Thanks, for rejecting me …

After crossing due hurdles, I joined Little Flower College in Hyderabad for my 11th/12th. The principal Brother John was an old mentor from my school days. Religiously met him on the first day. Brother John asked me what my goal in life was. I replied “I hope to join an IIT“. Like his characteristic cane, he whipped back saying “Every fool hopes to join an IIT … don’t hope … do it“. That jolt shook me all the way into an IIT two years later.

Having joined an IIT, it seemed like nirvana was here at last … so I enjoyed the open air theater, the late night canteens, the “gult” gossip clubs and Pink Floyds of that new found heaven. The first two semesters were a wash out … in grades. A visit back home brought me face to face with my mom again … and realized that even Indra reports to her. I proclaimed to my wing mates that I will “hope” to top the class, a congenital “fool” that I am. I over heard on another day one of my friends joking about my claims … and even “doing tapas upside down” won’t help me now. I love him now for that, because I topped (well, almost … except for some GOD like creatures like my friends Basava who can never be touched ever) in my third semester and graduated in the 8.8+ club.

Years later, I started a BPO company in India (iSeva) with a few friends. Among other things I ran technology. Just two years into the venture we got lucky to be short listed by a large credit card company in US looking to outsource. In the early days of the BPO boom if you had an office and already invested in a real telecom switch it was competitive advantage. Anyways, a team of 10-12 experts landed in our small offices. They split into 6-7 sub teams to probe each function of the company. Three of us posted ourselves strategically across various teams. We didn’t even have so many conference rooms … so we put them in offices for the torture sessions that followed. Within 15 minutes it was apparent that our experience ended there … yet they persisted out of decency for 2-3 hours. My colleagues and I braved their questions with all our creative genius. “Why do you have a Nokia Firewall in US and a CheckPoint in India?” one of them asked. We couldn’t say because two different people ordered those, so we said that is part of our “vendor risk mitigation strategy“. “Tell us how you expect to learn about the credit card business in the US?“, another quipped. Pat came our reply, “We trust our clients to teach us their business best“. One of my co-founders said “I feel like crying” in a bio-break. Of course we lost the deal miserably. But, we got a list of 150 questions that we needed to answer to learn in this business. We went on to re-design our networks & processes using those questions … to be of the most well designed and impressive ones to win us deals in future RFP sessions. We also bonded as a team and earned respect from our teams for being brave in leading the carnage from the front. I guess a larger deal that we won a year later, that is now 25-30% of the company’s revenues now would have gone this way if not for that miserable afternoon.

A couple of years later, I was running sales in the US. Having never sold anything, I applied myself to know it all. We got short listed by a large bank for an outsourcing RFP. I personally handled this lead from the first contact they made with us. A list of 30 came down to 15 after killing 2 trees and printing 300 pages of our proposals – we were on it. That came down to 5 after endless calls and meetings – we were on it. I was thinking of how Kapil brought us our only world cup. They now flew to India to meet the team for the proverbial site visit. I promptly reached there and prepped the teams. I was all over this one. Every slide, every sip of coffee and ever other sentence included my words of wisdom. We were still on when the list got cut down to three. This was a dream run, because the other two on the list were the classic 1,000 pound Gorillas of the business. More proposals, more meetings and more brilliance followed. We lost a close second. As I pieced this together over the next 9 months, including feedback from the client and some of my colleagues in the leadership team … I learned that my brilliance blew it. Being a large company looking to outsource, they were scared away by the dominance of one person’s performance in the whole show … casting shadows of doubt on rest of the team … who they felt will really be key to long term success. We needed that deal and I learned one of the harshest lessons of my life … it’s not always about me. Next time in a similar situation I stepped out to let the team on the ground present them selves best … it worked. (Being in the meeting and keeping quiet is something I haven’t learned as yet … so my friend Dave taught me the disappearing to get a cup of tea trick :))

So I thank all the clients, investors, potential employees, employees, colleagues, partners … who rejected me … you make me a better person.

Are you getting rejected enough as an entrepreneur? … if not, you are probably not trying hard enough.

Are you getting dejected by the rejections? … if yes, you are probably not learning enough.

