Dear POTUS

Dear President of the United States (POTUS),

How are you? I believe you will be visiting India very soon and more precisely you will be in Bombay (yeah, I still call it that) on Nov 6-7. I would have loved to meet but I’ll be out of town and thus the letter.

Had we met, I probably would have asked what are you doing in India? I voted for you and still have a refrigerator magnet of your slogan “Yes We Can.” Your campaign platform was about “change” but when I talk to most of my friends in the US, they say the only change is what’s in their pockets. I think it’s great you are nation building with India but seriously what are you doing about the US.

So far the only “victory” I see is the health care reform bill. And when I talk to people in the medical community they all the say the same thing – more money down the toilet. As far as TARP is concerned it appears it was a way to help the bankers line their pockets and that’s it. People are still loosing jobs, homes and their sanity.

Anyways, I don’t want to be a downer because I’m sure you get enough of that back home from your friends over at Fox News.

Since I won’t be around, I’ll give you some pointers during your stay in Bombay:

  • As you land into Bombay you can compare and contrast the landing into Los Angeles. In Bombay all the blue you see are sheets of blue tarpaulin (tarp) since there are many slums around the airport. In LA all the blue you see are the pools in people’s backyard
  • If you see guys holding hands it’s not because they are professing an alternative lifestyle but instead a sign of friendship, not sure why they just can’t fist bump
  • You might notice red stains on the road, that is not because some fight took place but because of India’s love affair with paan – which is a tobacco and when mixed with some other stuff creates the colorful stain

I really hope you make an effort to come to Bombay every year because I have NEVER seen the locals at the BMC/MCGM work so hard. They are painting, scrubbing, planting, trimming and making this city look great for you. Normally, the MCGM is about as effective as the SEC which means nothing gets done and it’s all about passing the buck – but because of you, real “change” is happening for us folks that live in Bombay.

Enjoy your travels,

Manish Jain
US Citizen

The Coming 3G Revolution?

It appears we are weeks away from private carriers finally launching 3G services in India. The first revolution was voice calls with the launch of mobile networks in India. What really led to mass adoption was a price war that was kicked off by Ambani’s Reliance Communications which led to very low ARPU’s for carriers.

Will data be the next revolution for the mobile carriers? Personally, I think the next revolution will occur if the carriers price their offering at what people currently pay for their voice services. So if the average ARPU is currently Rs. 200 per month, I would expect plans to start at that price.  More importantly they really need to let the bits fly through the networks and offer an unlimited data plan or have a “fair-use” policy that starts at 30GB or so per month.

Yes, that sounds like a pie in the sky wishlist but if they misprice on the initial launch they will loose a lot of pent up demand since everyone is expecting low prices. I don’t expect a carrier like Tata Docomo to throw down the pricing gauntlet. Thankfully, Mukesh Ambani is back in the telecom space after acquiring a 95% stake in Infotel for USD 1 billion dollars.  Infotel has a WiMax license for the entire country and could offer low costs data plans and thus push the prices of 3G services down as well.

The first revolution for voice is still talked about and I hope it continues with data or the Indian mobile market will end up being a one hit wonder.

Changing Gears

The ability for a start-up or a large company to shift strategies is critical. This ability is often referred to as pivoting, personally I like the term changing gears. If you glance at the initial business plan for many companies and look at what they are doing today, they are completely different. As I say, everything looks great in PowerPoint but executing on those plans in real-time has a life of its own.

Research in Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry, was founded in 1984 and they launched the first BlackBerry in 1999…yes, 15 years after they started the company. Do you think their initial plan talked about a wireless communications device? Probably not, however they were able to change gears quickly from their two-way pager which was their bread and butter product and jump into the fast growing email market.

Microsoft a household name never set out to dominate and capture 90% of the operating system market. Initially, it was started to provide programming tools to developers. However, when a deal with IBM almost fell through Bill Gates bought an existing operating system company and closed the deal with IBM. Over time Bill realized the real money was in the operating system business and focused more attention on the newly acquired company.

It’s very easy to talk about changing gears but is very difficult in a start-up because you tend to be married to the idea that you started with and to change direction can be unnerving.  Great businesses and people have the ability to foresee the future and change today to take advantage of it.

The above article originally appeared on GQindia.com.

The Elevator Pitch

If you were in an elevator with Ratan Tata, Richard Branson or Bill Gates what would you say about your company? That’s the essence of the “elevator pitch” imagine you have 90 seconds to introduce your company. The process of putting together an “elevator pitch” will help you think about what you’re doing in a clear and concise manner.

Of course in 90 seconds you don’t have much time to talk about the weather or how you like the color blue. The basics include a quick introduction of yourself, what problem you are trying to solve and the solution you have. Some examples of a problem: Micromax – people in Tier II/III have different cellphone needs; Google – people are not finding what they need on the internet and it will only get worse.

Once the problem is identified, the magic starts when you start talking about how you plan to conquer it. Taking the above examples: Micromax – we plan to make inexpensive phones with features such as a flashlight, FM radio and dual SIM slots; Google – we have a computer algorithm that scans the internet for content and ranks it based on keywords.

