Archive for May, 2007

Chance events, life lessons and the blip that we are

May 28, 2007

When, one day, you have made your mark on the world, remember that, in the ultimate analysis, we are all mere temporary custodians of the wealth we generate, whether it be financial, intellectual, or emotional. The best use of all your wealth is to share it with those less fortunate.

I believe that we have all at some time eaten the fruit from trees that we did not plant. In the fullness of time, when it is our turn to give, it behooves us in turn to plant gardens that we may never eat the fruit of, which will largely benefit generations to come. I believe this is our sacred responsibility, one that I hope you will shoulder in time.

Thank you for your patience. Go forth and embrace your future with open arms, and pursue enthusiastically your own life journey of discovery!”

[Excerpts from the speech by N R Narayana Murthy, chief mentor and chairman of the board, Infosys Technologies, delivered at the pre-commencement lecture at the New York University ( Stern School of Business) on May 9. In that scintillating speech, Murthy speaks about the lessons he learnt from the chance events in his life and career.]

That sentence….Enjoyment from trees that one did not plant…It got me thinking.

Haven’t I enjoyed from Trees that I did not plant? Sure as hell.  My life itself is a gift from my parents that is a part of evolution chain designed by the universe.  I never had asked for it. I am just grateful to them for a wonderful life they gave me, for equipping me with the best of values, beliefs and principles early on in my life.  All I can do consciously is to bear as many sweeter fruits I can in my tree of life for others to relish.

The humble status of our species, which, far from being the ultimate goal of creation it has long been thought to be, now appears as a transient link or perhaps even a side branch in a long evolutionary process very likely to give rise some day to beings much more advanced than we are. There also is a real possibility that beings with mental attributes similar or superior to ours exist elsewhere in the universe. Although these possibilities have not been verified in reality, they deserve sufficiently serious consideration to be incorporated into our new world view. The resulting picture is not, however, as negative as is maintained by those who see in the findings of science reasons for denigrating the human species.

No doubt, the beings with expanded mental powers that are likely to succeed us one day will see this reality more clearly. But the glimpses we are afforded already are immensely rewarding.

If my life’s just a blip and is the outcome of a chance event, why not I be smart by making the most of it – by being useful to as many so that I can say I’ve had a great life, a damn good blip !

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The Clinton Dilemma

May 23, 2007

If Hillary Rodham Clinton wins the presidency, some top Democrats would like to see her husband, former President Bill Clinton, appointed to serve out Hillary’s unexpired Senate term.

Political analysts say a Senate seat for Bill would go a long way toward solving a potentially nettlesome problem for Hillary — what to do with her husband if they return to the White House. The former president currently maintains an office in Harlem and a home with his wife in Chappaqua, N.Y.

Nothing will solve the Bill problem entirely I think. He will be restless and underfoot for Hillary, in part because he is the more talented politician.

There would be financial ramifications too. It would certainly lower the family income because there are restrictions on how much a senator can bring in on speeches and so forth. Of course he’d have housing, because she’d put him up in the Lincoln Bedroom or something 🙂 

Yeah…it’s much better than designating him as the World Bank PresidentPaul Wolfowitz legacy (Shaha Riza might stand in for Monica Lewinsky) might as well live on, the successor has a *track record*….Pay raises to girl friends can’t forever be palmed off to shareholders !  

And we thought World Bank should be a boring place dealing with global issues and other inane stuff….quite the contrary, to me now it looks real `hot’  – or is it real cool 🙂 ?

Living life easy

May 15, 2007

“A great many worries can be diminished by realizing the unimportance of the matters, which is causing anxiety. Our doings are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much. One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.”  [Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness ]

Well, that was vintage Russel then.  But is it not applicable even today ?  Look at the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX Act) and its fallout. The other day, I was reading a comment on a blog on this draconian piece of law. It said “It used to look to me that SOX was a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. I’m wrong it looks more like a building demolition machine that swings a heavy iron ball. Worse still I’m now not sure if it is actually hitting the target. The target is still a valid one though, but the means to hit it clearly needs reappraisal.”  How true ! It was indeed broadbrushed overreaction which led to SOX legislation.

