UnPluggd – Winter Edition 2013

NextBigWhat came up with the winter edition of the startup conference, Unpluggd. In the last edition, Vishal Gondal’s talk lit the fire in me and this time it was Paras Chopra, Founder & CEO of Wingify, who caught my heart.
Vijay Ram Kumar, Founder of Hoverr @ UnPluggd

Here is the bootstrapped story of Wingify, an A/B testing company built by Paras, who learnt programming early in his life, but chose to major in biotechnology because he wanted to learn something new. Wow! that’s a cool attitude. He got inspired by Paul Graham’s essays, listed all his interests on a piece of paper, picked the top one and went on to startup.

Having done a few failed college projects similar to start ups and starting up Kroomsa, a platform for independent bands/artists, Paras was in his own fantasy world dreaming of Kroomsa’s massive hit. He wanted the world to notice though nobody noticed, he said. He later realised that he was not marketing well and wanted to hone those skills, went on to share the subsequent products with Hacker news took the feedback and was heart broken. In his words, “I wanted to die. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Paras said, making a comprehensive kichdi confuses users, whose attention span is less and nobody goes through help section. Usability and user on boarding is very important. Focus matters and he focused on just one feature after dumping so many other efforts he had put in. He advised on involving potential user from day one, focusing on customer feedback, being close to them and rapidly iterating on the feedback. Competition can copy the product but not the culture  and customer service. Getting covered on tech crunch, writing in lots of places, blogs, case studies, twitter, reviews and through inbound content marketing, Wingify positioned themselves as thought leader in their area.
There were established players like Google Website Optimizer and Omniture who were competitors of Wingify, but he had priced the product substantially low because his initial humble goal was a simple revenue of Rs. 50,000, which was the salary he was getting that time. Fortunately they got a first month revenue of $4000 and touched one million dollar revenue in 18 months. That’s a quite nice money and Wingify now has 3300 customers across 70 countries. VCs eventually started contacting, but Paras believes that funding is not a milestone. That is a misconception. Funding is like home loan. You don’t celebrate when you take home loan. It can make sense when you have a precise plan. Also realise that investors are not friends but partners. They have some legal clauses that can thwart your way of running a company.
On stressing the importance of a co-founder, Paras said we can’t rely on employees for everything and need someone with whom we can share stuff with and for that matter, a great co-founder is good. We need to figure out someone with whom we share a good relationship with and not sure how people are confident posting something like ‘looking for a co-founder’ on job sites. And before closing, he reiterated that India can build great product companies and Wingify wishes to be one.
Other speakers also left us with some wonderful insights. Manav Garg, who didn’t have a background in the software industry and was a commodities trader took the road not taken and built Eka, a software provider for global commodity market. Here are the insights from his talk:
  • Focus on prototyping instead of pitching.
  • Sales is a serious business and it should be sales, sales and sales in the first year.
  • The first sales person is really important and one simple way to hire him is by looking at his past performance.
  • Talk to potential customers. Persuade. People are always ready for a cup of coffee.
  • Investors are not always right.
  • Focus. You are in the drivers seat and can’t take your eyes off the road ever. There is no room for distractions.
  • Laying emphasis on being very frugal, Manav reflected Warren Buffet’s quote “If you buy things you don’t need, soon you will have to sell things you need.”
  • Your company is only as good as your writing. Take risks.
  • Focus on cash flow. Bring in paying customers without delay.
  • Create a team who can run as fast as you.
  • Scale the product along with continuous improvement.
  • Put all the money back into the product initially. Invest in R&D.
  • Outperform on the promises. Delighted customer is a multi million dollar marketing campaign.
  • Hiring across continent is a biggest leap of faith for an entrepreneur. Get the top notch sales people.
  • You might not win every battle, you ll have to find the perfect fit.

Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner at AngelPrime while talking on doing business with large companies, said:

  • Research your customer well. Associate with someone who wants to be no. 1.
  • Offer something that the customer can’t get anywhere else.
  • Test the market early. Do not keep the idea an ultra secret. That will not help.
  • One way of approaching a probable partner is to find a rising star in a large company who is ready to take risk to prove himself and proceeding through him.
  • Very soon go for paid pilots, build relationships and establish processes.
  • Sign an NDA as early as possible and be serious about each other.
  • Have a good cop and a bad cop to tackle issues with customers.
  • Maintain the exclusivity and advantage over pricing.

