How Ecosystems Evolve

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Ecosystems evolve in stages.

All ecosystems need three fundamental ingredients – People, Entities and Ideas. A lot of folks would say governments need to get involved, but the only thing that Governments know how to do right is by enacting policies. Early on when the ecosystems are just emerging, and there are not enough trends to define policies by, if you get the government prematurely engaged, you will end up with a lot of policies that dont reflect ground reality – or worse reflect the interests of someone trying to capitalize on an emerging ecosystem.

Governments are at best the environments in which these three elements work under, and early on when the ecosystem is emerging, its best if the government simply stays out of it.
Ecosystems evolve over time. The way to guage the stage of an ecosystem is by the calibre and quality of ideas and solutions that it churns. Most folks are rather upset about an emerging ecosystem like India, because they claim that there are fewer original ideas. I’d have to agree, but you are also looking for a bride when its just a teenager.

Ecosystems go through stages of admiration, appreciation, imitation, adaptation, experimentation and finally originality. When it comes to the startup or business side of things, we are a mix of imitation and adaption at this stage. We aren’t overwhelmed by imitation as we were a few years back, but we aren’t quite original with our ideas either. The fact that an Ola is more rugged than Uber (the global counterpart) is proof of that statement. We are getting better and better at adapting better, relevant solutions to the local problem. Which is also the reason why local successes will be great acquisition targets by the global counterparts.

That said, there are other creative sectors – such as writing, where the progression is far along – there is a lot of experimentation and even emergence of originality there. Our development model still is very much in the appreciation and imitation phase. Equality as a concept is mire admiration and appreciation – we are nowhere close to implementing anything.

You’ll notice that what began as a discussion about creativity, has seeped right into civil issues and how we perceive development of the society. Thats because you cant seperate “mindset” from where creativity grows. While we do compartmentalize different aspects – we are still evolving – further along than we think, but still a long way to go.

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Do More (with less)

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Learn to do more with less. It is very easy to raise your first small round of funding these days, but a funded startup also has very high expectations to meet to get the next round of funding. Set bad habits by paying too much, or spending vicariously, and you wont be able to keep up that culture when the going gets tough and everything falls apart.

The rule is simple – if you start something, you have to consistently keep it going. You get brownies for everyone in office on tuesdays, find a way to keep it going till the end of time. One week when the brownie doesnt show, everyone knows what’s happening – “cost cutting” and thats bad for morale.

So be very careful about what you start off.

If you keep your burn rate low – applies for your startup, applies for your own life as well – it is amazing freedom, and it will keep you alive during the lean days. I have a burn rate of about 28K – 30K a month on the personal front – that’s it. And a good chunk of that is rent on my apartment. You would not believe the kind of freedom that gives you. I could quit my job when i wanted to and start up The Startup Centre. I can take a month off and go on vacation (if i want to) as long as i can cover that amount, and that is fairly easy.

My mentor told me that learning how to bring something to profitability, starts with your own personal finances. How you handle your own life, will reflect when you dare for the grandiose things, in ways that would surprise you.

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#NetNeutrality, the fight is still on

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The Media reports that Airtel, the (not-so-friendly) giant who planned to roll out additional charges on VoIP (Skype/Viber) calls, made via already paid Data Plans has rolled back. Its good news, but the battle is just half-won.

India has a history of battles half won. Take the case of Kashmir, the case with Pakistan, the case of China, we somehow retreat when we sight success and the enemy recedes for the time being, arms and comes back and takes away half of our spoils and will end up being a thorn in our flesh for generations to come. Net Neutrality is not a war we need to fight for the time being, it is a fundamental policy that we need to have in place to ensure that innovation is now thwarted and that India stands a chance to play its game in the global economy that is blooming.

The case of operators not wanting to be just a dumb pipe but wanting to charge more for content that flows through them has taken many avatars. This is not their first, and this will not be their last. But as a consumer, and among those who are building the ecosystem to ensure future of technology in Country, we need to put the last nail on this coffin. Once and for all.

