24 Hours of Craziness With Modi and Trump

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This past Tuesday around 8pm (Bombay 8pm, NYC 9:30am) I turned on CNN International to watch US voters goto the polls to elect either Trump or Clinton. It was clearly going to be the Hillary Clinton show based on all the media publications and polls who said Trump goes low and that Hillary goes high. As I was switching channels I saw that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was giving a speech at the same time. I thought man, why is he trying to steal the limelight while the biggest elections in the world are happening and this guy must be talking about Swachh Bharat #2 (Swachh Bharat = Clean India). I continued to flip channels and settled back on watching CNN International.

1narcos-tmagarticleThen my phone went nuts with all the WhatsApp messages (yeah, India loves WhatsApp and not Facebook Messenger). I’m wondering if there was some announcement that CNN missed in regards to the US elections – nope. PM Modi dropped the equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the financial markets by banning the use of Rs. 500 (USD 7.40) and Rs. 1000 (USD 14.80) denomination notes in an effort to fight black money, corruption, fake currency notes and terror financing. This was not some ban that would go into effect in 1 week, 1 month or 1 year, it was going into effect in 4 hours – at the stroke of midnight Tuesday. The old notes could be redeemed at a bank over the next 2 months for new notes. Of course, if you have unaccounted wealth its going to be a very awkward conversation with the Income Tax officials to explain it. Which means most people will just burn it Pablo Escobar style like he did in Narcos. As of Wednesday morning the biggest legal tender was Rs. 100 (USD 1.48) until the new currency notes hit the market. It was a genius move by PM Modi and one that will go down as the biggest changes in the course of India’s financial markets. Yes, there is probably some hyperbole in that statement but it took real balls to pull this off by PM Modi. I guess in the end he really did launch Swachh Bharat #2 (Swachh Bharat = Clean India).

pollsAt this point, my TV remote was probably ready to retire since I was switching between 5 or 6 news channels to understand the implications of this massive announcement from PM Modi. All the while I was following the US elections on CNN and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website – which was still showing that Hillary was going to win. So, I went to bed at 1:30am in the morning (Bombay 1:30am Wednesday, NYC 3:00pm Tuesday). I got up at 5am in the morning to start watching the election results come in as the polls started to close across the country and all of a sudden the numbers for Clinton don’t look as awesome as they did just hours ago. I kept on checking FiveThirtyEight about Clinton’s chances of winning and it was like watching the stock price of a company that just announced it was being investigated by the FBI (wait, that actually did happen to Clinton). It seemed like Trump might win and the financial markets around the world were poised to open gap down.

Then it happened, Trump was able to cross the magic line of 270 electoral votes and win the US Presidential elections to be the 45th President of America. I’ll be honest, it’s still a funny thing to say, hear and type that Donald J. Trump is the next president of the United States of America. I didn’t vote for him and I really hope he only focuses on getting the economy back on track and fixing the broken political system with its special interest groups, lobbying groups and political action committees. It’s definitely wait and watch.

On another note, something that I’ve observed over the past few days is that people want to hear what they want to hear. Or in the case of online media, see or share things they have a strong viewpoint about. Of course, that’s the whole point of Facebook and Twitter to share, post or highlight content you agree with. Unfortunately, some of that content is either fake or written just to drive traffic to a page that is plastered with ads. Then there are the articles that are absolute puff pieces with zero fact checking and just published to cater to audience that likes or dislikes a particular point of view.

Below are a couple screenshots this past week from my Facebook wall.

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This article claims 3 people have died because they were standing in a line. Yet, they provide no information of the deceased or interviews with their next of kin. This piece definitely caters to people that are livid that PM Modi has screwed them of their hard earned black money.

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The narrative of this Facebook post I assume is that Trump is going to be President and the “shit has already started” in that minorities are being targeted. The problem is that this Saudi student died a week BEFORE the elections. Yet, people are sharing it and adding their two cents. I’m waiting for someone to share a story about Rosa Parks like it happened yesterday.

This past week both Modi and Trump did some historic things which might rub some people the wrong way. My advice is don’t blindly follow and do your own research and understand both sides of the coin.

Favorite lines comparing the US and India:
US counting votes, India counting notes.
In the US, black president leaving. In India, black money leaving.

