Poor cannot eat roads

Rahul Gandhi allegedly made this statement. It is sad that an armchair, untrained economist like me understands the significance of good roads while someone who is poised to lead India does not. Check out this vice documentary on truckers in West Africa to get the connection between roads and economy. Jim Rogers, author of the excellent book Investment Biker also alludes to how Africa is rendered poor due to bad road connectivity. In spite of so much evidence suggesting good road connectivity being essential for a healthy vibrant economy, Rahul Gandhi makes this asinine statement and our so called independent media is busy discussing his dimples and his charm working up pubescent teenage girls.

A road is something that transcends socio economic, caste and religious boundaries. A road does not discriminate between a rich man driving his BMW or a poor milk seller riding his bicycle or a pandit riding his Luna or a moulvi riding his scooter. I do not for a second doubt the ingenuity of our so called secular politicians to come up with statement on the lines of Minorities have the first right to our roads, but until that happens, for all purposes, we can take rest in the fact that a road is a great unifier. 

How do good roads benefit the poor? Good connectivity makes the transportation of goods efficient there by negating the cost that would be introduced due to transportation inefficiencies. This is an indirect benefit that is enjoyed by everyone not just the poor, but let us take a specific case of how good roads will make the life of a poor auto driver better. If an auto driver drives his auto on pot holed roads all day long, imagine the toll it takes on his auto. This will directly reflect in the efficiency of the auto as well as the money he has to spend on maintenance, not to mention the umpteenth lost opportunity to make more money by ferrying more customers due to the reduced travel time. All in all, an auto driver has to gain a lot with smooth roads. Instead of working on these, our government is hell bent on extending the economic black hole of NREGA to urban poor and our media is a silent spectator to this theater of absurd.


Moving up the value chain

In the gym that I go to, there is a guy whose job is to sanitize(spray, clean, rub etc) the equipment after each person uses them. I always pity him and think how boring his job is. How can this person move up the value chain?

The other day, people at the gym were opening up the machines and lubricating and tuning them. This guy was taking a keen interest in the job and helping them out. This sparked a wave of thoughts in my mind where I put myself in his shoes and thought how I could move up the value chain if I were him. I would learn how to tune and lubricate these machines properly. If the norm is to do this activity once a month, I would volunteer to do this every week. Everyone wins, the machines are smoother to be used by the members on a regular basis and I get a good opportunity to hone by skills. Once I am adept at doing this, I would go to the other gyms and offer my services to them. There are a lot many gyms in Indiranagar that I know of and probably some more that I do not know of. I am sure all these people are looking for someone who knows his way around the equipment because such people are usually scarce these days. Once I have a good number of gyms under my belt, I would probably bring more people from my native village and teach them the job so that I can build a team and expand my operations throughout Bangalore. In this way, I am not only bettering my life, but also providing employment opportunities to the people of my village. Once I have Bangalore under my belt, you know the drift, expand more etc.

This is a very hypothetical scenario, but a belief that I very much hold on to, if you try hard enough, there is always a way to move up the value chain.

Consumer tech

I was reading this article about a startup that is launching satellites for imaging the earth. A line from the article stuck with me, the startup is leveraging technology developed for consumer devices like laptops and mobile phones in their satellites. This is a reversal from the olden days where technology that was developed for defense/space would find their way into consumer tech. Now a days, you see technology that was specifically targeted at consumer tech making ways into defense/space. Another specific example that I can think of is Palantir. Ways found out by engineers during their days at Paypal to fight fraud shaped into Palantir which now focuses on hunting down terrorists/hackers based on data like call records, etc.

Another point of note is consumer tech driving futuristic technology. Take google’s driverless cars for example, where is the money coming from? From consumer tech like search. Where did Elon Musk get his money from to bootstrap Tesla motors? Again consumer tech like paypal etc. As of today, I see consumer tech driving research and development more than defense and space which in a way is good for us as consumers because we get a taste of the shiny new thing without having to wait for decades for it to be made mainstream.

Go lang

Last round of the recently concluded stripectf was in Go lang. This gave me a good opportunity to familiarize myself with the language. Even though my native programming language is Java, I have worked professionally in JavaScript, Perl and PHP; dabbled in Python for my personal projects and can manage to read Ruby, Lisp(and it’s dialects), Erlang and Scala with some Google help. When I ruminate on programming languages, I do not see any of these replacing Java as the de facto lingo of the enterprise world but I see the promise in Go lang.

1. Go lang is strongly and statically typed. This means that a lot of mistakes that could potentially cause your code to blow up in production would be caught at compile time. Apart from this, if the language crosses a critical mass of adoption, someone will come up with an IDE that can possibly match Eclipse, IntelliJ, et al. Also, one of the principles behind the language’s design is to aid tooling which means that a lot of tools could possibly crop up which would help to make code more secure, performant etc.

