Sunday, January 24, 2016

Startup thoughts from Yennappa


It has now become very fashionable to talk about startups.

Thanks to the Startup India mission, everyone wants to have a share of the Startup pie!

Starting up is not easy. Most startups that get talked about have gone through phases of struggle, hard lessons they learnt along the way etc.

I have been trying to understand the startup ecosystem and contribute in my little ways through some small time activities in the last couple of years.

So, when the Starup India action plan was announced, I was curious and went through the 40 page, slickly produced document.

The biggest question was related to the definition of a startup.

Other than being a new company – less than 5 years old and beign a small company – less than 25 Crores turnover per year, the plan said:

A business is covered under the definition if it aims to develop and
• a new product or service or process; or
• a significantly improved existing product or service or process,
that will create or add value for customers or workflow.

I was trying to visualize how this could lead to a lot of innovative ideas. Particularly since entrepreneurs would like to be creative and fine opportunities between the lines.

Just then, my good friend Yennappa walked in and saw the confused look on my face.

Hallo.,. what are you thinknig about today, he asked. When I explained my confusion, he said in his usual style, “Saar, please  read the full definition”. The rest of trhe definition went:

The mere act of developing
• products or services or processes which do not have potential for
commercialization; or
• undifferentiated products or services or processes; or
• products or services or processes with no or limited incremental
value for customers or workflow
would not be covered under this definition.

And, he continued, the company cannot be formed out of an existing company, should generate employment etc etc etc

When I said that it would be very difficult to have a startup meeting all these criteria – he said.. “Just think!” and continued

“I was having a conversation with a Paanwalla on my way here. He is also excited about the new policy, as he has been hearing of this onthe radio, TV, magazines etc etc etc and how so many millionaires have been made by startups [I thought that it should be the other way around]”

How would a paanwalla benefit, I asked.

“Aha! that is where you have to be creative. Let me tell you what I told him..”

First, you need to be small – less than 25 Crore turnover.

Check. he qualified

Second, you should have a unique product.

He thought for a while and said that I will create a unique paan that will be made from the Geo-tagged Banarasi Paan or the Thanjavur Betel leaf, with a special filling to meet the tastes of all ages. From Chocolate to Chai, Pizza  I will hire a team of specialist nutritionists and chefs to create options to make teh Paan the main course and have some starters as well as desserts to follow. So far, Paan is considered only as a digestive.

My product will not only reposition the Paan, but also expand the market by taking it to newer segments of people who have never tasted Paan before!

I will have this unique combination, so that all paanwallas have opportunities to cross and up-sell and expand their business. I can look at franchising my model and technology.

That is not all, I will patent a Quick Paan Process, that can nake a paan in less than 28 seconds. That will then help me make and sell paan at traffic junctions, while people wait for the signal to turn green.

Just imagine the social benefit of this. People are more likely to switch off their engines and save the nation valuable fuel. And, more importantly, witih paan in their mouths, swearing and abuse due to road rage – just because the person ahead is a little slow to start – will be a thing of the past.

And wait, I have another idea – before you ask – what will heppen to our roads if all the paan consumed is likely to be spit on the roads.

I will have another startup that will make quickspit bags or a cleanup service at all traffic lights, so that you can spit out in special containers at the next light! Imagine how much more cleaner our roads will be. My little contribution to the Swachch Bharat mission.

And, that is not all, I need to come up with new versions of the product at regular intervals, My R&D team will tie up with leading institutions like CFTRI to some up with dissolving paan, to eliminate any side effects of pollution.

You see, I can already see many agencies waiting to fund me. My plans for the next 5 years is all done. By the time the 5 year window is over, I would be thinking of the next projects.

Hmm. I said – never thought of it like that. Now that you have an idea of how staryups can really change the thinking in India, are you also excited?

By the way, would you like to be an angel investor? I can use my friendship with Yennappa and get you some preferntial terms.

But, please hurry..



Picture of paan leaf from our garden

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Living in a wired world

As the world moves towards wireless connectivity, we still cannot wish away wires in our midst.

Cellphone towers are said to be a major cause for the vanishing sparrows from our urban landscape. In Bangalore, the only place where I find sparrows – or rather, used to find – was the airport. Nowadays, that population is also reducing – not sure if it is just that they are not able to enter the main airport food court area or have moved out of the area..

While in school and college, one of my hobbies was listening to shotwave radio. In order to improve reception of far off and weal stations, I had created a mesh of wires on the terrace – different shapes, orientations etc, in the hope that the signals would be received clearly. The hobby was called DXing or SWLing.

Then we started going miniature and wireless. Transistor radios, walkman etc still needed some chords for power or the headphones.

Then came the bluetooth headsets and connections to car audio or the music system, so that we can stream media across the room.

Even with all the planning, I recently noticed that we cannot avoid wires! Our building, though 15+ years old, had planned to have concealed wiring from the basement to all individual flats.

Not only the power lines, with backup generator, but also wires for cable TV and phone lines were all laid out and termination points created in the basement.

But then, with multiple phone and internet service providers and most of them either not understanding the wiring already done or just not wanting to take the extra effort to draw wired through existing conduits.

I was a little surprised to note the other day that there were more than a dozen wires hanging exposed in one section of the building.

I am sure that there would be at lease a dozen more elsewhere..


Talking of wires laid indiscriminnately, I see that many contractors laying conduits / cables for the optical fibres in the storm water drains. That only clogs and also acts as mini dams for other debris thrown in the drains..

The question is: even wuth all this, are wires less harmful for the environment?

Maybe we will see the sparrows back, if we reduced the wireless radiations and move to a more wired world..

Friday, January 1, 2016

New year thoughts - 2016

2015 was wonderful.
had its ups and downs.
both personal and in the word around.

here's hoping for an even more wonderful year
for me, for you and everyone else

while it is good to wish for more, my prayers are for many things less..
less pollution
less hatred
less fear
less poverty
less illnesses
and less time on the net

and some things more..
more active lifestyles, so that we have healthier living
more freedom and independence, so that everyone can be their natural best
more prosperity, so that the basic needs of living are taken care of for all
more time with people, so that we can talk and discuss points like these..

Have a happy, healthy and wealthy year ahead!