Sometimes I think lack of faith leads to overreaction. For some, faith means maintaining a positive attitude in life. When Bill Cosby asked his father whether he sees the proverbial glass half full or half empty, his father replied, “It depends on whether you’re drinking or pouring”!  Look how he made it seem so simple ! I have seen many veterans fumbling while answering it. 

Some try changing the canvas to look and feel better. May be it could be the reason why successful corporate executives take to working for non-profits.  Both For Profits and Non Profits are businesses with revenues, expenses, and a bottom line. Both have marketing, sales, finance, IT, HR, strategy, etc. Perhaps the biggest difference is that in Non Profits, their bottom line is *changed lives*–money is simply a means to that end. Its shareholders are the poor, and its donors are the ones who make it work.

Swapping perspectives help. Look at this riddle – “Why was the man staring at the carton of orange juice? Because it said “concentrate!” This riddle illustrates that there are connections which are not obvious at first but when we see the relatedness, other possibilities emerge. This can apply to life as well.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could see other perspectives during times of adversity? I think a regular dose of humor can help us do that.  What do you think ?

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Patenting se(x)nse

May 8, 2007

I was recently commissioned by a startup client engaged in biotech research to explore the possibility of patenting its new discovery.  As we were discussing it, I realized that its claim for innovation looked more incremental than generic. Though it’s not my business to argue with the subject matter experts, to highlight what occurs to me as an error apparent out of my not so short experience is indeed part of my job.

Currently, India allows patents [on derivatives] for incremental innovations in which the efficacy has significantly increased. But if one is making a tablet of a product and then develops a paediatric dosage by way of a serum, this is not innovation because any person skilled in chemistry knows how to make that. There is no invention or innovation on that and permitting this sort of patenting, would mean evergreening. Or take usage – a drug which was used for epilepsy was granted a [second] patent for obesity. Do we want such new uses to be patented?

On hearing this, the Research Head grew wild.  He started quoting recent examples of how liberal the US patent laws have been in granting patents even on minor variations.  Rather he started using this as one more tool to blame the favorite whipping boy – the Indian IP laws – the laxity of which allows widespread counterfeiting on almost everything from valuable formulations to movie CDs.

If it were, does it augur well for the Industry and Public health? Patents granted for such devices, for such “inventions”, would derail innovation and would be detrimental to the progress of science. Research labs would focus only on these low-hanging fruits, which are low risk and high reward. This is why we have section 3(d) of the Indian patent law on incremental innovation. If everyone can patent small changes, why would anyone go in for high-end research? There, the fruits are at the top, where risk is high and rewards are uncertain. If we want medical science to progress, that is what should be the bar.

We have seen the high prices of medicines, which are off-patent but still have a single source of supply. Patents will ensure that there is only a single source of supply and the pricing power remains concentrated. Not many would like to let go off that handle, don’t you agree ?

I was drawn to a facetious metaphor at this point which I thought aloud. Imagine if Vatsyayana, the author of Kama Sutra, lived during our times and had been allowed to patent his “inventions” (which are essentially techniques and creative postures that maximize pleasure in an orgy), you would be ending up paying Royalties to him each time you climax.  Worse if you don’t since you face a the prospect of having to prove it before a judge that you did `it’ differently !

I think that was the clincher. Sex not just sells, makes sense too. After some lengthy conference calls with my friend, a famous patent attorney that confirmed my observation, grudgingly they relented. While on my way back, I realized I had saved them quite a fat sum by way of attorney fees (should have dawned on them much later) when I was browsing thro the meeting docket in which there was an estimate of attorney fees. Hmmm…I’ve been foolish enough not to have factored in these tangibles while offering my quotes.  I resolved to be careful with my quotes in future !

