Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Death of common-sense

I was wondering whether to call this post "Death of common-sense" or "Greed" or "Art of negotiation", and the first one seemed to make more sense.

A street performer came in front of our house with his performing crew (including a few animals), and seeing the opportunity to get some nice pictures of life in Bangalore, I ran in and picked up my camera gear. When I came out, the troupe was getting ready to perform. From what I can remember, street performers are usually paid around Re. 1 during my times, and due to inflation, they may now get about Rs. 10 per performance (my best guess).

As soon as the troupe leader saw my camera, he instructed the group to stop all operations. He came to me and asked for Rs. 200 for the show. When I asked him the reason for the request, he said that I was going to shoot pictures. I told him that lots of people shoot pictures of street performers and most of them don't even pay anything. I also told him that the pictures that I am taking are for my own pleasure and are not going to be used for any financial gains (not that he could figure that all out).

We negotiated for a while and I upped my price to Rs. 100, just to see what he does. I was more concerned about the troupe going to bed hungry than anything else. Finally, the leader did not budge (he had the dreaded "Take it or leave it" attitude, which is a big no-no in good negotiations) and he took his troupe to perform in another street (and make, at most Rs. 10/performance).

I felt so bad for his troupe of hard workers. What a pity to be paired up with a leader (actually, he is just a manager, with no leadership qualities) who lacks common sense.

Know what your options are when you start a negotiation.
Know what you are bargaining for.
Always bargain for individual or collective advantage/gain.
Know when to give way in order to create a win-win situation.
Never let your ego negotiate.

This person did not even know what he was bargaining for. He could not justify his terms, and he did not realize the impact of a standoff. I, for one, did not lose anything in this standoff, while he and his troupe lost their meal.

No wonder there are so many people going hungry everyday in this land of opportunity.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"It's not about the Technology ...

but the problem it solves" says Don Dodge. Well said.

The first time I saw Riya.com, I was impressed by its technology and the potential (for a Google acquisition). The only business case I could see was Google acquiring them to index their image database. Imagine you searching for images of Aishwarya Rai and if the image I have here was named IMG_841.jpg, a search engine would not have picked it up. Since it is named AishwaryaRai_Sketch.jpg, it will get picked up. An image should either be named or tagged appropriately in order for search engines to pick it up. What Riya promises is that even if my file was named IMG_841.jpg, it will also be tagged as a picture of Aishwarya Rai as it does visual pattern matching of the image and not just the file name. Wow. That is pretty cool stuff. Iff, it works all the time.

The problem Riya is facing is an interesting one. You have a solution to an unknown problem. You need to define a problem that is compelling for the audience to invest in you. It has to be timed right, and priced right.

What a sweet problem to have. They have the technological solution, and are searching for an appropriate problem to solve.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Nocturnal fixin'

All of us have scheduled an auto repair or service and had to drop the car off at a designated place, in the morning, and pick it up in the evening after the work is done? You have to figure out how you are going to manage without a car for the day. Lots of repair shops are not open on weekends, or in the evening. This adds to the problem. How many times have we skipped/postponed a service/repair just because we didn't want to go through this pain? And, even if we get the service performed, and then find out that something was not fixed right, we have to go through the whole ritual all over again. What a pain. Especially in most of the US cities where public transportation isn't up to snuf.

Now, imagine this. You drive your car around all day. Send it to a special place at night where people work on it all night long, and you wake up to a squeaky clean serviced automobile. No, I am not saying that we will ship (or better yet, beam) it to Bangalore and offshore the auto service industry too.

This is a new business model that I am suggesting. Imagine an auto shop that works all night (and, maybe all day, in shifts). The reasoning behind this is that autos are a necessity in most cities in tea US. Why take away a necessity when it is needed most. Instead, take it away (for service, cleaning, etc.) when it is needed least. Which is, when the user is sleeping or at home.