2. Syntax of Go lang is not revolutionary. I consider this a virtue. I am strongly of the opinion that if a language has to gain mass adoption, it’s syntax should be very close to the prevalent languages. Go lang does not deviate much from the Cish syntax but has subtle improvements which improves programmer productivity.

What makes Java a good programming language for the enterprise? Syntax of Java is very close to C which means that you could possibly train a lot of the computer science graduates out there to code in Java. Try Lisp with an average Joe programmer and you will know what I am talking about. With the people supply problem solved let us move on to other factors. Enterprises gravitate towards stability, security and viewing programmers as replaceable components of a machine. Java gives enough constructs to prevent a reasonably sane headed person from shooting themselves in the foot. Static/strong typing, code analysis tools and IDEs go a long way in helping with this. Without tearing your hairs out, try working with a code base in a dynamic language designed by an architect and then handed to a team for coding and then passed on to a testing team and then shifted over to an offshore team for maintenance. And to top it all, you do not have Eclipse or IntelliJ to help you with this mess.

Go lang has all the pluses of Java minus the verbosity. Of course it has a lot of other features which you can read about in the website.

Startup test

Where does your startup stand on the below?

  • Do you have version control?
  • Do you back up data(server data, db data, etc)?
  • Can you build using a single command or prosaically, do you have build scripts?
  • Can you deploy code to production in a single click/command?
  • Do you have different staging environments like dev, qa, pre production etc?
  • Do you have a script to bootstrap the database so that any one can run the app locally?
  • Are your configuration files in version control?
  • Do you use a system provisioning tool?
  • Do you use a database versioning tool?
  • Are your system and business metrics graphed?
  • Do you have alerting systems in place when your business or system metrics go out of whack?
  • Do you have a document listing all the ips/machines in use, external software services used along with their user name and password?
  • Do you have unit and integration testing suites?
  • Do you use a task/project management tool?
  • Does your team swear by code review?
  • Suckers for simplicity

    Let me lay it out straight in the beginning, we Indians are big time suckers for simplicity in others. It is not that we ourselves aspire to be simple but attribute unnecessary importance to it in others. Just that virtue is enough for us to weave magical stories around a person and see him as a messiah who will emancipate us from all evils. In this child like wide eyed innocent chase of simplicity, we forget the qualities that are really necessary to do someone’s job.

    Case in point, Arvind Kejriwal and AAP. Folklores were weaved around AK’s simplicity and his party’s candidates, on a daily basis we were bombarded with their spartan lifestyle stories. How come it occurred to no one to ask the questions that really mattered? Is being a simpleton really enough to be an effective administrator? How well did these people perform in their previous jobs? What extraordinary achievements did they unlock in their past endeavors? Do they have the skills to govern and deliver? Instead of asking these pertinent questions we were wallowing in their hallowed simplicity.

    A simpleton(aam admi) should not try to be a leader. Leadership is not for the faint hearted, it is a game of thrones. A leader is someone who tries to move a collective group of people towards a single goal and when there is a group of people there will always be mismatches, heart burns and politics. An effective leader should know how to deal with this and make the right calls most of the time, an aam admi is not suited for this role. If someone plays this role well, he is not an aam admi because not everyone is born a leader nor has the leadership skills.

    Yes, leading a simplistic lifestyle trumps a hedonistic one governed by avarice any day but put the full stop there, it does not translate into one being an able administrator or being at the top of one’s job. I would any day prefer a Ferrari driving, Armani wearing, Gucci slipping chief minister who has a vision and track record than a slipper wearing one who has absolutely no idea how to govern and deliver.

    Government regulation of muliplexes

    Recently I read in the newspaper that Karnataka government is planning to regulate multiplex movie ticket prices. This sounds like sweet music to ears right? Why would someone not be happy to pay a lower price for anything?

    I feel this move smacks of licence raj. First of all, government has absolutely no role in regulating non essential private businesses over what/how much they charge. This throttles innovation and hinders entrepreneurship. Government should foster free market rather than be the antithesis of it. If the general public decide that movie ticket prices are exorbitant, either they will stop watching movies at multiplexes or some enterprising chap will come up with a plan to provide them this service at a sweet price point. By introducing artificial constraints, government is strangling the entrepreneurial spirit and hurling us back to the hey days of socialism where having a phone connection was considered a privilege. More the constraints in a market, lesser the participants, fewer innovations, lesser economic activity, fewer jobs and capital movement.

    Secondly, does it look like our government has less tasks on it’s plate that it wants to add one more, trivial, non impacting regulation to it’s todo list? What do you think is more important, providing basic education, health and security to it’s people or investing time and energy in regulating ticket prices in multiplexes? Would not the government be more wise in exerting it’s authority on bettering our public health system or libraries?

    As soon as government starts meddling in the affairs of a private business, it is not those who excel at innovation that triumph but people who kick ass in playing politics and boot licking. With all it’s flaws, a free market economy trumps a regulated one any day.

