a year old startup, I'd imagine - done with the first deployment (rollout pending - some other biz decisions at the customer's end), couple of more customers starting to, the first cheque already in, 6 people, sooo many more plans ahead, and possible funding options!

Sorry, no details till its all done and signed, but its been a really amazing year.

SMS vs mobile internet

95%+ of the users have plain vanilla services, including voice and SMS. Quite a few have GPRS capable phones, but hardly use them. Of the ones who do, few can be considered "regular" internet users on the mobile phone.

  • does the low speed hinder usage ?
  • costs ? sms packs now offer near-free smsing!
  • do most savvy-enough users have the desktop alternative anyhow ?
  • The time you're on the go is your 'internet-free' time ?
  • m-browsing sucks cause of size/visibility ?
  • sms is way better for communication - mail/messengers on the phone are too klutzy ?
What is it ? One company actually found users surprisingly willing to type upto a max of 45 word queries!

Would like comments from the few souls who do read this blog, even if its once/blue moon.

Update :

So, nobody, but nobody, reads this blog :)


Have never spoken about the team!

  • Ajay Sethi : Bossman, founder, marketing, strategy, sales, the "PhD" of the tech end
  • Urs truly : Co-founder, design, dabble in this and that and all the threads, aspiring entrpreneurial student
  • Gowri : The Java Guru of the team - and the coding guidelines committee
  • Bipin : All the mobile world - he's founded companies, made, sold platforms, knows the dark alleys of the market out there
  • Nikhil, Siddhartha : IIIT in-the-knows who know more about networks, installs than I knew there was to know, and I'm surprised they're fresh out of college!
  • Shesha : Our US resident "Dr". She's moved recently and should be back in the thick of things soon.
Fantastic bunch of people, who all OD a bit of tea/coffee. Ok thats mainly Gowri and I who're responsible for corrupting everyone's tastebuds. And its a very 'campus-like' fell cause, well, we are in one!

ZiVA is hiring redux

If you're keen on doing sales/marketing for a startup, talk to us. Now that stuff is built and we have a few installs going, we need to ramp up on the selling hard and real quick. The formal JD (and the website, blog) will follow soon.

As always, smart keen brains interested in defining mobile search, especially the way it will spread in India, are welcomed with open arms. There's mining, IR, performance, peer-stuff and can-you-think-of-something-else to be done, and at Ziva, its your baby if you want to.

sameer D_O_T shisodia A_T zivasoftware D_O_T com if you're keen or curious.

Servers, hosts, DNS and Krishna Cafe

The too-late-for-a-real-blog-entry updates (this is becoming more of a sarkari circular/bulletin than a blog)

  • learning oh-so-much about the mundane - hosting, dedicated servers, DNS bits and pieces
    • Nettigritty is a real neat one, amazingly prompt support
    • dedicated servers are EXPENSIVE in India, coz of bandwidth, I guess
    • dedicatedNow are old timers, responsive and cheap! Very, very impressed
  • Discovered CentOS - iimminent laptop 'upgrade' warning!
  • Still cannot install mysql consistently across OSs
  • Krishna Cafe opened up on Bannerghata Road - great food option tho a little expensive
  • They inaugurated the Bannerghata Circle flyover - traffic has sucked since - do these bandaids really heal ?
  • Nikhil and Siddharatha joined us a month ago - and we're doing way more already
  • There are many forks in the road and we have to take one, maybe two
  • Some news WILL happen in the next 2 months. All I can say
  • Kozoru's byoms is geeky and fun. Popular ? Dunno yet.
New Address:

Ziva Software Pvt Ltd
#28, NSR-GIC Centre, Indian Institute of Management,
Bannerghata Road, Bangalore - 560076 India

Post-Shivku-Comment-Updates added - links to stuff, basically. Thanks dude.

Management Exposure

Been ages since I added anything here : a combination of 'same ol', laziness and work, I guess, is my excuse.

Anyhow - some highlights:

  • Roadwork on the 80 feet road. Terible amounts of dust - but will be worth it when its done.
  • A trip to Bomaby and customer interaction added some zest to an otherwise isolated deveopent phase.
  • We took up space at II M's NSRCEL incubator - lovely campus and plug and play connectivity, access to their library, networking with a host of VCs, industry folks are the bonuses. Cheap lunch and coffee too!
  • Product's beginning to look like a release.
  • I need a short vacation soon.

Ziva online @ "Bar-Code"

Ziva Software Private Ltd
2nd floor, #13, 80 feet road,
1st Block, Koramangala
Bangalore 560034

Feels like 'office' :) Not so corporate tho. We're 4 people now, and the most recent joinee was a sight with a bucket and mop which was promptly purchased to get the cleaning lady going right away.
Gowri was dying to set up a 'lab' with messed up wires and stuff.
And we set up the router/switch pretty much at one shot!
And we hired out first non IT temp - the lady who offerred to clean the place up every day.