Aprameya said TaxiForSure was a serendipity and I later found that they have even named their company as Serendipity Infolabs. Being hands on has helped them develop the back-end system and he stressed on the importance of being frugal so as to achieve more with less. On being asked on how he had changed to suit the needs of the business, he said he learnt to speak the language of operators, with whom they collaborate with.

Nikil, Co-founder of Tint talked on lessons learnt in making Tint profitable. Here are his pointers:
  • Be a hustler.
  • “When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say “wow, that was an adventure,” not “wow, I sure felt safe.” Tom Preston-Werner.
  • Be opportunistic.
  • Be tenacious.
  • “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” – Steve Jobs.
  • Be open to partnerships.
  • Charge your customers. Charge you customers higher.
  • Focus on inbound marketing & organic growth. People, Product, Culture.
4 people, 11 months, 40,000 brands, 3000 paying customers and 1+ million dollars revenue. Besides all these, he was humbled by the fact that Sachin & AR Rahman are using his product. What else?
Unpluggd was a platform for Pickle.io, CloudEngine, ZapStitch, Senseforth, DigiCollect, Hoverr.me and MagnetWorks to pitch their offerings and with MagnetWorks, I saw how the Internet of Things is going to evolve. The final discussion by BK Birla and Kunal Shah was on whether founders would be the best CEOs. They stressed the importance of finding a mentor who is harsh with you, who is not a cynic but who gives genuine feedback. It was a day well spent for me. Thanks to NextBigWhat 🙂

UnPluggd 2013

Every time I attend workshops or conferences at TiE or Yourstory, I think of doing a write-up  summarizing the insights I have gained, but for some lazy reasons, I never came up with one. Last week I attended UnPluggd 2013, which attracted entrepreneurs, geeks, investors and angels and was also a launchpad for a few startups and it was this talk by Vishal Gondal, the founder of Indiagames, that instilled me to write this time. Vishal didn’t rely on powerpoint and instead conveyed his messages as stories, which were quite cool and here are his 10 commandments for entrepreneurs:
 
  1. Thou shall have balls and not business-plans
  2. Thou shall develop relationships and not transactions
  3. Thou shall focus on real pain-points
  4. Thou shall be number 1 or 2
  5. Thou shall focus on 20%
  6. Thou shall avoid MBAs and spreadsheet-makers
  7. Thou shall celebrate failures and enjoy your journey
  8. Thou shall not want to sell
  9. Thou shall stay fit
  10. Thou shall win with … passion.
Vishal also said that an entrepreneur shouldn’t get intimidated by the bullies, should learn how to achieve speed while riding on empty tank and also learn to  keep the team motivated.
 
Kailash Katkar, cofounder and chairman of Quick Heal narrated his inspirational journey from repairing calculators and radios to encouraging his brother who was studying computer science, to come up with a solution to clean the viruses from computers that came to him for servicing, to eventually starting up Quick Heal Technologies, the renowned Indian software security solutions company, which has presence in close to 50 countries around the world with an expected turnover of Rs.240 crores this year.
 
It was a very humble yet courageous talk by Radhakrishna, founder of iStream, an online video service provider, which they had to shutdown recently. Radha spoke about their problem with raising funds and the reasons like piracy and low level of acceptance for subscription based models in India but was still confident on the potential for online content/video services, the support from his team and his determination to bounce back.
 
Sachin Bansal, cofounder of Flipkart said if he were to start another company, it would definitely be on internet and in India and explained the reason for Flyte MP3 shutdown in simple math. i.e Flipkart’s music CD section gets 1/6th of users but 3x more revenue than it’s Flyte MP3 downloads which means, revenue from sale of physical CDs is 18x that of Flyte MP3. Moreover, he said, their experiment to attract customers by giving limited period of free downloads was not fruitful because customers who purchase music by means of online download do not feel that they own it as much as when they buy CDs. Then, we also have the problem of piracy, very rampant here.
 
The final inspiration came from Lalit Patel, Co-Founder, BASH Gaming, who after 18 failed experiments, zoomed from $0 to $55mn in revenue through his most successful game Bingo Bash. His message: Passion and Persistence.
 
Appreciate the bunch of entrepreneurs who launched their products and for the effort they have put in creating something wonderful. However, most of them lacked the enthusiasm while being on stage. They might have faced some hurdles backstage but as Muhammad Ali once said, “To be a great champion, you have to believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.”
 
“The perfect pitch must be powerful, potent, polished, and most importantly, practiced!” -Anonymous

Tracking and auditing donations made to government and non-governmental organisations

There are instances where authorities misuse donations or public funds. For example, when some one donates furniture to government schools and if it is not properly publicised, and the school also receives government funds, the school authorities can obtain fake bills and show that the furniture were purchased from the government fund and loot the money sanctioned by the government. Donor will be under the impression that his money was used for a certain purpose and the government will be under the impression that government funds were for the same purpose.
 