… as some one said it best

“Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment”


Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Sridhar Turaga’s Blog: An Indian Entrepreuner)

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Why I hate email …

I hate corporate email.

Everyone in my team now knows that I rarely read emails unless
(a) there are from a client
(b) the subject is screaming for my personal attention

To me corporate email corrupts ones mind, body and soul … and destroys culture of teams. Blackberry and other PDAs accelerate that decent into hell.

If you think I am wierd to think so … read on.

Let me ask you three questions …

#1. Look into your inbox now and count what % of those unread emails are critical to read/reply within the next 48 hours? “Critical” being, if you don’t reply something serious will transpire … and you won’t get another opportunity to handle this issue.

(a) Less than 20% (b) 20-50% (c) 50-80% (d) 80+%

#2. Have you ever received or written a rude/hurting mail on any issue … that would have never been said if there was a face-2-face or live conversation on the topic?

(a) Yes (b) No

#3. If you have nothing to do for a moment either at work, or at home, do you find yourself checking to see if there are any new emails?

(a) Yes (b) No

If you answered (c) or (d), (a) and (a) … there in lies your answer.

Email instead of being an enabler of producticity and communication for (remote) teams … has now become work itself. It is not uncommon to find a lot of people now filling time by answering email at times … almost like an addiction of smoking or biting nails. Often times teams copy all they want on every other email … almost a FYI … and each of those email creates three more. The moments of quiet contemplation that can not only help one think, but also rest a busy mind in the middle of a tiring day … are now eaten up by constant chatter of the inbox. For some of you like me who get 150-200 emails a day … even the simple task of glancing through all and deleting can take an hour or two per day.

Once you respond to emails quickly or check / answer on weekends or use a BlackBerry to communicate where ever you are … it either sets the expectation for your teams to behave similarly or expect the same from you at all time. Thus creating a viscious circle where more and more emails flood your inbox requiring more and more urgent attention. I know some friends who now carry thier BlackBerry’s to bed and check mail first thing in the morning.

The other dimension of the email disease is the rude or CYA behaviour it seems to create in seemingly decent and ordinarily responsible people. I have often wondered about this both for the rude mails I received and ones I wrote.

A recent article in NYTimes.com by Daniel Goleman (Author of Emotional Intelligence) called “Flame First, Think Later: New Clues to E-Mail Misbehavior” published on February 20th, 2007 is highly recommended on this topic.

To quote the key parts –

Flaming (on email) has a technical name, the “online disinhibition effect,” which psychologists apply to the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.

In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition:
– the anonymity of a Web pseudonym
– invisibility to others
– the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback
– the exaggerated sense of self from being alone
– the lack of any online authority figure

The emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of what goes on in the brains and bodies of two interacting people, offers clues into the neural mechanics behind flaming.

This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain’s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy. This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.

So as the article says, online channels of communication create a unique “uninhibition” effect that messes up the way one behaves. I have also observed the excessive usage of email for critical issues or ongoing conversations allows people in your team to develop CYA attitudes as they can always say “I wrote an email to you on this topic”. Sure, it is not only burried in my inbox with 700 other silly emails, but it is so much easier for you to just write to me about the issue than face me or happily shift the burden of responsibility on me with the click of a button.

In summary … ask yourself why you respond to all your emails so quickly (or at all) and how excessive use of email in teams can lead to more communication problems than less. Are there ways you can reduce the use of email for time critical or sensitive issues in your lives? Can you limit the constant need to check mail and reply back as a filler during the day? Can you re-set expectations for people around you on what email can be used for and what it can’t?

It worked for me …


Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Sridhar Turaga’s Blog: An Indian Entrepreuner)

Takes a country to keep my mail on hold …

In the process of relocating back to India, I came back to my apartment in Santa Clara for a few weeks to close out everything here.

I have been away for over 6 months now … and had put my mail on hold from India by going to the USPS web site. Mail hold works only for a month at a time … so every month I went back dilgently to extend my mail-hold and leave instructions in the “comments box” to put it all together and to hold it in post office while I was away.

All along I kept having nightmares about they not reading my instructions, or ignoring my mail-hold or even worse … taking over my life as the mail included my bank statements, bills and my car title (ownership documents).

