Rohit Mishra

Thoughts which don’t fit in 140 characters.

Joe Wilcox on IPhone

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Websites like TechCrunch, GigaOm offer the latest happenings on the web. But at times, I like in-depth analysis – the kind provided by Gartner blogs, and independent analysts like those on ZDnet and Joe Wilcox.

I had an e-mail conversation with him about the state of mobile market in India and why the Apple IPhone hasn’t emulated its success in North America and Europe here. Some portions of that conversation were quoted by him yesterday in one of his posts in Betanews on the fortune of IPhone.

I am quoting the part where I am quoted:

But iPhone is different. “You cannot [swap] SIM cards,” he emphasized, “because it is locked onto [the] operator you bought the device from. An iPhone bought from Airtel will not work on Vodafone and visa versa. Phone is not subsidized as well in India.”

The perspective is about the same there in India as viewed from afar by the Gartner analyst. “Apple bungled up big time with the iPhone in India,” said Rohit Mishra, a student studying mobile technologies at VIT University in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India. “It still has a solid brand and created the touchscreen crave that has resulted in the success of Nokia [XpressMusic] 5800 and Samsung Star.” Nokia is India’s market leader, with 56.1 percent unit marketshare in second quarter, according to IDC. Samsung was No. 2 and Apple No. 22.

Rohit continued: “By pricing iPhone at Rs 31,000 ($600 approximately), Apple turned away a huge bunch of people who were waiting for the iPhone. There is another issue here – we don’t have 3G here. It’s been launched by the state carrier in select cities, but that doesn’t count for much now.”

What do you think about the future of smartphones in markets like India? Discuss it with me here or on Twitter – movingahead

Need for English

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If you have not seen TED talks, you are missing one of the best resources that the web gives you. Its just brilliant.

This TED talk by Jay Walker explores the worldwide mania for English. Walker has got it completely right. In India’s remotest villages, the concept of English being a tool to success is crystal clear. Although localization is itself important, there si no doubt that the language of global business and problem-solving is now English. I sincerely hope that like China, we are able to evolve a consensus where every child has a right to quality English education.

Figuring Out the Health Labyrinth

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Two things figured prominently in all the recession articles that I read – the housing bust and the steep health care costs. Health care is a prime necessity – starts right at the birth, even before it - and I wondered how something so basic could become one of the causes of the whole economy cracking up.

Today I came across a great post on the New Yorker where the author Atul Gawande investigates in depth what is actually making this necessity service so capital-intensive. Atul takes the example of the city of McAllen in Texas where the average outgo per Medicare expense per person is a whopping USD 15,000. [INR 750,000]

Atul makes great observations about the reasons behind this scenario which I am commenting on in the Indian context. India faces a very uphill task in building its health care system which to say the very least is in complete shambles. As we might think, the problem is not only in the rural areas. Barring a few exceptions, no government hospital attracts the confidence of middle-class India. The rut that characterizes most of the Indian government sector is most evident in the hospitals and district health centers. The options for the people who are not able to subscribe to medical insurance are depressingly limited. The big-wig private names may be huge commercial successes but their steep costs in Indian context make any treatment in these places a very tough decision. Add to it, the recent Wockhardt incident shows how high-handed these high quality centers can be.

Being the entrepreneurial hard core fan, I always thought that widespread private participation is a potential cure for this problem. But after reading Atul’s post, I am a bit shaken in my views.

He knew of doctors who owned strip malls, orange groves, apartment complexes—or imaging centers, surgery centers, or another part of the hospital they directed patients to. They had “entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. They were innovative and aggressive in finding ways to increase revenues from patient care.

For the first instance, I am seeing entrepreneurship as a negative aspect. He sees doctors intention to maximize revenue by conducting more and more tests - many a times in facilities where they have an ownership stake. Down here, no one even notices this – it is so common. If not, then why doctors insist that we get tested from some particular facility itself? I will another dimension to it. I have noticed that many times even the medicines that the doctors prescribe are only available at certain recommended stores. Doctors’ dependence on the quantity of referrals skews up the system badly.

The only thing that inspires hope is the concept adopted by The Mayo Clinic I only knew Mayo Clinic as the health source often cited by Reader’s Digest. What I didn’t know is that Mayo is famous for its low-cost, tech-intensive and high quality health care. Mayo has fixed salaries for its doctors so there is no reason to bruce up quantity.

Atul also presents a wonderful metaphor on the need of an integrated approach towards medical-care.

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coordination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.

Rather than trying to catch up with specialists individually who treat all our medical issues in isolation, we should have an integrated approach towards medical care. I don’t see how the multiple levels between a physician and the specialist helps anyone.