One way to make donations transparent would be to create and maintain a public repository where all the donations made to government and non-governmental organisations and how it was used are reported and maintained, and can be under the watch of the government auditors.
This will not only reduce the leakage of funds but also improve trust and confidence among donors and encourage more donations.
 
 
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Submitted this idea for a better a future, as part of the Leaders of Tomorrow contest conducted by ISB, where I went on to receive the Best Profile award.

Making higher education accessible to the underprivileged members of the society

India is capable of becoming a knowledge super-power. Why not help the under privileged too be a part of this? There are quotas and reservations, but still there are people who cannot afford the cost of education.
 
What can be done in addition to the reservations? Though the law prohibits educational institutions from taking capitation fee from students, most colleges do collect capitation fees and donations, which are kept unaccounted and in turn becomes black money. When the government is unable to curb this, why not pass a bill, legalize it and make it taxable. Some might argue, why sell education. Even otherwise, it is sold, illegally! Rather than letting go off tax revenue, why not proactively account those.
In return to taking capitation fees, the bill should mandate educational institutions to admit 5-10% of students without charging them in any form and for any purpose, through a single window system facilitated by the government.
Such an amendment will not only benefit the underprivileged to get quality education, but also the government in terms of tax revenue.
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Submitted this idea for a better a future, as part of the Leaders of Tomorrow contest conducted by ISB, where I went on to receive the Best Profile award.
 

Creating a better nation with well informed citizens

How to do this on a large scale? One way is by extending the scope of RTI act, so as to include mass media, which has an important role in nation building, such that, 25-30% of the first page of all regional and nationwide news papers, 20-30 secs of air-time of all regional and nationwide TV/Radio channels during prime time be handed over to the government for free usage or for an yearly fees based on the newspaper’s/channels’ readership.

This space/air-time, which can be shared between the state and central government proportionately on daily or weekly basis, can be used to impart moral education, educate people on social issues and create awareness on legal matters and government policies. The government can use this to proactively disclose information on issues of larger public interest, which in some cases can reduce the number of RTI applications and also avoid harassment of RTI applicants.

Also, this space/air-time can be used to sensitise people on various frauds/scams and the modus operandi of scamsters. Preventing people from getting cheated will spare a lot of liquid cash which can be a growth booster rather than that money getting converted as black money.

Moreover, the government and politicians, most times spend lavishly to inaugurate new schemes or infrastructure facilities. Availability of such newspaper space or air-time can also be used to declare open any new schemes/infrastructures, which in turn will save money for the government, prevent chaos and traffic jams and save time for a lot of people including the government.

The newspaper space can sometimes be used to publish large scale tenders, which to some extent can prevent corruption in allotting tenders.

Publications of all such kind will create better informed and educated citizens and over the long run will pave way for a peaceful and better society.
 
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Submitted this idea for a better a future, as part of the Leaders of Tomorrow contest conducted by ISB, where I went on to receive the Best Profile award.

Test Automation :: the Hype and the Illusion

When someone asks me what do I do? I say I am a software tester and the next question they put forward is Manual or Automation? When I say manual, they most times look down at me and start advocating to learn test automation. The actual reason being, test automation has been hyped so much that it is something akin to Artificial Intelligence or like a Virtual Tester and testers who don’t have the habit of questioning the logic are made to believe so. Here is a blog Purpose (Dis)Solved by Dhanasekar, where he makes an analogy between locks and testing and how test automation is hyped to attract clients.
 
At Moolya, while I got to know more about testing, I had a small confusion. What is check automation? Moolya’s approach to testing is context driven, exploratory, mission focused,  risk based, check automation and a few more heuristic based approaches. I know what these terms mean but never heard the term ‘check automation’ before. Approached Ms.Parimala, Master Shifu at Moolya, to clarify what is check automation? She referred me this blog on Testing vs. Checking by Michael Bolton, to explore. That perfectly answered my question. 
Testing is a sapient process and best results can be achieved only when it is done by humans. All that is automated are not tests but mere checks.
Here is also an excerpt from Jonathan Kohl’s interview to DZone and his thought that test automation shouldn’t be a goal; test automation helps you achieve goals.
“Think of all the things people can do well that machines can’t do well. Machines can’t feel, they can’t have a hunch, they can’t be suspicious, they can’t investigate, and they can’t change their minds due to better information. I don’t see automated testing throwing manual testing aside.”
 