I came back last week to Santa Clara … walked into the post office … showed my ID and to my delight got my mail in a box … including the car title.

It was a miracle for me coming from India … where I have been trained to chain all my bags while on a train to pillars under the seat and take turns all night keeping an eye on those bags.

To keep my mail on hold … it takes a whole country’s legal and postal system behind it. (Sounds like it takes a village to raise a child). The post office provides this service online making it not only convenient but reliable. The postmen (and women) don’t dare touch my mail because they are back ground checked and mail fraud is a very serious offence. Even if some one walked away with my statements etc. they need to be a professional identity thief to be able to abuse it. My license is a reliable identification document, hence only I could walk up to pick up my mail.

Behind a simple internet form that I used to put my mail on hold … there was a whole country standing behind it.

Hat’s off to public systems in the US …

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Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Sridhar Turaga’s Blog: An Indian Entrepreuner)

Here’s a tip …

I recently moved back to India after a few years in the US (this is the second and hopefully the last time !) … and needed to build our life ground up in Bangalore.

So we got a phone, a gas connection, furniture, a broad band connection, a TV, cable and so on.

A my mother taught me years ago … we always kept a ward of 10 Rs. notes at home (I think 1 Re. in those days !!) so we handle the “uncomfortable silence” in the end by giving tips to the people who come and do their job.

I have very distinct memories of my US returned uncles complaint about how Indians don’t do anything without being “tipped” with “baksheesh” or “chai pani” … only to be viewed as corruption … unlike in the US where everything is so process driven and just happens.

(Ofcourse, I realised after living in the US that not only is tipping very common but, there is a process for it there with the 15% rule 🙂)

Any ways, I got my phone and broad band set up by this guy who explained to me in not so great english how DSL unlike dial-up works even when the phone is being used. So, I promptly gave him 30 Rs. at the end of everything … becaues Chai-Pani in CoffeeDay costs that much now. He smiled back.

He said “No thank you. I don’t accept tips. Please let me know if you have any problems and I will take care of those for you. If you are happy with our service please refer your friends to our company“.

I then got my satellite TV connection. Set in my old ways, instructed my wife not to pay more than 30 Rs. when they come to set it up. Firstly it was a lady who came to set up the connection. Then she refused, saying it is “against company policy to accept tips from customers“.

I recollect now that the guy at an Indian airline (not Indian Airlines … not yet) which offers free baggage check-in service politely turned my 10 Rs. down.

In all instances I was first ashamed to “uncomfortable silence“, then was astounded and then I felt proud.

This the new India where focus on the customer (and the sales savvy of asking for a referral) is part of the “process” … without tips.

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Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Author: Sridhar Turaga)

Nice guys (gals) don’t finish last

Jade Goody is out of Big Brother.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6282327.stm

Personally, I care less for reality shows and even lesser for Shilpa Shetty. However, I couldn’t help wonder this morning if Indians have standing up to the world better than ever before.

The unadultrated outrage within 24 hours of the Shipa Shetty Big Brother brawl … followed by dipolmatic pressure … thousands of letters to everyone around including BBC … NYTimes frontpage coverage … was rare given our history of “balanced” response to confrontation.

I personally don’t advocate a public style of open confrontation without adequate justification … but, I think for a country that remained bottled up for so long and long overdue for more self-respect deserves a break for a few outbreaks … Sourav Ganguly’s bare chested thumping, Shilpa Shetty clawing back and Shreeshanth kathakali on the pitch all part of the same trend of Indians asserting their self pride.

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Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Author: Sridhar Turaga)

Throw Out Your Business Plan – Part I

If you are starting a new company or creating a new business within an existing company that is truly unique in the market place … my recommendation is to NOT have a business plan.

Why: “Are you advocating we jump into a new business, throw things around and see what sticks. Smells like WebWan or Boo.com strategy to me

NO, I am NOT advocating a “see what sticks” approach.