The pitch must get the person excited about the idea and ask for a meeting with you. If the person asks for more information then you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Of course, the elevator pitch concept can be extended to almost any situation where you have to ask for something. Need a new laptop, new car or the latest gadget from Apple? Have a quick pitch for why you need it, not why you want it.

However, if you’re stuck in an elevator with Tata, Branson and Gates because of a power cut, you better make sure you have more then 90 seconds worth of conversation. You don’t want to be stuck talking about your favorite color or the weather after you’ve finished your pitch.

The above article originally appeared on GQindia.com.

My New Brain

With all this technology the one thing that remains elusive to me is a comprehensive life organizer. I’ve been searching for something to organize my life since the days of Borlands’ Sidekick and Lotus Organizer, it’s like searching for the holy grail. I go through cycles when searching for the ultimate organizer, every time I start the hunt I think of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The recent search included Things for the Mac, The Hit List and OmniFocus. I bought Things for the Mac and thought it was great but after entering all my data in it and I started to use it, I realized it wasn’t for me.

However, I think I have found the holy grail for me and it’s called Evernote. I used Evernote back in March 2008 when it launched and felt it just didn’t fit into my workflow. However, over the past 3-4 months I have realized how awesome it is and just captures everything in life and let’s me file it away.

My big issue was I needed a to-do list and a way to capture notes from life.  I tried using Things and it worked perfectly for the to-do list part but the notes part just didn’t work for me.  Recently, I also noticed that I had over 50-60 articles that were bookmarked in Safari and no real way to access that information.

Enter Evernote. It handles to-do lists and I can create notes and search them like I’m the next Google.  The most impressive feature is something called “web clipper” that allows you to take any content from the web and save it to Evernote, then it magically syncs all the data between your laptop, iPhone and iPad.

It really has become my new brain – what is the voltage of the CFL lights in the bathroom, what are the movies I want to watch, what are the books I want to read, how to make a great sangria (yeah I “web clipped” that article from lifehacker)…it’s all in Evernote and available on my MacBook Pro or iPhone.

The reason I love Evernote is because it fits into my work flow and I don’t have to think about using it…it just comes natural.  I will admit, I use a combination of regular paper and Evernote.  I use scrap paper for all my short-term to-do lists (1-2 days) and everything else I throw into Evernote.

They have a great freemium model so you can check out most of the features without dropping a dime until you are ready for the premium features. You can read more about their freemium business model here.

UPDATE: Several people have emailed me saying they love Evernote as well and gave me a couple of additional tips.
– scan documents into Evernote (it’s OCR capability is great)
– add images to documents

Group Buying v2.0

During the dot com collapse of 2000, flash sales were the rage with sites such as Mercata offering deals on products. However these sites died when the venture capital money ran out. This time around the model has been refined by including a social element and broken into two segments: one offering local services and the other offering products mainly from excess inventory. The segmentation is not only producing real revenues but more importantly generating profits.

Globally, Groupon is the leading social group buying service for many cities around the world. The idea is that a local restaurant or other service related business might want to attract new customers and would use part of its marketing budget to offer a 50% off discount to attract new customers to a restaurant. Then if your friend buys the “deal of the day” you might be enticed to buy it since you trust your friend when it comes to restaurants. This added social component has given Groupon a billion dollar valuation. Closer to home DealsAndYou.com (formerly WanaMo) does the same thing for the major metros in India and has been doing quite well in sourcing deals for its audience. For everyone involved it’s a win-win, businesses attract new customers via relevant offers and customers get a deal on a new place.

The second category of companies such as Hautelook and Gilt Groupe provide flash sales for excess inventory (known as exhaust in the apparel business). The idea is that name brands don’t want their excess inventory to go on sale and cheapen the brand. Instead, they give it to companies like Hautelooks who sell it via alternate merchandising channels to people that might otherwise never buy a high end brand and in turn attract new customers. The added social element makes certain offers viral and attract even more new customers.

Another twist to the product category is ShoeDazzle which is completely changing the distribution model for shoes. You pay a monthly fee and get access to new shoes that are designed specifically for ShoeDazzle customers. ShoeDazzle is able to leverage it’s vast customer database and run analytics on what type of shoes it’s customers want. In this scenario ShoeDazzle owns multiple parts of the buying chain – designing, marketing and selling to the customer. It’s a great strategy that can be extended to other segments in the apparel space.

The idea of a company putting up an online catalog with no social interaction is dead, it’s all about the social group buying experience.

The above article originally appeared on GQindia.com.

Five Years Later

Five years ago today I boarded a flight from LAX and headed to Bombay. At the time two things were running through my head, a short term and long term goal – 1. I’m only going to be in India for 6 months to set things up 2. It will be a great story in Forbes or Fortune magazine 5 years from now.

Funny how life happens when you are busy planning. My “6 months in India” has turned into an indefinite stay and no complaints about that.

Looking back at everything that has happened it has been one roller coaster of a ride and it ain’t over yet. This would be a good time to talk about some of it but the Forbes/Fortune story is still being written.  A sneak peak – love, bankrupty, government ordered shutdown, fastest selling commodity hedge fund, India’s biggest investor and much more…