Note: As if this blog post wasn’t long enough, I just realized this is my 500th blog post. I’m sure it’s Trump’s fault that I didn’t write 1,000 blog posts by now 😉

 

Google Takes A Run At The iPhone

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667Over the past several weeks it was widely reported that Google would be launching a new phone, the images and specs were leaked online. However, when the Pixel and Pixel XL were launched this week many people stood up and took notice.

Why? Because the Pixel phones are the first serious attempt to dethrone the iPhone. Back in 2007, when Android and iOS were announced to the world both companies took a very different path in how they would market the operating system. Google decided to focus on the Android software and left the hardware to the contract manufacturers in China. As is typical of Apple, they wanted to control and own the entire experience of software and hardware. Here we are 9 years later and it looks like Google has also started to drink the same kool-aid that Apple has been drinking.

In 2010, Google launched the Nexus line of phones and tablets but that product line is very different from the Pixel. The Nexus phones were running stock Android and Google gave the contract manufacturers some guidelines on the technical specifications but were very hands off. The Pixel line takes a page from the Apple playbook and Google has complete control of both hardware and software. Based on the technical specs the Pixel is a worthy competitor to the iPhone 7 and both are priced identically. The Pixel 32GB and the iPhone 7 32GB are both priced at $649…very ballsy of Google if you ask me.

Apple may have the hardware and software integration down to a science but Google has a couple more tricks up its sleeve. The Pixel line has 4 things it can tightly integrate:

  1. Hardware
  2. Software
  3. Project Fi – Google’s own wireless carrier. (technically it’s a mobile virtual network operator – MVNO)
  4. Cloud services like Gmail, Photos, Drive, Maps, etc…

Over the next 6 months, we’ll see how the Pixel performs and if Google can finally get their hardware story in order. Because so far it has been a complete disaster with fragmented products, no clear vision and group in-fighting. Which means it didn’t have time to innovate or release product quickly enough.

Below is a list of the hardware they sell and there is NO single website that lists everything that Google sells which just seems stupid to me. But, that just shows how fragmented the various hardware groups are within Google.

  • Chromebooks – laptops that run Google Chrome as the operating system
  • Chromecast – device to stream content to your TV or speakers
  • Google Daydream – virtual reality viewer (announced this week)
  • Google Home – voice-activated assistant, similar to Amazon Echo and Apple’s Siri (announced this week)
  • Google Wifi – wireless mesh network routers (announced this week)
  • OnHub – a router made by Asus and TP-Link
  • Nest – thermostat, smoke alarm, indoor camera (Dropcam) and outdoor camera
  • Nexus – a line of phones and tablets
  • Pixel Phone (announced this week)

The good news is that six months ago they hired Rick Osterloh away from Motorola/Lenovo. At Google he is the goto guy for anything related to hardware and supposed to get their hardware house in order. I believe the Pixel phone might be a turning point for Google and potentially turn them into a hardware powerhouse as well.

I’ve Been Designing Apps All Wrong

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ola-luxFor the past several years I’ve been advising many startups on their technology vision and strategy. Invariably, I would get pulled into their design meetings for their apps and would happily give my thoughts on the interface, flow and usability of the app. I would spend countless hours with the team on the consumer facing app and then I had an incident with an Ola driver and realized I was going about it all wrong.

A month ago I got into an Ola cab and when the driver tried to start the trip he couldn’t. Apparently, the language on the app had changed from English to Marathi and he couldn’t proceed further. The Ola driver handed me his phone to see if I could fix the language setting and I couldn’t. Instead, I some how started the trip and ended the trip in a span of two minutes.

The driver called Ola customer service for assistance but the guy on the other end was very rude to the driver. I took the phone and said it was not the drivers fault as the language setting had changed and there was no way to get to the menu option he was talking about. The call center agent was very nice to me and told me to hand the phone back to the driver. Again, the call center agent got very angry with the driver and asked him why he hit the buttons and instead should have called customer service first.

I’ve seen this scenario played out so many times and I’m not sure why I didn’t pick up on it earlier. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about the Flipkart and Snapdeal seller panel. While their consumer facing website and apps are fine, the sellers that spend the most time on their websites are left using a sub-par product. On the other hand, I’ve heard rave reviews of Amazon’s seller panel which is expected since they have had 20 years of experience to perfect it.