There is also one big bottleneck in the Indian system. There is just not enough admission seats for medical aspirants. Government colleges have very few seats and the private colleges are content with their existing capacities. They might be making enough dough from the millions of capitation fee that they collect every year, but it is of no use when the money is not used to open new medical colleges and facilities. The sheer desperation that the medical aspirants face with their rejection is steadily reducing the number of medical aspirants For a country which hugely lacks doctors, this is pure hara-kiri. This issue can only be resolved if our well-to-do business sector goes on and creates strong medical institutions not-for-profit.

Wockhardt Hospital Front by Flickr/Wockhardt Hospitals
Ladakh Medical Center by Flickr/avalochi

Firefox in Times of Chrome and Safari

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Mozilla Firefox has had a roller-coaster ride in the past couple of years. From being the symbol of geeks a couple of years back, it has now come to represent a old, sluggish warlord. There was a time when if someone didn’t use Firefox, we would scoff at them (Opera users, the very rare ones that one met were spared.)
In those years, Opera seemed a good competitor. I leaned more towards Opera attracted by its fast speed. But as the open-source movement hit me hard, Firefox grew big. In those years, Google backed Firefox strongly. Firefox was the browser in Google’s very famous Google Pack of software. As Internet Explorer kept lagging behind on features (they didn’t had tabbed browsing for God’s sake) and failing massively in security tests, Firefox was just everywhere.
Firefox users love the huge extensions and add-ons that the open-source browser comes with. The Firefox add-ons site is still the poster-boy of open-source world. But then things changed. Apple Safari came for Windows in 2007 and Google came up with its own web browser - Chrome in 2008. I still wonder what magic potion Apple has. God!!! The web looks so beautiful on the Safari. If ever I can understand how.

Recently Google was in news for the way design elements have been alienated by the search major. I am not a great fan of Google’s design but if ever they will get the design right, they got it with Chrome. Chrome just revolutionized browser-design. The minimalist look with the integrated search and address bar and the ‘most-visited’ start page is brilliant. Chrome also made each tab a separate process taking browser-stability to a new level.

On the other hand, the same Firefox has lost all traces of stability. The past few months have been tough on Firefox with my browser crashing too many times. I have a tendency to keep many tabs open and that doesn’t help at all. There was a difference of 6 days between versions 3.0.9 and 3.0.10!! Firefox usually comes out with an upgrade every month. 6 days just shows you the mess within.

I am not a web-developer and the few friends who are now swear by Chrome. So what keeps the clock ticking? I think its the add-ons and extensions. That keeps growing. Some of the extensions like Delicious, Ghostery, Power Twitter, Tree Style Tabs are just marvelous. Mozilla Labs have come out with some great add-ons themselves lately. Ubiquity - a command based UI , Personas - easy skin manager and Prism – to make web applications run independently are the Mozilla add-ons that run on my machine now. It won’t be far before these start being available on Chrome too. To survive beyond that point, Mozilla needs to do one thing well – get good, fast browsing back.

I shifted to the 3.5 Beta 4 Firefox version today. Among other things, it allows in-tab private browsing. But the more important thing now is that it is faster – much more than the public 3.0.11 Thats important for Firefox’s survival.

Tuition Mania

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So what you and I always knew has now been verified by the Assocham – the Indian industry association. Private Tuition is rampant and costly all over the country. The Assocham report says :

“Private tuitions have witnessed a steep increase of about 40-45 per cent in the last few years as middle class parents have been spending nearly one-third of their monthly incomes on them.”

The problem with tuition is that it makes you dependent. Its like a cigarette – once you have started with it, you think you can’t do without it.
So people go on from having tuition at school, then tuition for IIT and even then for IIM. The problem is that it undermines your regular education (though that itself is a farce Now parents are spending one-third of their incomes on these private tutors. Whats wrong folks!! Go and look for some creative thing for your child. Mugging up that chemistry table or that physics equation won’t make him/her the next Einstein. If you really care so much about your child, work hard and break up from this self-supporting myth of tuition.
There is a lot that can be learnt today. More than your money-sucker tutor can ever teach.

Photo courtesy blurasis

Moving Ahead From Turbo C

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Ankur Sethi has done a brilliant blog post on the differences between compiler, C++, Turbo C, IDE (and if you are sane enough to be interested) GCC and Dev C++. Ankur has explained all of it very clearly, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. I strongly recommend that you go through his post.

A couple of weeks back, I was talking with my Programming Fundamentals teacher here at VIT about the possibility of completely migrating to Dev C++ at least or dump our Windows 2000 systems in favor of Red Hat/Open Suse running GCC. This will really help in fostering a climate of open-source in the college. For God’s sake, Turbo C was developed in 1992 and is completely out of sync with the new standards of C/C++. Other schools might need to use some proprietary software but computing sciences can surely take the first step.