You drop off your car in the evening on the way home. The shop checks your vehicle and calls you about the service/questions/estimates before 8 or 9 PM. Once all the answers are obtained, the mechanics go to work at night and get the job done. You arrive early in the morning and pick up your car for use throughout the day! The shop, if smart, will throw in bagels/doughnuts and coffee in the morning. That wasn't so bad, was it?

So, how come we don't see places like these. There are several logistic as well as operational details missing in my example above, but I don't see any glaring problems that aren't solvable.

I, for one, would love this kind of convenience.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ideas, anyone?

I was at a TIE event this evening about the art of recruiting a star team for your startup. It had great panelists and the discussion was lively, but sadly short. I was interested in finding out how to spot and recruit stars in the early stages. Where do you go looking for them? How do you evaluate them? What kind of equity do you share? And so on and so forth. But, the audience was fixated on IP protection and NDAs more than anything else.

This brings me to the "idea" in a business. There are lots of people with lots of great ideas. We see an extremely small percentage of them turning into products and making it big. It is not the idea that matters, it is the execution. Investors (VCs, angels, etc.) do not invest in an idea. They invest in the team (Of course, the team is the one that came up with the idea). If the current idea tanks, the team should be capable of churning out another idea in no time, and take it to market.

If you have an idea for a product, you can rest assured that there are at least a dozen others with the same idea. Several of them are trying to productize it right this moment. There are lots of brilliant people in this world, including you. The fact that you have competition is proof that your idea is a good one. The one that wins is the idea that is executed well and timed to the market appropriately.

Top executives always give seminars and talks on their strategies for success. They give away their secrets in these seminars as well as in books they write. Why do they give away their trade secrets? It is not just their modus operandi that took them where they are, it is their execution.

So, do not be afraid of someone stealing your idea. Of course, you need to share it with people you trust. And you should do everything reasonable to protect it. But, keeping the idea to oneself and not doing anything about it is worse than sharing it and having someone else execute it. At least, you will have a great story for your grand kids.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Spinning Apple

Isn't this good timing or what? Microsoft is getting ready to release Zune, and Apple posts this notice on their web site that a very small number of iPods were released with a virus in them. Apart from the spin Apple put on this story and blamed Microsoft for the failure (which I don't agree), this seems like a well timed (marketing) message than anything else:
- Apple hardware and software are (generally) free from viruses (for a variety of reasons).
- Microsoft software and hardware is susceptible to viruses. So, Zune buyers beware. Zune is Microsoft hardware and runs Microsoft software, and has wireless connectivity. So, it is susceptible to viruses!

Or, is it my imagination running wild?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

To go digi or not

A couple of weeks ago, I was on Mt. Rainier (not at the summit, I wish that was the case though) and I was dearly missing my trusted Elan film camera. The mountain visibility was 100%. There was not a cloud in sight. This was the first time I had seen Rainier unobstructed. It was spectacular. There was lots of snow all over the trails, and the scene, whichever direction you looked, was incredible. Even though I was shooting lots of pics with my brand new digital Rebel XT, I missed my film camera.

I started wondering why I missed my good old slide film...

Projecting a crisp slide onto a screen has its own appeal. The sharpness, color saturation (I love to shoot sceneries with Velvia), and the immense nature of the projection that brings the subject to life. Of course, you can do the same with a digital image using an advanced digital projector. Still, I am partial to slides. For some reason slides feel immortal to me. I do know that they have limited longevity, especially if you project them often. But shooting them all these years, I have developed a great relationship with them.

Now that I have the digital SLR, and for some reason, I didn't feel like carrying two bodies (I already had three lenses in the bag) on this trip. And, I missed the opportunity of shooting slides of Rainier in its full glory.

That is when I started thinking about what I was doing all these years. Some fundamental questions popped in my mind.
- Why do I shoot all these pics?
- Why do I shoot slides (purpose)?
- Why do I shoot digital?
- What do I do with the pics I shoot? How do I use them?
- How do I store them?
- How should I store them?

Answering these questions would lead me to what I want to do, short as well as long term.