    Future is in the photos

    I was going through the VC interaction posted by Everpix guys. If you go through the letters, you see this repeated a lot, “You guys are in a crowded space which the biggies(Facebook, Dropbox, Google, Apple, etc) are after”. Everpix is/was a service to store and organize photos. Why is this such a hot space?

    Take a peek at the acquisitions carried out by Facebook. Can you spot a pattern? A common recurring theme around these companies is photo sharing, image recognition, mobile and analytics. As mobile devices/digital cameras become ubiquitous, internet connectivity becomes omnipresent, people are going to upload snaps/videos in ever increasing numbers. Photos/videos reveal a lot about you without you consciously intending to. A stream of photos that you upload on a regular basis is as good as a life journal that you are not explicitly writing. How about mining this information to show relevant ads?

    Your photo reveals that you wear spectacles, show eye wear ads to you. Your photo stream shows that you regularly take overseas vacation, you are a hot target for the travel industry. Your photos suggest that you have an entry level car and you tell Facebook that you got a new job, time to show the next segment car ads in your wall? In most of the photos you wear denim and t-shirt, maybe Levi’s would be very interested in you.

    Think about it, the amount of information a stream of photo gives out about you is endless. This is a gold mine for companies that want to tailor ads for you.

    Path of least resistance

    I fractured my leg and Pavitra wanted to send the x-ray to my brother in law who is a doctor. He insisted on her not e-mailing but sending it through WhatsApp. I do not use WhatsApp because I do not have a smartphone(sic, sic) but almost all of my friends are on WhatsApp these days. What is the differentiator between these new day instant messengers versus the dinosaurs(Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc)? I would says it is the path of least resistance. On boarding is quick and easy, they do not suffer from feature bloat, using them is a child’s play, you need not be a tech guru to figure out “How do I do this?”.

    Path of least resistance is a tenant everyone in a product company should live by. Take for example a signup form. Given a sign up form with two fields versus one that takes gazillion of fields, which do you think will appeal more to your users? Now you may say my product needs a phone number field to send sms. Ask yourself this, do I need to take this field during sign up or can I ask the user to enter their phone number during the course of usage? When you sign up users, do you really need the confirm password field? Or, for that matter, do you really need users to sign up to use the product? A few days back, I was carrying out comparative analysis of a product on a couple of e-com sites. I had different sites open, one of them allowed me to sign up using gmail while the other required a custom sign up. I did not even bother with the one that asked for the custom sign up and went on with the one that allowed me to login through gmail.

    Can a product compete in a deeply entrenched market with the only differentiator being it’s simplicity? I would say so. Take a look at the mobile instant messenger market.The new kids on the block have successfully waged a battle against the Goliaths and have emerged on the winning side. They have done this by being laser focused on simplicity.

    When we are part of a product, use it day in and day out, we become so entwined with it that we can use it with our eyes closed. But our customers are not on the same boat, some usage patterns which might seem obvious to us might feel like navigating through a maze to our customers. It is extremely important that we keep reminding ourselves of this each and every day.

    AAP, an Indian e-com startup

    There have been multitude of blog posts/tweets comparing AAP to a startup. I am not sure about the comparison in general but there are eerie similarities between AAP and the Indian e-commerce(e-com) startups of the yesteryear.

    1. A lot of Indian e-com startups where founded by IITians and just this IIT tag was used by them to secure irrational funding. AAP supporters do not shy away from touting Arvind Kejriwal(Ak)’s IIT credential.

    2. Majority of Indian e-com startups secured funding from foreign VCs. Recently, there have been allegations that this was a way for foreign players to gain foothold in the Indian retail scene which was insulated from FDI. AK is alleged to have got financial boost from Ford Foundation. Questions have been raised by rival political parties around this.

    3. Indian e-com stood on the shoulders of urban middle class for it’s growth. AAP’s core supporters tend to be from this demography.

    4. There have been claims of Indian e-com founders raking in exorbitant salaries/benefits. AAP’s SUV cavalcade bears some resemblance.

    5. Indian e-com was the darling child of everyone a few years back. As of today, AAP is the poster child of Indian/international media.

    6. People who called the bluff on Indian e-com a few years back were ridiculed. The same treatment is meted out today to anyone who does not believe that AK is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

    7. There have been some nasty internal feuds in Indian e-com and AAP is not left behind in this.

    8. The most poignant of all, Indian e-com propelled itself with freebies(free delivery, discounts, selling below MRP, buy today pay later, etc etc). AAP rode to power with free/low priced electricity and water(There might be more freebies, I have not read their manifesto).

    Indian e-com companies which defied the basic laws of economics have been either forced to shutdown or secure more rounds of funding or to course correct their former splurging ways. In the case of AAP, it is the tax paying, law abiding citizen who will have to bear the burnt of their irrational populism. Indian e-com made a fool out of it’s investors, AAP is making a fool out of the gullible Indian citizens.