The Story Behind

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Browsing through the “World Trade” section of VIT library, I was looking for C.K.Prahalad’s famous “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”. To my despair, someone had misplaced that book. Disappointed, I glanced over the adjacent Entrepreneurship section - a permanent favorite. I found “Starting Something” by Wayne McVicker– a strange name. I thought it will be a ‘how-to’ book on starting a company. It turned out to be a biography of the founder of a Silicon Valley ‘dotcom’ company – I had read a lot about dotcom companies and their bust, so I picked it up to know something more about it.

As I started reading it, one thing instantly became clear. This book was not about Wayne McVicker; it was about - a company that he had co-founded with his friend Jeff. The book showed how two people passionate about a business opportunity went on to make a company worth $ 3 billion in 4 years battling against the mightiest Venture Capital firm – Kliener Perkins. Starting Something has all characters – good, bad and nasty, but all of them come across as very real. It gives us an unflinching look into both the drak and bright sides of corporate culture – where dreams are fulfilled and the best of friendships are broken. Denis Coleman – founder of Symantec Corporation (the makers of the very popular Norton Antivirus sums up the book

A must read for aspiring entrepreneurs. It took me years in the trenches building Symantec to learn the people-side lessons so freely elucidated by McVicker - and unfortunately not yet taught in business schools.

– that is how deep the book goes in exploring the importance of people in the success of a business.

The book is divided into numerous small chapters of 4 to 5 pages generally. That gives fluidity to the story – the events register their presence, but it becomes clear that no single event can become the center-piece of the narrative.

Wayne McVicker and his friend Jekk Kleck weren’t the typical Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – both were in their late thirties with a family to care for. Like most other founder pairs, Wayne and Jeff weren’t the best of friends from the outset. But, both strongly believed in the concept of better flow of information to buyers – in this case hospitals. They wanted to provide all possible information about the large medical equipments as well as numerous small products that occupy hospital rooms. As their belief in the usability and importance of the idea grew with time, they ran into confrontation with their bosses at Varian – their present company. As Varian resisted, Jeff and Wayne proposed to carve out a spin-off from Varian. Though successful , they were taken aback to see the bickering and hateful corporate environment under which they left the company they had been working for years.

The book moves on to show how Neoforma discovered internet and realized the immense potential of the medium. As the company grew, Wayne explains his dilemma in hiring new people- which continues even as Neoforma transformed into a behemoth. He concludes that the single most important factor is the actual fit between the company and the employee.

Starting Something is not only about the business part of it. As Wayne and his wife Anni put every piece of their asset on mortgage for Neoforma with 2 young children to care for, Wayne describes the emotional tug-of-war he went through while eliminating their complete security putting their entire lives on the fate of Neoforma.

The book is also about people – from Jack (their warm attorney) to Wally and Shawn (their angel investors) To Alexander, JP and Bret (their VCs) Wayne explicitly highlights his ambivalence about venture capitalists – the people who care only about one single thing - making money and making it fast.

Throughout the book, Wayne never makes an attempt to cover-up his emotions. How he felt uncomfortable from being a founder to donning the role of an investor in the company that he had made himself. He also discusses his insecurity as Neoforma changes from CDROMs to a complex website - a technology he was unfamiliar with.

The book’s richness comes from the part where Wayne analyzes his own actions - why he pursued a particular deal, why he was adamant to hire a particular man to why he considered himself completely unsuitable in running Neoforma in the long run.

You will fell that the narrative becomes similar to a movie as the nook proceeds – not flashy in t he same way but with similar ulterior motives and huge drama at play.

After a successful IPO and a severe crash in share prices, Wayne realized that Neoforma had outgrown him. He moves on to found Attania – but not with the same intensity as Neoforma. That intensity is now for his family.

Overall a higly recommended read. You will love the truth and reality of the story.

Locking Us in – Present Sir!!

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Photo courtesy orange42 through Flickr
Teachers have been a great part of my life – often encouraging, loving and caring throughout my school life. They really made you want to come to school. You felt good, right!!

But coming to college, I have seen the other side of teachers. For me college was supposed to be “freedom”. But even in India where we pride ourselves for our democratic freedom, the word “freedom” has been made to carry negative annotations in our colleges.