Why do I shoot?
I love creating things, art specifically. Photography is art, and I love creating it. I love capturing moods so I can re-experience it at my whim. I shot a tonne of pics when we visited Europe, and looking at the pictures, I can see all the intricate details in the art and architecture that I missed, live.

Why do I shoot slides?
Ever since I laid my hands on the first roll of chrome film, I haven't shot much print film. There is something magical about slides. Be it their crispness, ability to capture what you intended (WYShootIWYG), challenges due to its narrow range, its presentation or its coolness factor ("I shoot Chrome"), it has captivated me all these years.

Why do I shoot digital?
With the advent of digital photography with the ability to instantly see the results, it was insane not to jump onto the train. It offers great opportunities for proofing and improvisation on the spot. Ease of transmitting the images to others make this a great media.

What do I do with them?
Hmm, good question. It is a way of capturing memories and moods. I capture them and freeze the moment in time so I can relive it at a later time. I share them with friends/family in a variety of ways (slide shows, internet, etc.). Use them for artwork (by themselves, or as input).

How do I store them?
I store photos in albums as well as shoe boxes. Negatives go into archival quality storage sleeves. Slides go into archival slide storage sleeves. Digital pics are stored in CD-RW media.

Now that I have answered the questions, I need to make a decision on how much each of the media is going to be used, and when. I also need to decide on post-processing, storage and archival process.

Negatives and slides will last a lifetime if stored appropriately in archival storage sleeves in the right atmosphere. Until now, I have not seen any degradation in any of the images. So, I am satisfied with this storage mechanism.

As for digital pics, I am currently storing them on a hard disk as well as CD-RW media. Looking at the vulnerability of both hard disks and RW disks, I need to cook up another robust strategy. Hard drives can crash wiping out all the data. CDs can be easily scratched or destroyed by high temperatures. So, here is what I am planning on doing:
Burn pics into DVD-RWs and label them with the following-
- Name
- Description
- Creation date
- ReBurn date (creation date + 3 years)
- Master/Copy
I will burn my pics into two DVDs, master and copy. The master stays in a safe place. The copy is used for all other post-processing. Upon the arrival of reBurn date, the data in the master will be transferred (after thorough verification) into the media of choice on that date. If needed, the data is also converted into an appropriate format on the reBurn date. The same process is repeated after 3 years. I came up with 3 years assuming in that time, we would have seen a rebirth of storage technology.

I will tweak this process as and when necessary. Let us see how this is going to work.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Smart selling (or lack thereof)

One of my friends drives an Acura and was complaining about the crappy loaner he was given when he had his car serviced at the dealership. I know of several dealerships which do this. You own an expensive luxury vehicle, and you end up driving a sub-compact ordinary loaner for a day.

I fail the understand the stupidity of the dealerships in passing off such a great opportunity to sell/market new cars.

Imagine this:
- Dealership calls you to set up an appointment once they determine that your car is due.
- You take the car in, and are given a loaner which is an upgrade (1-2 levels above) of the car you dropped off.
- You drive the fully loaded upgrade loaner for a day.
- When you come back to pick up your car, you mention how good this loaner was.
- The attendant acknowledges, and casually mentions that his manager took the liberty of doing some calculations, and determined what it would take for you to upgrade to that class of car. And, hands you a "sealed" envelope with the information. AND stops talking. It is completely up to you to open the envelope and peek inside, or chuck it into the garbage.
- You (like most people), salivating over the upgrade, open the envelope.
- If you were one of the people who were sitting on the fence wrt this issue, you fall for it, and will be driving an upgraded vehicle next week!

This is one scenario. You can come up with various other approaches to accomplish the same. There is no compromise of information here. Note that the dealer intimately knows your current car, its condition, and, obviously, its current market value. And, he happens to sell/trade new cars. He is the best person to do the math and give you the above mentioned information. Of course, all this should be done in a very subtle and non-intrusive manner. I wonder when the dealerships will pick this up.

Maybe, that will make me go the dealer for my next service....