There were a couple of incidents that popped up while this issue raged. TRAI Chairman made a claim that Net Neutrality was not their concern. What is happening in the US – on a very similar battle – is that the FCC is relooking at Net Neutrality and trying to frame the policy around the same, however those who are dictating the terms are from the same lobby who are trying to get it appealed. You can understand the irony in that. The wolves can’t guard the sheep, let alone if they are allowed to dictate the terms on if the wolves can eat the sheep or not. We know how skewed the rules on that would be. We aren’t sheep. They need to get that message clear.

The spectrum upon which operators operate, are a public good. When it was licensed to them, it is us as citizens who have given them the right to operate on it, and make a profit, but as citizens we have the right to retaliate when they use what is rightfully ours, and are licensed, against us to fuel greed (not sustainability).

TRAI is going to put together a policy framework towards Net Neutrality and we have to ensure that we have a say in it. This cannot be a battle half-won. It has to be done right, so that for the near forseeable future we dont have to fight this battle over and over and over again. We do not want the equivalent of internet terrorists backed by greedy incumbents who jeopardize the freedom and openness of the web.

We are going to shift our focus on TRAI, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Keep the fight on. We need to end this right, not half-way.

I am collecting social signatures to send TRAI a message on Dec 30th, 2014. Please show your support and sign here :

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Why Airtel Threatens the Future of Tech in India

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Part 1 of this issue is blogged here.


Back in the 70s when we were laying the telecom network in India, someone cheapened out. They laid the copper wires, but laid very poor quality copper – because we were a third world country at that point and telephones were a luxury. Years later when broadband came to the country, the same infrastructure became the bottleneck because the poor quality copper could not transmit more than 256kbps of data. The Govt had to make enormous investments in optic fibre to get internet access to most of the country.

Truth is, that infrastructure is still primitive. While countries like sweden and Hong Kong are talking about gigabit internet access, we are not able to go beyond 10 – 12Mbps. Airtel, in fact is the worst of them all, and is stuck at 8mbps for limited areas. Most of the locations are maxed out at 4mbps.

Wired connections are very expensive. And in a country where the population is very dense, installing of switches and constantly maintaining and upgrading them is a pain in the ass.

The future of broadband in this country is wireless. And how is it going to go wireless? It will most probably rely on 3G/4G and the future generations of mobile internet.

That’s why What Airtel is proposing is very dangerous. It means for the near forseeable future, and perhaps even into the generation of our children, they will control what we consume and how we consume. That is not acceptable. It makes it harder for service providers to enter into the market – you can see that even today, the middle east, thanks to its anarchy on throttling the internet has very little innovations and services built on top of it. You cannot build services without the operators blessing you.

This affects everything. App developers, Your television that is streaming content, Your chrome box, your messaging apps, video conferencing (as if it wasn’t too darn expensive already), online gaming – and in the future who is to stop these operators from saying that in order for Uber to operate and run on top of their network, Uber needs to pay them, or they will shut them down? They can do that.

The last time the operators had that much control in the name of walled gardens - the people who actually built the service got a pie of less than 30% where the rest was taken by these operators. And we haven't moved an inch further in mobile commerce, or mobile payments thanks to the politics each of them played against each other. The mobile industry grew in the blood of vendors. People like reliance were famous for saying publicly that they don't pay vendors - but thats a whole different story. Thankfully, the mobile platform opened up and app stores liberated developers, service providers and connected them directly to the consumers cutting out the fat boss in between.

There are services we haven’t even thought of yet. Think of the world of the internet of things. Or the future where cars are connected and can talk to each other. Airtel is setting a precedent where each and every one of these service will get blocked, penalized and charged extra for.
You could be signing on, to take a free course on coursera, but will have to buy the educational package.

It is not upto them to decide what rides on the network, and charge for it. TRAI wont – or rather cant – do much on this, because the agreement with the operators are broadly set as “can monetize voice and messaging services” and whether its voice via their own switches or voice via VoIP, they believe it gives them the right.

Net Neutrality and Privacy are very binary debates. Its a one way street – once you step in, there is no way to go back to a free and open internet, much of which has been the reason why the web thrives on innovation. As if India hasnt been set back by annoying statutory regulations, do startups and the technology community and the consumer at large need to be throttled further?

Air your view and make it heard. ‪#‎BoycottAirtel‬

I am collecting social signatures to send Airtel a message on Dec 30th, 2014. Please show your support and sign here :

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