Apart from the ultra-conservative practice of keeping boys and girls as separated as possible and locking us inside our hostel blocks at 9, the biggest restriction is the minimum attendance requirement of 75%. The biggest pain in my life now is the compulsion to go & waste my 5 hours in class everyday. Waste because I neither like nor understand most of the things that are taught in classes. (And I am not alone. Go to any class and you will find most in a state of delusion – chatting, messaging, aimlessly taking down notes and gazing at their watches or cell phones to keep tracking how much more they have to take for the day. There will always be some who are listening very attentively – why they would even listen attentively to Bush talking about world peace. Thankfully, there are some classes which are good, but generally classes are a pain.

I wanted to go deeper and find some sense in this madness. Why colleges need a minimum attendance? Colleges provide us degrees after testing us on a minimum set of requirements – subjects and syllabus that they agree upon. For passing these subjects, why do they make attending classes necessary? Let the student do what he wants to – go to library, sit in lab or just play Counter-Strike in his room. The best thing will be that the college accepts the work that students want to do. All but a very few have some interest which they want to pursue, but drop because it will hurt their GPA. About attending classes – if I like the subject and if the teacher is good, I will attend the class. Otherwise, I will bunk it.

The college should be cool with it. The whole world is moving to a more personalized approach in life – and thats the way it should be with teaching too. College shouldn’t only be restricted to attending ‘x’ number of classes for ‘y’ number of days. I should have complete autonomy on choosing what I want to learn and how I want to go about it.

Colleges and teachers must be brave enough to take this leap of faith. They may face only very few students in a classroom but at least all of them are there with a passion to learn. Let others choose or pursue their own passion. Ultimately, the aim is to help everyone achieve his/her best. Minimum restrictions will only help everyone do their best. The fear of misuse is present and is also valid, but smart techniques can easily correct most of them.

Start with something simple. Instead of giving assignments, where people just print-out the corresponding Wikipedia page or worse print and copy the content.A free way is the best and fastest approach to your destination, ain’t it?

Lack of Entrepreneurship in India – Whats Wrong?

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Abhijit Nadgouda has written a great post on what is ailing entrepreneurship to really catch-up in Indian colleges. What started as a comment to his post became a full-fledged post of my own.

Being in a college, I can really identify with his views. Outsourcing and thus the not-so-difficult placement has killed all initiative in Indian engineering colleges. TCS took more than 1000 freshers from my college VIT, Vellore last year. The focus on placements and jobs is really depressing. The only thing that people bother about is the package that company XYZ offered at college ABC. Plus, it is not that these companies offer great packages. My college’s average package was about Rs. 300,000, which is not what one should think of as their ultimate goal in life.Also, the only route that people think of doing good in life is by having an MBA. Wished they can focus more on engineering (not on the outdated curriculum, but the newer technologies).

I am a member of the Entrepreneurship Cell at my college. We encourage entrepreneurial activities at our college – and our most successful initiative has been organizing an Open Coffee Club chapter at Vellore. The two meets of OCC Vellore drew people out of their shells and they came out to express ideas openly. I am personally averse to the traditional business plan competitions because of two reasons:
1. I am from the Steve Wozniak school of thought that says that no one but the market can decide whether a product is viable or not. (and he has personal experience to back this)
2. A business plan competition creates 3 or 10 heroes but leaves the rest disappointed. They get nothing but a feeling that their idea lacks something. Can anyone of you quote a number that how many business plan winners have gone out to have successful ventures? I haven’t seen many. We need to come out with a better model of business plan, where we don’t judge ideas but just give them all possible support. This doesn’t sound convincing, but this is something that all ECells have to work on. This view also came up at the Global Conference of ECells at IIT Bombay that I attended a couple of weeks back where Manik Singh, TiE Charter Member of Bombay raised it.

I have my own entrepreneurial plans but promoting entrepreneurship among my peers is also very close to my heart. Maybe, my success can help people realize that taking risk and initiative even in the first year of your engineering can pay off!!

If any of you have any suggestions or want to help us here at VIT in promoting entrepreneurship, do drop a comment or a tweet. Not all entrepreneurs will come from IITs.

(I got the link of this post from ET’s Power of Ideas, and this post has been itself written as a comment to Sramana Mitra’s very popular post on the same topic.)

The Nokia Decade

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I went to this post hoping to read about digital convergence but what it essentially is a look at Nokia’s way to the top and an analysis of how high it stands!
(Click here to go the post)
Strangely, the post didn’t take comments so I put mine’s here.

What an article. I had always been wondering that how this giant never shows a slowness in their methods. I live in India - a country that swears by the name of Nokia. From its ruggedness (there are tales about it)to its sleek phones, in every range Nokia rules. After the advent of touch UI, Although, we hated our Nokia phones when Apple IPhone launched but Apple blew it by pricing it at $600. Again Nokia will rule because the much better N97 will come below $300.