Neither cheap nor too dear


especially :
"The revenue per employee in the last five years has steadily declined from Rs 3.77 per rupee spent on employee in FY 2001 to Rs 2.90 in FY 2003 and further to Rs 2.31 in FY05. In the first nine months of the FY06, a rupee spent on employees has generated revenue of Rs 2.09.

The attrition level is currently said to be around 35 per cent for the industry as a whole and it varies between 10 and 15 per cent for frontline companies. IT companies always keep a pool of employees (also referred to as benching). Industry estimates of benching stand at 20-25 per cent employees."

Have always maintained that we may be shooting ourselves in the foot - a collective greed if you will. While the short term attractiveness of a 30% jump is undeniable, remember that what you make overall is a factor of longevity, of the industry too. If you can sell a Merc at th eprice of a Honda, why not! Why try killing yourself with a not-yet-premium brand (also niche) and have premium pricing. If there is no Indian industry....

That said, India is beginning to establish that brand, at least in some quarters. There's also a strong domestic demand in some areas - and this will become truer as Indian corporations flex their muscle, both at home and abroad.

Even so, there'll always be a competitor willing to produce the same stuff for half the price. So its in our collective interest to keep the price tags attractive even as the quality and brand shoots up. Hyundai did that in the US market - and it makes a hell of a lot of sense. Its not an either or situation - you're better off with BOTH.

So please negotiate reasonably at the next round of appraisals. (Between you and me, all our salaries are way above the 'need' scenario anyhow). A couple of lakh extra might mean a few years lesser - and that will bite a hell lot more.

Short mention (US Press)

From the Indianapolis Business Journal

These guys had met Ajay briefly. Ziva mobile search gets its first US press mention, however brief :) ! Also, "india mobile search" or "mobile search startup" on Google news throws this up at the top, at least today.

Inane pleasures but nice.

Bangalore getting too messy/expensive

This does affect us too, one way or the other. Its getting tougher for startups too.

Press-ing matters

Ziva got its first mention in print - however indirectly.

Yours truly got some space in this weeks - well - 'The Week'. Nothing to my credit really - my investment advisor wanted to help his pal out with filling space up and forwarded him to me! And there was a propah 'photo shoot' session after that :)

Also - my first brush with the media and I get mildly mis-quoted :) !! Ziva was started with lots of thought and spadework that Ajay put in and I only joined him much later to take the vision to fruition. What I did say was "I'm doing something on my own". Anyhow....


Here's the online version of the same article:

Notes :Startup 101 redux ...

Conituing from my previous 'learnings' post...

  • Bangalore is high tech, but getting a broadband connection in Koramangala proper itself also gets responses like 'our technical team will check the feasibility for your address and get back to you'!!!
  • For even a barebones, penny pinching office space, the cost of getting it functional and livable rapidly approaches and exceeds the years rent :)
  • A closed deal is very much further down the road (esp once you finished celebrating and congratulating yourself about how well the product was accepted)
  • Good seating is invaluable for productivity.
  • 512kbps is broadband even for corporates in India.
  • Guy Kawasaki writes great blogposts
  • Free demos cost a lot of time/money
  • Linux Tip : Never upgrade "just gaim" before you're about to get a 'straightforward' demo ready.
  • There is no such thing as a 'straightforward' demo.
  • Linux Tip: Always keep a copy of you Fedora/RH handy. Both CDs.
  • I just cannot think right at night. Early mornings work beautifully though.
  • 1.2 G a month is barely enough.
  • Theres always one more bug to fix.

Office Space

Now its admin responsibilities :) Have been looking for some cheap, decent office space over the last week. No one really knows what the right prices are, and there's always sometihng wrong :) There *IS* one place which seems nice - and the price is ok too, but its on the top floor and the summer may be hot.....


Got the deal done for the space. Koramangala 1st block. We might call it 'Bar - Code' for certain reasons :) Now to make it nice and cheerful!

"The game" truths: this "Guy" rocks


Guy Kawasaki talks candidly about what VC-entrepreneur communication sounds like. Despite that, its a good feeling to delude yourself once in a while :)

Lesson: Fence sitting is pointless, costs time and money.

Jamshedpur, the Tatas and corp philosophy

This piece was written by Suhel Seth, not SN Mittal
This is apparently from LN Mittal:

(I spent the first 20 years of my life there and somehow buy the Tata's version of welfare and employee relations way more than the Western economics version of it)


I visited Jamshedpur over the weekend to see for myself an India that is fast disappearing despite all the wolf-cries of people like Narayanamurthy and his ilk. It is one thing to talk and quite another to do and I am delighted to tell you that Ratan Tata has akept alive the legacy of perhaps Indias finest industrialist J.N. Tata. Something that some people doubted when Ratan took over the House of the Tatas but in hindsight, the best thing to have happened to the Tatas is unquestionably Ratan. I was amazed to see the extent of corporate philanthropy and this is no exaggeration.