To all those who believe test automation is a sure way to do better testing, and still have an illusion that automation is a superior class, which always improves productivity, please watch this video, which also explains why automation is not a sapient work.
 

Happy Testing!

Tryst with Moolya

Who I was as a professional?
 
Fresh from college, with high hopes and excitement that I ll earn on my own and can spend what I earned without seeking anyone’s permission, I joined an Indian MNC IT firm (glad that the firm gave me a chance to work there). There was 3 months of training, followed by induction. I got trained in testing and was assigned to testing projects.
 
What I did for the first 6 months?
I was executing the test cases drafted by my senior colleagues in the team and reporting any discrepancies (as per the script) I found in the application I was testing.
 
What I did for the next 2-2.5 years?
I was drafting test cases on my own and executing the same and looking for any deviations from my test cases, which was drafted as per the requirement/functional specifications provided by the customer.
 
What I did for the next two years?
I drafted test cases, executed test cases and made phone calls to onsite coordinators to clarify all my queries. Apart from these routine tasks, I was also drafting test plan (during the start of the project) and test report (when the project completes). I ll be given exclusive 3 day to draft test plan and test results, which were never referred later. I was also acting as test lead, which involves coordinating offshore activities related to testing.
 
How I was after 5.5 years?
All that I did was verify whether the application under test was in accordance with the specs. (only functional). I never bothered about UX, Performance, Security…etc as there were exclusive teams for these activities. I also learnt something related to Six Sigma, Lean and Agile (We tried implementing)
In toto, as a tester I was dumb. Adding fuel to this were the programmers/developers, who show off their ego, which results in testers getting sidelined and not looked upon with dignity. I never felt proud to call myself as a tester (until I joined Moolya). When someone asks me what I do, I would say I am a tupperware (improvised dabba) tester. But I was enjoying, in the sense, very less work and more comfort.
 
 
How did I proceed further?
My long term aspirations were different. I aspire to be an entrepreneur, build my own company. I wanted to come out of the comfort zone and experience the startup environment. I googled for startups in Bangalore and selectively applied for a few starups. Glad that Moolya was one among those. I m not flattering. Prior to joining Moolya, I had visited ThoughtWorks a couple of times. ThoughtWorks describes itself as “…A social and commercial community whose purpose is to revolutionize software creation and delivery while advocating for positive social change in the world.” They pick very extra ordinary and brilliant programmers, put them together and see what can happen. As a result, they have contributed so much to the open source community.
 
Ok, coming to the point, what I realised after joining Moolya. Moolya intends to do the same with testers, what ThoughtWorks does with programmers. Create a pool of extraordinary, rebellious and cool testers, to change the way testing is done and is supposed to be done. I learn’t good and real testing after joining Moolya. (I still have a lot more to learn too). I in am small way for now, helped my customers, see some value of my testing. Here I never look at the count of bugs I reported but at the way the product has improved. I tried pair programming. Whole heartedly followed the agile manifesto ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’. For now at least watched how security testing is done, tried my hands on performance, learnt bug advocacy and started using oracles and heuristics for testing. One such heuristics is my defect reporting mechanism in an easy and cost effective way. I collaborated using the Google docs. for bug reporting, where we followed the Colour code:
 
No Colour – Reported and yet to be worked upon
Red – Critical and requires urgent attention
Amber – Partially fixed
Strike through – when the product owner rejects the defect
Green – Fixed
 
And I conceptualized this with the theme go green, which means, as the sheet becomes greener, the product becomes better. Apart from testing, as a value add, I did a competitor analysis for our customer, broadly based on the Product, Segment, Geography, Features/Offerings,  Key highlights, Threats, Rates/Pricing, Demo/Free usage, Menu tour to give a better picture to the product owners.
 
I am very glad that testers (now I m proud to say that I m a tester) in Moolya are encouraged to be courageous, crazy, learn a lot, follow and read blogs of famous testers around the world, play and have fun, providing us a happy and cool work environment. Moolya has instilled the pride in me as a tester. I have gradually started practicing testing as a craft 🙂 
 
Now I propose the ‘Dignity of a Tester’
“If a man is called to be a tester, he should test even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should test so well that all the user of the web and app will pause to say, here lived a great tester who did his job well.” 

which I have tweaked and adapted from Martin Luther King Jr’s quote

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”– Steve Jobs
 
P.S. This is not an attempt to flatter my company neither am I demeaning my previous employer)

Packing List for Travel

Here is a compilation of a check list for travel. Most importantly, please read the post script.