Before my Ola experience I would rank in the order of importance the interfaces as 1. Consumer 2. field services agent (cleaner, driver, delivery person, beauticians, etc…) 3. call center agent. Now, I’ve completely flipped my thinking and reversed the order.

That Ola interaction made me realize that a lot of time is spent on the consumer facing app and very little time or thought on the call center agent interface or the field services app. Of course, the customer is king but if you don’t empower your employees and make their lives easier it makes it very tough for them to deliver the customer delight and 5 star rating that everyone is chasing.

You Down With OTT?

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Back in 1991, I was a freshman at Indiana University and the first few months were a haze with my new found freedom. When I look back to that time the one song that stands out is Naughty By Nature’s “You Down With O.P.P.” It was THE party anthem back in the day. You can visit the Genius page for the lyrics to understand why.

Recently, on one of my morning runs “You Down with O.P.P.” started playing and it got me thinking about a similar sounding acronym – OTT. Over-the-top (OTT) is a concept that you can thank the iPhone for ushering in and in the process opening up the mobile internet to anyone and everyone. Let’s first go back in time before we can thank Steve Jobs and Company.

15-20 years ago if you had a mobile phone you were at the mercy of your phone carrier such as Vodafone, AT&T, etc, some would even say you were a hostage. The reason is because the phone carriers had all the power back then, they decided which phones would be allowed to connect to their network and more importantly they would only allow certain “apps” on those phones. Today, if you are at the top of the Apple App Store or Google Play Store you are golden. Back then, you had to cut deals with the carrier to be “on deck”, meaning you would get valuable screen presence on their phones and in the process handover a large chuck of revenue to them. Or in many cases there was no “app” but just an SMS code you could send to get information like horoscopes, stock quotes or other bits of information that the carrier would monetize from the content providers.

Then Apple released the iPhone for sale in June 2007, which was really Apple’s trojan horse into the AT&T network. When the iPhone was first launched there was no App Store, the only apps available were the ones that Apple shipped with iOS. A little over a year later on July 10th, 2008 Apple launched the App Store and that set in motion a whole new industry – the app economy. Multi-billion companies were created like Snapchat, Ola, WhatsApp, Uber, WeChat, etc…

It meant that apps could be created and would automatically connect to the internet without needing the prior approval of the carrier who previously called the shots. In short, these apps went over-the-top (OTT) of the carrier. Today, these carriers are essentially “dumb pipe” providers and much of the revenue and intelligence is with the app providers. So yes in fact, “We Are All Down With OTT”.

Guns vs. Corruption

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As I type this blog post, I’ve got CNN on in the background and they are covering yet another mass shooting. This time it’s in Munich, Germany where guns are very tough to get. While Germany is still in shock and trying to comprehend with how to deal with the pain, for Americans it’s a daily affair. How did we get here? If you ask any die-hard card carrying National Rifle Association (NRA) member, it’s not guns that kill people but people kill people. That logically doesn’t even make sense. But, since the NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups inside the beltway, we are left with daily shootings.

While I was traveling in the US last month, many people would ask me questions about India since I’ve been living there for the last 11 years. Many would ask about the state of corruption since the new Modi administration has been in office for the past 2 years. Even before I could get a word out about corruption the same standard phrase would be blurted out “they really need to do something about corruption and lock up those politicians who take bribes.” I would explain to them the Modi administration is doing it’s best to try and curb corruption but there is only so much the government can do. I’d quickly change the topic to talk about gun violence in the US and why can’t the most powerful nation on Earth figure out a way to solve this mass shooting epidemic. Then they would remain silent and you could see the anguish on their face.

It’s so easy to say, they should ban guns, they should eliminate corruption but it’s not a simple process. Guns are so ingrained in the American ethos and part of the American Constitution. It will take a joint effort to restrict certain types of weapons and I’m not sure it will happen in my lifetime. While corruption is everywhere and more so in emerging markets like India, I’m not so sure you can easily wipe it out. You can curb it by using technology and transitioning to a cashless society but humans will be humans.

What is painful about the gun violence is that humans are dying and it seems there is no end in sight to the madness. At least with corruption, some politician might hit the jackpot and earn billions but people are not dying in the process. (Okay, the one caveat is that some of the Indian government programs to help the poor with getting their daily nutrition have been targeted by politicians. Which has led to some “leakage” in the programs.)

 

 

 

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