For the breed that talks about corporate social responsibility and talks about the role of corporate India, a visit to Jamshedpur is a must. Go there and see the amount of money they pump into keeping the town going; see the smiling faces of workers in a region known for industrial
unrest; see the standard of living in a city that is almost isolated from the mess in the rest of the country. This is not meant to be a puff piece. I have nothing to do with Tata
Steel,but I strongly believe the message of hope and the message of goodness that they are spreading is worth sharing. The fact that you do have companies in India which look at workers as human beings and who do not blow their software trumpet of having changed lives. In fact, I
asked Mr Muthurman, the managing director, as to why he was so quiet about all they had done and all he could offer in return was a smile wrapped in humility, which said it all. They have done so much more since I last visited Jamshedpur, which was in 1992. The town has obviously got busier but the values thankfully haven't changed. The food is still as amazing as it always was and I gorged, as I would normally do. I visited the plant and the last time I did that was with Russi Mody.

But the plant this time was gleaming and far from what it used to be. Greener and cleaner and a tribute to environment management. You could have been in the mountains. Such was the quality of air I inhaled! There was no belching smoke; no tired faces and so many more women workers,
even on the shop floor. This is true gender equality and not the kind that is often espoused at seminars organised by angry activists. I met so many old friends. Most of them have aged but not grown old. There was a spring in the air which came from a certain calmness which has always
been the hallmark of Jamshedpur and something I savoured for a full two days in between receiving messages of how boring and decrepit the Lacklustre Fashion Weak was.

It is at times such as this that our city lives seem so meaningless. Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata had created an edifice that is today a robust company and it is not about profits and about valuation. It is not about who becomes a millionaire and who doesnt'. It is about getting the job
done with dignity and respect keeping the age-old values intact and this is what I learnt.

I jokingly asked someone as to whether they ever thought of joining an Infosys or a Wipro and pat came the reply: "We are not interested in becoming crorepatis but in making others crorepatis."

Which is exactly what the Tatas have done for years in and around Jamshedpur. Very few people know that Jamshedpur has been selected as a UN Global Compact City, edging out the other nominee from India, Bangalore. Selected because of the quality of life, because of the conditions of
sanitation and roads and welfare. If this is not a tribute to industrial India , then what is? Today, Indian needs several Jamshedpurs but it also needs this Jamshedpur to be given its fair due, its recognition. I am tired of campus visits being publicised to the Infosys and the Wipros of the world. Modern India is being built in Jamshedpur as we speak. An India built on the strength of core convictions and nothing was more apparent about that than the experiment with truth and reality that Tata Steel is conducting at Pipla.

Forty-eight tribal girls (yes, tribal girls who these corrupt and evil politicians only talk about but do nothing for) are being educated through a residential program over nine months. I went to visit them and I spoke to them in a language that they have just learnt: Bengali. Eight
weeks ago, they could only speak in Sainthali, their local dialect. But today, they are brimming with a confidence that will bring tears to your eyes. It did to mine.

One of them has just been selected to represent Jharkand in the state archery competition. They have their own womens football team and whats more they are now fond of education. It is a passion and not a burden. This was possible because I guess people like Ratan Tata and Muthurman
havent sold their souls to some business management drivel, which tells us that we must only do business and nothing else. The fact that not one Tata executive has been touched by the Naxalites in that area talks about the social respect that the Tatas have earned.

The Tatas do not need this piece to be praised and lauded. My intent is to share the larger picture that we so often miss in the haze of the slime and sleaze that politics imparts. My submission to those who use phrases such as "feel-good" and "India Shining" is first visit
Jamshedpur to understand what it all means. See Tata Steel in action to know what companies can do if they wish to. And what corporate India needs to do. Murli Manohar Joshi would be better off seeing what Tata Steel has done by creating the Xavier Institute of Tribal Education rather than by proffering excuses for the imbroglio in the IIMs. This is where the Advanis and Vajpayees need to pay homage. Not to all the Sai Babas and the Hugging saints that they are so busy with. India is changing inspite of them and they need to realise that.

I couldn't have spent a more humane and wonderful weekend. Jamshedpur is an eye-opener and a role model, which should be made mandatory for replication. I saw corporate India actually participate in basic nation-building, for when these tribal girls go back to their villages, they will return with knowledge that will truly be life-altering.

Corporate India can do it but most of the time is willing to shy away.

For those corporate leaders who are happier winning awards and being
interviewed on their choice of clothes, my advise is visit Tata Steel, spend some days at Jamshedpur and see a nation's transformation. That is true service and true nationalism.

Tata Steel will celebrate 100 years of existence in 2007. It won't be just a milestone in this company's history. It will be a milestone, to my mind of corporate transparency and generosity in this country. It is indeed fitting that Ratan Tata today heads a group which has people who are committed to nation-building than just building inflluence and power. JRD must be smiling wherever he is. And so must Jamsetji Nusserwanji. These people today, have literally climbed every last blue mountain. And continue to do so with vigour and passion. Thank god for the Tatas!

Productivity etc...


Good points that really matter and are rarely acknowledged.