Some good reading material on the subject here and here

Boyz 2 Men 2 consultant

May 6, 2007

A startup founder after getting some cold knocks from VCs was found whining in a community blog (excerpts) –

We have a reasonably sound product [some xyz.com] in place, which has already happy faced beta-customers.

And this is what we hear from VCs;-

1. 60% we don’t invest in this area. (hmm, but your website covers all googlable computer science area)

2. 10% we don’t understand your product/market. May not be able to help ( Perfectly OK )

3. 10% You don’t have a proven team ([Joe partner] has 15 patents, and i have never lost – be it AOE/interview or JEE [entrance exams]. But yes we are first timers)

4. 10% Why don’t you sell over web. (Dude, its an enterprise problem. Customer need to be told how more than what

5. 10% – These are the good ones. And i have my hopes alive.

This is also a reason why there is a mushroom growth of “VC consultants”. Infact, when i asked one VC consultant, if he trusts the product. He simply said, he would have to, and VCs also need not fully understand it.”

In his reply to another comment, he also confessed that his startup might choke if not resuscitated soon because they are fast running out of money. [I have edited some smileys out from the excerpts more for the reason that it would’ve made him look like an orifice than for its inapt placement]

I found it a bit curious though not funny.  If only 10% [of the VCs] are the good ones, 90% are useless according to him (including no.2 whom he okayed !).  Is it because they didn’t find his venture investment grade? This I chose to blog because it is symptomatic of the startup community in India.  If somebody disapproves of their idea, they are dumb, stupid or just short of evil.  Not that something is even mildly wrong with the idea or its plan of execution (if existed !).  

I felt like asking, if you are so sure of the product and your team’s ability to execute it, why don’t you pal, just go ahead and ask your parents to mortgage their family assets to invest in? 

Smart founders go extraordinary lengths to prove the marketability of the product thro early sales that leaves some money in the bank – the rest just discourse or wallow – even as they shamelessly peg a valuation of $10 M pre-money ! Ask them how they arrived at it, because they thought so – is their straight faced reply even without as much as a shrug.  Fuckin’ cool !

Consultants, they are a breed of course, a smart one at that. Mckinsey, Accenture, EDS, IBM all of them belong to this breed. Others like Infosys, Wipro, TCS all are taking seriously to consulting. Wherever there’s a disconnect between the`needy’ and the `willing’, consultants thrive. If there’s none, their creativity will yield one. No point in carping over their `mushrooming’.  Love’em, hate’em they’ll be around, prospering by the day. You just can’t stop them. Yours truly is a card carrying member of that club, making a pretty good living off it and startup founders love me for what I deliver. 

At least they don’t beg for VC money to survive, do they ?  Never. Too smart for that.

Giving it back to the VCs

May 2, 2007

What happens when you discover the VC who knocked your pitch cold is a jerk and did it more out of habit ?  You go ahead and rate her. 

That’s exactly what TheFunded.com wants you to do.

It invited entrepreneurs to post to its web site ratings of venture capital firms. After collecting more than 500 reviews, TheFunded.com released a list of the top five venture firms worldwide. Bruce Cleveland, partner with No. 1-ranked InterWest Partners, based in Menlo Park, California, said the site fills a gap for entrepreneurs and evens a one-sided relationship.

TheFunded.com named Clearstone Venture Partners of Los Angeles (“a refreshing firm to work with”) No. 2; No. 4 was given to First Round Capital of Pennsylvania (“smart seed investors”); and two Menlo Park, California, firms tied at No. 5, Trinity Ventures and Sequoia Capital (“all value, no BS” and “rules the VC world” respectively). 

I think this is one helluva’ way for getting back at VCs who are just plain incompetent to assess the worth of refreshing ideas pitched up to them.  How many VC firms do have the guts and courage to confess in their website an anti-portfolio like Bessemer does ? 

That clearly shows a VC is only as good as his last investment. There’s never been another way, except back channels, for people to get a taste of venture firms.

Read the report by Ken Schachter here.