A truly new and innovative business cannot be “planned” in the first 12-18 months. Talk to any successful company that pioneered a disruptive/innovative business model … I bet you they preserve their 1st year business plan as a symbol of how clueless their planning was and how they grew in spite of the plan. (If some one says they hit their plan +/- 20%, you want to investigate if it was truly disruptive/unique)

Let’s see … what a typical investor or CFO expects from a business plan:
– Predict P&L with +/- 20% accuracy for the next 12-18 months … to manage investments and cash flow
– Link sales projections with market potential and market share … so they are “realistic”
– Pin you down to certain revenue targets and manage you (ab)using those
– Assume you will a seasoned player of corporate budget games … (where budgets are created to earn high bonus irrespective of true success or failure)

All of the above objectives will distract the leadership team of a new company and send them off in the wrong direction.

So, if you have built a business plan for your new business … be afraid.

Traditional business plans are useless. Instead a new business should “plan to learn what value proposition creates loyal and profitable customers”.

Why_Not: “Wooah … Wooah … Wait a minute … what about Hotmail … they didn’t have profitable customers. What about hard ware companies Cisco bought for millions of $s just for their IP … most didn’t have even one real customer. Explain that to me

Sure, a new business can be valuable enough to be sold at a high valuation for building any one of the three things I listed … “value proposition”, “loyal customers” and “profitable customers”. But, my recommendation on what to focus in the first 12-18 months for a sustainable business model in a truly unique business still holds.

How: “I liked the traditional business planning based on ROI, Break Even, Market Share, Revenue, Sales etc. because it is very precise and measurable. I don’t see how this can be implemented as it doesn’t seem measurable enough to me. How would I know whether we are succeeding or failing? How do I know what loyalty is? What do you mean by … I should learn? All this seems too mushy mushy to me. Tell me how

(To be continued)

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Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Author: Sridhar Turaga)

The humiliation of "Emerging" … the pride of "Real Re-emerging" …

All through the years I grew up through school and college, I always felt personally humiliated to have India first included in the list of “Developing Countries” and then in “Emerging Economies”.

A civilization that gave the world the meaning of life away through Gita, Budhism, Sikkism, Jainism … a country that won it’s independence through an almost infeasible strategy of fasting+prayer (“satyagraha”) and non-violence (“ahimsa”) … one of the most vibrant and complex democracies that actually gives voice to it’s people, even if they are uneducated … and a visionary country that subsidized it’s higher education when she has limited educational resources …

… India being termed as “developing” or “emerging” seems silly.

Economist wrote about a milestone in the history of the world today. “LAST year the combined output of emerging economies reached an important milestone: it accounted for more than half of total world GDP (measured at purchasing-power parity).” “The developing countries also have a far greater influence on the performance of the rich economies than is generally realized.”

The part of the article that I felt particularly happy about was when they wrote “Perhaps some of these countries should be called re-emerging economies, because they are regaining their former eminence.”

In a way that fixes the public humiliation issue for me. But, there’s more to this that what Economist or CNN write.

More puzzling thought those years is not that “international” media referred to us as “developing” … but our own textbooks in school called ourselves that, our economists taught us that and we the people even believed that. I won’t argue that now having JetAirways to beat up Indian Airlines or an Airtel destroy the myth of a phone being a luxury of the rich … is not “emerging” or “development”. It is progress.

But, it raises a more fundamental question about our continued “Intellectual Slavery”. Why are “capitalistic” metrics like GDP or PCI that grow easily with mindless consumption the only criteria for progress? Is this another form of intellectual slavery to believe our success as people can only measured by gasoline burned through cars per person or useless cell phone minutes burned per month per citizen or number of shrink hours per Indian?

It’s a game for sure. Why don’t we play this game at our terms … at least now.

What about things like number of children in school that start their day with meditation & yoga? What about number of elected ministers who are graduates (and in merit based colleges)? What about number of “inter-caste” or “inter-religious” marriages? What about number of companies that are run by independent boards? What about lowest divorce rates in the world? What about toughest corruption laws in the world? What about having the lowest smoking rates in the world? What about highest primary education level in the world? What about toughest pollution laws in the world? What about highest number of patents in the world? What about being #1 in every “spontaneous” team sport (Soccer, Cricket, Hockey etc.)?

I’d feel real proud if we “re-emerged” or “developed” in any one of those metrics … it’s a game worth playing.


Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Author: Sridhar Turaga)