PRE-DEPARTURE

  • Get your FX Cheat Sheet
  • Read the Travel Advisory for your destination
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Health Documentation
  • Transportation Tickets
  • Emergency Information
  • Insurance
  • Hotel Reservations
  • Traveller’s Checks
  • Currency/Wallet
  • Credit/Debit Cards
  • Guide Books and Maps
  • Trip Cancellation/Medical Insurance
  • Personal Identification
  • Driver’s License
  • Photocopies of Documentation
  • Special Event Reservations (art, popular festivals, sporting events)

BASIC

  •  Mobile Phone/Charger
  • Camera/Video Camera/Charger
  • Binoculars
  • Luggage/Travel Pack
  • Luggage ID Tags
  • Waist/Neck Pouch
  • Travel Clothing (Formals, Casuals)
  • Shorts, Tees, pair of Jeans, Innerwear
  • Rain Protection
  • Travel Footwear
  • Watch
  • Belt
  • Handkerchief
  • Scarf/Bandanna
  • Visor or Brimmed Hat
  • Water Bottle
  • Language Books
  • Reading Materials
  • Address Book
  • Travel Journal/Notepad
  • Pen/Pencil
  • Games/Playing Cards
  • Travel Lock

MAINTENANCE ITEMS

  • Flashlight Batteries/Bulb
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Matches or Lighter
  • Camera Batteries
  • Mini Sewing/Repair Kit
  • Duct Tape
  • Portable Travel Iron or Steamer
  • Travel Clothesline & Clothespins
  • Sink Stopper for Hotel Sinks
  • Mesh Bag for Dirty Laundry
  • Zip close Plastic Bags

TOILETRIES

  • Comb/Hair Brush
  • Toothbrush/Paste/Brush Cap
  • Cleaner/Dental Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Soap: Personal and Laundry
  • Shampoo
  • Razor/Blades
  • Shaving Cream/Brush
  • Insect Repellent
  • Skin Care Lotions/Creams
  • Make Up
  • Mirror
  • Nail Clippers
  • Sunscreen/Lip Balm
  • Travel Towel
  • Blow Dryer
  • Towel/Washcloth
  • Bottles (for shampoo & laundry soap)

HOME CHECKLIST

  • Stop deliveries
  • Have Post Office hold mail
  • Arrange for care of pets, lawn and house plants
  • Set-up a timed lighting system
  • Check timed night lighting system
  • Notify local police of your absence
  • Leave house key and trip itinerary with a neighbour
  • Empty refrigerator
  • Eliminate possible fire hazards (unplug appliances, etc.)
  • Turn down thermostat
  • Turn off water heater
  • Store valuables in a safe place
  • Lock all doors and windows

FIRST AID KIT

  • Cotton, Wool
  • Bandage Cloth
  • Band Aid
  • Crepe Bandage
  • Gauze Pad
  • Buds
  • Small Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Aspirin/Pain Reliever
  • Paracetamol
  • Cough Syrup
  • Povidone Iodine
  • Savlon Antiseptic
  • ORS
  • Laxative
  • Antibiotic Cream

MEDICATION

  • Medication for Allergies, Diarrhoea, Cold, Acidity
  • Medication for Motion Sickness
  • Medication for Malaria
  • Vitamins
  • Contact Lens Preparation
  • Water Purification System
  • Prescription Drugs, Doctors Phone No., Fax no.

 PS: Pack light & smart 🙂

Tributes to the Women Who Added Colours to my Life

As the world celebrates Women’s Day and India celebrates Holi, I feel so proud and gratified to write about these ladies who apart from my mother, stood by me in times of distress, guided me to wade through troubled waters and added colours to my life.

My darling sister(first cousin) Ms. Kalaivani

My college buddy Ms. Lina

My English Prof., Mentor and God Mother Ms. Charumathi

My colleague and a lovely buddy Ms. Kiruthika

…to be continued

Laugh and be Merry :)

by John Masefield

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,

Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.

Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.

Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

 

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.

God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,

Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth

The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

 

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,

Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,

Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured

In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

 

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,

Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,

Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.

Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

 

This poem, which was part of my under graduation is one of my favourite 🙂

 The poet, John Masefield suggests that we should have a positive attitude in life. Life is short so we must enjoy the fruits of happiness. Every moment of our life should be enjoyed and cheered. The god created the moon and the stars for the pleasure of human being. So we should be inspired by god’s meaningful creation. The poet compares the world with an inn where all human beings are temporary guests. We should enjoy life till it lasts and till the music of life ends.